Nationals

MLB Opening Day 2022: Stories to watch for this season

Nationals

Throughout the 99-day lockout, baseball fans wondered if this day would ever come. Well, here it is: Opening Day has arrived.

With a full 162-game slate on tap, Major League Baseball won’t miss a beat in 2022. There were certainly moments of doubt as labor negotiations dragged on all winter, but that’s all behind us now.

The focus now shifts to the actual game, where the Atlanta Braves will look to repeat as World Series champions – something that hasn’t been done since the New York Yankees in 1999 and 2000. There are plenty of worthy challengers ready to battle the Braves, and it’ll all play out over the next six months.

Here are seven storylines to watch as the 2022 MLB season officially begins:

Can anyone stop the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a superteam. There’s no other way to say it.

 

LA’s lineup features three former MVPs in Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and the newly-signed Freddie Freeman. The rotation boasts Clayton Kershaw, one of the best pitchers of this generation. Speedy star Trea Turner is their new starting shortstop, and 2021 All-Stars Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Justin Turner provide even more lineup protection.

In the rotation, the Dodgers have three reliable arms – Kershaw, Cy Young candidate Walker Buehler and 20-game winner Julio Urías. LA has made the postseason in nine straight seasons, winning the World Series in 2020. All signs point to another dominant year in Tinseltown.

“Are they going to be as good on the field as they are on paper? Because on paper, there is no team that can even compete with the Dodgers,” NBCLA Sports Anchor Fred Roggin said.

When will the Yankees return to the World Series?

Once the class organization of baseball, the Yankees have been perennial disappointments since winning the World Series in 2009. The Yankees haven’t been bad – they just can’t get over the hump. New York has made the postseason in nine of 12 years since its last title, including each of the last five. The pressure is on for the Bronx Bombers to finally return to glory.

As the Yankees focus on winning another title, two key players will be in the spotlight this season. Aaron Judge, New York’s star outfielder, is set to hit free agency after the season. Will he work out a long-term term? Then there’s Gleyber Torres, someone who was once expected to blossom at shortstop but has struggled mightily at the plate and in the field last season. Can the 25-year-old recapture his early-career form?

Will Chris Sale return to form for the Red Sox?

Coming off a dreadful 2020 campaign, the Red Sox were resurgent in 2021. Led by manager Alex Cora, Boston got back into the postseason and was within two games of reaching the World Series. A powerful lineup, including Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez, was enough to carry the Sox all season.

 

The one thing missing in 2021 was Chris Sale. Fresh off Tommy John surgery, Boston’s ace returned in August and was solid down the stretch, albeit in limited action. He appeared poised for a big 2022, but he suffered broken ribs in the offseason and will begin the season on the 60-day IL. The Red Sox need Sale healthy if they want to get back to the mountaintop.

“It is the fate of Chris Sale,” John Tomase of NBC Sports Boston said when asked about the biggest Red Sox storyline. “Since his $145 million contract extension kicked in in 2020, Sale has only made nine starts, and he’s not going to be adding to that any time soon.”

Can the Giants keep up after a quiet offseason?

Two things are working against the San Francisco Giants ahead of the 2022 season. First, the Giants lost key contributors from their division-winning 2021 squad, including Kris Bryant and franchise legend Buster Posey. Second, the rest of the NL West loaded up with star talent this offseason while San Fran largely stood pat.

Last season was a shock, as the Giants exceeded all expectations to outlast the Dodgers in the regular season. The script flipped in the playoffs, when LA beat its rival in the NLDS. With the Giants down two key bats, the Dodgers adding Freeman, the Rockies adding Bryant and the Padres adding Sean Manaea, it’ll be an uphill battle in 2022 for Gabe Kapler’s squad.

 

“They didn’t do much,” Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area said when asked about the Giants’ offseason. “The only real addition to the lineup is Joc Pederson. But the fans are a little skeptical. So the question of 2022: Is the front office right? Do they have enough in-house to try to repeat as NL West champions?”

Can the young White Sox take another step?

The Chicago White Sox are a team on the rise. After zero postseason berths from 2009 to 2019, they’ve now qualified in consecutive seasons. The roster is loaded with star young talent, including Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez, Yoan Moncada and others.

Last season was supposed to be the year for Chicago after hiring veteran manager Tony La Russa. The 77-year-old manager didn’t always jive with his youthful stars, but the team battled through frequent injuries to win the AL Central with ease. Now, it’s about performing in the postseason.

“Injuries decimated the team last year,” Chuck Garfien of NBC Sports Chicago said. “Despite those injuries, they still won 93 games. But, they need to stay healthy.”

 

Will the all-in Phillies get back to the playoffs?

It’s make or break time for the Philadelphia Phillies. In a city that craves results, this squad hasn’t delivered. The Phillies haven’t made the postseason since 2011, the longest drought in the NL. Despite having NL MVP Bryce Harper and Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler, they couldn’t snap the streak in 2021.

In 2022, they’ll be out of excuses. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski spent big money when the lockout was lifted, adding big bats in Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Dombrowski used a similar strategy to win a World Series with the Red Sox in 2018, and manager Joe Girardi is a World Series winner with the Yankees in 2009.

“Dave Dombrowski and Phillies ownership went out this offseason and exceeded the luxury tax for the very first time in franchise history,” Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia said. “They have to live up to expectations. They have to make the playoffs in 2022.”

Can the Rangers’ revamped infield change their fortunes?

When’s the last time anyone nationally talked about the Texas Rangers? They haven’t made the postseason since 2016, and they haven’t won a playoff series since 2011 (when they lost in the World Series). Well, that could all change after a busy offseason.

The Rangers made two huge splashes this winter, signing shortstop Corey Seager from the Dodgers and second baseman Marcus Semien from the Blue Jays. Seager, a two-time All-Star and former World Series MVP, brings immediate star power to Texas. Semien, an AL MVP finalist last season, provides stability to help create one of the league’s best middle infields.

 

“Nobody knows who these guys are anymore,” NBC Dallas-Fort Worth Sports Director Newy Scruggs said. “They spent the last five years having a losing record and losing their fan base. I know they got a brand new stadium, but the fact is: Who are these dudes?”