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Slugger Albert Pujols has moved on from St. Louis to Anaheim this season. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File) (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)
Slugger Albert Pujols has moved on from St. Louis to Anaheim this season. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File) (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

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Eight MLB stories to watch in 2012 Add to ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE

When Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240-million deal, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were getting more than the numbers provided by the greatest slugger of his generation: they were getting a hitter that should allow Erick Aybar and especially Howie Kendrick get pitches to hit in front of him and provide hitters such as Mark Trumbo a few more RBI opportunities, too. It seems odd to talk about Pujols ‘lengthening’ the Angels lineup, but there is a trickle-down effect that presents all manner of fascinating possibilities given the creativity of manager Mike Scioscia.

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Josh Hamilton hasn’t played more than 133 games in three seasons, and has fought the Texas Rangers’ plans to move him to left field, saying he reported to camp 15 pounds lighter in order to play centre field. This is all part of posturing ahead of Hamilton’s free-agent winter, since a big offensive year in centre would carry a hefty premium. The Rangers have had the rub of the green for most of the past two seasons, but Hamilton’s alcohol-related relapse might turn out to be a harbinger.

The Boston Red Sox are on the verge of becoming a cartoon. Again. Closer Andrew Bailey discovered a thumb injury while squeezing a tube of shampoo and could start the year on the 15-day disabled list, while Josh Beckett is seeking a second medical opinion for a thumb injury of his own. Toss in the fact that Bobby Valentine is in charge, and Red Sox Nation might long for the days when the only worry was Manny Being Manny. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees' prize off-season acquisition, Michael Pineda, looks fat and felt a shoulder twinge on the weekend and is destined for a stint on the DL, which means its CC Sabathia against the world once again. Know what? Fifteen or 20 more miracles and the Toronto Blue Jays might have a shot at the playoffs.

Miguel Cabrera missed 11 games this spring after taking a bouncer off his face and that is the image that will linger most about the Detroit Tigers heading into the regular-season, since with all due respect to Prince Fielder, he is no Miguel Cabrera offensively. With a starting infield of Cabrera at third base, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Ryan Raburn at second and Fielder at first, manager Jim Leyland will need every strikeout his pitching staff is capable of giving him, not to mention every one of those eight or nine runs his team will score.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

The Dodgers went 41-28 in the second half of 2011. Free of ownership turmoil due to a $2-billion sale to a group of well-heeled investors that includes Magic Johnson. they’ll have money to spend at the trade deadline (hello there, David Wright) if Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw and MVP candidate Matt Kemp get some help. The 2011 season was the first in which the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim out-drew the Dodgers, so welcome to the new Battle of Los Angeles.

The Miami Marlins made it through spring training without drama from manager Ozzie Guillen, pitcher Carlos Zambrano or third baseman Hanley Ramirez, and given the injuries to the Philadelphia Phillies it’s difficult not to see them as the best team in the National League East Division. They have power pitching, power hitting and three-quarters of a 4 x 100-metre team in Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio. Don’t tell Roy Halladay, but his days of guaranteed playoff berths have come to a quick end.

Is there a single, more important player in the NL than San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey? The Giants will out-pitch everybody but the annual question about their offence gets answered positively only if the 2010 rookie of the year stays healthy after 2011’s season-ending ankle injury. Pablo Sandoval, AKA The Kung Fu Panda, gets the best promotion of any Giants player when Pablo Sandoval Gnome Night is held on Sept. 22, but Posey is the dynamic offensive force the Giants need to extend the season deep into the Fall.

Ryan Braun didn’t need any message in a bottle to tell him that repeating as National League MVP was going to be tough. Even before he was nabbed as part of baseball’s drug-testing program – his suspension overturned by what amounted to a technicality in the handling of his specimen – Braun knew that Fielder’s departure to the Tigers left a hole behind him in the Milwaukee Brewers order. Aramis Ramirez will have a big say, then, in whether the Brewers make it back to the post-season. He’s 34 and not playing in Wrigley Field any more but he is a proven run-producer who will bat behind Braun. What he can’t do is offer Braun support when he hears the chants and cat-calls on the road. That charmed life Braun has led in sleepy little Milwaukee is about to end.

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