Spring is upon us, and the major league baseball season has begun. The race to the World Series is underway and there is plenty to be excited about this year after a thrilling offseason, which saw many star players change uniforms, the introduction of a new set of rules aimed at generating more exciting game play and a slew of teams having pushed all-in for the pennant.
Here are the 10 most important storylines for the 2023 MLB season.
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How will the new rules impact the overall viewing experience?
In an effort to speed up the game and create more advantages for the offense, three major rule changes are being introduced this season. The first is a pitch clock, which will allow pitchers and batters only a 15-second break between pitches. Baseball games that run past the three-hour mark will now become a thing of the past. Next, is a banning of defensive shifts, which will prevent teams from moving fielders around to negate advantages for hitters who tend to hit balls into certain parts of the field. Lastly, the size of the bases will be increased to reduce collisions between runners and fielders and to encourage more base-stealing. We already saw a drastic change in the pace of each game — and an uptick in runs scored — thanks to the new rules in spring training. There should be a similar carryover to the regular season.
Can Shohei Ohtani and the Angels finally make the playoffs?
Shohei Ohtani is a once-in-a-generation talent. He is a Cy Young-level starting pitcher, with a 2.33 earned run average and 219 strikeouts in 28 starts last season while hitting 34 home runs as one of the best hitters in the league. But the best two-way player in baseball since Babe Ruth has yet to make the postseason in his first five seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. What adds to the intrigue for this season is the fact Ohtani is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and about to receive a record-setting contract based on his talents. The question is: Will he make a long-term commitment to the Angels, who have yet to build a proper contender around him?
How will Aaron Judge follow up his record-breaking home run season?
After entertaining offers from other teams, including the San Francisco Giants, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge signed a nine-year, $360 million contract in December to remain in New York. The 30-year-old right fielder set the Bronx on fire last season when he broke Roger Maris’ American League (AL) home run record by hitting 62 home runs and winning the AL MVP award. Judge was a one-man offensive machine, leading the league in on-base percentage (.425), extra-base hits (90), total bases (391) and runs batted in (131). The Yankees are looking to win their first World Series since 2009. To do so, they will need an encore performance from their best hitter.
Are the Houston Astros going to become a modern-day dynasty?
The Houston Astros reached six straight League Championship Series and made four World Series appearances in the past six years. They are the defending champions and consensus favorites to make another run at a pennant this season. During this span, they’ve put together four 100-win seasons and won five division titles. We have not seen such dominance in the modern day era. Their starting rotation is one of the best in the league, and the Astros seem to have a never-ending pipeline of young stars, including Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown. A World Series win this season would cement the Astros as a modern-day dynasty.
Who will emerge as this year’s Cinderella team?
The Philadelphia Phillies captured the imaginations of every baseball fan last October with their improbable run to the World Series, led by slugger Bryce Harper, who nearly carried his team across the finish line all by himself. The Seattle Mariners were another wonderful story, ending their 20-year postseason drought. There are plenty of candidates for Cinderella stories this season. Three teams to keep an eye on are the Baltimore Orioles, who may surprise in the AL East; the Texas Rangers, who are as talented as any team in their division; and the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have arguably the best collection of young talent in the National League (NL) as they look to end a five-year playoff drought.
Are the San Diego Padres poised to become the team to beat in the NL West?
For years, the San Diego Padres have been a forgotten team in the NL West, but things started to shift last season. After a blockbuster trade to acquire slugger Juan Soto from Washington at the trade deadline, the Padres faced off against the vaunted Dodgers in the NL Division Series and eliminated them in dramatic fashion. San Diego added Xander Bogaerts to their lineup this offseason and seem primed to push the Dodgers for the NL West division title this year. It is shaping up to become one of the best rivalries in baseball.
Are the Toronto Blue Jays the most exciting team in baseball?
With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette entering their prime, the Blue Jays have arguably the best line-up in baseball. They spent the offseason fortifying their starting rotation and bullpen and adding more left-handed bats and defense around their two young stars. Two seasons ago, the Jays missed out on the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Last year, they lost in the wild card round to the Mariners. After two heartbreaking endings to their season, this team seems ready to take the next step. How far they can go remains a question, but there’s no doubt they will make the highlights every night while chasing a pennant.
The New York Mets won the offseason. Now, can they win the actual season?
The Mets went big-game hunting this offseason after a disappointing end to their 2022 season, which saw them relinquish their NL East lead to Atlanta in September followed by a quick playoff exit to San Diego. They signed starter Justin Verlander from Houston and brought in highly touted pitcher Kodai Senga from Japan while re-signing two key players from last year’s run: closer Edwin Díaz and outfielder Brandon Nimmo. On paper, the Mets have the best team in baseball. (Although Diaz’s season-ending injury at the World Baseball Classic has put a slight damper on things.) Now, it’s time to see whether that translates into on-field results.
Which free-agent move will make the biggest impact?
The Mets weren’t the only team who went spending this winter. The Phillies built on their momentum of their World Series run by adding superstar shortstop Trae Turner to their already formidable lineup. The Rangers addressed a huge need in their starting rotation by acquiring two-time Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom. The Chicago Cubs signaled their desire to contend again by signing former number-one overall pick Dansby Swanson. The Yankees didn’t just re-sign Judge, but also added frontline starter Carlos Rodón to their starting rotation. There will be plenty of pressure for all of these players to justify the hype in the first year with their new teams.
How will Miguel Cabrera and Adam Wainwright fare in their respective farewell tours?
Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is one of two stars who announced their intention to retire at the end of the 2023 season. The 39-year-old slugger has been one of the best hitters of his generation and doesn’t appear to be slowing down, getting his 3,000th hit last season and remaining an impactful player even in the twilight of his career. The other player entering his final season is St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. The 41-year-old pitcher announced this year — his 18th in the majors — will be his last. Baseball fans should make every effort to watch two generational talents one more time before they finish their illustrious careers.
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