OPINION: Baseball is back

Despite the longest lockout in league history, the MLB has returned

If I’m being honest, I did not think that I would be writing this article before the end of the semester. One hundred fifty-seven days after the Atlanta Braves won their first title since 1995, players returned to the baseball diamond on April 8 to kick off a legendary season. This Opening Day was unlike any other for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, with COVID precautions lifted around the US and Canada, baseball saw maximum capacity crowds for all 30 teams for the first time since 2019. However, the lockout is the big reason everyone is so surprised that this season is even happening.

One week after I wrote an article about the MLB lockout and said, “Maybe we’ll get a season, but I wouldn’t bet on it,” the MLB and MLBPA (MLB Players Association) proved why I don’t gamble. The 99-day lockout ended on March 10, with Spring Training ramping up a few days later.

The biggest miracle was that everything ran remarkably smoothly from the start. Free agents that teams hadn’t signed before the lockout were almost immediately snatched up, with big names including Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman, Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw and Astros’ shortstop Carlos Correa hitting the market. However, in a move that shocked everyone, MLB announced that this ’22 campaign would be a full season. No canceled series or shortened season—this was a full 162-game season that everyone would play. Despite the lockout lasting almost two weeks into March, MLB Opening Day was only pushed back a week, from March 31 to April 7.

This opening day was one of the most highly anticipated in years for many reasons. Not only were teams loosening restrictions and allowing more fans into the ballpark, but there was a lot of hype surrounding the teams themselves. The Texas Rangers, a team that lost 102 games last season, scored the most runs in Spring Training (they also kicked the life out of Cleveland in a 25-12 final). Optimism was in such abundance that even Pirates fans thought that the team would be half-decent this season (Do you have any idea how messed up the universe has to be for Pirates fans to have optimism?). Despite the hype, when Opening Day came and went, things looked relatively normal—with a few notable exceptions.

The bad news for Rangers fans like myself is that Texas will still lose a lot of games. The good news is that most of those games will have cumulative scores in the double digits. This offseason, the Rangers went big, picking up Dodgers’ shortstop Corey Seager, Blue Jays’ second baseman Marcus Semien, and trading for Twins’ catcher Mitch Garver. The hitting core is still stacked with some big names from last year, including Adolis García, Eli White, Andy Ibáñez and Nate Lowe. In their Opening Day game in Toronto, the first time Toronto has hosted a game since 2019, the Rangers put up eight runs, with seven of those coming before the third inning. After giving up seven runs before the fifth inning, Texas lost the game 10-8. Not a single Ranger reliever has an ERA under 4.00, and this lack of depth has proven to be an outstanding liability. Only time will tell what the Rangers can do with their limited weaponry, but it doesn’t look good for a team with a payroll above more than half of the league.

Meanwhile, in South Texas, the Houston Astros looked outstanding at the start of the season (much to my discontent). They killed the Angels 13-6 in their second game of the season and won three of their first four games. However, they aren’t unbeatable; a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks and an 11-1 mopping at the hands of Seattle showed that their team still has work to do, despite retaining key weapons that include José Altuve and Justin Verlander.

The Dodgers have returned this season with a scary-good start, utilizing a reinvigorated roster to their advantage. The Blue Crew won the Freddie Freeman sweepstakes and has used him well. However, they’ve also drawn ire across much of the baseball world for an incident in the season’s fifth game. In the seventh inning of their game against the Twins, the Dodgers pulled Clayton Kershaw, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, out of a perfect game despite only throwing 80 pitches. The 34-year-old has had a long history of injuries and recently came off elbow surgery. However, as he was on pace to throw the 24th Perfect Game in MLB history, the move has drawn much criticism.

The Atlanta Braves, Freeman’s former team, reloaded for another World Series push, taking an absolute steal from the Oakland Athletics to get first-baseman Matt Olsen. The 31-year-old is the new face of the franchise for Atlanta, which won the World Series last season. They have also gotten news on their superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña, the 24-year-old having missed the second half of last season after a devastating ACL injury in July, but his rehab is reportedly progressing well. The Braves have put Acuña on their AAA roster to get back up to game speed, and he is expected to return to the MLB by the first week of May.

There are plenty more stories to cover for the season, and the possibilities are endless. The best part about spring is that every team starts 0-0, and there’s always the promise of a new year. Teams and fans have hope that this can be their year, and it’s beautiful to see.

After a winter of lockouts and questions, I’m happy to say something I have been waiting for for a long time.

Let’s play ball.