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Mudville: June 19, 2024 7:16 am PDT

After the mindless lockout, a rushed spring training, a flurry of new gimmicks coming down the baseball pike via Rob Manfred, Opening Day is finally here.

The best thing about Opening Day is when it is over, you get into the sameness of the daily schedule, the competition, the never-ending battle between pitcher and hitter, the will to survive.

Opening Day is all pomp and circumstance and that is fine. It’s a day when it is all about being back on the field and every team except the Orioles, Pirates, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Guardians and Athletics at least have an outside shot of getting to the expanded postseason, another bad decision by MLB to water down the competition in the name of competition.

Former Yankees president Gabe Paul best put the season in perspective when he said: “The great thing about baseball is that there is a crisis every day.’’

Great teams rise above the crises.

No team has repeated as World Champion since the Yankees won three in a row 1998-99 and 2000. The last repeat winner from the National League was the Reds in 1975-76, the Big Red Machine. The National League, though, has produced the last three World Series winners in the Braves, Dodgers and Nationals.

Somehow, they managed to win those World Series despite not having the DH in the NL, but those days are over as Manfred continues to blend the two leagues so there really is no separation point between the NL and the AL.

He calls it progress. I don’t agree – but you have to roll with the punches in MLB, that is just the way of the world. Philosopher third baseman Mike Schmidt once said: “Any time you think you have the game conquered, the game will turn around and punch you right in the nose.’’

Truer words were never spoken. And that is so fitting this time of year when an endless amount of words are spoken and written regarding how the divisions are going to end up. I learned long ago writing those types of columns are a waste of time. What is more interesting is throwing out a tidbit or a comment regarding each of the 30 teams.

That is far more interesting than the run of the mill shot in the dark predictive column. With that in mind, here is my Opening Day column, think of it as a buffet line with something to digest from every team. And since Manfred doesn’t really want any part of the NL or the AL having their own individual thoughts anymore, I will just run out the 30 teams in no special order.

This is not a list column where I predict where each team will finish, there are plenty of people who enjoy writing lists. This is just something about each team that caught my eye. Or didn’t. It’s not Gospel and it’s not a guess. It’s a way to fly though the major leagues as the first games of the season are to be played after a long winter.

Some will be short, some will be long.

Again, there is no order, but of course, I will start with a team that always holds my interest.

“I learned long ago writing those types of columns are a waste of time. What is more interesting is throwing out a tidbit or a comment regarding each of the 30 teams.”

YANKEES: Remember the Bizzaro World episode of Seinfeld? That’s kind of this Yankees team with the recent decisions made by Brian Cashman. A lot of the things I have been calling for Cashman to do the last few years: improve the defense with an actual shortstop and catcher, clean up the base-running, don’t be so right-handed dominant at the plate in Yankee Stadium, of all places, he has addressed, doing a 180 on his past teams. Is it enough to get the Yankees to a World Series? I would also suggest that Cashman stop with the whining of the Astros cheating in 2017. The Yankees couldn’t hit a lick in Houston, that’s why they lost. He continues to make the Astros his Moby Dick White Whale – or should I say Wail.

I loved the comments from Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley the other day when he said of the Yankees: “There are some Ks in that lineup … Sanchez killed them defensively. They tried to defend him a lot, Aaron Boone did, but he hurt them.”

Sanchez is gone to the Twins. Manfred has given the Yankees a gift card to the postseason with the expanded postseason. If they fail in the playoffs this year, they can’t blame El Gary Sanchez.

METS: A Yankees-Mets World Series would be fun. Love the addition of Buck Showalter, he will fix the fundamental flaws of this team and already has them on notice. Max Scherzer will compete and that will help guide the ship. Another thing I like about Buck is that he has a way of drawing in the stars on the team and he makes them feel they are help running the ship, even if they are not, that is a special talent and he has already done that with Francisco Lindor. In particular, I loved how Buck made sure to call over Lindor and introduce him to Bill Parcells one day in spring training and Parcells immediately asked Lindor if he could play cornerback. It was just another day in spring training but it said a lot. The Mets need to be more of a team than they were last year and are heading in the right direction.

RED SOX: If Trevor Story is this year’s Kiké Hernandez the Red Sox will be set. I believe Story will be a great fit and will love the Green Monster which should help him get back to his numbers of a couple of years ago with a .294 average and 35 home runs for the Rockies. Alex Cora knows all about middle infield defense and with Xander Bogaerts at SS and Story at 2B the Red Sox are solid. Could reliever Kutter Crawford be this year’s Garrett Whitlock, a pitcher the Red Sox stole from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft? He has a funky delivery and Chaim Bloom, who came from the Rays, loves relievers with a different look.

