They may be seriously obnoxious, but baseball haters make some decent points. Games are slow and the season is interminable. For some of us, those are reasons to love the game. But if you’re among those too twitchy to appreciate the ebbs and flows of a 162-game season, there's still a way to enjoy the sport. Here’s a suggestion: Pick up a couple storylines that allow you to dip into season. You don’t have to tune in every night to if the Mets are living up to the hype. You should know the Mets are being hyped though (really, they are). So here’s your primer. Watch closely or watch from a distance, but whatever you do, don’t wait until October to join the party.
1. Does New York have a new team? I’ll say it again so you know it wasn’t a typo: There are expectations in Queens this year. And they’re not expectations of failure! Just look at this recent New York Post cover. The Mets, stealing New York from the Yankees? What’s unthinkable in most years is possible in 2015 thanks to a Yankee roster that’s old, boring and painfully average. The Mets have their share of old, boring, painfully average players too, but they complement them with compelling prospects and a young pitcher whose bravado was made for New York City. That might be enough for Queens to steal the spotlight from the Bronx.
2. Is it finally the Cubs’ year? Only the most optimistic Cubs fans thinks so. The rest will tell you that 2016 is when Theo Epstein’s rebuild will finally come together. Regardless, the bumper crop of young phenoms filling up Wrigley each afternoon should play an entertaining brand of balls-to-the-Ivy-covered-wall baseball. Even if they're losing, it’ll be worth watching—especially with this insane new JumboTron.
3. Can the Padres rebuild topple the NL West’s old guard? Noticing a theme here? Of all the losing teams trying to turn it around this season, none is as intriguing as the Padres. GM A.J. Preller overhauled the Friars’ lineup with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, brought in a top-of-the-rotation starter in James Shields and just yesterday, traded for Craig Kimbrel, baseball’s best closer. San Diego’s challenge will be unseating the Dodgers, who are as powerful (and rich) as ever, and the Giants, who just won the World Series. For the Padres, breaking through is going to require more than winning the off-season though. They’ll actually have to win some games.
4. Will the Phillies go 0-162? Enough with the optimism. The Phillies are going to be bad this year. Comically bad. Their rotation is led by a true ace in Cole Hamels and Chase Utley is, well, still named Chase Utley. After that, it’s a whole lot of junk. Ryan Howard is useless, Cliff Lee is hurt, Jimmy Rollins in gone and their young players are unremarkable. The Phillies would do well to make themselves worse this year and trade Hamels and Utley for anything at all. But there’s a problem with that plan too. Along with having what’s likely to be the worst team in baseball, they’ve got the worst GM. Go Eagles?
5. Will the pace of play rules make a difference? MLB instituted new rules this offseason designed to speed up the game. Managers will no longer amble out to the field to ask for a replay, pitching changes will happen faster and batters will be required to stay in the batter’s box between most pitches. Best case, these rules shave 10 minutes off the average game. That means shortening the gap between pitches by roughly two seconds. Enough to notice? Seems unlikely.
6. Can Clayton Kershaw do it again? The 27-year-old lefty won his third Cy Young last year, in what was his fourth consecutive season as the league’s ERA champ. He set career bests in WHIP (0.85), ERA+ (197) and K/9 (10.8), among other things, and struck out 239 in only 27 starts. The scary thing is there’s reason to believe he’ll get better. Along with making significant defensive upgrades at shortstop, second base and centerfield, the Dodgers traded for elite pitch framer Yasmani Grandal, whose skills will help Kershaw steal a few strikes on those rare occasions when he misses.
7. Will people shut up about A-Rod? Baseball’s arch villain returns to pinstripes this year after sitting out last season for being a lying sack of minotaur excrement. At the beginning of spring training it looked the hot takes industrial complex was going to have a field day with A-Rod’s return, but as March plodded along there just wasn’t much to say. Let’s hope that continues for the next six months. Yes, A-Rod’s slimy and weird, but no one cares anymore.
Photos by USA Today