MLB 2022 Season Preview: AL Central Divisional Breakdown


Baseball is back
! A frosty, tense, and acrimonious lockout thankfully ended last week, and Spring Training is well underway. Pre-season games start on March 17th, with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Subsequently, it is the perfect time to look forward, not back, and preview the new campaign β€” focusing on the AL Central.

The AL Central could get hectic this season. The Central has featured some miserable baseball over the last few years. However, Spring Training has provided fans with glimpses that the green shoots of recovery are springing. Last year, the Chicago White Sox ran away with the title, but they should see some fierce competition as their rivals look stronger.

Photo Credit: www.mlb.com

2022 AL Central Preview

Chicago White Sox

2021 record: 93-69, AL Central winners

Our AL Central preview begins in Chicago. The Chicago White Sox enjoyed a superb 2021 season as they romped to the AL Central title. The veteran management of Tony La Russa, coupled with a top-ten pitching rotation and powerful hitting, propelled the ChiSox to the playoffs. Ultimately, the Sox’s season ended at the hands of the Houston Astros. Nonetheless, the South Siders start 2022 as the runaway favorites to repeat as AL Central winners.

Biggest off-season move: Leury Garcia

Keeping a franchise cornerstone on the roster is a good sign for the White Sox. White Sox stalwart Leury Garcia re-signed with the franchise in the off-season, as he inked a three-year deal worth $16.5 million. Garcia’s utility ability and pop off the bat are essential parts of the Sox’s everyday roster.

Player to watch: Gavin Sheets

One of the touted prospects from the White Sox pipeline, Gavin Sheets, broke through in 2021. The powerful, versatile player hopes to build off of an impressive rookie campaign. Sheets can play in the infield, outfield, and possibly as DH in inter-league games. Sheets is getting plenty of looks in Spring Training games, and he could start on the White Sox’s Opening Day roster.

Season projection: AL Central winners

The White Sox are too talented, too deep, and too experienced not to win the AL Central. Their pitching rotation and bullpen are the best in the division, and they can hit for power and placement. With La Russa’s veteran experience, this is a team ready for the 162-game marathon.

Cleveland Guardians

2021 record: 80-82

The Cleveland Guardians finished second in the AL Central last year. Overall, it was a solid, if unspectacular, season from a club long removed from the halcyon days of playing in the World Series. The Guardians are a milquetoast organization, and 2021 was the ultimate example.

Biggest off-season move: Not trading Shane Bieber

Shane Bieber is one of the top pitchers in the game. The former Cy Young Award recipient is still on the Guardians’ roster. Whether he ends the season as a Guardian is another matter. Bieber could be one of the big names on the trade block near the deadline. The experienced arm will continue to deal and give the Guardians a chance until then.

Player to watch: Gabriel Arias

Ranked as the third-best prospect in the Guardians’ pipeline, Gabriel Arias will make headlines in 2022. The infielder hit .571 during his Spring Training at-bats. The Guardians sent him to minor league camp on Monday. Nevertheless, Arias will get called up at some point. The talented hitter with solid fielding skills is another young prospect in the AL Central.

Season projection: Bringing up the rear

The Guardians are in complete tear-down mode. Add that with their AL Central rivals getting stronger, and it will be a long 162 games for the club.

Detroit Tigers

2021 record: 77-85

The Detroit Tigers emerged from their hibernation in 2021, as AJ Hinch’s first season as manager went well. The Tigers finished third in the AL Central, as the first positive signs of their rebuild bore fruit. 2022 is an even bigger year for the Motor City Kitties. Exciting prospects, significant free-agent acquisitions, and an experienced manager could kick-start a new era of Tigers baseball.

Biggest off-season move: Signing Javy Baez

The Tigers needed a shortstop; GM Al Avila bagged a shortstop. The enigmatic Javy Baez inked a six-year deal worth $160 million. The former two-time All-Star has one Gold Glove and a World Series ring on his trophy mantle. Baez’s signing ushered a new stage in the Tigers’ long-term plan. Signing Baez suggests that the Tigers are now willing to splash the cash to improve the team and compete. All eyes in Detroit are on Baez this season.

