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30 Burning Questions for MLB Opening Day

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Can the Red Sox repeat? Will the Dodgers huge payroll payoff? Will Derek Jeter go out in style?

30 Burning Questions for MLB Opening Day

All of the signs are there: the smells of freshly cut fields, pine tar, hot dogs and beer. The sounds of balls hitting mitts and bats cracking. MLB's opening day has arrived. Even though it technically began when the Dodgers took on the D-Backs in Australia, this is the real opening day. Having endured a brutally cold end to the Winter in the Northeast, the new baseball season definitely snuck up on me, but it's a welcome surprise. Opening day brings the eternal promise of hope and potential. For this one day, everyone is in first place and the possibility of a run to the playoffs and beyond is always there.

As it is with every new season, there are many dominating storylines and themes. Players change teams. Coaches are fired and hired. Each season brings hope, but along with it come many questions. To commemorate opening day, let's take a look at 30 burning questions surrounding each team as the season kicks off.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Will the Boston Red Sox be able to repeat?

The Red Sox pulled off a tremendous worst-to-first run last year en route to their third World Series title since 2004. There was plenty of turnover from the roster, though. Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury defected to the Yankees. Catcher Jared Saltalamacchia is also gone, as is Stephen Drew. They did a lot of replacement internally with young prospects Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts as well as bring in veterans like A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore and Chris Capuano. The same championship core of Pedroia, Ortiz and Lester is there, so you better believe the World Series still runs through Boston.

How much can the New York Yankees expect out of Derek Jeter in his final season?

While I don't think Jeter will be Derek Jeter in his final season, but the man has too much pride to through up a stinker in his last go around. A lot of this is dependent on Jeter's health, but he's had a lot longer to recover than he did when he was preparing for 2013. Manager Joe Girardi would be smart to give Jeter a little more rest this year, but even that can just mean taking a few extra turns at DH if need be. I think Jeter will be around .280 in about 145 games played, and he'll help the team get back to the playoffs. 

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What will the Tampa Bay Rays do with David Price?

Based on their small market budget, the David Price will probably be too expensive to retain on a long-term contract after he becomes a free agent in the off season. That means the Rays could look to deal Price before the trade deadline to get something in return. He was shopped around this off season, but Tampa and their tremendous front office won't just take any deal for Price. It's going to have to be substantial.

Will this be the year the Toronto Blue Jays turn it around?

I don't think so. When you look at the Jays in comparison to the rest of the AL East, they seem to be close, but just not on par with the rest of the division. The Blue Jays just seem like a snake-bitten franchise. They brought in a ton of talent last season, but injuries and inconsistency stopped them before anything could get started. There's still plenty of talent offensively between Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, but the Blue Jays haven't been able to put anything real together since their 1993 World Series. I'm not expecting anything different.

Can Manny Machado return to form this season for the Baltimore Orioles?

It's always so devastating to watch young players go down like Manny Machado did last season. Machado was breaking out in a huge way even though the Orioles were having a disappointing season, and to watch him destroy his knee rounding the bases in a meaningless September game was all the more disappointing. Machado has been rehabbing his knee, but he has already experienced setbacks and other issues. He's starting the season on the disabled list, but the bigger question is whether Baltimore will be getting last season's Machado back when he does return. Everyone is hoping that they do, because he is one of the more promising young players out there.

Will Miguel Cabrera continue to rake for the Detroit Tigers?

Yes, he will. Cabrera has now won back-to-back MVP awards after putting up absolutely monstrous seasons for the Tigers. He's helped get Detroit to at least the ALCS in each of the last three seasons, and even though they have some new pieces (out goes Prince Fielder, in comes Ian Kinsler), but Cabrera is still right in the middle of that lineup and right in the middle of his prime. Detroit is still locked and loaded.

Are the Cleveland Indians playoff contenders again?

You bet. Terry Francona is one of the best clubhouse guys in the game, and with great influences like Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi on the roster, the roster will be in great hands. The Indians still have plenty of young talent, but the rotation just has to come together after the departure of Ubaldo Jimenez. The AL Central will be highly competitive again, but Cleveland got there last year. They aren't about to give up their playoff spot again.

Will the Kansas City Royals FINALLY make the playoffs?

As much as I want to say yes, I think Kansas City is still a year away. Despite the presence of James Shields and Jason Vargas, I'm still not a believer in their starting rotation. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas also have to live up to their high potential. Kansas City will be on the outside looking in again, but it's going to be closer than ever.

