Spring has truly sprung this year. And what is more a sign of spring than that (un)official Cleveland holiday, the Indians' Home Opener? Cleveland's big day begins on Thursday, April 5 at 3:05 pm when the Tribe takes on the Toronto Blue Jays at Progressive Field. The scheduled starting pitcher for the Indians is right-hander Justin Masterson.
The first scheduled MLB game is on Wednesday, April 4, featuring the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals playing the Miami (formerly Florida) Marlins. The 7:05 pm game marks the beginning of the 2012 season and will be played in Marlins Park, the new home of the Miami team. Also new this year in Miami is manager Ozzie Guillen, formerly of the Chicago White Sox.
There are also a number of milestones and anniversaries being recognized this season. The Mets and Astros are each celebrating 50 years in the majors. April 10, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium. And the April 20th game between the Yankees and Red Sox celebrates the 100th anniversary of that venerable old ballpark, Fenway Park.
Other dates to note this year: Jackie Robinson Day is scheduled for April 15, the All Star Game will be played on July 10th in Kansas City, and the final day of the regular season is Wednesday, October 3rd.
MLB has also changed a few rules and procedures for the 2012 season. Most notably, the playoffs have been expanded from 8 to 10 teams. From the MLB website: "Under the new system, an extra wild card team will be added in each league, setting up a one-game playoff to determine which wild card entrant moves on to the Division Series." They really pushed to get the extra teams into the playoffs this year, so watch for some tweaking for the 2013 season. They were also negotiating for expanded instant replay, but that was shelved until next year because MLB, the umpires union and players union couldn't finalize an agreement.
Let's take a look back at some of the stats for the Tribe in 2011:
Record: 80-82 (2nd place in AL Central)
Highest Batting Average: Jason Donald, 318 - he had fewer at bats than many in the regular line-up, but was the only player over 300. (pitcher Josh Tomlin batted 1000 in Interleague play, going 2-2)
Home Runs Carlos Santana - 27, Asdrubal Cabrera - 25
RBIs: Asdrubal Cabrera - 92, Carlos Santana - 79
Stolen Bases: Asdrubal Cabrera - 17
Most Wins Pitching: J. Tomlin (12-7, 4.25 ERA), J. Masterson (12-10, 3.21 ERA)
Most Strikeouts: Justin Masterson - 158
Most Saves Chris Perez - 36
Complete Games: Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco - 1 each
These are just some of the awards given by MLB for 2011
Player of the Week: Asdrubal Cabrera (April 4-10)
Louisville Silver Slugger: Asdrubal Cabrera, shortstop (given to the best offensive players at each position in the AL and NL)
MVP & Cy Young Award Justin Verlander, Detroit, AL
And finally, coming up in 2013, the Houston Astros will move from the NL Central to the AL West. Both leagues will then have 3 divisions with 5 teams in each. And it also means that both Texas teams (Astros and Rangers) will now be in the same division. This is the first realignment of the leagues since the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the AL to the NL at the end of the 1997 season.
Okay baseball fans. Dust off your gloves and spikes and get your scorecards ready because the boys of summer are back! Play Ball!
Featured book: Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Ballpark in America by John Powers and Ron Driscoll (796.35764 B747P - 2012)
"This book, commemorating the park's 100th anniversary, painstakingly re-creates its history, from planning and construction to its role in the surrounding neighborhood and its designation as a symbol of a bygone era. Powers and Driscoll (both of the Boston Globe) explore the unique character of the field and the legendary Green Monster, nemesis of many would-be home-run hitters."