A’s, Mariners kick off MLB season today in Tokyo

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A’s, Mariners kick off MLB season today in Tokyo

LOS ANGELES - Slugger Albert Pujols and Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish will try to help new teammates win a World Series title in the 2012 Major League Baseball season that opens today.

Pujols helped the St. Louis Cardinals win last year’s World Series but is now playing for the Los Angeles Angels, while Darvish, a former star with the Nippon Ham Fighters, was signed by the World Series losers, the Texas Rangers.

MLB’s season opener is today in Tokyo when the Oakland A’s face the Seattle Mariners while the other 28 clubs continue spring training and preseason exhibition games.

The North American opener comes April 4 when the Miami Marlins debut their new state-of-the-art ballpark by hosting the Cardinals, followed by a full schedule of games the next day.

The Cardinals will try to repeat behind one of the best pitching rotations in baseball, but they are still sorting out some position battles in other areas. Even with ace Chris Carpenter starting the year on the injury list, the Cards’ pitching should strike fear into opposing lineups.

St. Louis edged Texas four games to three in the best-of-seven World Series, including a dynamic 11-inning contest in Game 6 and a rainout in St. Louis that extended the drama an extra day.

But the Cardinals are without former manager Tony La Russa, who announced his retirement after the Cardinals’ title run, and three-time National League Most Valuable Player Pujols, who signed a 10-year deal worth $250 million with the Angels.

One of the more exciting signings in the off-season was the Rangers’ acquisition of Darvish, a 25-year-old right-handed sensation.

The two-time defending American League champions spent the most money ever to obtain a Japanese prospect.

The Rangers posted a winning bid of $51.7 million just for the right to talk with Darvish about a deal, that money going to the Fighters when Darvish signed a six-year deal with Texas worth $56 million plus incentives on Jan. 18.

Darvish was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA over 164 starts in seven years in Japan, where he was twice named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

MLB will implement a new expanded playoff format this season by adding two wildcard teams, moving to a 10-game postseason.

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