How bad will things be for the Minnesota Twins?

Pretty bad. Joe Mauer is really the only familiar face left for longtime manager Ron Gardenhire, but there's still going to be something different about him: he's playing first base full time. While Minnesota has some potentially talented players filling out the lineup, they are still an awfully young group. The rotation has plenty of question marks too, including Phil Hughes and his career 4.54 ERA in the third spot of the rotation. It's going to be another long season for the Twins unless some players drastically over-perform.

What are the silver linings for the Chicago White Sox?

There aren't too many, but one could be the development of 22-year-old outfielder Avisail Garcia. The White Sox acquired Garcia from the Tigers in the three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, and he put up good numbers in his brief time in Chicago. Last season, he produced a slash line of .304/.327/.447 with five home runs and 21 RBI in just 42 games with the club. White Sox fans are probably eager to see what he can do with a full season.

Will the Oakland Athletics retain the crown in the AL West?

I would like to think they do (just to see "moneyball" prevail yet again), but I think there will be a slight drop-off for the A's this season. Where that drop-off will be felt the most is in the back of the bullpen. While new closer Jim Johnson has put up some great numbers over the past two seasons, he also blew nine save opportunities last season in 59 opportunities. Grant Balfour (now with the Rays) blew just three opportunities last year. I think that's going to be an issue.

Can the Los Angeles Angels stay healthy?

Yes, I believe they can. The question is whether or not the high-priced veterans will be productive when they are healthy. Mike Trout is still going to be awesome, but will that be enough if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have seasons like they did in 2013? Probably not. A lot of things need to click right for Mike Scioscia and the Angels this year, and I think enough of them will to contend for the AL West crown.

How much of a difference will Prince Fielder make for the Texas Rangers?

A pretty big difference. The move to the Ballpark in Arlington is going to make a huge impact on Fielder's offensive production. According to Park Factors, there are 128 home runs hit for every 100 in an average park, putting it third among all major league ballparks. Fielder should see a return to the 35-40+ home run range (up from 30 and 25 the past two seasons, respectively) at the spacious Comerica Park in Detroit. That should definitely outdo Ian Kinsler's power.

Will the Houston Astros be the worst team in baseball again?

All signs point to yes. The Astros haven't won more than 56 games since 2010. They haven't really gotten that much better outside of the addition of Dexter Fowler, but he isn't a franchise-changing player. The Astros are likely biding their time, but in a division with plenty of firepower, the Astros are going to get left behind yet again.

Can Robinson Cano turn the Seattle Mariners around?

Not by himself he can't. Cano might be the best hitting second baseman in baseball right now, but he is only one person. There really isn't much support for him in that lineup, and pitchers could easily work around him to get to less potent bats. He's definitely not in New York anymore, and he's going to see quite a few loses pile up unless the front office brings in some bats to help him.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Will the Atlanta Braves overcome the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy?

The Braves lost two-fifths of their rotation this spring when ace Medlen and starter Beachy both went down. They acquired Ervin Santana shortly afterwards and he could be ready to go by mid-April, and they could be players for David Price at some point, but they will really need young Julio Tehran to step up in a big way. The young starter had a fine first season last year, but at 23 he will have to grow up quick and head the staff unless Santana is up to it.

Is this Bryce Harper's breakout year for the Washington Nationals?

Bryce Harper was limited by injuries last year, but he was set to improve on his rookie line of .270/.340/.477 with a nice .274/.368/.486 line. The power and run production numbers also were trending upwards. Logic dictates that with a full season, Harper is going to outperform those slash lines and top the 22 home runs and 59 RBI that are currently his career highs. A big year from Harper also might get Washington back to the postseason.

Is this the last go-around for the World Series core of the Philadelphia Phillies?

Cliff Lee is 35. Jimmy Rollins is 35. Chase Utley is 35. Ryan Howard is 34. All of those players are further and further on the wrong side of 30 (even though they can still definitely get it done). I don't see many more seasons where all of them are producing at a high level. The Phillies definitely have the pieces to make some noise in the NL East this year after the emergence of Dominic Brown and the signing of AJ Burnett. This could be a last stand of sorts for Philadelphia.

What can the New York Mets expect out of Zack Wheeler?

I was saving this for a larger post, but I think Wheeler is in a great position to perform well this season, and part of that is due to the absence of Matt Harvey. While it would obviously be great for Harvey to be in the rotation, Wheeler won't have the pressure to live up to the billing of being this dynamic tandem and match all of Harvey's performances. He can just go out and find himself naturally, and when Harvey returns next season, then we can start having those discussions.

