Baseball season is just around the corner and although it hasn’t experienced the popularity that the NFL has on these shores, the love for the game described as the American Pastime extends beyond the USA. If you’ve never seen a baseball game, now is the time to jump on board. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently confirmed that the MLB were looking to expand their horizons, starting with a regular season series in London as soon as 2017. Although no details or dates have been confirmed, the success of the NFL on English shores mean it’s only a matter of time.

MLB 2016 Season Preview

Baseball is a very simple game, and no it’s not just glamorised rounders. So if you’re looking to give it a go, here are the basics.

The Season

Major League Baseball consists of 30 teams split into two leagues of 15 teams, the National League and the American League. A single season consists of each team playing 162 games between early April and early October. At the end of a long hard season, five teams from each league advance to the post-season that culminates in a best of seven Championship called the World Series.

The Team

Understanding the roster of a Major League team can be complicated. So for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to focus in on the main 25 man roster that teams use to start the season. This will usually consist of 5 starting pitchers (called the pitching rotation), 8 position players, 7 relief pitchers (called the bullpen) and 5 bench players. Relief pitchers are used to pitch 1-2 innings at a time after the starter has exited the game, either through ineffectiveness or tiredness.

The Game

Each game consists of 9 innings. An inning consists of three outs per team. Baseball is one of the only sports that has no determined play-clock, so a game is not restricted to 90 minutes like football or 60 minutes like the NFL. It will last as long as it lasts. The oldest recorded game in Major League History lasted over 8 hours. However the typical game lasts around 3 hours
Each team bats in the inning, with the away team batting first. Once three outs are recorded, the home team comes to bat. Once the home team records three outs, you move to the next inning. If the score is tied after the 9 innings, you continue to play until you have a winner. We all know that Americans don’t like a draw.

The aim of the game is to score more runs than your opponent. A run is scored by a runner reaching home base, having first touched first, second and third base. Only one runner is allowed on any one base at any one time. There are 9 defensive players in the field trying to prevent that from happening, including the pitcher.

How to Watch

Unlike a lot of online streaming services, MLB.tv offers incredibly value. For under £80, you have access to any game; any day for the entire season, which works out at around 45p per game. If you just want to follow the games of one team, it’s less than £60 a season. If you have BT Sport and their ESPN channel, you’ll have a selection of several games every week already.

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2016 MLB Preview


The Favourites

Kansas City Royals – The defending champion Kansas City Royals will again be one of the favourites to win it all. After coming out on the losing side of the 2014 World Series, the Royals returned in 2015 to defeat the New York Mets and become MLB champions. Renowned as having a very balanced team, the Royals used timely hitting and strong relief pitching to win their first MLB Championship since 1985. The Royals are largely unchanged and welcome back Alex Gordon who decided to return to Kansas despite becoming a free agent after the 2015 World Series.

Best off-season signing: Alex Gordon (Outfielder)
Biggest off-season loss: Johnny Cueto (Starting Pitcher)

New York Mets – After making it to the World Series in 2015, the Mets will be confident of a return. Despite having some questions about their relief pitching, the Mets have the best pitching rotation in the entire league. Fronted by the Dark Knight Matt Harvey and young star Jacob DeGrom, the Mets came up a little short in 2015, but they’ll be expecting to make a return in 2016. The Mets did manage to re-sign power hitting Yoenis Cespedes in the off-season as well as infielder Neil Walker and they’ll be hoping they power them to the play-offs.

Best off-season signing: Yoenis Cespedes (outfielder)
Biggest off-season loss: Daniel Murphy (infielder)

Chicago Cubs – The Cubs haven’t won a World Championship since 1908, and some believe the team is cursed thanks to a billy goat…no seriously. However the team has seen a transformation over the last few years, headed by master baseball mind Theo Epstein, the man famous for ending the Boston Red Sox’s curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cubs have a deep ball-club with a talented young roster full of impact players. They signed World Series champion Ben Zobrist from the Royals and signed mega-money outfielder Jason Heyward and veteran pitcher John Lackey away from their division rival Cardinals. The Cubs are heavy favourites to win it all in 2016 and finally end the curse.

Best off-season signing: Jason Heyward (Outfielder)
Biggest off-season loss: Jason Motte (Relief Pitcher).

San Francisco Giants – The Giants experienced some unfortunate injuries last year, which resulted in them missing the post-season entirely. However with it being an even year and the Giants making several signings, they are expected to really compete. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, so it stands to reason that they’ll win it all in 2016 doesn’t it? The Giants really made a splash through the off-season signing star pitcher Johnny Cueto, solid starter Jeff Samardzija and centre fielder Denard Span. When you add those players to a roster that includes one of the best pitchers in the game in Madison Bumgarner, you can see why Giants fans are excited.

