There are two things that say ‘spring is here’ more than anything else: the sound of birds chirping outside, and the sound of a bat hitting a baseball as far as it can possibly go. The first of those started about a month ago, the second has just gotten underway within the last few weeks.
Once again, Major League Baseball’s thirty teams have divided themselves into two leagues, the Grapefruit League, which plays its games in Florida, and the Cactus League, which plays its games in Arizona. For many teams, this is an opportunity to give minor league players experience competing against more advanced competitors, something desperately needed after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season. It’s also an opportunity for teams to play others that they typically wouldn’t, as each league contains teams from both Major Leagues, American and National, whereas interleague play is rare during the regular season.
Of note are the rule changes that are incoming for this season (and potentially more after that): Double-header games will now be only seven innings each, for a total of fourteen; as well as the removal of the universal designated hitter rule that was in place for the 2020 season.
During the off-season, teams made multiple moves, but none figure to have bigger impacts than the Dodgers’ signing of Trevor Bauer (three-year deal, 102 million dollars) and Yu Darvish being sent to San Diego along with Victor Caratini as part of a salary dump on the North Siders’ part.
As part of spring training this year, a rule has been implemented that allows teams to end an inning after twenty pitches. Despite the number of outs or how many men on base, this rule is designed to lighten the workload on pitchers so that they don’t overwork themselves trying to ramp back up in preparation for the upcoming season, which will be the normal length of 162 games. In another change from last season, the postseason format will be once again condensed to its pre-2020 format.
Hopes are high that MLB will be able to get through the entire season, but even if they don’t, spring training has already provided one memorable highlight: NY Met Luis Guillorme setting the record for most pitches in an at-bat, having forced St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks to throw him 22 pitches and drawing a walk.
Overall, like the Panic At The Disco! song says, there are “high, high hopes” for this season.
Predictions-wise, for the National League: Dodgers in the West, St Louis in the Central, Braves in the East; for the American League: Yankees in the East, White Sox resurging in the Central, and Houston taking the West again. Wild Card teams: Rays, Indians; Padres, Brewers. Yankees in seven over LA.