2015 MLB Preview: 5 Stories to Watch

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The MLB is set to begin another marathon towards October baseball as the boys of summer return to the field.

Last year the MLB saw one of the best seasons in recent memory as the controversies were few and far between. Meanwhile the surprises continued with teams breaking streaks and doing what most thought impossible.

In the end it was a great postseason with an instant classic of a World Series. That series went seven games and continued to go back and forth throughout the entire time until the San Francisco Giants took home the title for the third time in five years.

The MLB is now set to continue on to another season but it will be far from the same old in the new year.

This year there is more up in the air than ever before as a new regime takes over and the new powers begin to take hold.

For years the league has been one of the slowest leagues to change anything but it was far more than just the rules and regulations of the game.

It has been the players and the teams that have rarely changed as the old guard has remained in power for so long.

Last year saw a change though, as the old powers were no longer the teams to watch. They may return again this year but as the new season approaches there is a sense of moving on.

The league is ready for new leaders and a new set of power teams on the field while the old powers may have something to say about that.

baseball-sidebarThe Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have long been the two teams that battled it out for the World Series.

They had formed what became known as the best division in baseball as the American League East often placed two teams into the postseason before the expanded wild card.

Now both teams are beginning to fall off and although they are sure to try to come back into the fight they may be facing the end of their time at the top.

The Giants are now the leaders in the league while more teams are looking to join them.

With the Kansas City Royals making a massive World Series push last year the teams that have been sitting on the outside are gaining new hope.

It is not necessarily about the big name signing and spending money any longer. It is about putting the right pieces together at the right time and whether that is putting a number of superstars on the roster or a number of role players it means success.

With the Royals’ success there are a number of teams that are looking to make that push towards the postseason and all are doing it a different way.

As the summer approaches the MLB season is set to begin and the question becomes, who can make a run at the World Series this year and who can emerge as the champion.

It will take a marathon to decide those questions but a number of questions remain in the new season as there are plenty of changes to follow this year in Major League Baseball.

new-regime

The last two decades have been one of monumental change in the MLB and the man overseeing those changes was Bud Selig. Selig took over as the Commissioner of Baseball in 1992 and saw a period of amazing success and controversy. He oversaw the boom of offensive baseball and the subsequent steroid era. He also oversaw the more recent period of massive TV contracts and the development of one of the healthiest times in baseball where more teams than not are making money. There are few teams left that are not successful and the league is in one of the best positions that it has been in for a long time. That will give Rob Manfred a good position to begin his time as the Commissioner of Baseball. Selig ended his time as the head of the MLB last season and handed the position off to Manfred who was the representative for the MLB during Collective Bargaining and served as the Chief Operating Officer since 2013. Manfred may seem to have an easy job as the next commissioner but that is far from the reality. There are plenty of challenges that the league is facing and although Manfred has a good start to his time as the head of baseball he will face issues that the league has never before faced. He will need to bring the league into the new age while keeping the integrity of the game. There are new technologies that will provide for better and new stats while also providing a faster game and making calls more accurate. Then again some of these technologies will upset many traditionalists that make up a massive base for the league. He will need to walk the line between taking the league out of the 20th century and into the 21st century while keeping these fans happy. Along with that he will need to walk the line at the new CBA agreement in 2016 when the money that teams are making now, is sure to be a big bargaining chip for the players. There are new issues of the league in the near future and the man leading the way will be Manfred as every looks on to see what the new commissioner has in store.

cubbies-rebuild

The Chicago Cubs are the most frustrating team in the MLB and yet have some of the most loyal fans. After all, you would have to be loyal to follow a team that has not won a World Series in 106 years. It is the longest drought in sports as the Cubs last saw the World Series trophy in 1908 and since then have found ways to lose. For some it is the curse of the billy goat, a legend that claims a local bar owner cursed the Cubs after they kicked him out of a World Series game in 1945. The curse has been the excuse for so many weird happenings when the Cubs get close to winning again. They have had plenty of successful seasons in the last 106 years and have had their fair share of terrible seasons as well. Heading into the 2015 season the Cubs are in the midst of one of those terrible stretches once again. The Cubs are now coming off of their 6th season without a postseason berth and for many of those seasons they have sat at the bottom of the league. They continue to struggle and have rebuilt multiple times but there is something different heading into a new season. The new regime in Chicago that includes Theo Epstein, who helped to break the Boston Red Sox’s World Series drought of 85 years, and Jed Hoyer began their run in 2011 to end the drought and are now starting to see it pay-off. The Cubs have one of the best farm systems in the MLB and those great players are having an impact in the big club. With Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler all having an impact the future is bright for the Cubs but the men at the top were not willing to wait too long. With a solid base of young batters but a lack of pitching prospects the Cubs went to work in the offseason bringing in Jason Hammel and the biggest free agent this offseason Jon Lester. The two moves immediately upgraded the team and with the addition of Miguel Montero and the hiring of Joe Madden as manager the Cubs are done with waiting as they are making a run this year in an attempt to change their fortunes and break the drought.

