Twenty things to watch for this baseball season:
1. The Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge Show: The Yankees are near the center of attention in any season, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. Some are describing it as Ruth/Gehrig reincarnated. Of course it could also be a flop, but we tend to doubt it. Will there be droughts? Absolutely. But the upside should be quite a spectacle.
2. The Angels will draw the attention of the baseball world with two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who will draw a Japanese media contingent of more than 100, surpassing even the Daisuke Matsuzaka craze that invaded Boston in 2007. Ohtani will be manager Mike Scioscia’s biggest challenge, trying to incorporate him into a six-man pitching rotation, while also getting him some DH at-bats. Should be interesting and good for baseball.
3. Can the Astros go back to back? Absolutely no reason they can’t, except that it rarely happens. The Astros seem even more stacked than they were a year ago. They’ll have Justin Verlander for a full season, though he’s a year older. They have added Gerrit Cole to the rotation, and bullpen pieces Joe Smith and Hector Rondon.
4. The comeback of David Price could be the most important topic of this season. Why? Because a Red Sox dynamic duo of Chris Sale and Price could offset the Yankees’ Herculean lineup. After Price’s 2017, which included a major injury for the first time in his excellent career, he seems determined to rebound with a 30-plus-start season.
5. Will veteran acquisitions Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, as well as the return of legendary executive Brian Sabean, return the Giants to a force in the NationalLeague? The Giants were horrible last season but have greatly improved their offense, and their pitching remains solid.
6. How deep will the disconnect grow between players and their union leader Tony Clark, and against the owners? Many free agents remain available, despite games having begun in spring training. By agreeing to luxury-tax limits and penalties for going over that tax, the players basically agreed to a salary cap. This has reduced their earning potential. Resentment is growing both against the players’ leadership and against the owners.
7. How many games will the Marlins lose? This could be epic. We’re guessing between 100-120.
8. The J.D. Martinez factor in the Red Sox lineup will be closely scrutinized. He is basically David Ortiz’s replacement. The Red Sox need 40-plus home run power. Only six righthanded batters have hit 40-plus homers in a season for the Red Sox: Manny Ramirez (three times), Jimmie Foxx (twice), Jim Rice, Tony Armas, Dick Stuart, and Rico Petrocelli.
9. Bryce Harper will be the most-watched player in baseball. If he has a great season, we will see a free agent period orchestrated by Scott Boras like we’ve never seen. This will be a mind-blowing contract, likely in the 10-year range and north of $300 million. Maybe even $400 million. So there’s pressure for Harper, who is only 26, to have a 2015-type season.
10. How about these new pace-of-play rules? The biggie is no more than six mound visits per nine innings, with a couple of “special circumstances’’ provisions. Players are griping that they need to get signals straight, especially late in games when sign-stealing goes on. The other stuff is fairly easy. The time between innings, the warm-ups for pitchers ending 20 seconds before the 2:05 clock expires, should be easy to execute.