3/25/2013 1:12 P.M. ET
The Week Ahead: Nine final mysteries of spring
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
There's less than a week until Opening Day.
That's a fact even the staunchest scout-loving, Panama-hat-wearing old-schooler and the most cyber-savvy, mouse-clicking WAR-monger can agree upon.
But where does this leave us? We're looking for answers, not more questions, although we never fail to get plenty of the latter in a sport that offers 162 regular-season games after weeks of Spring Training and somehow always manages to confound.
So let's try to make some sense of where we stand. We know there's no more World Baseball Classic to prognosticate, most of the spring cuts have been made and we know who looks good, who looks really, really good, and who might have some work to do to get back into the mix for a run in October.
And then there's what we don't know -- even now, on March 25, with Opening Day six days away and calling our names ever so sweetly.
Here's a batting order of unknowns to take us straight into April:
1. What's up with the Yankees? With Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez really hurting, Curtis Granderson on the shelf for a while and Derek Jeter getting a cortisone shot in his healing ankle and probably starting the season on the disabled list, there's some uncertainty swirling around the Bronx. There's still talent on this team, but in a stacked American League East, it looks like the Bombers need to get healthy in a hurry.
2. Will Kyle Lohse be worth the wait? The 34-year-old got a deal -- finally -- on Monday with the Brewers. Remember, Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA last year for a playoff team (the Cardinals). Now he'll have the opportunity to topple his former team in the National League Central. News of the signing of the Longest Free Agent was met with glee in Milwaukee's clubhouse.
3. What's up with the rookies? Teams with incredibly talented young players who are just about ready to shine at the big league level will have to think hard about when to start their big league clocks. Right now, prospects Oscar Taveras (Cardinals), Yasiel Puig (Dodgers), Zack Wheeler (Mets) and quite a few more seem poised for success but might debut in the Minors in 2013. The big question is when their teams will call them up to The Show, because, as we saw last year with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, you might need their assistance sooner than later.
4. What's up with Don Mattingly? Will the manager of the Dodgers be able to deal with the expectations of a stacked roster with the biggest payroll ever for a new ownership group that includes Magic Johnson? Will the All-Star roster jell? Will Matt Kemp stay healthy all year? Will Carl Crawford play back to his old form now that he's healthy? Will Hyun-Jin Ryu be the real deal in the rotation?
5. What's up with last year's darlings? The A's and Orioles came out of nowhere to make noise last October. The question this year is whether they were flukes or not. Both teams attempted to improve their rosters over the winter, and now we'll see if skippers Bob Melvin (Oakland) and Buck Showalter (Baltimore) can steer these ships as expertly as they did last season.
6. What's up with Stephen Strasburg? We know one thing that will be up, barring injury, and that's the right-hander's innings total. Judging from his numbers, a 200-inning season from this guy could be downright scary, which makes it no surprise that the Nationals are being picked to repeat as NL East division champs. And then there will be the postseason and no Strasburg stoppage. That in itself might be reason for another parade down the National Mall.
7. What's up with all the injuries? We already mentioned the banged-up Bronx Bombers, but they're not the only team hurting. Spring Training took a toll, to be sure, and now we'll see how April shakes out for the players who are shaky in the health department. St. Louis, for example, is wondering how long they'll be without Jason Motte, Carlos Beltran and David Freese. The D-backs have temporarily lost Adam Eaton, their spark-plug center fielder of the future. The Padres are without Chase Headley right now. Ditto the Dodgers with Hanley Ramirez. And so on and so on as April looms as a big test of resiliency for quite a few clubs right off the bat.
8. What's up with the Red Sox? David Ortiz (Achilles) and Stephen Drew (concussion) are hurting and probably not ready to start the season. The team lost 93 games last year. Now John Farrell is the manager and there's a new outfielder in town, Jackie Bradley Jr., who might very well make the Opening Day roster, and veterans Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are there and, well, this is one of the most difficult teams to figure out in all of baseball -- which makes it all the more impossible to ignore.
And finally …
9. What's up with parity? This looks like it could be one of the most wide-open Major League seasons in recent memory, and that is never a bad thing. We saw last year with Baltimore and Oakland that it doesn't take much more than some talent up and down the roster, confidence and a winning attitude to make a serious run at the postseason, so we shouldn't be surprised this year if we see more surprise teams in the mix. Could it be the Mariners? The White Sox? The Padres? Who knows. But the fun part is in the finding out.
And that starts in less than a week.