A couple of years ago, about a year after I began watching the sport with some degree of regularity, I wrote and published ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Baseball’. The guide covers everything from a concise history of baseball, as it burgeoned around New York from the middle of the 1800s, with the National League established in 1876 and the American League consolidated alongside it in 1901; to a depiction of some of the sport’s defining players and most memorable moments; to Major League Baseball’s structure today; the game’s system of scoring, rules and regulations; and the opportunities for watching from the comfort of one’s home.
This week I rewrote some of the guide, adding a few inessential but worthwhile points of nuance which I’ve picked up over the last two years. And I added an all-new preview ahead of the 2015 season. The 2015 Major League Baseball season gets underway this Sunday, 5 April, when the St. Louis Cardinals travel to Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs.
I thought it was was worth excerpting this preview here, to stand in its own right, and to draw attention to the ‘Beginner’s Guide’. My preview is for the benefit of the semi-literate baseball fan: who watches the sport regularly, but a few times a month rather than several times each week; who knows the names of some of the sport’s top players, but can offer no detail when it comes to roster depth or starting rotations; who may have taken to baseball via a team chosen more or less at random, and has little concept what lies beyond the confines of that team and their division. My preview is brief, but should offer this sort of follower or would-be follower a basic grounding. And it is quicker to read and easier to navigate than the separate division or team previews which feature on baseball sites.
As my guide goes into in more detail, thirty teams compete in Major League Baseball. There are fifteen in the National League, and fifteen in the American League: five teams in each league’s East, Central and West divisions. Baseball’s regular season consists of 162 games for each team, 81 at home and 81 away, which take place over a period of 180 days. Starting on Sunday, the regular season will come to a close on 4 October – upon which the postseason will commence.
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Previewing the 2015 MLB Season
The Washington Nationals topped the National League East in 2014, with what was widely considered the best pitching rotation in Major League Baseball. Without losing any of their five starting pitchers from last season, in the offseason they added Max Scherzer on a seven-year, $210 million contract. This has made them many people’s favourites to feature come the World Series in October. Their main challengers in the NL East should be the Miami Marlins, powered by the big-hitting of Giancarlo Stanton, who back in November agreed the biggest deal in the history of sport: a contract extension worth $325 million over thirteen years.
The St. Louis Cardinals will remain the team to beat in the National League Central, with the Pittsburgh Pirates hot on their heels; and perhaps a challenge too courtesy of the Chicago Cubs, who during the offseason hired Joe Maddon as their new manager, and signed Jon Lester to lead their pitching rotation. The Cubs have faced controversy after eventually determining to send Kris Bryant – tipped as one of the best prospects in baseball – to the minors for the start of the campaign.
The San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, four games to three, to take the 2014 World Series. They are likely to once again go head-to-head in the National League West with the Los Angeles Dodgers: considered to have the best pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw, and who beat the Giants for the division title in 2014. But a reformulated San Diego Padres could also have a say.
In the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson and catcher Russel Martin to a strong offense, but failed to strengthen in the pitching department. With a group of talented youngsters headlined by Mookie Betts, David Ortiz still a potent designated hitter, and Hanley Ramirez added at the cost of $22 million a year, the Boston Red Sox will hope to oust last year’s surprise AL East title winners, the Baltimore Orioles.
Meanwhile in the American League Central, the Chicago White Sox were one of the busiest teams of the offseason, bringing in Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, David Robertson, and Adam LaRoche. The White Sox will hope to dethrone the Detroit Tigers who – with star players Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander, and David Price added last season – have taken the AL Central title four years in a row. The Kansas City Royals face a tough task repeating last year’s triumph, when they unexpectedly became American League champions; but the Cleveland Indians look well-rounded and ready to compete.
The Los Angeles Angels had the best regular season in Major League Baseball in 2014, taking the American League West with a total of 98 wins. They haven’t strengthened significantly in the offseason, and with the Oakland Athletics – who finished second in the division last year – having overhauled their roster, the Angels ought to be challenged for the division title by the Seattle Mariners, spearheaded by five-time All-Star pitcher Felix Hernandez.