MLB

MLB storylines to watch in 2022: Can the Mets becomes the kings of New York, will the Atlanta Braves to go back-to-back?

By Sports Desk April 06, 2022

After a chaotic offseason, which included a lockout and pushing back Opening Day, baseball is almost back.

With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, two new playoff spots up for grabs and plenty of big-name player movement, it is shaping up to be an enthralling MLB season.

The defending champion Atlanta Braves may have improved, despite losing star Freddie Freeman to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Yankees' position as the best team in New York could soon be under threat. 

With so many storylines, the most logical place to begin is right at the very top.

 

Can the Braves go back-to-back?

As is often the case, the World Series race is wide open, but Atlanta is at least in the mix as far as the pre-season odds go.

Some would consider the Braves' run last season a fluke – they won 88 games in the regular season, while the 91-win Toronto Blue Jays and 90-win Seattle Mariners missed out on playoff berths entirely.

However, they were missing superstar Ronald Acuna Jr for a large chunk of the year, and made meaningful additions at the trade deadline including Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson, and their playoff surge indicated that the record was not an accurate reflection of their talent.

While they lost franchise legend Freeman to the Dodgers, the Braves are arguably getting an upgrade at first base in the form of Matt Olson, who is four years younger and was a two-time Gold Glove winner with the Oakland Athletics before being traded for a four-player package of young Braves prospects.

Max Fried and Charlie Morton comprise a stout top of the rotation while Mike Soroka is out injured, and they have some strong bullpen arms including Tyler Matzek and Collin McHugh.

The Braves are a team without a clear weakness and will be full of confidence, so expect them to be fighting it out at the top of the NL East against the second-most expensive team in baseball, the New York Mets, as they bid to become the first team to win consecutive World Series since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000.

 

Are the Mets the best team in New York?

Since 2001, the New York Mets have only finished with a better record than the Yankees twice, in 2015 and 2016.

During that span, the Mets have never had a more expensive payroll than their local rivals – until this year.

The Mets are projected to come into Opening Day trailing only the Dodgers with the second-highest payroll in the league at $251million, while the Yankees are third at $239m.

It represents more than just deep pockets for second-year owner Steve Cohen, it shows that the Mets are no longer the 'little brother', and are willing to spend what it takes to be taken seriously against the most decorated franchise in major league history.

Buck Showalter will be the man tasked with turning the money into wins in his first year in the role, the former three-time AL Manager of the Year known for maximising talent on a limited budget with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010 to 2018, a stint that included a playoff series win over the Yankees.

Ultimately, what the Mets' season will hinge on is the health of their starting pitchers, with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer (who turns 38 this season) comprising the best one-two punch in baseball after Marcus Stroman left as a free agent to join the Chicago Cubs. DeGrom has already been sidelined for four weeks with a shoulder injury.

The rotation also includes 2021 All-Star Taijuan Walker, who tailed off late last season, but showed impressive ability when fresh.

Francisco Lindor remains the young jewel of the franchise – now two seasons into a 10-year, $341m contract extension – and along with power-hitting Pete Alonso and rangy center-fielder Starling Marte, there is plenty of quality stepping into the batters' box.

The Yankees will have one of the highest-ceiling batting line-ups when they roll out sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo, but they also play in the league's toughest division in the AL East, and could be candidates for regression after losing pitcher Corey Kluber and trading away bats Gio Urshela and Luke Voit.

 

 

Did the best team in baseball not make the playoffs in 2021?

It may be hard to believe, but given the meat grinder that is the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays are bookmakers' second-favourite to win the World Series despite not making the playoffs this past season.

The Blue Jays were top three in runs scored in 2021 and should again be one of the most explosive teams in the league this time around.

Toronto will also be able to enjoy a homecoming season, returning to Rogers Centre after the Blue Jays were forced to play their 2021 home games in Buffalo due to pandemic restrictions.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette are franchise cornerstones, last year's big signing George Springer was enormous in an injury-shortened debut campaign, and they have the luxury of adding Matt Chapman this season, who has two Platinum Gloves to his name as one of the best defensive players in the league.

