Baseball's Opening Day Starts Earlier This Season

The Major League Baseball season gets underway Thursday. Major League Baseball moved Opening Day up to avoid playing World Series games in November.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Major League Baseball season starts today - a little earlier than usual. The league moved opening day up to avoid playing World Series games in November. For a sense of which teams might make it to the fall classic, we're joined by NPR's Tom Goldman.

Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi.

MONTAGNE: Hi. So just 162 games until the playoffs, seems like the right time to ask for some predictions. What do you think? What teams are looking best going into the season?

GOLDMAN: Well, the Philadelphia Phillies have been the talk of baseball since signing left-handed pitching ace Cliff Lee. Their pitching rotation is the best in baseball with Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt.

There are caveats about Philadelphia, though, Renee. Some important players are dealing with injuries as the season starts - second baseman Chase Utley, closer Brad Lidge. In general, their lineup is getting older. And waiting in the wings - some say maybe even better than the Phillies - is a young, deep Atlanta Braves team.

Now, in the American League the big buzz is about Boston. They didn't make the playoffs last year, in large part because of injuries to key players. Now the Red Sox are healthy. On top of that, they signed two star players - outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Their pitching is still really strong. The Sox are loaded.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, the San Francisco Giants snuck up on almost everyone last year. They ended up winning the World Series. And who would be that team that possibly might be sneaking up on everyone this year?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, there's talk across the bay from San Francisco about the Oakland A's and their talented pitching staff. And then in Florida, there's some murmurs about the Marlins. They won the World Series in 1997, then disappeared from the playoffs, then reemerged in 2003, won the World Series again, then disappeared. So they may be due for their every six or seven year title.

MONTAGNE: There are two teams with uncertain ownership situations - the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers. What about those teams? I mean, obviously iconic teams in baseball.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, the Dodgers, as you know, have been dealing with the messy breakup of owner Frank McCourt and his wife - former wife Jamie. She's been ruled part owner of the team by a judge. And there are concerns about whether this costly divorce would affect the team.

The Dodgers had a pretty good off-season. They had the money to keep some key players, signed a few other new ones. We will see whether they have the money during the season to make personnel moves that'll help the team.

Now, the Mets really were a mess even before the news a few months ago that owner Fred Wilpon was being sued by a trustee for victims of the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme. Wilpon invested heavily with Madoff over the years. The lawsuit claims Wilpon knew about fraud. He insists he didn't. There's several hundred million dollars at stake here.

And this past offseason the Mets didn't go after high priced players. So we could already be seeing the impact on an already troubled team.

MONTAGNE: And just a quick update on the Barry Bonds trial, which is under way up in San Francisco.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, several players testified this week that they received banned drugs from Bonds' former personal trainer. This is important for the prosecution, which is trying to show the trainer was a regular supplier to players and that Bonds had to know he was getting banned drugs from this guy like the others. Bonds is charged with lying to a grand jury when he said he didn't know.

Now, the trial started 10 days ago. Both sides - the government and Bonds' defense team - have had their high moments and low ones. But there's no clear-cut advantage so far.

MONTAGNE; Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Goldman.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And now an update. We told you yesterday that political rivals India and Pakistan would meet on the cricket pitch. After only eight hours of play, India won the cricket World Cup semifinal by 29 runs. Now India plays Sri Lanka in the finals on Saturday, the first time both teams in the cricket World Cup final are from Asia.

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