Christian Vazquez #7 and Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox react before a Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins on March 27, 2022 at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

ANGELS: I’m pulling for the Angels to finally figure it out simply because I think Noah Syndergaard could become the best sarcastic quote in baseball. Others may want to see Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in the postseason, I want Thor back in October baseball. Ohtani, Trout & Thor. That’s MLB The Show 22 right there. Baseball needs this kind of energy and star power to at least keep the postseason ratings from going down the tubes. The Angels never seem to have enough pitching though and there is so much riding on Thor’s broad shoulders.

GUARDIANS: Not a fan of the new name. Am a fan that Tito Francona is back in the dugout and 3B Jose Ramirez agreed on a five-year, $124 million extension. Many years ago a Cleveland writer told me that a local bar plays the movie Major League every year on Opening Day and that there are some in the crowd who actually believe that really happened. Team hasn’t won a World Championship since 1948.

RANGERS: Rangers RHP Taylor Hearn is a fan of the new “Hey Siri’’ communications device between catcher and pitcher. He said he would like to change the voice to someone really smooth like Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington. I like it. I also like the moves the Rangers made adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Mitch Garver and Jon Gray after losing 102 games in 2021. Can’t wait until Cole Winn and Jack Leiter arrive, but the Rangers are at least tolerable now. Manager Chris Woodward is a good baseball man and needed the help.

A’s: They tore the team down to save money once again and Billy Beane has another blank canvas to work. Let me know when Moneyball II hits the theaters.

PHILLIES: Totally intrigued with the bashing Phils. Fantastic signing adding hitting coach Kevin Long, who is appreciated and respected by Bryce Harper from their Nationals days. K-Long will make a huge difference by getting the best out of the hitters. He suggested Mickey Moniak move closer to the plate so he doesn’t have to have a big step to the plate in his setup. That move allowed Moniak’s hips to get through the ball and (I know it is only spring training) Moniak hit six home runs this spring. Expecting an MVP season from Bryce Harper and now pitching has to step up and with Zach Eflin (knee) healthy again that is a start. Always fun when the Phillies and the Phanatic are in a race. Phillies defenders will have some trouble catching the baseball, all part of the show.

Bo Bichette #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays and Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies look on after Harper hit a double in the first inning during a Grapefruit League spring training game at TD Ballpark on April 02, 2022 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

PIRATES: Fantastic ballpark, some young players on the rise. Enjoy an Iron City beer and hope for the best.

D-BACKS: What a mess last year. Catch the baseball at least this year and try to improve running the bases.

ROCKIES: Call me crazy, but I love the Kris Bryant move. Nearly drafted by the Rockies, he feels at home in Denver and leadership was needed. Ryan McMahon is fun to watch and Brendan Rodgers will have a positive impact. This team will be better than people think.

DODGERS: Keeping this simple. Loaded A to Z. Best overall lineup in the game. They will be back in the World Series. Will Freddie Freeman win two World Series in a row?

PADRES: Fernando Tatis fell off a motorcycle. Enough said. Would love to see Dom Smith wind up a Padre, somehow. Going home to SoCal would be a huge plus and the Padres need his bat. It’s a shame that Smith is not a starting first baseman somewhere in baseball. Expecting more from Blake Snell this year if he just throws strikes. One of the best fan bases in baseball. They deserve more than AJ Preller has delivered.

MARINERS: Everybody loves the M’s this year. All I can say is it is about time Jerry Dipoto lives up to the Jerry Dipoto hype that has been lavished on him for years. Looking forward to watching prospect Julio Rodriguez.

CUBS: They broke the Billy Goat Curse in 2016. Everything has to go right for them to even make the postseason this year. I am a big believer in second chances for players and Clint Frazier always tried to be something he was not with the Yankees. Just be Clint Frazier. Marcus Stroman takes the ball and delivers but there are some big holes with the Cubbies.

MARLINS: Marlins got a good one in World Series MVP Jorge Soler and the young pitching will keep them in games for the most part, but Derek Jeter’s departure speaks volumes. A long, long year ahead for Marlins.

NATIONALS: Juan Soto. That’s it.

