Opening Day has been and gone, and with it the baseball season has officially begun. This guide is here to offer beginners a guide to the sport of baseball and information on MLB itself.

How the Game Is Played

Baseball is a sport played by two teams comprised of nine men. The teams, much like in cricket, take it in turns to bat and field. The difference between the innings in cricket and baseball is that each team has nine in baseball rather than the one, or occasionally two, each team receives in cricket. A team’s innings ends when three players are out. After each team has completed its nine innings the team with the highest number of runs wins. If scores are level at the end of each teams nine innings then the game goes into overtime and each team gets to bat and field again.

The fielding team consists of four infielders, three outfielders, a catcher who positions himself behind the batter, and a pitcher. Pitchers are specialist players who are in the team primarily to pitch. In the NL pitchers are also expected to bat however, in the AL pitchers can be replaced in the batting order by a designated hitter. In interleague games the decision over whether pitchers bat or can be replaced by a designated hitter is decided by which league the home team is a member of. Pitchers stand on a mound facing the batter, directly between home plate and second base. Pitches can be thrown to deliberately move in the air, or they can be a fairly straight ball thrown as hard as possible known as a fastball. Fastballs can achieve speeds of over ninety miles per hour.

A pitch being thrown during a spring training game. Image: wikimedia.org
A pitch being thrown during a spring training game. Image: wikimedia.org

There are multiple ways a batter can be out in baseball. The first, and simplest, is if the batter hits the ball and it is caught by a fielder. A player can also be out if he acquires three strikes. There are three ways of acquiring a strike: if a batter swings and misses at any pitch, if he does not swing at a pitch that goes over home plate at a reasonable height, or if he hits the ball directly into ‘foul territory’ (however, a batter cannot strike out on a foul ball). Besides this, a batter can be out if he is tagged with the ball whilst not on a base, or if a fielder has the ball at any base he is forced to run to.

If a pitch is thrown outside of the strike zone and the batter has not swung at it then he is awarded a ball. If the pitcher throws four ‘balls’ to the same player then he is safely awarded first base.

A run is scored if a player makes it around all three bases in numerical order and safely reaches the home plate. Home plate is the plate by which the batsman stands when he is batting. If a player makes it all the way around the diamond from one batted ball, then it is called a home run.

The League

There are currently thirty teams in the league, with fifteen teams in the American League (AL) and fifteen in the National League (NL). Both the AL and the NL are further separated into three smaller divisions: the East, Central and West Divisions, with each division containing five teams. Obviously, given the names of the divisions, teams are grouped depending on their geography.

Each team will play 162 regular season games during the season, with nineteen games played against each of their divisional rivals. The purpose of the regular season is to allow teams to compete for one of the five playoff berths in their league. A playoff berth can be acquired in two ways: a team can either win their division or they can earn a wild card spot. A wild card spot is earned by the two teams with the best records in each division that didn’t win their respective divisions.

Ten teams therefore qualify for the playoffs, five from each division. Once into the playoffs the teams that qualified are seeded one through to five. The teams that won their divisions are seeded one to three with the team with the best regular season record taking the highest seeding, while the two wild card teams take four and five, again depending on their regular season record.

The Kansas City Royals are the defending World Series champions. Image: wikimedia.org
The Kansas City Royals are the defending World Series champions. Image: wikimedia.org

The first game of the postseason is the Wild Card Game, a one-game series between the two wild card teams in each League. The winners progress to the Division Series, where the four remaining teams in each League take each other on in a best-of-five-games series. The pairings for this series are determined by the seedings, rewarding regular season play. After the Division Series are the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series, both being a best-of-seven-games series. The winner of the ALCS and the NLCS goes on to the World Series, to compete for the crown of being the best team in baseball.

Teams to Watch

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are widely considered to be the early favourites to win this year’s World Series. This team is built around a young core, including NL Rookie of the Year Chris Bryant, who came of age in a big way last year. The Chicago Cubs added three big time players during the offseason who bring both experience and a consistent batting presence.

The one question analysts have surrounding this team is whether this young team is ready to handle the pressure that comes with being the favourites.

Josh Donaldson is last year's AL MVP, but can his team go a step further this year? Image: flickr.com
Josh Donaldson is last year’s AL MVP, but can his team go a step further this year? Image: flickr.com

Toronto Blue Jays: Last year’s Toronto Blue Jays were the most offensively dominant team in the MLB, averaging five and a half runs a game and scoring 127 more runs than any other team in baseball. Toronto kept Josh Donaldson, 2015 AL MVP, meaning their batting should be just as explosive, however there are questions surrounding their pitching. Marcus Stroman and Toronto’s other pitchers are considered to be above average and if this remains the case then their batting quality will see them into the playoffs, and potentially into the World Series.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals won last year’s World Series and given the fact that they managed to maintain the same lineup they had last year, they are obviously strong contenders to once again make the World Series. The biggest strength of this Kansas team is their pitching fronted by Edison Vólquez.

Whilst they can expect a tough challenge from the fellow-American League Blue Jays, don’t count out the reigning champs.

New York Mets: Following the victors of last year’s World Series are those they triumphed over, the New York Mets. It is widely agreed that the Mets possess the best starting lineup in baseball. However, in a sport that relies heavily on team depth

Yoenis Cespedes made a big impact on joining the Mets, but does his team have the necessary depth this year? Image: flickr.com
Yoenis Cespedes made a big impact on joining the Mets, but does his team have the necessary depth this year? Image: flickr.com

and rotation of players, the drop off in quality could prove problematic as the season progresses. The Mets struggled offensively at the start of last season until they signed Yoenis Cespedes, a player they re-signed for the 2016 season.

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