speeding-up-the-game

Manfred is set to begin his time as the commissioner of baseball and one of his first issues will be speeding up the game. In a period where some of the most popular sports are fast paced, or at least have fast paced action, baseball is a call to the old school. It is a slow game meant to highlight strategy and skill rather than pure athletic ability. The problem is that in an age where attention spans are lessening the MLB needs to find a strategy to keep the attention of young fans. That has been an issue for years in baseball and they have yet to truly find a way to do it. This past September, in one of Bud Selig’s last acts as commissioner, the MLB created a pace of game committee to study how the game can be sped up. This committee began to test out some of their ideas during the Arizona Fall League. These ideas including a rule forcing the batter to remain in the batter’s box during an at bat. There are exception but in general the batter must stay around the box in order to limit the ever-increasing warm ups that batters have. Another idea was the automatic walk allowing pitchers to walk a batter by signaling to the umpire to intentionally walk a batter. There were also limits on the inning break and pitcher change reducing the amount of time that a batter has to get to the box and a pitcher has to arm up. The Fall League also saw a limit of three time outs per game allowing a coach only three conferences every game. The one idea that seems to be taking more focus though is the pitch clock that was seen in the Arizona Fall League and will be used in Triple-A and Double-A this year. The pitch clock is a 20 second clock that limits the time the pitchers take in between pitches. If the pitcher takes more than 20 seconds the umpire will call a ball, in effect shortening the game by making the pitcher move quickly. These ideas are circulating and with the pitch clock enter the minor leagues there is sure to be some talk about when these ideas will enter the major leagues.

new-dynasty

The MLB is not the same as many of the leagues in North America where the eras are dominated by certain teams. The MLB has seen a lot different as one team ruled the league throughout the 1990s but throughout the 2000s no one team dominated. It was an era where the league saw eight different champions with only the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox winning two championships. There was no one team throughout that time and no true dynasty stepped forward. Then came 2010 when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the first time in 55 years. That World Series was just the start though as the Giants officially began a run that led up to last year. The Giants won their third World Series in the last five years in 2014 and they officially put their stamp on the 2010s. After a decade without any one team truly taking over, the tables have turned and the Giants are the new dynasty of the MLB after a long time without a team as good as them. The Giants are not done either as their team is still in the prime, they are not a team with the veterans that used to win titles. Their superstar last year, Madison Bumgarner, is only 25 years old and is heading towards the age where athletes reach their best. Meanwhile some of their top players like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt are all under 30. Add that to the fact that the Giants still have prospects like Joe Panik, Andrew Susac, Matt Duffy, and Joan Gregorio coming up and ready to make an impact. The Giants are the team to beat this year and could be for a long time as they continue in their hopes to be the best franchise since the Yankees of the 1990s who won four World Series in 10 seasons. The Giants are set to begin yet another title defence this year and the question remains if they can repeat as champions. The last two times that the Giants came in to a season as the champions they failed to repeat and didn’t even make the postseason. Now they hope for a better showing as they look to solidify their spot among the greatest teams ever.

face-of-baseball

Last year one of the main stories throughout the season was the long final tour of Derek Jeter. Usually the retirement of a player does not make massive news aside from the city that they play in or the city that they impacted. Then again this was Derek Jeter, the long-time Yankees captain and the face of baseball for the better part of the last decade. He was one of the most consistent players in the MLB and although he gets a lot of credit for being clutch it was the fact that no matter what situation he remained steady. From the first game to the World Series, Jeter was always good for a hit and if it happened to come at an important time it was all the better. More than his skills on the field though it was the way he did it and the way he held himself that made him the face of baseball. He was always humble but confident and despite the odd report of off-field transgressions he rarely made headlines for bad behaviour. He was the one player that the MLB could always depend on to help them build the game but starting in 2015 he is no longer there to fill that role. That leaves a big gap in the MLB as the league looks for the new face of baseball and the search officially begins this year. Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton are the two players that seem to have the inside track on replacing Jeter and after Trout won the MVP last year he seems to be set to begin his road to becoming the new face of the sport. With a clean image, at least to this point, and freakish talent Trout seems like a good option to lead the MLB into a new era. Meanwhile Stanton is the power hitter of the new era with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs last year. He also represents a more multicultural player at a time where the MLB is trying to build a multicultural fan base. The battle to become the face of baseball will continue as these two young stars are the future of the game.

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