Rays' Evan Longoria runs to home plate as his teammates crowd around after his 12th inning home run to defeat the Yankees during their American League MLB baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida

The top storylines of the 2012 season


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.

Ken Griffey Jr. will be on the cover of MLB The Show 17

SEATTLE - APRIL 18:  Ken Griffey Jr. #24 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Detroit Tigers at Safeco Field on April 18, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Sony San Diego announced on Thursday that Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. will grace the cover of its next baseball video game, MLB The Show 17. The game is scheduled to be released on March 28, 2017 for the PS4.

Considering that the baseball and video game fans with disposable income are the people who grew up watching Griffey play, the decision comes as no surprise. It’s just shocking that this hadn’t been done before. The Show has featured current stars on its cover including Josh Donaldson, Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew McCutchen, but this will be the first time a retired player will be featured on the cover.

Griffey, of course, is no stranger to video game covers. He was the inspiration for Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball (Super Nintendo), Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run (Super Nintendo), Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr (Nintendo 64), and Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest (Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color).

Griffey, 46, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this past July along with Mike Piazza.

Curt Schilling is already getting clobbered by Elizabeth Warren in the 2018 senate race

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

I realize it’s early. I realize that we have one big election coming up in less than two weeks and that 2018 may as well be 2218 as far as the election is concerned. But it’s probably worth mentioning that, at the moment, Curt Schilling isn’t doing too well in the Massachusetts Senate race.

To be fair, he hasn’t officially declared himself a candidate yet. He said he has to get the OK from his wife first. But as a famous Massachusetts resident, it’s not like he needs to spend a lot of time working on the stuff just-declared candidates do. He’s got name recognition bleeding out of his socks. Which makes this somewhat sobering:

It’s been many, many years since I worked on a political campaign, but I feel qualified to give Schilling some advice: more memes. Post as many political memes on Facebook as Twitter as you can. It doesn’t even matter if they’re true as long as they feel true to you. Right now the important thing is to mobilize the base.

Yep, fire everyone up. They’ll certainly flock to you then. Good luck, Curt.