For over a century, baseball has been hailed above all other sports as America’s national pastime, and no other game during the regular 162-game season is as eagerly anticipated as opening day. Just look at any die-hard baseball fan’s calendar. Vacation? Holidays? Anniversaries? All are often forgotten and pale in comparison with the coveted first game of the season. Ask any fan what the “official” start of spring is and chances are their answer will be opening day. Much more than just an event, it is an experience.
But after the flash and anticipation of opening day passes and the season starts to get rolling, the idea of agonizing over each and every game of the season becomes exhausting and some fans just find themselves wishing it were August or at least mid-July.
Although there have been many surprising starts so far this season, including the outstanding record of the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox’s dismal beginnings, there are still plenty of games to go and no team’s fate is even close to being set in stone.
During spring training I don’t think anyone would have guessed that Tampa Bay and Boston would already be trailing Baltimore by five games this early in the season, but that is exactly how the first week of baseball has played out. Many ESPN analysts and baseball fans around the globe had the strong Red Sox team winning the World Series in 2011, but according to ESPN no team has ever won it all after starting the season 0-4, let alone the 0-6 record the Sox started with.
“It can’t get any worse than this and there’s only one way to go,” Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “That’s up.”
Boston isn’t the only team in the MLB struggling, but because of their goals for the season they are the ones on the hot seat. The St. Louis Cardinals and their number one slugger are also getting a lot of attention from fans and the press for their not-so-shining start. Pujols was 0-5 on opening day against the Pittsburgh Pirates and he grounded in to three double plays. The next day was looking better for the hitter when he jacked his first home run of the season, but the Cardinals’ pitching struggled and they again dropped the game to the Pirates. In the shadow of his expiring contract, Pujols is hitting just .167 (as of Thursday) and he only has four RBIs. With Matt Holliday returning from an appendectomy, the line-up should start getting stronger, but if Pujols continues to struggle the Cardinals may have to kiss their dreams of winning the NL Central good-bye, and Pujols would lose a lot of leverage in his contract negotiations.
When it comes to the two teams from Chicago, they are playing just as well, if not better than, most fans could have hoped. The Cubs were not really seen by many as candidates to win the Central and make it to the playoffs, but their offense so far has been as good as could be expected and their pitching line-up is holding their own versus some strong offenses. Starlin Castro already had 10 hits under his belt including two doubles and two triples after just the first six games, and he is leading his team with a .353 batting average. The southsider White Sox have also gotten off to a great start, and they look to be a top contender in the AL Central along with the surprising Cleveland Indians and the struggling Twins. Edwin Jackson has come out and thrown a couple solid starts and he leads the pitching staff with a .193 ERA and 20 strikeouts in just two starts. In Jackson’s start against the Tampa Bay Rays he struck out two batters in each of the first five innings and that was enough to pull off the win.
“I really didn’t know how many [strikeouts] I had,” Jackson said to ESPN. “If you would have asked me an exact number, I probably wouldn’t have been close. My main objective is to get outs any way I can, either putting the ball in play or strikeouts.”
With over 150 games left in the season, there is still plenty of baseball to go, but already some players are beginning to stand out and others are fading away. In the next few weeks the standings should begin to take shape, but with the trade deadline not until July and with many teams known for late pushes, it’s going to be a long six months of baseball.