Player to watch: Spencer Torkelson

Former first-overall pick Spencer Torkelson is the most exciting prospect in the AL Central. Torkelson enjoyed a glittering, record-breaking college career before the Tigers drafted him. Due to the Covid-hit Minor League program, Torkelson got on the fast track to the big leagues.

The powerful infielder is slotted to play first base, and his batting ability could quickly elevate him into a rookie phenom status. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera gave Torkelson the seal of approval during Spring Training. That sums up how the Tigers view Torkelson.

Season projection: Above .500

The Tigers now need to tack on a winning season to prove that Al Avila’s plan works. The Tigers have a glut of talented youngsters, a core of solid veterans, and some exciting new faces. It’s been a long time coming, but it finally looks like the Tigers are back on the prowl.

Kansas City Royals

2021 record: 74-88

Like the Tigers, the Kansas City Royals enjoyed a decent 2021 season. The Royals displayed a similar trajectory to their rebuilding bedfellows, as they hit the 70-win mark for the first time in several years. With a group of talented prospects in the pipeline and some experienced everyday players, the Royals could shake things up in the AL Central.

Biggest off-season move: Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke is home. The veteran former Cy Young Award winner is back where it all started. While Greinke isn’t the pitcher of ten years ago, his veteran moxie and know-how bagged him 11 wins last season. The Royals handed Greinke a one-year deal worth $13 million. He will take the mound on Opening Day, and the Royals will desperately want Greinke to maintain his skillful approach. Greinke had solid whiff percentages on off-speed pitches, which will be crucial to success in Kansas City.

Player to watch: Bobby Witt Jr

Bobby Witt Jr is the number one ranked prospect in baseball. The shortstop is the classic five-tool player, and he will surely break out in 2022. Witt’s outstanding athleticism and blazing bat speed are the headline-stealing traits. The AL Central may not have seen an exceptional talent emerge like this in several years.

Season projection: Above .500

The Royals’ ETA is eerily similar to the Tigers’. Therefore, the Royals must have a winning season. They possess a blend of exciting youngsters and veterans, and the Royals could enjoy a sneakily good season.

Minnesota Twins

2021 record: 73-89

Our AL Central preview ends in Minnesota. The Minnesota Twins propped up the AL Central last year, and they’ve made aggressive moves to change course in 2022. The Twins’ new-look batting lineup should bring about some Purple Rain this season, and the fans are expecting a significant bounce-back.

Biggest off-season move: Signing Carlos Correa

The big blockbuster deal of the off-season was Carlos Correa signing with the Twins. The superstar shortstop signed a three-year deal worth $105.3 million. It was an eye-watering contract, but Correa’s CV deserved a big payday. Correa is a serial winner; a threat at the plate and in the field. He is arguably the best player in the AL Central.

Player to watch: Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez was part of the package sent to Minnesota when the New York Yankees traded for Josh Donaldson. Sanchez was a part of the Baby Bombers when the Yankees reached the ALCS in 2017. Sanchez smashed 33 home runs that season.

Sadly, it was the highlight year as sub-par batting performances, doubts about his defense, and criticism surrounding his physique overwhelmed Sanchez. A clean start in a friendlier market could help Sanchez kick-start his career. It’s a make-or-break year.

Season Projection: Playoff contenders

The Twins got better this off-season. A lot better. Their batting lineup now boasts plenty of power, they’ve got solid fielders, and their pitching rotation features some star names. “If” is a big word in sport, but they will be right in the mix if the Twins clubhouse gels.

MLB 2022 Season Preview: AL East Divisional Breakdown

Baseball is back! A frosty, tense, and acrimonious lockout thankfully ended last week, and Spring Training is well underway. Pre-season games start on March 17th, with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Subsequently, it is the perfect time to look forward, not back, and preview the new campaign — starting with the AL East.

The division features four teams potentially good enough to win the division, possibly good enough to represent the AL in the World Series. Last season, the chase for the final playoff place went down to the wire; with more playoff spots up for grabs, the competition in the east promises to be incredibly close.