Best off-season signing: Johnny Cueto (Starting pitcher)
Biggest off-season loss: Mike Leake (Starting Pitcher)

Los Angeles Dodgers – The dodgers won the national league West last year behind a strong pitching staff, but ran into a red hot Mets team to dumped them out of the post-season in the divisional series. As a result of the quick exit, the decision was made to hire a new manager in Dave Roberts after Don Mattingly confirmed he wouldn’t be returning. The Dodgers managed to re-sign second baseman Howie Kendrick, but did allow star pitcher Zack Greinke to leave through free agency. Greinke went on to sign a $206 million contract with division rivals the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Best off-season signing: Kenta Maeda (Starting pitcher)
Biggest off-season loss: Zack Greinke (Starting pitcher)

Toronto Blue Jays – Last season the Jays led the entire Major Leagues in runs scored, so we know they can hit with the best of them, as well as scoring the most runs last year, they also hit more home runs than any other team. Their offensive lineup is fearsome, and it’s headlined by Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The question mark comes with the rotation; they don’t have a David Price anymore so who steps up? Marcus Stroman is coming off a season where he suffered a serious injury and R.A Dickey is now 41 years old. If they can find consistent starting pitching, their offense will do the rest.

Best off-season signing: Drew Storen (Relief pitcher)
Biggest off-season loss: David Price (Starting pitcher)

Dark Horses

Baseball is a highly unpredictable game. Over the course of a 162 game season, anything can go wrong and some surprises always come to the forefront. So who are the dark horses to watch out for in 2016?

The St Louis Cardinals won the NL Central last year, and they have been consistently good for a long time. They did lose several key players from last year including Jason Heyward, but they’ll be competitive.

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the biggest splash in free agency by signing former Dodger Zack Greinke. They also traded for promising young pitcher Shelby Miller and expect Patrick Corbin to be healthy for the first time since 2013. When you combine the pitching with the fact they have one of the best hitters in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, they are my dark horse to go all the way in 2016.

After failing to win 80 games the last two years, the Boston Red Sox are looking to make a comeback. Their offensive prowess has never been questioned but their pitching has been a problem. They spent big on the premier pitcher in baseball this off-season by signing David Price to a mega-deal and sured up their bullpen with the addition of closer Craig Kimbrel.

The Washington Nationals are another team to watch in 2016. There were high expectations in the nations capital ahead of the 2015 season, but a year of disappointment followed, which resulted in relief pitcher Jonathan papelbon quite literally choking offensive star Bryce Harper. Outside of that, the Nationals have a good rotation headlined by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. They partner that with a good offense led by Harper and new recruits Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere.

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Potential Break-Out Stars

Every single year, a young player bursts onto the scenes in major league baseball, and there are several candidates this year. Here are a couple of players to really watch out for in 2016-03-10

Joc Pederson – Outfielder (LA Dodgers)

Despite a blistering start, Joc slowed down towards the end of the season. Despite tailing off, he still hit 26 home runs and brought home 54 runs for the team. With a full year of Major League experience under his belt, he may be primed for a break-out year with the Dodgers.

Addison Russell – Shortstop (Chicago Cubs)

You could choose a number of players from the Cubs, but with Kris Bryant breaking out last year, I think it’ll be Addison Russell this year. After being moved from short stop to second base midway through last year, Russell became one of the best fielding short stops in the game. Towards the end of the season he was hitting the ball better and news from Cubs camp is that he’s continued that into Spring Training.

Michael Conforto – Outfielder (New York Mets)

Conforto is primed for a break-out season in New York. He hits the ball with plenty of power, and despite the Mets electing not to play him against left hander pitchers last year, I imagine that will change as he takes on more of a permanent role with the team. Conforto hit 9 home runs in only 174 at bats last year, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him hit 25+ homers this season.

Luis Severino – Pitcher (New York Yankees)

After dominating at the minor league level, Severino was called up to the Majors last year and excelled in 11 starts. With a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate, the Yankees are couting on Severino to bolster their starting rotation in 2016. Severino has a good fast ball that can reach 97mph on the radar gun and mixes in a deadly change-up too. If he stays healthy and makes 20+ starts in 2016, I fully expect him to be a star come the end of the year.

Matt Duffy – 3rd Baseman (San Francisco Giants)

Duffy took over at 3rd base on a permanent basis in 2015 and h hit 12 home runs while batting .295 and stealing 12 bases. With one year under his belt, he has the potential to hit for a good average with plenty of speed and plenty of power. If you’re taking part in a fantasy baseball league this year, I’d really recommend taking Duffy as he’ll give you a little bit of everything.

So there we have it. A little preview ahead of the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

I’ve been watching baseball for over 10 years now and each year I love it a little bit more. Baseball is a beautiful game, a tactical game and a game where the history is as important as the present. It’s filled with sunny days, well topped hot dogs and limitless beer, colourful characters and breathtaking moments. If you need a game to get you through the summer and cricket just doesn’t do it for you, why not try baseball. You never know, you may just love it.

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