Two teams with enormous expectations square off on Monday when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Cincinnati Reds kick off their 2013 seasons with an interleague matchup at Great American Ball Park.
The Angels also started last year with high hopes following the winter signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. However, they got off to an awful start, finished 89-73 and missed the postseason for the third straight year.
So, what did they do? Well, just as they did last offseason, the Angels stole the show this winter by signing former American League MVP Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million deal.
Hopefully Hamilton's maiden voyage in the City of Angels begins a little better than Pujols' did a year ago. Pujols flirted with the Mendoza line up until the middle of May, but managed to end the year hitting .285 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI.
Still, you can't talk about the Angels without mentioning the AL's reigning Rookie of the Year Mike Trout, who produced one of the finest first years in the history of the game.
Despite making his debut on April 28, Trout became the first player in major league history to steal 45 bases, score 125 runs and hit 30 home runs in a single season. Additionally, he is the only player to hit .320 or above with 30 home runs and 45 stolen bases in a single season.
He led all rookies in nearly every offensive category and was named the AL Rookie of the Month in May, June, July and August, becoming the first player to claim the award in four consecutive months. He was also the first rookie ever to record 30 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season.
Jered Weaver will be on the hill Monday after another magnificent season in 2012 that saw him go 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA. He also struck out 142 batters and walked just 45. Of course, the highlight of his season came when he threw a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins on May 2, where he faced 29 batters and struck out nine.
He also had the lowest average against (.214), and WHIP (1.02).
But thanks in part to some injuries, Weaver worked just 188 2/3 innings over 30 starts. He also had a 6.14 ERA in a five-start stretch from Aug. 12-Sept. 2.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, crossed a good amount of items off of its "rebuilding a brand" checklist in 2012 - rebounding from a 79-win season, capturing the National League's Central Division title out from under the defending World Series champions and winning their first postseason games in 17 years - but a fair bit were still left on the table, too.
And when a two-game playoff road lead on the San Francisco Giants became an extra-inning loss in game three, a five-run blowout in game four and a failed rally from a six-run deficit in game five - all on home turf at Great American Ball Park - what had been a banner season came away smelling like, well something distinctly different.
But hope springs eternal in a baseball-mad town, and the Reds enter 2013 firmly entrenched in the role of favorite for the second time in three years. Lest anyone forget, they won the 2010 NL Central and were expected to take a run at repeating in 2011, too, but got off to a terrible start and never recovered en route to limping to an irrelevant third-place finish, 17 games off the pace.
There's little to indicate that sort of drop off again, though, considering the team - or at least what appear to be its most vital parts - are back and healthy this spring.
The organization's most significant trade of the offseason came when center fielder Drew Stubbs was shipped across the state to Cleveland, but the consensus is that Cincinnati got the better end of the deal in fellow outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who had consecutive 20-homer seasons with the Indians in 2009 and 2010 before slumping to eight (in 85 games) and 16 (in 155) in the last two seasons.
Choo will lead off for the Reds, filling a spot that begged for consistency throughout Stubbs' stay, though most concede it'll be one and done once Choo becomes a free agent following the season and the Reds presumably promote minor-league phenom Billy Hamilton, who stole 155 bases and had a .410 on-base percentage while splitting time at Single-A and Double-A in 2012.
"(Choo is) the best we have," manager Dusty Baker said.
Getting the call for the Reds on Monday will be righty Johnny Cueto, who broke out for a 19-win season in 2012, though it was his injury in the NLDS - and unavailability for Game 5 - that many point to as the reason the Reds went home early.
An interesting sidebar to this series will be Hamilton's return to Great American Ball Park. Of course, it was Cincinnati where Hamilton began his magnificent turnaround in 2006. After years of substance abuse the Reds took a chance on him and he played well in his one year there before being shipped to Texas for Edinson Volquez.
Los Angeles and the Reds have played each other in just two previous interleague series, with the Angels winning four of the six games.