Spotlight of the great home-opener

The Toronto Blue Jays are set to open their season against the Detroit Tigers on Monday April 6 and it is no secret that both teams have little to no reason to show optimism this year.

The Blue Jays starting rotation, which was one of their few strengths last season, has weakened considerably. Not only did they lose starting pitcher A.J Burnett to the New York Yankees, which signed him to a five-year $82.5 million deal, but they also will start the season without rising talents Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. To make matters worse, it appears that both pitchers injuries are far more serious than originally diagnosed.

Dustin McGowan wont pitch until the beginning of spring training in 2010 due to a frayed labrum in his pitching shoulder, despite undergoing season-ending surgery last July. Marcum had reconstructive surgery on his right elbow late in September and is not expected back until next spring, but has at least progressed much faster than expected.

As for the Tigers, last season they were the poster boy for overblown expectations. This off season they really did not do anything to improve their team, and recently showed a lack of class by releasing future hall of famer Gary Sheffield who was one homerun shy of reaching the 500 mark. Luckily for him, the Mets took their chances and signed him to their roster.

The Tigers are able to score runs with all-stars Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez leading their lineup, but how will they prevent runs from being scored on them? Their pitching rotation was horrendous last year and they seem to ride on the hopes that many of their starters, such as Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis, will have comeback seasons. Baseball fans shoudnt expect much to change for the Detroit Tigers this season.

Looking past the American League, the most exciting aspect this season will be the race for the CY Young Award. Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians is an obvious candidate after winning the award last year. He could, however, hold the one hit wonder award if it doesnt work out. Three other pitchers in the AL might step up and give Lee a run for his money: C.C Sabathia of the New York Yankees, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox.

C.C Sabathia clearly will have a lot of pressure on him this season after signing a massive contract with the New York Yankees, a team based out of a city that eats, sleeps and breathes baseball. New York fans will not put up with any mediocrity from Sabathia, and if this season starts on a slow note, it wont take the Yankee faithful long to start the criticizing.

As for his attributes, Sabathias intimidation factor is his biggest quality. His ability to change speeds effectively and throw a fastball that reaches the high 90s will have hitters shaking their heads at the plate. He is also noted as a clutch performer, able to work himself out of jams. The question marks facing him are his lack of endurance and the amount of pressure that he will endure to perform effectively. As long as he can stay healthy, he should overcome all the obstacles facing him.

Roy Halladay has an advantage over the other two candidates. Considering the rough expectations placed on his team, he has little to no pressure on him to perform. With all the excitement surrounding the other AL East teams, he will once again fall under the radar as he usually does. On the mound, Roy Halladay is an absolute workhorse with incredible endurance and durability. He usually ends up having more complete games pitched than any pitcher in the MLB. Not to mention his nasty knuckle curve that makes right-handed batters look bad at the plate.

The question marks facing him are his disappearing strike-out skills and the velocity on his fastball. He is no longer the dominant strikeout pitcher he once noted himself as and will on many occasions have to rely on his defense to get him out of innings. He also needs to stay focused when there are runners on base, as he does get distracted pretty easily.

These flaws are minor and Halladay has always shown he has the ability to overcome any obstacle that he faces on the mound. Halladay will perform exceptionally well this year with the Jays as he has arguably been the most consistent pitcher in the MLB over the last couple of years.

Josh Beckett has a disadvantage that the other candidates do not possess. He is the only pitcher to come off a sub par, injury riddled season. Last season, Beckett has been unable to maintain his form that made him CY Young in 2007. He finished the 2008 season with a 12-10 record, 4.03 era, and only 27 starts. But he is on arguably one of the most wellrounded and consistent teams in baseball. He also has tremendous strikeout abilities with his mid-90s fastball and his knee-buckling curve.

Josh Beckett is also a tremendous and passionate competitor with an incredible work ethic. Considering this, his chances of redeeming his CY Young form seem to be more likely than not. As long as he can stay healthy and avoid injuries that seem to restrict him almost every season, he should be able to compete with the best.

Excited yet? Once the first pitch is thrown, all bets are off. The 2009 MLB season will surely not disappoint and may in fact exceed your expectations. Just relax, watch some baseball, and enjoy your summer vacation.

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