Pitching remains the question mark in Toronto, with AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray departing for Seattle in a serious blow to a rotation with plenty to prove.

Nobody should be surprised if the Blue Jays jump up from fourth in their division all the way to the top, and are one of the teams with real World Series aspirations this season.

 

Which top prospect will establish themselves as a star? 

There will be some elite prospects finding their way in the majors this season, but will any of them burst onto the scene as a star?

In 2017, Judge did more than just win Rookie of the Year, he led the AL in home runs and finished second in AL MVP voting.

While there is always a chance that an unheralded rookie emerges as the premier prospect, there is a relatively clear top-tier consisting of three players entering the season.

Kansas City Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr, Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez.

Rutschman will hit for average from both sides of the plate while projecting as an elite defensive catcher, Witt is the five-tool stud who will make eye-popping plays with his glove at shortstop, and Rodriguez is the big, power-hitting corner outfielder.

At 24 years old, Rutschman is the senior of the class, while the other two are considerably younger at 21, but all three will have a chance to prove themselves early in the year as franchise-altering stars – and potentially become the biggest story of this season.

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    Nine years after being selected as the number one pick in the MLB Draft, Mark Appel finally made his major league debut.

    Four days after being promoted from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to the Philadelphia Phillies, Appel took the mound on Wednesday, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

    "It's pretty surreal," Appel said. "I was trying to hold back the tears. It was emotional. It was special."

    The right-hander, who turns 31 on July 15, became the oldest top overall pick to make his major league debut when he stepped foot on the rubber to face Marcell Ozuna at Citizens Bank Park.

    He got Ozuna to line out to first baseman Rhys Hoskins on his first pitch for his first out.

    "Having perspective and remembering even just two, three years ago," Appel said. "Even if I was just trying to come back, it's never been a straight line for me.

    "Even in that whole process, I was lost. I felt like there were times when I was hopeless, that this dream would never happen. So yeah, I was choking back tears."

    A native of suburban Houston, Appel was selected first overall by the Astros in the 2013 draft and spent three years in the Astros system before being traded to the Phillies in a multi-player deal in December 2015.

    He struggled on the mound and battled through injuries in the minors before announcing in early 2018 that he was retiring, saying he was at peace with the decision to step away.

    Three years later, Appel returned to the Phillies organisation but again scuffled at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2021, posting a 6.06 ERA in 23 appearances – 15 starts.

    He came out again this past spring and this time excelled – as a full-time reliever. In 19 appearances out of the bullpen for the Iron Pigs, Appel went 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA and 24 strikeouts over 28 innings.

    "This whole year has been so special for me," Appel said. "I was coming in, trying to figure out: where do I fit? What's my role going to be?

    "The fact I got to go to Lehigh and learn how to be a reliever and have some success, that was fuel to my fire. I didn't need a call-up for it to be a successful year.

    "In that sense, this is all just extra. I'm just really thankful for it. And I'm glad that I'm able to go out and do my best and get to face the world champions from last year. It's pretty surreal."

    The second batter Appel faced, William Contreras, singled to centre, but on the next batter, Appel notched his first major league strikeout on a 97 mph fastball to Aam Duvall.

    After umpire Quinn Wolcott called strike three, catcher J.T. Realmuto tossed the ball to the Phillies dugout for Appel to keep as a memento of his first major league strikeout.

    The inning ended one batter later when Appel got Phil Gosselin to hit into a fielder's choice – a grounder to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who tossed it to Bryson Scott.

    Appel threw 10 pitches in all – six for strikes – and when he reached the Phillies dugout upon the completion of the inning, he was congratulated by interim manager Rob Thompson and his team-mates.

    "It almost felt like I was being brought into this fraternity of Major League Baseball players," Appel said.

  • Pirates outfielder hits three homers, Judge launches again for Yankees, Ohtani deals for Angels Pirates outfielder hits three homers, Judge launches again for Yankees, Ohtani deals for Angels

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    The Nationals had it all working at the plate, collecting 16 hits compared to nine for the Pirates, but Reynolds' power made the difference.

