The top storylines of the 2012 season

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We have used the word “storylines” around here a whole lot lately. Sorry about that. Until the games start later, it’s all about the narrative.  We can get back to our more natural state — reacting to cool stuff that happens rather than speculating about what will — not long after the Cardinals and Marlins get going down in Miami this evening.

But for now, here are the storylines that seem like they’ll dominate the 2012 season.  I went with five because there are only so many of these things that truly sustain themselves once teams meet in battle. These, I think, will sustain themselves:

1.  The second wild card:  Remember all of that craziness on the last night of the 2011 regular season? Yeah, that was great. So it makes perfect sense that Major League Baseball has instituted something that would have utterly mooted it.  Yes, two teams in each league will win the wild card going forward, and that definitely lowers the stakes for teams that were heretofore on the playoff bubble.

But it certainly raises the stakes for teams fighting for the division, as the wild card winners will now be at a sharp disadvantage in the form of being thrust into a one-game playoff to kick things off while division winners avoid it.  Whether this works to enhance the allure of winning the division and causes managers to really go for it, or whether it simply means that teams will change their tactics and coast late in order to set up favorable pitching matchups for the one-game playoff, will determine how cool this new setup really is.

2. The sure-to-be brutal AL West race:  The Rangers have won the American League pennant two years running.  The Angels have just signed the best hitter in Albert Pujols and (arguably) the best pitcher in C.J. Wilson from the free agent market. They will also see the return of the man who was once their best hitter, Kendrys Morales.  That probably closes the ten-game gap between these two teams from last year, and sets up what should be a humdinger of a race.

3. The return from Chokesville: The Red Sox and the Braves each gagged away what looked to be certain playoff appearances last year. In Boston the collapse dominated the news and lead to front office and managerial upheaval. In Atlanta it barely registered and the Braves stood pat. Watching how each team responds in 2012 will be like a cool experiment to see what method works best to address dreaded choking.

4. The departed sluggers:  Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder have abandoned the NL Central. Their production will, in part, be replaced by Carlos Beltran on the Cardinals and Aramis Ramirez on the Brewers. There’s something pretty cool about each team’s post-megastar-loss damage control plan being the determining factor as to who wins the division.  At least if the Reds don’t sneak in.

5. Moneyball: No, I’m not talking about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. I’m talking about the new world baseball teams seem to have suddenly found themselves, flush with cash and enhanced franchise value due to skyrocketing television rights fees. It’s what allowed the Angels to sign Albert Pujols. It allowed Frank McCourt to sell the Dodgers for $2 billion too.  Other teams — the Reds with their Joey Votto signing and the Giants extending Matt Cain — are making bolder financial moves now too, either because they anticipate their own improved financial prospects or because they feel pressure by the competition.  The upshot: teams may rush to lock up young talent now, before the market gets too out of control, and that could lead to a number of mid-season deals.

So those are the five I’m watching. But like I said before, the games change everything. Once pitches start being thrown in anger — and once guys start breaking unwritten rules and getting into fun little in-season controversies — the importance of these preseason storylines diminishes.

Play ball.

Derek Jeter doesn’t have the money to buy the Marlins

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Derek Jeter met with Major League Baseball yesterday and told them that he does not yet have the money to purchase the Miami Marlins, reports the Associated Press.

Jeter bid $1.3 billion for the Marlins, as did the group led by Tagg Romney and Tom Glavine. Bidding is one thing, however. Cash on the barrelhead is another. Jeter has been trying to wrangle together an investment group since Jeb Bush pulled out of his bid, but still hasn’t pulled it off. There are reportedly other groups still in the hunt.

If only there was someone else with baseball and Miami ties he could call.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 5, Cardinals 1: Aaron Nola allowed one run on four hits in seven and a third while striking out eight and Freddy Galvis and Tommy Joseph homered. The Phillies snap a five-game losing streak.

