Time is now for MLB big spenders
March 28 (Reuters) - Hall of Famer Yogi Berra quipped "It ain't over til it's over", but with the introduction of a pitch clock Major League Baseball games will be over sooner this season as time ticks on for some big spenders to get back to the World Series.
The New York Mets and crosstown rivals the Yankees, who have the two highest payrolls in the Major Leagues, according Spotrac, along with deep pocketed West coast outfits the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are among the hot favourites to lift the Commissioner's Trophy when a new season gets underway on Thursday.
But time will tell if money can indeed buy a championship.
Time, once an abstract concept for baseball, is now the sport's newest buzz word.
"It’s the mathematical potential for a single game to last forever, in a suspended world where no clock rules the day, that aligns baseball as much with the dead as the living," wrote Bill Vaughn, an American author and columnist.
Part of baseball's intrinsic charm was that it was played without a clock, a calendar setting the pace for a 162-game schedule as teams worked their way through Spring openers, the Dog Days of Summer to the Fall Classic.
Not any longer.
The tick-tock of the pitch clock is now the metronome that will dictate the speed at which the U.S. national pastime will march to as part MLB's efforts to speed up games, addressing the supposed shorter attention spans of younger fans.
Starting this season MLB games will finish faster, by an average of 25 minutes if the pace matches the minor leagues where the pitch clock was tested.
Other tweaks will see marginally bigger bases in the hopes of enticing more stealing and a ban on infield defensive shifts with the idea of bringing more balls into play.
The rules overhaul has fired up baseball traditionalists but the changes are not likely to impact the standings with the contenders largely the same as last season.
The Houston Astros, who have appeared in four of the last six World Series, winning twice including last season, lost ace Justin Verlander to the Mets but added another big bat in Jose Abreu and are once again rated contenders for the American League pennant.
The Yankees have not won the World Series since 2009 but led by slugger Aaron Judge, who hammered an AL record 62 homers last season, look the class of a very competitive AL East, that includes the young and exciting Toronto Blue Jays.
After being swept by the Astros in the AL Championship Series last season, Judge said the focus this season is taking care of some unfinished business and winning a World Series.
"That’s why we play this game; we play to win, we play to be on top," said Judge, who signed a nine-year $360 million deal in the offseason to remain in the Bronx. “When you play in New York, that’s the one and only goal."
Over in the National League, the Dodgers might also have a bit of unfinished business, losing to the Padres in the Division Series after a franchise record 111-win season.
The Dodgers will again have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, led by Clayton Kershaw, as they chase a 10th NL West title in 11 seasons.
For years the Dodgers have started as the team to beat in the NL, but not this season with the Padres taking top billing.
The Friars turned heads with their run to the NLCS last season, knocking off the 101-win Mets and 111-win Dodgers and expect better this year with the return of 24-year-old super star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. from an 80-game drug suspension.
The Mets have received a lot of championship buzz, but find themselves in what just might be the Major Leagues' toughest division, the NL East, that includes the Philadelphia Phillies, who lost to the Astros in last year's World Series and the Atlanta Braves, also winners of 101 games last season.
The Mets' hopes of finishing ahead of the Phillies and Braves will hinge on a starting rotation led by Cy Young winners Verlander and Max Scherzer.
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