Baseball-Ohtani’s Dodgers, Acuna’s Braves lead lethal lineups into new MLB season

By Thomson Reuters Mar 27, 2024 | 1:48 PM

By Rory Carroll

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Dodgers welcome slugger Shohei Ohtani into a battle for National League supremacy with the Atlanta Braves while the reigning champion Texas Rangers look to repeat as Major League Baseball begins a season that promises drama on and off the field.

The Dodgers went on an epic offseason spending spree that started with the signing of two-way Japanese superstar Ohtani to a record 10-year, $700 million contact, and they didn’t stop there.

Ohtani chose to defer the vast majority of his salary, which freed the club up to also add pricey right-handed pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow to a roster already boasting former MVPs Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

But an MLB investigation involving Ohtani threatens to distract a Dodgers organization desperate for a World Series victory after three straight 100-win seasons ended in post-season flops.

Ohtani on Monday told reporters that he was the victim of theft by his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who he said used his accounts without his knowledge to pay off gambling debts to a bookmaker.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara last week and MLB has launched a formal inquiry into the matter. The Southern California bookmaker is reportedly under federal investigation.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports, or never asked somebody to do that on my behalf. And I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani said at a press conference where he laid out his timeline of events.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my accounts and has been telling lies.”

The Dodgers will hope two-time American League MVP Ohtani, who will not pitch this year as he recovers from elbow surgery but will hit, is quickly cleared of any wrongdoing by investigators.

The Braves return after winning 104 games last season with a powerhouse lineup that includes reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley and Matt Olson as the team looks to avenge their loss to the Phillies in last year’s Division Series.

On the mound, right-hander Spencer Strider has added a curve ball to his repertoire of pitches and will lead a rotation that includes Max Fried, Charlie Morton and newly-acquired veteran Chris Sale.

The Braves have won the NL East for six straight seasons and, with no obvious weaknesses in their lineup or pitching staff, are poised to do so again.

The Rangers were the surprise winners of the AL pennant last year and then beat an even more surprising Diamondbacks in a World Series for the franchise’s first ring.

Texas will look to avoid a championship hangover and will have their work cut out for them in the highly competitive AL West, where the Astros have added hard-throwing closer Josh Hader in their pursuit of a fourth straight division crown.

Although the Dodgers and Padres have played two regular season games against each other as part of the Seoul Series, Opening Day for the rest of the league begins on Thursday.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Toby Davis)