White Sox 9, Twins 0: Twins starter Nik Turley got lit up for five runs in only two-thirds of an inning of work, allowing two-run homers to Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier in the first inning. After that it was all just paperwork and Jose Quintana tossing shutout ball into the seventh. Quintana has had some of the worst run support in baseball over the course of his career. Getting nine runs to play with had to feel weird. In other news, this game featured a 4 hours, 50 minute rain delay to begin proceedings. That’s patently ridiculous. If the delay to start the game is almost twice as long as the game is, you probably should’ve just postponed the dang thing.

Rangers 11, Blue Jays 4: Texas built a 7-0 lead after four behind homers from Mike Napoli, Carlos Gomez and Robinson Chirinos. Gomez added another dinger later and had give RBI on the day. On the year Gomez is hitting .267/.346/.515 and is on a 20-homer pace. Not too bad for a guy who missed a month due to a bad hammie. And not bad for a guy a lot of people were writing off after a couple of bad years in Houston.

Brewers 4, Pirates 2: Travis Shaw knocked a home run and two doubles, driving in three runs and starter Chase Anderson allowed two runs and two hits in six innings for the Brewers. Closer Corey Knebel set a record for the most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season’s start — 38 — while picking up his 12th save. He has 68Ks in 37.2 innings of work.

Diamondbacks 10, Rockies 3: Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers and starter Zack Godley allowed three runs in seven innings of work. The Dbacks take two of three from Colorado, routing them with a combined score of 26-8 in the past two games.

Astros 12, Athletics 9: Josh ReddickJake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez all homered as the Astros complete the four-game sweep. They’ve beaten the A’s ten straight times in Oakland and have taken 15 of 16 overall. They own the A’s so thoroughly that they’ve started to get invited to planning meetings with the city over possible locations for the new A’s ballpark.

Indians 6, Orioles 3Austin Jackson had three hits and three RBI and Erik Gonzalez homered as the Indianas take 3 of 4 from the reeling Orioles. Cleveland just went 7-1 on a road trip and now hold a two and a half game lead over the Twins in the division. Feels kinda like order has been restored in the AL Central.

Cubs 11, Marlins 1: Russell hit two doubles, a homer, drove in two and had four hits overall.  Kris Bryant had a three-run homer, Willson Contreras hit a two-run shot and Ian Happ had four hits and drove in a pair. The Cubs have won 4 of 5. Maybe order is on the way to being restored in the NL Central as well.

Angels 10, Yankees 5: Aaron Judge went deep for his 25th homer of the year but that was the only good thing for the Bombers, who blew an early 5-1 lead. The Angels rallied for four runs in the seventh thanks in part to a couple of Yankees errors and a wild pitch. That wild pitch came from Dellin Betances, who allowed his first earned run in 22 games. In the eighth, Yankees reliever Domingo German threw a wild pitch and bounced a pickoff toss to first that allowed a run to score. Ug-ly.

Braves 12, Giants 11: Atlanta rode an 8-run fifth inning to victory. It was bookended by falling behind early and allowing some late runs late, so things were nonetheless close. They had not scored that many runs in an inning since the 2011 season. Their nine hits that inning tied a mark last set in 2004. Matt Adams, Lane Adams, Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips all homered for Atlanta, who took three of four. The Giants’ road trip ends on a 1-7 mark. I guess you could say that they left their game in San Francisco.

Mariners 9, Tigers 6: Robinson Cano hit a grand slam and a two-run homer to lead the M’s to their fifth straight victory. Rookie Andrew Moore got the callup to replace the struggling Yovani Gallardo in the rotation and debuted with seven solid innings. The Mariners moved above .500 for the first time this year.

Dodgers 6, Mets 3: The sweep. Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Kiké Hernandez all homered for the Dodgers. No word if the home run trots were fast enough. The Dodgers hit 15 homers in the four-game series, so the Mets had a lot of time to gauge the matter. L.A. also drew nine walks in the game.The Dodgers have won seven consecutive games and 13 of their last 14.