What exactly are the Miami Marlins doing?

Biding their time. After that disastrous season two years ago, the Marlins are trying to restock and make the rebuilding process as painless as possible. They have some young guys on the verge of breaking out in Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick. They have a bonafide stud at the front of the rotation in Jose Fernandez. Giancarlo Stanton is a piece you can build your team around. Now it's all about incremental improvements while the main core of the team comes together, and this will be a telling year for some of those pieces.

Was last season a fluke for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

No, it wasn't, but the players that produced in a big way last year have to maintain that production this season. Guys like Francisco Liriano, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Jason Grilli are all going to be counted on to be leaders again. Andrew McCutcheon is the guy in that clubhouse, but we know what we're getting from him on a yearly basis. The rest of the players have done it, but not on a consistent basis.

Can the St. Louis Cardinals fend off the rest of the hungry AL Central?

Yes they can. The Cardinals are still the most talented team in the division, especially when it comes to the starting rotation. The duo of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha could potentially be good for about 40 wins alone, and the offense still has plenty of punch between Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals are dangerous in the NL again and primed for another World Series run.

How many bases will Billy Hamilton steal this season for the Cincinnati Reds?

A lot. Last season in late season action, Hamilton swiped 13 bags in 13 games. That would play out to 162 steals for a season. Rickey Henderson has the all-time record with 130, and Hamilton is the kind of speed demon that could seriously make a run at that number provided he gets on base enough in his first full major league season. He hit .368 in those 13 games, and although it's a small sample size, he could be the kind of base-running threat that gets things going again for Cincinnati.

What kind of year is Ryan Braun going to have for the Milwaukee Brewers?

A good season. There is no telling what kind of impact any performance enhancing drugs had or did not have on Ryan Braun's stats. I think Braun will perform right around where he usually does: .300 range with between 25-30 home runs and over 100 RBI. Even with that kind of production, the Brewers are still not good enough to make much noise in the NL Central.

Is Jeff Samardzija ready to make the jump for the Chicago Cubs?

Samardzija is entering his third full season as a starter for the Cubs, and he might be on the cusp of a nice season despite a slight regression last year. He averaged 9 K/9 last year with 214 strikeouts, so the stuff is there. The WHIP is what he needs to work on. If he can sacrifice some strikeouts for situational pitching and outs, the walks/hits should go down and his overall performance should rise. The Cubs are probably hoping for a hot start so they can deal him and continue their rebuilding efforts.

Will it all the money the Los Angeles Dodgers spent be worth it?

Yes. The team of high-priced stars really came together last season, and there is no reason to expect anything dramatically different from the group this year. Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in the game (even if he's on the DL). Zach Greinke is still an incredible number two. They get a full season of Yasiel Puig (which might come with some headaches) and a full year with a healthy Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers are loaded this year, and a playoff berth is I think all but a foregone conclusion.

How soon can the San Francisco Giants turn things around?

Pretty quickly. Getting Buster Posey back healthy is going to be a big boost. Tim Hudson should also help out the pitching staff (which should see some improvement to the mean after down seasons last year). A large core of the 2012 World Series team is still in tact. The pitching just has to stabilize, and I think Hudson's presence is going to do wonders.

Does the Arizona Diamondbacks' roster make much sense?

I don't really think that it does. It seems like a weird group comprised as it is. Paul Goldschmidt is a legitimate MVP candidate, Patrick Corbin is a young ace and Addison Reed was a nice pickup as closer. But outside of that, the team traded for slugging outfielder Mark Trumbo, filled out their rotation with the likes of Bronson Arroyo and Brandon McCarthy, and don't appear to have much depth. I don't see much happening for the Diamondbacks this year with the roster comprised as it is.

What can Josh Johnson give the San Diego Padres this year?

I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to Josh Johnson, but I still think he has a few good years left in him. He isn't far removed from those back-to-back solid years in 2009/2010. A return to the NL might be what he needed, and without the burden of being the team's ace, Johnson should put in a nice season for San Diego.

How will the post-Todd Helton era begin for the Colorado Rockies?

I think surprisingly well. The Rockies are a team that isn't too far away from competing right now. They have two star offensive players in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki plus a budding star in Nolan Arenado. They have reliable veterans in Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. The pitching is where things always get interesting for the Rockies. As of right now, their closer is 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins. That might not end well. They will score, but as it always is with the Rockies, they have to get people out.

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