As the college basketball season winds down with this weekend’s Final Four and next Monday’s Championship game, the 2012 baseball season is about to get underway.
In fact, the season actually begins later this week as Seattle and Oakland play a two game series in Tokyo, Japan that will count in the regular season standings. For those of you with insomnia the games are scheduled to be telecast on the MLB Network with start times of 3:10 AM Pacific time Wednesday and 2:10 AM Thursday.
The season gets underway stateside next week with the “official” Opening Day on Wednesday, April 4. The lone game features the christening of the new Miami ballpark as the renamed Miami Marlins host the defending World Series Champion St Louis Cardinals.
The Cards will have a different look this season with new manager Mike Matheny replacing long time skipper Tony LaRussa. But as much as LaRussa’s leadership on the bench will be missed, the on the field leadership of Albert Pujols will be missed even more.
Arguably the game’s best player over the past few seasons, Pujols will be plying his trade in Anaheim, making the Los Angeles Angels one of this season’s favorites to win the World Series.
But there have been other significant changes, comings and goings since the Cardinals won the 2011 Fall Classic. Perhaps the most significant comes in the Playoff structure as a second Wild Card team will be added from each league.
The two Wild Cards will meet in a one game playoff with the winner advancing to join the three Division winners from its respective league to begin the postseason.
This change will make it more important for a team to win its Division rather than to just qualify for the Playoffs once it has clinched no worse than a Wild Card. In addition to avoiding a single game elimination a Division winner will be better able to set its rotation for the next round. The addition of a second Wild Card makes sense.
Of course both Boston and Atlanta wish it had been in place last season as both the Red Sox and Braves suffered horrific September collapses to just miss the Playoffs. At the same time the misfortunes of those two teams provided perhaps the most exciting and dramatic final nights of regular season play in baseball history.
One other major change won’t take effect until next season when Houston moves from the NL Central to the AL West starting with the 2013 season.