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals poses for a photo during the Washington Nationals Photo Day at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches complex on Thursday, March 17, 2022 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

TIGERS: My father’s favorite team so I got to see the days of Al Kaline up close at Yankee Stadium. I have to say this is an interesting mix with Javier Baez added as well as catcher Tucker Barnhart and pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Youngsters Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene will give fans something to watch. Greene already has had terrible luck breaking his foot but when he returns I will again watch a Tigers game. Miguel Cabrera is sitting on 2,987 hits, 13 hits shy of 3,000.

ROYALS: Been waiting to see Bobby Witt Jr. on an everyday basis. This will be fun. He hits home runs and steals bases. Zack Greinke returns to KC for a full circle career.

TWINS: This team will be in a running for a playoff spot if all goes right and taking a shot at Carlos Correa was a wise move to add an MVP candidate and much needed leadership … and you just know they will lose to the Yankees in the playoffs because the pitching is short.

WHITE SOX: What a lineup and watching Luis Robert is a baseball treat as is the energy and talent of Tim Anderson. Defense has to be better but really the White Sox should coast to the AL Central title and then it’s all about showing up for the postseason. Lance Lynn injury sets them back. That is even more reason Michael Kopech needs to harness all that talent.

REDS: Curious to see Hunter Greene develop but overall the Reds are trying to be baseball’s version of chili over spaghetti, a cheap meal.

BRAVES: Replacing Freddie Freeman with Matt Olson is a Braves kind of thing. Last year they took a bad situation, the Ronald Acuna Jr. injury and made it work for them. I’ve been saying for years teams can retool midway through the season because so many cheap teams get rid of talent. The Braves retooled and won a World Championship. Don’t count them out and they have the ultimate secret coaching weapon in Ron Washington who makes his infielders great. Look for them to be in the thick of it for their fifth straight NL East title.

GIANTS: I don’t see anything close to the 107 wins of a year ago. Buster Posey essentially was the computer chip that ran the team. Losing Kevin Gausman is critical as well. Will not keep up with the Dodgers this time around.

Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses for a portrait during the Milwaukee Brewers photo day at American Family Fields of Phoenix on March 17, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

BREWERS: The perfect team for Milwaukee, an underrated city. Reigning Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes is all you can ask for in a pitcher. Imagine if Christian Yelich could still hit like the 2019 Christian Yelich. Brewers are starting in a hole with the PED suspension of catcher Pedro Severino for 80 games but the Brewers have plenty of experience and know how to keep opponents from putting runs on the board. A playoff team that will not excel in the playoffs.

CARDINALS: A winning culture and that means something. Young Dylan Carlson will lead off and having a switch-hitter on top of the lineup that features Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill is a good start to success. Carlson hit .293 in September. Does Albert Pujols have anything left? We’ll see but Cardinals seem to find a way.

ASTROS: Adding a healthy Justin Verlander to a rotation is a plus for any team. Carlos Correa has moved on but the Astros will still be a force if Alex Bregman can carry the offensive load. Dusty Baker’s teams get to the postseason.

ORIOLES: I was really looking forward to seeing star prospect catcher Adley Rutschman but he has a strained right triceps and is not expected back until May. The Orioles are in constant rebuild and having patience must be difficult for O’s fans. That AL East schedule will be the Orioles downfall again.

RAYS: Yankee killer Austin Meadows is gone, traded to the Tigers, but that doesn’t matter. The Rays are a player development machine and Josh Lowe is one of the outfielders now. The pitching staff has been hammered by injuries and this could be the year the Rays actually don’t have Rays type success but I have learned to expect more from the Rays, not less, especially with young stars Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena; and don’t forget the competitive Kevin Cash might be the best manager in the game. Cash and Cora just love to beat the Yankees.

BLUE JAYS: Let’s turn this over to Vlad Guerrero, a youngster I first met and was impressed with when we talked in Cooperstown at his father’s induction: Speaking in movie terms of the Jays 91-71 season last year, Vlad said, “Last year was the trailer. Now you guys are going to see the movie.’’ Should be some show even with the loss of Robbie Ray to the Mariners but the additions of Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman are solid. One of the most overall impressive young pitchers I have seen recently is Alek Manoah. No fear just like these Jays. Could we see a Blue Jays-Dodgers World Series come October? Don’t bet against it.

Enjoy the Opening Day buffet, baseball fans – and then the main course of a complete 162-game season. Can’t wait until the bigger bases and Robo umps arrive in the near future.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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