With spring training well underway and the regular season quickly approaching, baseball fans all over are anticipating the start of April more than ever. Though it’s early, and baseball can be unpredictable, let’s look at contenders for the strongest teams in both the National and American Leagues.
If we’re talking about strength and dominance, we might as well start with the 2014 NL East Division Champions: the Washington Nationals. The Nats lucked out on the injury front, when shortstop Yunel Escobar recovered from an oblique injury early in the preseason and will manage to get some playing time in prior to the regular season. The 32-year-old comes to Washington after spending the last two years with the Atlanta Braves. This preseason is especially important for Escobar, as he is essentially learning a new position. Typically playing shortstop, Escobar will appear as a second baseman for the Nationals, following the release of reliever Tyler Clippard. Escobar will presumably be faster, and a key offensive player for the Nationals. Washington’s strong infield includes shortstop Ian Desmond, who contributed to the Nationals 96 wins last season with 24 homeruns and a .743 OPS. Desmond was rumoured to be moving to the Mets this February, but he told NJ Advance Media, “I got really nothing to talk about on that one.” To add to the Nationals strong offense, Washington picked up righty Max Scherzer in the offseason. This week Scherzer was named the starter for Washington’s opening day game against the Mets.
In the American League – okay maybe I’m being a little biased – but Boston is looking like a serious contender. Could it be due to picking up Yoan Moncada, or righty Rick Porcello? Or is it because they deserve it after the disaster we call Boston’s 2014 season. Moncada comes to the Sox from Cuba, with a .365 OBP and a .406 SLG. He was one of the most expensive prospects, passing Arizona’s Yoan Lopez with a $31.5 million contract. In terms of pitching, the Sox don’t seem to have an ace pitcher yet. Righty Rick Porcello or lefty Henry Owens could step up to the plate (ha). Judging Owens recent performance in a game against Toronto, you may not agree. The 22-year-old pitcher’s fastball topped off at 93 mph, averaging closer to 89, as he gave up major pitches to Jose Bautista and Danny Valencia. Owens has recently put on a lot more weight in muscle and could be adjusting – which could be good news. Either way, he was confident after the game and seems hopeful for his next performance. “I feel I could give the team a good chance to win every fifth day. I obviously didn’t show characteristics of that today,” Owens told the Boston Globe following the game. As for Porcello, the 26-year-old played hero for the Sox in a game against the Atlanta Braves following Clay Buchholz getting lit up for four innings. Porcello entered and allowed an earned run in addition to walking two, but it was much better compared to Buchholz.
You could analyse spring training games and players preseason performances until the cows come home, but in the end, it doesn’t compare to regular season – which by the way starts in less than two weeks.