A preview of the AL East in 2022

2022 AL East Preview

Tampa Bay Rays

2021 record: 100-62, AL East 1st place

We kick off our AL East preview with the reigning champs. The Tampa Bay Rays won the division last year with 100 wins and grabbed the AL’s number one seed. The Rays were the best team in the AL last season before the swashbuckling Boston Red Sox bested them in the ALDS. The Rays have kept their core group of players that took them to the World Series in 2020, and they will have their eyes fixed on another postseason run in 2022.

Biggest offseason move: re-signing Wander Franco

The Rays wasted no time in locking down superstar shortstop Wander Franco. Franco only arrived in the majors last season, and he immediately shone. The all-world prospect slashed .288/.347/.463 and OPS of .810. It shocked no one that the Rays handed Franco an 11-year deal worth an initial $182 million.

Player to watch: Tyler Glasnow

Injury and eventual Tommy John surgery destroyed Tyler Glasnow’s 2021 season. A young Rays rotation battled hard in his absence, but they faltered in the postseason. The Rays signed veteran former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to bolster the rotation. Nonetheless, Glasnow will need to come back to his best. His electric stuff is elite, and he is a proven October pitcher. There is no ETA on his comeback, and the Rays won’t want to rush him back. When he does return, the Rays might find another level.

Season projection: AL East winners

The Rays are the most proven team in the division. They understand their formula; they are a settled squad with solid positional players, good starters, and a strong bullpen. Their analytical, data-driven approach is one that manager Kevin Cash knows inside out. While stiff divisional competition may hinder the Rays’ chances of repeating a 100-win season, they are the team to beat.

Boston Red Sox

2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard

Expectations were low for the Boston Red Sox in 2021. Nevertheless, this is a club used to winning. In Alex Cora, they have one of the most astute managerial minds in the game. The return of Cora as manager, allied with a ferocious batting lineup helped the Red Sox reach the ALCS. Expectations changed instantly, and now Red Sox nation expects more of the same in 2022.

The ‘Sox open their campaign on the road in New York, and they will have to weather storms from Tampa Bay and Toronto. Boston is a squad full of powerful batters that will win plenty of games. Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, and others should keep the Red Sox in contention.

Biggest offseason move: Jackie Bradley Jr

The Red Sox needed depth in the outfield, and they filled it with a trade that gave them Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley is a solid outfielder with good speed and awareness. Bradley replaces Kyle Schwarber. The acquisition provided the Red Sox with a bit more roster flexibility.

Player to watch: Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers stepped up for the Red Sox last season. A Silver-Slugger award and All-Star appearance highlighted his season as he smashed 38 home runs and 113 RBIs. Devers’ lefty power perfectly suits Fenway Park’s unique dimensions.

Per Baseball Savant, Devers’ percentage rates for exit velocity, slugging, and hard-hit rates are elite. Mix that with a good understanding of the strike zone, and Devers should have another good season with the bat. Where Devers must improve is in the field. The AL East now features some star third basemen. Devers must handle the hot corner better than ever.

Season projection: Wildcard team

The expanded playoff format provides the Red Sox with comfort. Even in such a tough division, they should have enough. The significant concerns are on the pitching side. Chris Sale is dealing with a rib injury that will see him miss the opening series in New York. Veteran free-agent acquisition James Paxton is another pitcher on the 60-day injury list.

The ‘Sox did add a few veteran arms, but they will run it back with primarily the same group from 2021. Their team ERA of 4.26 ranked 7th in the AL. It can’t get any lower than that for the Sox to have any hope. The big sluggers will surely need to shoulder the burden for the Red Sox.

New York Yankees

2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard

The New York Yankees experienced a turbulent, erratic 2021 season that ultimately ended at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. The defeat extended the Yankees’ World Series drought. 2022 is a massive year for Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman. The Bleacher Creatures are restless.

