01/01/10 12:01 AM EST
Seeing 2010: Storylines abound in new year
Setting the stage with 10 stories to watch in coming season
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It means you can see: the flight of an Albert Pujols home run from the moment it comes off the bat; the glimpse of a Mariano Rivera cutter as it eludes another abject failure of a swing; the gliding blur of Jacoby Ellsbury stealing second, third and home; the takeoff of Torii Hunter as he goes up and over a wall to bring back a potential home run.
Possessing this Major League Baseball acuity, a fan can see it all. Possibly the only better vision would be that of a Hawk, such as White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson or Hall of Fame candidate Andre Dawson. Let's test out this 2010 vision now with 10 storylines to watch, and feel free to test your own by commenting below on the year to come:
Roy Halladay vs. Cliff Lee. There is always a possibility they could pitch against each other -- either at the 81st All-Star Game at Anaheim or in the 106th World Series -- but this is really a question of which former Cy Young winner involved in that recent megadeal will pay off the most. Lee is back in the American League with Seattle, and Halladay leaves his 146-76 Toronto history behind and joins the reigning National League champs. These kinds of deals tend to be measured best in the long run rather than in the first year, but it was the first time multiple Cy winners went in a multideal trade, and it means there will be intense scrutiny every step of the way.
See you at Target Field, and bring blankets. There will be some brisk days in Minnesota, but whatever. Hearty Twins fans cannot wait to see outdoor baseball again, and in a gorgeous new ballpark. What will be most interesting is seeing how the Twins themselves conform to the new, real-grass setting. This has been a club that seems to always compete, and it was built indoors. Goodbye, Metrodome.
The Stephen Strasburg Show. He was drafted No. 1 overall last June by the Nationals, riding a level of hype and expectation (see: contract) never seen among top picks. Now it is time to put potential to the test. Will he break Spring Training as a member of the Nationals' rotation? Will it be easier to do so on a club that had the National League's worst record the last two years? Will he sell tickets? Is he 100 percent after suffering a minor injury at the end of the Arizona Fall League?
Joe Girardi's jersey. The Yankees' manager wore No. 27 in 2009, and his club won its 27th World Series title. Girardi is upping the jersey number to 28 in 2010 for that very reason, even forcing newcomer Curtis Granderson to forego his No. 28 in favor of 14. The Yankees were the last club to repeat back in 1998 to 2000, and now they are in position to do it again. Competitive balance is greater now than it was a decade ago, so it figures to be even harder. The champs have done some tinkering, not only adding Grandy, but also trading Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez in a five-player swap.
Pujols finishes The Best Decade Ever. The Cardinals' first baseman enters his 10th season, and that will complete the best first decade of Major League service by a position player. Bring on Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and anyone else in Cooperstown you can think of, it doesn't matter. Pujols has reached at least (and generally far above) a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBIs each time. He has finished in the top four of NL MVP voting every year but 2007 (ninth). He has won basically everything you can win, on and off the field. The Triple Crown is his theater now, because in 2009 he finished in the NL's top three for home runs (47), third in RBIs (135) and third in batting (.327).
Cubs, cont'd. The question must be asked every year until they finally win their first World Series title since 1908. So we'll ask it again. Will "next year" finally be the year? Now that they are under new ownership with the Ricketts family, does top leadership have an influence? Do odds have to eventually fall in their favor? If you are tired of dealing with this question at the start of every single year without fail, then tell it to the Cubs.
Chris Coghlan just keeps hitting. The Marlins had the NL Rookie of the Year in 2009, as Coghlan led all of MLB with the most hits in the second half of the season. He finished with 162 total hits in just 128 games, like it was no big deal. We'll be watching to see whether he picks up where he left off and goes right into All-Star outfield consideration. Other guys we can't wait to see continue to blossom include Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson (11-4, 2.89 ERA, 116 strikeouts in 21 starts); A's closer and AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey (26 saves, 0.88 WHIP); and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (74 runs, 124 hits, 12 homers, 54 RBIs, 22 steals in just 108 games).
April with Zack. If this April is anything like last April, then get out of Zack Greinke's way. When you dissect his 2009 Cy Young season, what jumps out most is what he did before May even arrived. Greinke was 5-0 with an 0.50 ERA, 44 strikeouts to eight walks, and only two earned runs allowed -- both in his fifth start. Best time to get him as a hitter is in July, when he was 0-3 last summer. Can this guy get even better, and can the Royals help him become a 20-game winner? One amazing thing about his Cy is that he did not even win half of his starts.
Alex Rodriguez and the 600 Home Run Club. It is projected to happen in the Subway Series: June 19 at Yankee Stadium against the Mets. Rodriguez -- now free of the postseason-pressure yoke -- enters the season with 583 homers. His first long ball of 2010 he will pass Mark McGwire for eighth place on the all-time list.
AL West changing of the guard? Seattle and Texas are two of three active franchises never to have reached the World Series (also Washington, nee Montreal). Chone Figgins went from the Angels to Mariners, the Angels lost John Lackey to Boston, Lee was traded to Seattle, and Texas returns an offensive powerhouse and 17-game-winner Scott Feldman on a club that stayed in the hunt late last season.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.