Controversy and Rivalries Headline 2006 MLB Season

Take a look out your window and you will notice birds chirping, flowers blooming and people playing catch on the quad, which means that baseball season is upon us. Nothing brightened my day more than coming back from class on Tuesday morning and watching the first baseball matinees of the season on ESPN. Why is this? It’s not because it means that spring has arrived and the school year is almost over, but more importantly, it is a signal that 30 teams have just started on a journey that could last until early November.

Opening Day began with a bang – literally – as the Cleveland Indians and the reigning World Series Champion Chicago White Sox were delayed for more than three hours on Tuesday evening. Yet after all was said and done, the White Sox prevailed with an impressive 10-4 opening day victory, propelled by a homer from newcomer Jim Thome. Is this the start of another championship season for the White Sox? I definitely am a believer, since the White Sox retained much of their starting lineup from last year, even adding a proven slugger in Thome, and the team still possesses three solid starters in Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras. However, the Sox should bear in mind that winning consecutive World Series titles can be as difficult as getting the classes you want during course registration. Certainly other teams have placed a bulls-eye on the White Sox and some AL perennials will challenge the Sox’ 2005 pennant.

The New York Yankees kept up the trend of prominent off-season acquisitions with the signing of Johnny Damon to a four-year, $52 million deal in December. With Damon setting the table for top-tier names such as Jeter, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Matsui and Giambi, the Bronx Bombers will hold true to their name (as seen in an opening day 15-2 rout of the A’s). Despite nagging injuries to the pitching corps, things are looking bright in the Bronx.

Without a doubt, baseball’s biggest rivalry will be revived in 2006 as the Boston Red Sox also reloaded during the offseason. Red Sox Nation believes that Josh Beckett and Coco Crisp will lead them back to baseball’s promised land, but can they offset the departures of Damon and Edgar Renteria? I find it difficult to believe that any team starting Kevin “You Kill Us” Youkilis at first base can win the Fall Classic.

Rounding out the American League contenders are the revamped Toronto Blue Jays, who may give both the Red Sox and Yankees a run for their money; Vlad Guerrero and his mouthful of a team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; and the always competitive Oakland Athletics.

As for the National League, several teams are poised to make their long-awaited returns to victory lane. The other New York team, the Mets, struck gold last year with the addition of Pedro Martinez and hope that Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner and Paul LoDuca will make positive contributions this season. If these players perform up to GM Omar Minaya’s expectations, the Shea faithful will have a lot to cheer about in 2006. Standing in their way are the Atlanta Braves, who these days are about as constant as death and taxes. With 14 consecutive NL East titles in tow, veterans like John Smoltz, and Chipper and Andruw Jones want to push that streak to a ludicrous 15.

In the deep NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros (who recently have been permanent fixtures in the playoffs) will be challenged by the fan-favorite Chicago Cubs and the (gasp!) Milwaukee Brewers. If the pieces come together correctly for the talented Chicago and Milwaukee teams, you may very well be watching them in October as the Cards and ‘Stros sit at home pondering what could have been.

In the often overlooked NL West, no clear-cut favorite emerges at first glance. Consider the NL West a division known as the proverbial “free-for-all”. Any team that can come forward from this combat zone unscathed will be battle-tested and ready for the playoffs.

The 2006 Major League Baseball season looks to be one of controversy surrounding Barry Bonds, one of potential milestones involving Jimmy Rollins, and, of course, one filled with exciting games for all to enjoy. When everything is said and done, look for experience to dominate in the later rounds of the playoffs, with the Yankees defeating the Braves in the World Series.