Biggest offseason move: Trading for Josh Donaldson

The Yanks needed to improve on defense. Therefore, it surprised no one that they struck a trade for former MVP Josh Donaldson. The veteran is an experienced player, and he is an automatic improvement on Gio Urshela. Moreover, Donaldson’s power and consistent fielding prowess should add more predictability to the Yankees’ infield. Mix in 26 homers, an OPS of .872, and the Yanks have a proven commodity.

Player to watch: Gerrit Cole

The abiding image of 2021 Gerrit Cole is the one of him getting heckled at Fenway Park as he looked at Xander Bogaerts’ monster home run. Cole crumbled in the most significant moment of the season. Moreover, Cole struggled with fitness late in the season, and there were murmurs that the ban on sticky stuff hurt him more than other pitchers. The rotation behind Cole is shaky; the $324 million man must step up and have a Cy Young caliber season.

Season projection: Wildcard team

The Yankees’ lack of starting pitching depth and an inconsistent batting lineup too reliant on the long ball will keep them from winning the division. Nonetheless, the AL is weak, and the Yanks will still win many games. Their limitations are apparent, but they still boast too much firepower. Boone’s team will make the postseason.

Toronto Blue Jays

2021 record: 91-71, 4th place

The Toronto Blue Jays finally emerged from their long hibernation as they stormed to a 91-win season. The young talent within the Blue Jays’ system started to make their mark in the majors. Another year of development, experience, and an expanded playoff format should help the Blue Jays take another step forward. Add in an exciting offseason, and they should be in the mix.

Biggest offseason move: trading for Matt Chapman

The acquisition of Matt Chapman completes the Blue Jays’ star-studded infield. Chapman’s plus power and a career slugging percentage of .478 make him a significant plate threat. Chapman adds Platinum Glove-quality to Toronto’s infield — already boasting Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It is perhaps the best infield in the AL East.

Player to watch: Bo Bichette

Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are some of the premier shortstops in baseball. Young Bo Bichette is capable of jumping into that elite category. Bichette is a career .300 hitter with a solid OPS of .850. The Floridian-born star is the embodiment of a five-tool player. Last year, Bichette enjoyed a solid year with the glove. If he can find another level in the field, Bichette is ready to break out hugely.

Season projection: 90-plus wins, wildcard place

The Blue Jays are the team best positioned to challenge the Tampa Bay Rays. The ‘Jays have the depth and skill to last 162 games. The top of the pitching rotation has high-caliber talent, and the batting lineup is deep with potential MVP, Silver Slugger, and All-Star talents.

Toronto added vital pieces such as Kevin Gausman, and they extended ace Jose Berrios. Adding their grit and experience to a young team could be an inspired decision.

Baltimore Orioles

2021 season: 52-110

We finish our AL East preview in Baltimore. It was another miserable season for the Baltimore Orioles in 2021. The O’s won 52 games as their painful rebuild passed by another year. The promise of Adley Rutchsman was the sole thing that kept the Baltimore faithful placated.

Biggest offseason move: Robinson Chirinos

Veteran Robinson Chirinos signed a one-year deal, and his experience of winning organizations should help engender a healthy culture within the Orioles’ clubhouse. Moreover, his knowledge of the catcher position could help accelerate Adley Rutschman’s development.

Player to watch: Adley Rutschman

The number two ranked prospect per MLB.com is the silver lining for Orioles fans. The 2019 draft pick has the pedigree and the raw tools to excel at the big league level. However, luck dealt the Orioles a tough blow as Rutschman picked up a tricep injury to sideline him for 2-3 weeks. Nonetheless, it will be must-watch TV when Rutschman returns to the bigs. He is one of the game’s brightest young stars.

Season projection: AL East last place finish

Orioles fans should brace themselves for another difficult season. In a loaded division, the Orioles are sure to finish last. Bright sparks will occur as prospects maneuver through the pipeline, but many losses are in store for the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s it for the AL East preview! Come back at the end of the season to see how these predictions played out, and tune in to Around the Block to catch previews of each of the remaining divisions.

Major League Baseball Lockout Moments: Part Two 20 – 14

Part Two of this installment. What moments made the cut?