    Reynolds connected on his first home run as the second batter of the game, following up Ke'Bryan Hayes' base hit with a 389-foot shot to make it 2-0.

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    After Pittsburgh's Daniel Vogelbach hit a 400-foot home run, and the Nationals drove in three more through Ruiz, Cesar Hernandez and Yadiel Hernandez, Reynolds returned to the plate in the sixth inning, trailing 6-4.

    His 420-foot solo home run trimmed the margin to 6-5, and followed it up an inning later with a three-run, 389-foot bomb to jump ahead 8-6.

    Yadiel Hernandez made things interesting down the stretch when his home run brought the Nationals back to within one run, but Yerry De Los Santos was able to protect the lead and register his first save of the season for the Pirates.

    Pirates super-prospect Oneil Cruz was quiet, with no hits, but he was walked twice from his four at-bats, and also reached base on a fielding error.

    Judge blasts another in Yankees win

    Only one player has more than 23 home runs this season, and Aaron Judge added to his league-leading tally as he crushed his 29th long ball in a 5-3 home win against the Oakland Athletics.

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    They would not score in the final eight frames as Yankees starter Jameson Taillon found his footing, and the bullpen combination of Lucas Luetge, Miguel Castro and Clay Holmes allowed just two hits and no walks in the final four innings.

    Judge's home run also came in the first inning - a 429-foot, two-run launch as the Yankees' second batter of the game - before Giancarlo Stanton added three more runs with his 391-foot homer in the third inning. Stanton is also top 10 in home runs this season, with 19, while fellow Yankee Anthony Rizzo has 20.

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    Ohtani – who is also tied for 13th in the league with 17 home runs as a hitter – is now eighth in the league for total strikeouts as a pitcher (101) after a career-high 13 in his last start against the Kansas City Royals.

    He held the White Sox scoreless through five-and-two-thirds innings, giving up five hits and one walk as he registered at least 10 strikeouts for the fifth time in his past 11 starts.

  • DeGrom and Scherzer edging closer to Mets returns DeGrom and Scherzer edging closer to Mets returns

    The New York Mets have yet to have their two multiple Cy Young Award winners healthy at the same time this season, though that appears closer to becoming a reality.

    Jacob deGrom took the biggest step towards a return from a shoulder injury by throwing 29 pitches on Wednesday in a live batting practice session at the Mets' spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It could be the final hurdle the two-time National League Cy Young winner has to clear before starting a minor league rehab assignment that could have him back around the All-Star break.

    "We have a schedule worked out and know what will happen if everything feels well [on Thursday]," Mets manager Buck Showalter said. "He hasn't had anything that has taken him off schedule so far."

    DeGrom has not pitched for the Mets since July 7 due to two significant injuries. The ace right-hander missed the entire second half of last season with forearm tightness and came down with a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder in spring training.

    While DeGrom's return is still not imminent, the Mets could have Max Scherzer back by next week. The three-time Cy Young recipient, out since mid-May with a strained left oblique, will make a second rehab start for Double-A Binghamton on Wednesday against the Hartford Yard Goats.

    Scherzer threw 65 pitches – 46 for strikes – in his first outing for Binghamton on June 21. The 37-year-old struck out six while allowing two runs on three hits and one walk.

    "I was going to send him a 'good luck with the Yard Goats,' but I don't think he'd take it well," said Showalter of the notoriously intense Scherzer. "I think I will, anyway."

    It's believed Wednesday's start will be Scherzer's last before rejoining the Mets for their series in Cincinnati against the Reds that begins on Monday, though Showalter said a final decision won't be made until after he pitches.

    "We're not going to rush him," he said. "We're not going to make that mistake."

    Since signing a three-year, $130million contract with the Mets in December that made him baseball's highest-paid player in terms of annual salary, Scherzer has gone 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA in eight starts and has struck out 59 in 49.2 innings.

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