After a chaotic offseason, which included a lockout and pushing back Opening Day, baseball is almost back.
With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, two new playoff spots up for grabs and plenty of big-name player movement, it is shaping up to be an enthralling MLB season.
The defending champion Atlanta Braves may have improved, despite losing star Freddie Freeman to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Yankees' position as the best team in New York could soon be under threat.
With so many storylines, the most logical place to begin is right at the very top.
Can the Braves go back-to-back?
As is often the case, the World Series race is wide open, but Atlanta is at least in the mix as far as the pre-season odds go.
Some would consider the Braves' run last season a fluke – they won 88 games in the regular season, while the 91-win Toronto Blue Jays and 90-win Seattle Mariners missed out on playoff berths entirely.
However, they were missing superstar Ronald Acuna Jr for a large chunk of the year, and made meaningful additions at the trade deadline including Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson, and their playoff surge indicated that the record was not an accurate reflection of their talent.
While they lost franchise legend Freeman to the Dodgers, the Braves are arguably getting an upgrade at first base in the form of Matt Olson, who is four years younger and was a two-time Gold Glove winner with the Oakland Athletics before being traded for a four-player package of young Braves prospects.
Max Fried and Charlie Morton comprise a stout top of the rotation while Mike Soroka is out injured, and they have some strong bullpen arms including Tyler Matzek and Collin McHugh.
The Braves are a team without a clear weakness and will be full of confidence, so expect them to be fighting it out at the top of the NL East against the second-most expensive team in baseball, the New York Mets, as they bid to become the first team to win consecutive World Series since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000.
Are the Mets the best team in New York?
Since 2001, the New York Mets have only finished with a better record than the Yankees twice, in 2015 and 2016.
During that span, the Mets have never had a more expensive payroll than their local rivals – until this year.
The Mets are projected to come into Opening Day trailing only the Dodgers with the second-highest payroll in the league at $251million, while the Yankees are third at $239m.
It represents more than just deep pockets for second-year owner Steve Cohen, it shows that the Mets are no longer the 'little brother', and are willing to spend what it takes to be taken seriously against the most decorated franchise in major league history.
Buck Showalter will be the man tasked with turning the money into wins in his first year in the role, the former three-time AL Manager of the Year known for maximising talent on a limited budget with the Baltimore Orioles from 2010 to 2018, a stint that included a playoff series win over the Yankees.
Ultimately, what the Mets' season will hinge on is the health of their starting pitchers, with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer (who turns 38 this season) comprising the best one-two punch in baseball after Marcus Stroman left as a free agent to join the Chicago Cubs. DeGrom has already been sidelined for four weeks with a shoulder injury.
The rotation also includes 2021 All-Star Taijuan Walker, who tailed off late last season, but showed impressive ability when fresh.
Francisco Lindor remains the young jewel of the franchise – now two seasons into a 10-year, $341m contract extension – and along with power-hitting Pete Alonso and rangy center-fielder Starling Marte, there is plenty of quality stepping into the batters' box.
The Yankees will have one of the highest-ceiling batting line-ups when they roll out sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo, but they also play in the league's toughest division in the AL East, and could be candidates for regression after losing pitcher Corey Kluber and trading away bats Gio Urshela and Luke Voit.
Did the best team in baseball not make the playoffs in 2021?
It may be hard to believe, but given the meat grinder that is the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays are bookmakers' second-favourite to win the World Series despite not making the playoffs this past season.
The Blue Jays were top three in runs scored in 2021 and should again be one of the most explosive teams in the league this time around.
Toronto will also be able to enjoy a homecoming season, returning to Rogers Centre after the Blue Jays were forced to play their 2021 home games in Buffalo due to pandemic restrictions.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette are franchise cornerstones, last year's big signing George Springer was enormous in an injury-shortened debut campaign, and they have the luxury of adding Matt Chapman this season, who has two Platinum Gloves to his name as one of the best defensive players in the league.
Pitching remains the question mark in Toronto, with AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray departing for Seattle in a serious blow to a rotation with plenty to prove.
Nobody should be surprised if the Blue Jays jump up from fourth in their division all the way to the top, and are one of the teams with real World Series aspirations this season.
Which top prospect will establish themselves as a star?
There will be some elite prospects finding their way in the majors this season, but will any of them burst onto the scene as a star?
In 2017, Judge did more than just win Rookie of the Year, he led the AL in home runs and finished second in AL MVP voting.
While there is always a chance that an unheralded rookie emerges as the premier prospect, there is a relatively clear top-tier consisting of three players entering the season.
Kansas City Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr, Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez.
Rutschman will hit for average from both sides of the plate while projecting as an elite defensive catcher, Witt is the five-tool stud who will make eye-popping plays with his glove at shortstop, and Rodriguez is the big, power-hitting corner outfielder.
At 24 years old, Rutschman is the senior of the class, while the other two are considerably younger at 21, but all three will have a chance to prove themselves early in the year as franchise-altering stars – and potentially become the biggest story of this season.