For the first time since 1994, Major League Baseball entered a lockout, and the baseball world skidded to a halt. There is no noteworthy news emanating from the league. Therefore it’s time to change course. Instead of poring over old ground, we will look at some of the best moments since baseball’s last lockout.

Due to baseball’s 162-game schedule, there are plenty of moments to choose from; narrowing it to 27 was incredibly tough. Baseball is America’s pastime, and it creates moments that stand the test of time. The world has changed unrecognizably in the last 27 years, yet through it all, the world’s most enduring, curious game traverses time to make us all pause and take a moment. It’s time to see what moments made our list.

Part two of our series features controversy, drama, and big hitters. Numbers 20 – 14 are on the clock!

Miss the previous articles? Check out a recap of them here:
https://atbnetwork.com/2021/12/20/major-league-baseball-lockout-moments-part-one-27-21/

Moment 20 – The Southsiders Go Slam Happy

Paul Konerko belted a go-ahead grand slam for the White Sox in the World Series.

2005 was a vintage year for the Southside of Chicago. The White Sox emerged as a relentless run-scoring powerhouse as they rode into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the “ChiSox” faithful had waited 88 years for a World Series title; their last win came in 1917, two years before the Black Sox scandal. It seemed like the baseball gods had sent the Sox to hell as penance for the fixing scandal that shook America.

All of that pent-up emotion bled into a cold October night in Chicago. Clubhouse leader Paul Konerko stood at the plate with the bases loaded, and one-half of Chicago was ready to explode. The Astros held a 4-2 lead at this point of the seventh inning. Konerko clubbed the bat’s head on a high changeup away, the ball sailed into the seats, and Chicago erupted. The Sox took a 2-0 nothing lead before they swept the Astros to win their first championship in 88 years.

Moment 19 – It Is ShoTime!

Shohei Ohtani starred on opening weekend.

Two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani might be the most talented player in baseball history. Ohtani arrived in late 2017 to little fanfare. There were glimpses before 2021, but Tommy John surgery and a COVID-shortened season impacted his availability. 2021 was going to be a prove-it year for Ohtani, and boy did he deliver.

On opening weekend, ESPN televised the Angels’ game against the White Sox as the year’s first Sunday Night Baseball game. Ohtani started as a pitcher and a batter, and it took him one inning to dazzle onlookers. Blazing speed on the mound saw Ohtani work a three-up, three-down inning before he crushed an elevated 97mph fastball. Watching a player dominate as a pitcher and then with the bat stunned and shocked everyone. Ohtani used it as the launching point to maybe the most remarkable season in MLB history. He won the AL MVP award as he shone as a pitcher, slugger, and base-runner.

Moment 18 – Lindor With A Swing and A Drive!

Francisco Lindor sends Cleveland into a frenzy.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians were the best team in all of baseball. After narrowly losing out in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Cleveland came back with a vengeance in 2017. A 22-game win streak turbocharged them to the best record in the American League. Cleveland matched the Yankees in the ALDS, and many fans expected them to breeze past the Yanks.

New York made it difficult in Game 2, and they raced out into an 8-3 lead. Progressive Field fell flat before the Tribe rallied to load the bases. The Yankees had reliever Chad Green on the mound to close the innings with two outs already on the ledger. Homegrown star Francisco Lindor stepped up to bat, and one crack of the bat later, he sent Cleveland into ecstasy. And Matt Vasgersian!

Moment 17 – The Captain Goes Deep

David Wright blasts off in Queens.

David Wright is one of the greatest New York Mets players. The ‘Captain’ was the face of the franchise for over a decade. Sadly, the All-Star appearances, Gold Glove awards, and numerous platitudes were moot as the Mets never tasted success during Wright’s prime. That changed in 2015 when the Mets made the World Series. By this point, injuries had impacted Wright’s availability.

The grizzled veteran missed two-thirds of the regular season as the Mets enjoyed a superb campaign without their leader. New York dropped the opening two games of the series in Kansas City. They returned to Queens needing a win. After surrendering a run in the opening stanza, Wright stepped up into the box, and the tension was palpable. Wright got a fastball high in the zone and barreled it, demonstrating that he still had enough left for big moments. The Captain christened the first World Series game at Citi Field with a screaming home run that shook New York.

