Maybe it’s just a mere coincidence, but it appears that Mother Nature and baseball got together at some point in the 19th century to plan the most spectacular piece of scheduling that represent the best of both worlds.
Just as all the trees and flowers start to blossom, so does our national pastime. When everything is in full bloom during the summer, so is baseball as it stands alone being the only major sport played while separating the pretenders from contenders.
When fall eventually comes with its gloomy weather and strips all the beauty from our trees and flowers, it also ends another magical baseball season.
It’s funny how the cycles so perfectly co-exist with each other. As we embark on another opening day, all 30 major league teams still have a shot at playing in the fall and that is what is so great about opening day. Beyond the fresh cut grass, vendors yelling “popcorn and beer” and visiting our favorite ballparks echoing long lost unheard of crack-of-the-bat sounds, every team begins at .500 on Wednesday.
This is the only time of year where the favored team to win the World Series, the Phillies (6-1), might play on par with the likes of big underdogs like the Mets (100-1), Pirates (60-1), Blue Jays (50-1) and Padres (100-1).
We all know that when summer comes around, the cream will rise to the top. But for a brief moment in the season, anything is possible where big salaries in big markets are thrown out the window.
Heck, even the Cubs (60-1) are contenders at this juncture and that’s part of what makes opening day so special to everyone across America.
That type of mindset of the fans also bleeds into the players which can also make the first six weeks of the season very profitable if riding some of the hot underrated teams. Teams like the Indians and Pirates played with adrenaline spurred on by the hungry fans in those great cities last season and it carried them way beyond what their talent said they could do on paper.
Cleveland and Pittsburgh’s early success last season was because of a state of mind they had entering the park every day with that love for the game feeling they had as little leaguers. It wasn’t about money, contracts or going through the motions that some second division teams go through beginning in July, it was about enjoying the game to its fullest.
That only lasts so long with teams short on talent because the teams loaded with talent usually do prevail. This is why a 162 game schedule actually means something because to be consistently good for the duration is worthy and deserving of a post-season birth. A rah-rah city atmosphere can carry a club for 40 games, but in the end, it’s usually all about talent.
But until then, here’s a look at a few teams that might come out of the gate swinging with great success and have us all talking about how they’ll avoid hitting the June swoon.
Blue Jays (50-1): It’s unfortunate that they have to play in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox, but the good news is that there is an extra wild card slot offered this season. The Jays have a great lineup one thru nine with not many holes in it.
We should see third-baseman Brett Lawrie emerge as an all-star, but the Jays problem won’t be hitting this season, it will be pitching. If Toronto can find a third starter to step-up behind Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, they’ll give New York and Boston a run.
Royals (60-1): Kansas City will be one of the more exciting teams in this season because all their young talent nurtured through minors are finally ready for the big leagues. First-baseman Eric Hosmer had a spectacular spring (.416, 5 HR, 29 RBI) and will anchor a lineup filled with other top draft picks that have finally matured.
The rotation goes about three deep with Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and former Giant Jonathan Sanchez. The biggest question mark on the team coming into the season is the bullpen with all-star closer Joakim Soria who will be out for the season. The Royals will use a closer by committee until someone emerges, likely Jonathan Broxton.
Cardinals (35-1): It’s rare that you can find the defending World Champs at such high odds, but that’s the perception many have with the Cardinals who begin life without Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. But the lineup is still stacked with great hitters. It may be hard to imagine Lance Berkman duplicating 2011, but it’s even harder to imagine young hitters like Jon Jay and David Freese not progressing.
The rotation is still in tact and even improved with Adam Wainwright returning. Wainwright and Jake Westbrook had two of the best springs making them both great pitchers to back early on. Their one weakness in 2012 will again be their bullpen.
Dodgers (40-1): If the baseball season consisted of only August and September, the Dodgers would have made the playoffs last season. They finished the year strong and should be able to carry some of that momentum into April this year.
Their pitching will keep them in every game and while their lineup may not Wow anyone, they have the players in place to manufacture runs. Just because of their pitching and the NL West being weak, we could see Dodger Blue in the playoffs this year.
Padres (100-1): If you had to guess who was the most efficient hitting team in spring training, the Padres would probably be the last team named, but there they were scoring an MLB high 193 runs with a .290 batting average. San Diego was even smashing the ball deep for 39 home runs, second among all teams behind the Tigers (42).
This doesn’t even come close to resembling the soft-hitting Padres squad we’ve known the last few seasons. Things may change once they get into the thick salty air of their home park, but they’re definitely a team to take a chance with in April. Betting OVER the total in April, both home and away, could be a winning move early on.
(Team odds c/o LVH Super Book)