MLB Spring Training 2012: 5 Burning Questions for Opening Day
If you hibernated over the winter, you sure missed a lot of baseball action, even though no games were played.
Remember the 2011 NLCS between St Louis and Milwaukee? Remember stars Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols battling for a trip to the World Series? Now, a matchup between Fielder and Pujols would include the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers.
I remember watching ESPN the night before the Angels made their splash in the free agent market. Analysts expected Pujols to stay with the Cardinals and look to lead St. Louis to a second straight title. Then, LA swooped in, signed Pujols and C.J Wilson, and got ready for a great 2012.
Oh, and those Florida Marlins you remember? Yeah, the ones that finished 72-90 and couldn't get anything going? They're in a much better place now.
Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes all don the Marlin black, and Ozzie Guillen will now complain in an all new ballpark built near downtown Miami, which the Marlins are ready to dominate in.
Teams have made their moves. Spring training has now begun, and the stars you see swinging bats and throwing baseballs over the summer are now preparing to bring their A-game once the season starts.
And we have all kinds of questions that will be answered come April.
5. How Will Buster Posey Respond to His Injury During 2012?
Everyone knows the story of the World Series champs in 2010. And everyone knows how Scott Cousins wrecked a World Series chance in 2011.
When Cousins plowed into Posey at the plate during the 12th inning of a May 25 game at AT&T Park, the crowd fell silent and watched in horror as Posey broke his leg, ending his 2011 season. But the player who proved instrumental in San Francisco's 2010 World Series title is back in 2011 and ready to do damage.
Posey was a huge force in San Francisco's lineup, and the offense scored 127 less runs in 2011 then in 2010, a huge difference. San Francisco was eight games back of Arizona at season's end, which kept San Francisco out of the playoffs.
The best defensive catcher and hitter on the Giants was sidelined, and the team struggled. So, now we are left to ponder if Posey will return to his old form and bat above .300, or if he will suffer another injury and fail to come back to his 2010 form.
The fate of the 2012 Giants falls on Buster's shoulders. The young Georgia kid who carried the Giants to a 2010 title is back at full strength, ready to pick apart opposing pitchers.
But the big question is this: Will Buster succeed in 2012?
4. Can Prince Fielder Lead Detroit to the World Series?
Last year, Prince Fielder led the Brewers to the NLCS, two wins away from the World Series. Now, he'll be hitting homers in Detroit.
One of the two "Bash Brothers" departed to Detroit, where he will be playing alongside Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and other players who carried the Tigers to the ALCS.
Detroit almost dethroned Texas and got to the World Series, where it would have faced the Cardinals in a 2006 World Series rematch. Now, the Tigers and Angels seem to be the front-runners for the pennant.
Fielder will have to play the same role he did in Milwaukee; home run hitter. Cabrera and Fielder have the potential to blast any pitch into the bleachers, and with Cy Young winner and AL MVP Justin Verlander at the helm, things seem a bit easier for Fielder.
Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Max Schrezer are also good pitchers, and they have the talent to do something special in Detroit. The Tigers made a big move, and for now, it seems if the pieces come into place, Detroit can win a World Series title.
The big question is: Will the Tigers win a World Series title?
3. Can the Miami Marlins Break out and Contend for a World Series Title?
Over the winter, Ozzie Guillen came, and so did Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano and Heath Bell. Pretty sweet winter.
Oh, and I forgot to mention a new ballpark right next to downtown Miami.
A Marlin team with Buehrle, Zambrano and Josh Johnson throwing strikes, Jose Reyes lighting up the base paths, and Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison hitting homers sounds pretty good to me. But, the National League has some tough competition.
Buehrle's White Sox, Zambrano's Cubs, Heath Bell's Padres and Reyes' Mets struggled during the 2011 campaign. Bell did do a nice job at closing games, and he and Leo Nunez will be difficult to hit off of, but he did give up some runs and blow some saves.
Reyes dominated in 2011, but he has had injury problems, and Zambrano has been known to get ejected or benched. Buehrle did a nice job in 2011, and he threw one of the 20 perfect games in the MLB, but he has bad games.
If the Marlin stars gel together, games can be won due to bats and arms combining for a recipe of success. But if not, all the money on the ballpark and free agents will go to waste.
So the big question is: Will the Marlins contend for a World Series title?
2. How Will St Louis Fare Without Prince Albert and Tony La Russa?
Last October, St. Louis was down to its final strike twice. Last October, St. Louis fought back and captured a World Series title.
We all remember David Freese's heroics, Albert Pujols' three-homer night, and Allen Craig catching a David Murphy fly ball to end the Fall Classic. St. Louis walked a way with a 10th trophy, but in December, Pujols walked away. So did Tony La Russa.
Sure, the Cardinals picked up Carlos Beltran, and they return most of the 2011 team that won it all. However, with the American League getting much stronger, and the Phillies, Giants and Marlins lurking in the NL, the Cardinals won't have an easy path to the World Series.
Losing Pujols definitely doesn't help.
The Cardinals will have to bounce back without their star and respond to the competition. The team has the talent to make a run, and besides Pujols, the Cardinals are only missing Ryan Theriot.
They lost a leader, a home run hitter, a true star. The Cardinals can respond to all of this, but...
1. Are the Los Angeles Angels What Everyone Thinks They Are?
Los Angeles swooped in, landed a brilliant package and now headlines the talk about the 2012 campaign.
And we aren't talking about the Dodgers. We're talking about the Angels.
C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols are now on the Angels, Kendry Morales is back, and Dan Haren and Jered Weaver are ready to do damage on the mound. The Angels have to deal with the Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and nine other AL teams, but they are projected to go far.
If he breaks out, Vernon Wells can do damage, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo showed what they can do last year, and the Angels have great pitchers, too.
This team has all the right pieces in place, but as we've seen with "Super-teams," sometimes things don't work out. Are the Angels headed for the same fate?
We'll find out for sure in 2012, but it's hard to put all this talent and potential aside and say they aren't ready to do damage. I don't see the Angels winning the World Series in 2012, but I see Prince Albert coming away with one more title before he leaves Anaheim.
The short answer to the question is yes.