Moment 16 – Jeter Walk’s Off Into Retirement

Derek Jeter enjoys one final at-bat in the Bronx.

Derek Jeter is a unicorn; he’s one of few Yankees players respected and liked across all fanbases. His farewell season in 2014 was a whistle-stop tour of goodbyes, and the great shortstop saved one brilliant moment for his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Jeter was the gutsiest, toughest hitter in a Yankee lineup that enjoyed significant success. He fought hard at the plate in typical Jeter fashion and manufactured a clutch base-hit to seal a Yankee win. Jeter ended his fairytale story with the perfect last chapter.

Moment 15 – David Bote Pinch Hit Walk Off Slam

David Bote broke Washington’s hearts with this walk-off winner.

Baseball is a fickle game. A team can dominate for 90% of the game and still lose. Such an occasion happened on a summer night in Wrigleyville. Nationals starter Max Scherzer dominated as the Cubs couldn’t scratch a run across. His batters spotted him a 3-0 lead, and it was up to the bullpen to finish the job. Scherzer hurled over 100 pitches, but Ryan Madson threw 21 and ruined everything. A walk and two stray pitches that hit batters loaded the bases for pinch-hitting infielder David Bote. One sweet strike later, Bote had won the game for Chicago and ruined Washington’s night.

Moment 14 – Fernando Anounces Himself

Fernando Tatis Jr silences the world

Fernando Tatis, Jr. is the coolest athlete in all of America. The transcendent Padres shortstop is an electrifying, magnetizing talent whose carefree attitude, raw talent, and disdain for the staid old baseball rules make him an icon for new fans. Tatis had already got himself in trouble during the 2020 season after he celebrated a grand slam against the Rangers in a blow-out.

The baseball stiffs didn’t like it, and they admonished the youngster. Tatis didn’t care, and he took it up a notch during a playoff game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The game was close as the Cards rallied to pressurize the Padres. Tatis then announced himself as the new face of baseball by tattooing a ball into the opposite field, staring down the dugout, and flipping his bat with swagger. This moment was so significant, it’s plastered all over the latest MLB video game. Baseball has found its latest star in Tatis.

Major League Baseball Lockout Moments: Part One 27 – 21

A new series details top moments since the last Major League Baseball lockout

For the first time since 1994, Major League Baseball entered a lockout, and the baseball world skidded to a halt. There is no noteworthy news emanating from the league. Therefore it’s time to change course. Instead of poring over old ground, we will look at some of the best moments since baseball’s last lockout.

Due to baseball’s 162-game schedule, there are plenty of moments to choose from; narrowing it down to just 27 was incredibly tough. Baseball is America’s pastime, and it creates moments that stand the test of time. The world has changed unrecognizably in the last 27 years, yet through it all, the world’s most enduring, curious game traverses time to make us all pause and take a moment. It’s time to see what moments made our list.

Moment 27: Barry Bonds Is The Home Run King

Barry Bonds breaks the home run record.

Barry Bonds’ irreversible links with steroids are why this moment is at the bottom of our list. Nonetheless, it was an epic moment, enhanced by the call from local Bay Area commentator Duane Kuipers. On a cool summer’s night by the San Francisco Bay, Bonds swung his way into baseball immortality and controversy. Questions will always remain a part of Bonds’ legacy, and some fans and pundits will maintain that Hank Aaron is still the king. However, for one night, Bonds rocked the baseball world and the city of San Francisco.

Moment 26 – The Long Gone Summer of ’98

Mark McGwire breaks the single-season home run record.

Many fans held a deep mistrust of baseball after the locked-out 1994 season. Baseball was still working its way back into people’s minds before it erupted to the forefront in 1998. The steroid-fueled, testosterone-charged home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa dominated the sports scene as the duo went shot for shot in the “Summer of Love”. McGwire did break the single-season record, although controversy would rear its head as the federal government investigated both for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. While the questions and doubts linger to this day, baseball ruled the world for one summer, and it was courtesy of these two sluggers.

