When does the 2016 baseball season begin?

Strictly speaking, Major League Baseball (MLB), the best baseball league in the world, started last week. The Seattle Mariners met the Oakland Athletics twice in Tokyo. From this Thursday it will also start for the other participants in the US league. Each of the 30 teams played 162 games, with the playoffs starting in October. Unlike in the Bundesliga, the games do not only take place on the weekend (or Monday evening). Questions and answers about the start of the season.

Who is the defending champion?

The Boston Red Sox. In 2018 they won the World Series in five duels (seven are possible) against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And are the Red Sox top favorites again this year?

Hard to say. The team is still very strong, but two experienced throwers left the club in Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, who are substituted on at the end of the game (so-called Reliever). In addition, recent history does not necessarily speak in favor of defending the title: Unlike in the Bundesliga, there has recently been a great deal of variety in the MLB in terms of championships. The last time the New York Yankees managed to acquire several titles in a row almost 20 years ago (1998, 1999, 2000). The winners of previous seasons: the Red Sox, Houston Astros (2017), Chicago Cubs (2016), Kansas City Royals (2015), San Francisco Giants (2014).

Why is that?

Every title win is of course based on its own story. Basically, however, it can be said that there are mechanisms in baseball that limit the dominance of individual teams. For example, clubs have to pay taxes that exceed a certain salary level (the so-called luxury tax). In addition, weaker teams have priority in the draft, i.e. the annual talent selection.

Okay, so the Red Sox are still one of the favorites. Who else?

Among other things, the New York Yankees. Last season they set an MLB record with 267 home runs. Especially Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are characterized by their great clout. The Yankees have also strengthened their throwers again. However, several injuries plague the team - including that of Luis Severino, one of the best throwers, who is out in the first few weeks of the season. In addition, the Yankees compete in the American League East, one of six so-called divisions of the league. One of the competitors there: the Red Sox, by the way also the big arch rival of the New Yorkers. Last season, 100 victories were enough for the Yankees only to place second, in the playoffs they were knocked out against the Red Sox.

And otherwise?

Then there is the Houston Astros, a very balanced team that won the title in 2017. The Los Angeles Dodgers are also likely to be one of the best teams (not only because they recently reached the World Series twice). Prominent reinforcements, such as Bryce Harper, have provided the Philadelphia Phillies - who, however, play in one of the strongest divisions, the National League East, and have to assert themselves there against the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets, among others.

Wait, Bryce Harper, that's ...

Exactly, this is the player who recently signed a very lucrative contract. US media reported a 13-year deal that should bring the player a total of $ 330 million. Harper, 26, previously played for Washington and hit 184 home runs in seven seasons.

330 million - sounds like a lot of money.

Absolutely. However, even more significant contracts were signed in the winter, as there are a lot of players, especially young players, who are operating at a high level and their agents are demanding appropriate remuneration. For example for Mike Trout from the Los Angeles Angels. He has extended until 2030, which should bring him revenue of 426.5 million dollars. Manny Machado (ten years, $ 300 million), who moved to the San Diego Padres, and Nolan Arenado (eight years, $ 260 million), who extended with the Colorado Rockies, should also earn very decent earnings in the coming years. For the rest, there is not much left in the budget - partly because of the luxury tax - but on average an MLB professional will still earn a slim $ 4.4 million in the coming season.

What about the Germans?

Max Kepler, 26, recently signed a new contract with the Minnesota Twins - for five years and apparently worth a total of $ 35 million. Last season he had a decent 20 home runs and 58 Runs Batted In (the number of players who were able to score thanks to him); be Batting average (Average of successful strokes) could be upgraded with .224. Either way, Kepler has achieved something that no German professional has before him: He currently has a regular place in the best baseball league in the world.

Who will be missing?

Ichiro Suzuki, 45, who has many, many awards and records on his résumé - between 2001 and 2010 he was on the MLB's all-star team about every time. The Japanese played for Seattle one last time in Tokyo.

What else is important?

There are several rule changes. Two should already be noticeable on the first day of the game. The breaks during innings (the units of play, of which there are nine) have been reduced to two minutes. And the number of times a coach can meet the throwers on the pitch for strategic discussions during the game has dropped from six to five. A game that lasts longer than three hours should be shortened in this way. Baseball, once America's favorite pastime, also has to adapt to an audience with ever tighter budgets.