Baseball 2010: Contenders try to take down Yankees
AP Sports Writer
Everyone's ready to go, from Ichiro Suzuki and the refurbished Seattle Mariners all the way to Roy Halladay and the playoff-tested Philadelphia Phillies.
Dustin Pedroia and Boston, they're itching for another shot. Ditto for Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals, and those outdoor-bound Minnesota Twins, too.
Get ready, New York Yankees. You may be on top after another World Series title but there's a long list of contenders thinking about their own big parade in 2010.
"You have to work twice as hard to get back to where we were last year," said Yankees ace CC Sabathia, set to start the major league opener on April 4 at Fenway Park.
Of course, the expectations in the Bronx are the same. The proof is on the back of manager Joe Girardi, who bumped up his jersey by a digit to No. 28 after his team won its 27th crown last fall.
The Yankees beat defending champion Philadelphia in six games for their first title since winning three straight from 1998 to 2000, making their first season at the new Yankee Stadium a smashing success.
The Phillies didn't exactly stand pat after getting denied.
Trying to become the first team since Stan Musial-led St. Louis in the 1940s to win three straight NL pennants, Philadelphia acquired Halladay from Toronto in a complicated, four-team deal in December.
Halladay, backed by one of the majors' most potent lineups? Sounds like championship material.
"That's our goal, to get back to the World Series and win again," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's our ultimate goal this year."
There wasn't much hope in Seattle at this point last year, when the Mariners were coming off a 101-loss season. But they won 85 games in 2009, and general manager Jack Zduriencik continued to reload this winter.
Chone Figgins left the three-time AL West champion Angels for a $36 million, four-year deal and is expected to start at second base on opening day. Zduriencik also was part of the Halladay trade, grabbing 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Phillies.
Suddenly, the Mariners are a legitimate threat to win the division.
"I think we are going to be good, man," ace Felix Hernandez said. "I think this is our year."
Lee's banged-up spring tempered some of Seattle's enthusiasm, and Joe Nathan's injured elbow had a similar effect on hopeful Minnesota.
The Twins, swept by the Yankees in the first round of last year's playoffs, increased their payroll heading into their first season at open-air Target Field. AL MVP Joe Mauer signed an $184 million, eight-year contract extension, and second baseman Orlando Hudson and slugger Jim Thome inked free-agent deals.
Then Nathan was sidelined for the year for reconstructive right elbow surgery, leaving Minnesota without its All-Star closer.
"If we throw the ball over and give our guys a chance to catch it, things will work out pretty good," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire isn't the only manager making contingency plans at closer, though the situation in Colorado seems to be far less serious.
Jim Tracy is adjusting his Rockies bullpen with Huston Street hampered by right arm tightness this spring. Street saved 35 games in 2009 as Colorado closed the season with a flourish, winning the wild card and ramping up the expectations for this year.
"We feel like we have the team that can win the division," Street said. "The way we finished from June on last year, we learned what it takes to win and it's not just about showing up and being more talented. It's about grinding it out and doing all the little things right."
San Francisco, with two-time reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, and the Los Angeles Dodgers also will be factors out West. And don't forget about the NL Central champion Cardinals, who re-signed slugger Matt Holliday to help protect the great Pujols.
Off the field, baseball once again begins the season with a federal drug probe looming in the distance.
Dr. Anthony Galea, a Canadian physician known for his work with professional athletes, is embroiled in cross-border investigations involving human growth hormone and another drug. He has denied any wrongdoing, but the probe led to a couple of high-profile interviews this spring.
Mets stars Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes talked to authorities and said they did not receive HGH from Galea. Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez pledged his cooperation, and Street has said investigators might want to talk to him about the case.
More players could face questions once the season starts.
Rodriguez's connection to Galea seemed like just a minor disruption during a serene Yankees camp, that, for once, appeared to mostly focus on baseball. The champs geared up for their title defense by bringing in All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson, pitcher Javier Vazquez, designated hitter Nick Johnson and outfielder Randy Winn.
It's time to see if it's enough.
"We've brought in some great players and quality people," Rodriguez said. "You know it's our job to navigate this to the same place."
Now that he's won that elusive World Series title, Rodriguez is nearing another target. He's 17 home runs shy of hitting No. 600; Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman is nine saves from becoming the first player to reach 600.
Also worth noting: This is set to be the last season that Bobby Cox will manage, ending a hugely successful run in Atlanta that included one World Series championship. And this is Mark McGwire's first year back on the field as Big Mac, who has now admitted using steroids, becomes the Cardinals' batting coach.
AP Sports Writers Howie Rumberg, Gregg Bell and Pat Graham and AP freelance writer David Dorsey contributed to this report.