Moment 25 – The Pirates Rattle Johnny Cueto

The Pirates fans rattle Johnny Cueto in the 2013 postseason.

Many members of the baseball cognoscenti look upon the Pittsburgh Pirates as a joke. The Pirates routinely finish bottom of the NL Central and play their games in front of near-empty stadiums. That is not befitting a team that plays in a city that sports the Roberto Clemente Bridge. However, the 2013 season saw the Pittsburgh Pirates buck the trend as they sailed into the playoffs after posting a 94-win season.

That set them up on a collision course with the NL’s other wildcard team: their divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Reds. Pirates fans packed the picturesque PNC Park stadium to the rafters, and the home faithful got after Reds starter Johnny Cueto. They heckled and jeered Cueto, and when clubhouse leader Russell Martin stepped up, the noise grew. Cueto looked nervous, and on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, he grooved an off-speed pitch into the middle of the zone. Martin squared up and clubbed it into the stands. It set Pittsburgh on course for a 6-2 win. The banks of the Allegheny River haven’t shaken like that in a long time.

Moment 24 – Justin Verlander Triples Up

Justin Verlander notched his third career no-hitter in 2019

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, they say. The people that proclaim this are correct; this phenomenon is a random piece of luck. Therefore in 2019, lightning didn’t strike thrice when Justin Verlander twirled his way into history. The veteran pitcher no-hit the Blue Jays, posting his third career no-hitter (the only active player to have such). Only two pitchers boast more than the former Tiger. Despite Verlander’s veteran status and whispers about his arm, he blew away the Jays in a dazzling display of velocity and command. The performance also helped Verlander win the 2019 Cy Young Award.

Moment 23 – Albert Hit’s 3,000

Albert Pujols joins the 3,000 hit club

Some of the members that vote for the Hall of Fame are arguably clueless. The continued controversy highlights that every year. However, there will be no drama when Albert Pujols is on the shortlist. Pujols is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He is one of three players to hit 600 home runs and have 3,000 base hits. Pujols strangely broke the record as an Angel, rather than for his beloved Cardinals. The Anaheim version of Pujols is clearly a diminished power. However, the baseball world stood up and applauded Pujols for a legendary moment.

Moment 22 – Bryce Blasts a Walk Off Homer

Bryce Harper walks it off against the Cubs

When the Philadelphia Phillies made Bryce Harper a $300 million man, Philly natives expected big things. The mercurial left-hander inked a mammoth 13-year deal in the early part of 2019. Expectations immediately rose in Philadelphia as the best striker of a ball in baseball joined the team. The season ultimately disappointed as the Phillies missed out on a playoff spot, but Bryce Harper did underline his season with one dramatic swing. In the ninth inning, the Phillies were down 5-3, although they had loaded the bases. The Cubs attempted to play the matchup game and had a left-hander on the mound to try and cramp Harper. Instead, the former Home Run Derby winner extended his arms and crushed a ball into the second deck. In one moment, Harper confirmed that he was the franchise player in Philadelphia.

Moment 21 – The Freak Sets San Francisco Ablaze

Tim Lincecum dominated his first playoff outing in 2010

It was hard to fathom that the San Francisco Giants hadn’t won a championship between 1954 and 2009. The Giants made up for that by winning three titles in five years. The first one in 2010 got kickstarted by quite possibly the unique pitcher of the modern era. Tim Lincecum weaved a wicked spell of pitching in game one of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. The Freak struck out 15 batters and pitched a shut-out as the Giants started their playoff campaign in style. Lincecum’s wild action allied with speed and movement caused nightmares for the Braves batters. Lincecum dominated, and he set the tone for the Giants in 2010. Baseball’s ugly duckling is often forgotten; however, the Giants won’t forget the gem he pitched to start their march to glory.

MLB Lockout Outlook: What’s Next For The MLB?

MLB Lockout
Credit: ESPN

For the first time since 1994, a work stoppage has hit MLB. The premier baseball league in the world is now in its first MLB lockout since a labor strike cut short the ’94 season. The CBA expired at midnight last Wednesday, and the stormy tenure of commissioner Rob Manfred hit a new low with the MLB lockout outlook looking unpromising.

Baseball is now a civil war following a fantastic month of October and a frantic free agency period. The MLBPA is unhappy, the owners aren’t happy, and MLB finds itself in the middle of a bitter row. The lockout isn’t the end of the world right now; it’s December, and no baseball games are getting missed. However, the bitterness between all camps has grown since the last CBA signed in 2016.

Frustrations have grown through the stagnant free agency periods, small-market clubs tanking, sign stealing scandals, and Manfred’s naivety. A lockout felt like the only option for all parties. The scary thing now is what happens next?

How Did We Get Here?

The euphoric 2021 season held one dirty secret. The MLB lockout was inevitable. The MLBPA was unhappy for a long time. Super agent Scott Boras spoke back in the offseason periods of 2017 and 2018 about how stunned he was with the lack of free-agent activity. An explosion of tanking small-market teams stopped all free agency movement.

High-ticket players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado could find deals. However others, like former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Kuechel, found it incredibly difficult to find a home.

Reluctant small-market teams left middle-tier free agents stranded. Players had no option but to accept low offers. Per ESPN, the average value of mid-tier contracts dropped from $11.8 million to $6.2 million. That happened despite league revenue climbing to $10 billion. Players wanted their piece of the pie; the owners didn’t want to give it to them. Money is the primary driver behind the MLB lockout.

There are other issues at play. MLB wishes to expand the playoffs with a wildcard round akin to what they implemented in 2020. Moreover, Commissioner Manfred and the league are trying to employ new methods to quicken the game. Pitch clocks, moving the mound, changing the ball, and even robotic umpires are all on the table.

The lockout is the significant juncture point of the baseball offseason. Baseball’s future and past are at stake in this tense stand-off. The game is searching for relevancy and new fans in a changing world, and a lengthy lockout could leave long-lasting scars.

MLB Lockout Outlook

As soon as the lockout was announced, the players union released their statement. In a strongly worded letter, the MLBPA explained their point of view and where the fault lies for the lockout.

One prominent agent said that his clients were gearing up for war. The bitterness between both sides is palpable, and no one is willing to budge so far.

The concern for baseball is how the intermediaries deal with the situation. The players almost universally dislike Manfred. His crass comments about the Commissioner’s Trophy and insistence on criticizing players for the lack of development of the game have created a frosty relationship.

Conversely, the owners are delighted with Manfred. The league inked a lucrative TV rights contract with TBS. The deal is worth $3.7 billion and goes through from 2022 to 2028. Manfred brokered that deal amidst the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That followed a deal with FOX that is worth $5.1 billion. Money is sloshing around baseball, and the owners are lapping it up. All is perfect in the world of the owners, right?

Not entirely. The owners’ major gripe is the attempted implementation of a minimum salary floor. Teams such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh are against the move. They plan on gutting the salary, tanking for draft picks, and will still make a profit due to lucrative local TV contracts, the revenue sharing system, and ticket sales

A salary floor would almost certainly raise the average salary of MLB’s middle class. However, it would hurt the owners’ wallets, and in all likelihood, wouldn’t improve their chances to make the playoffs and win a championship. The lockout cuts deep into baseball’s competitive integrity and ambitions.

When Will The MLB Lockout End?

Due to the holidays, talks will not resume until early January. This causes the outlook for the MLB lockout to be murky as of right now. Pitchers and catchers are expected to report in early February for spring training. That will almost certainly not happen. Spring training will get pushed back, which may impact the regular season.

Players and agents are hell-bent on getting what they want. The owners are determined not to cave. The long winter months may force fans to wait for a long thaw well into spring. Millionaires battling billionaires for more money will hurt the humble fans.

Baseball enjoyed a brilliant comeback season in 2021. The lockout may ruin that, and it could ruin more. Baseball’s future is quite literally at stake.