Another summer of baseball has passed once again, with the AL Wild Card race a fight to the finish and the NL West a battle of two heavyweights. So how did all the teams line up for the end of the season?
To start off, there is the basement of the league. This group is consisted of teams who sold pieces at the deadline to get prospects and lost a lot, or just teams that lost a lot. This group consists of the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and Chicago Cubs.
The Orioles, as expected, were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. And as usual, the pitching was straight up bad. John Means led the staff with a solid 3.32 ERA season and even threw a no-hitter in Seattle earlier in the year. Unfortunately, injuries forced him to take a few months off.
The hitting was also not that good. The core was highlighted by the emergence of Cedric Mullins. After floundering in the minors, Mullins found home in centerfield for Baltimore and became one of the most consistent bats in the league, putting up the first ever 30 home run/30 stolen base season in Orioles history. Former first round pick Ryan Mountcastle didn’t disappoint in his official rookie season, boasting an OPS at a solid .800 for the year.
The worst team in the MLB ended up being the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nothing worked for the Dbacks this year. Their pitching staff fell apart, and their hitting core dissolved. Their best player, Ketel Marte, was injured for most of the year, so Arizona will look to rebuild the bats and pitching staff following their abysmal year.
Few things could be said this season for Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers, respectively. Both teams were expected to be bad, and both met those expectations. However, there is optimism in their future. Pittsburgh has a nice pool of young players, such as Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Henry Davis, and Quinn Priester. The Rangers also have young stars in the making such as Adolis Garcia, Nick Solak, and Jack Leiter.
As for the last two basement teams, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, they actually came into the season with expectations. Both squads won the World Series in the last five seasons, and they had the talent to go far.
Then the trade deadline came.
Following a June collapse, the Cubs decided to sell at the deadline. Former MVP Kris Bryant was traded to the Giants. Franchise cornerstones Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo were traded to the Mets and Yankees, respectively. Top-tier relievers Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera were both traded to the White Sox. Another solid reliever in Andrew Chafin was traded to Oakland.
Although the Cubs fizzled out and will now have to rebuild, the young core looks to be solid. Patrick Wisdom, Frank Schwindel, Nick Madrigal, Codi Heuer, and Pete Crow-Armstrong can make an impact in the coming future.
The same thing can be said for the Nationals. Two years removed from a World Series championship, the team still had the pieces to succeed. Stephen Strasburg was returning from injury. The team traded for Pirates first basemen and power bat Josh Bell. They retained integral championship players, such as Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto.
However, a disappointing start would signal an impending fire sale in D.C. for the trade deadline.
Bell and Soto stuck around, with both putting together solid seasons individually. However, the majority of their core was ripped apart, not including Strasburg, who was again injured. Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes were traded to the Athletics. June Player of the Month and destroyer of baseballs (not sure if that’s an actual nickname) Kyle Schwarber was traded to the Red Sox. And in a huge mega-deal, the Nationals sent Scherzer and Turner in exchange for top prospects Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz.
The next batch of teams includes those with high expectations that fizzled out and missed the postseason. This group of squads includes the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Angels.
The Padres have to be the most disappointing of them all. With the players they’ve acquired, the talk the fans have talked, and the position they were in at the All-Star break, it felt like a guarantee that San Diego would be in the postseason.
Oh, how the tables turned. And fast.
The Padres collapsed in the second half of the season, being swept multiple times en route to completely falling out of the playoff picture. Fernando Tatis Jr. put in an MVP season, while Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth put in solid seasons too. The pitching was the problem. Yu Darvish collapsed after an All-Star season. Blake Snell and Chris Paddack performed awfully, and the bullpen wasn’t much better.
Following the collapse, Padres manager Jayce Tingler was relieved of his duties, and with more firings likely to come next, it is unclear what’s next for San Diego.
Another team that built in a lot of hype over the offseason was the Mets. Queens’ baseball team was under new ownership with Steve Cohen, and the team acquired all-star shortstop Francisco Lindor from the Indians along with pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
To start the season, the Mets were decent. Even with a lackluster bullpen and underachieving hitting core, Jacob deGrom was carrying the team to the top of a weak NL East division.
And then the wheels came off when deGrom injured his elbow and was ruled out for the season. Marcus Stroman pitched well, but Taijuan Walker fell apart after a first-half All-Star campaign. Carrasco returned from injury only to play poorly. The bullpen never got back on its feet. Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, Pete Alonso, and the trade deadline acquisition of Javier Baez couldn’t solve the hitting woes.
But nothing was more disappointing than the $300 million dollar man Francisco Lindor. Lindor struggled hard for the first half of the season, met with boos from his own fans during an early 0-26 hitting slump. He eventually picked it up in the second half, so there’s still time to see if he was truly worth all that money.
The Phillies are a confusing team. They have the offensive talent and starting pitching to make the postseason, yet their bullpen has always held them back. Same story this season. Bryce Harper turned in his best season since 2015 in a dominant second half, doing all he can to push Philadelphia to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the bats went cold, and the pitching flopped as Philadelphia just missed out on an NL East division championship.
The final team to talk about is the Los Angeles Angels. It’s really bad seeing how this team has two MVP caliber players, Mike Trout (who was injured) and Shohei Ohtani, and still can’t make the playoffs. No pitching help outside of Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, and Raisel Iglesias can do that. Anthony Rendon’s struggles were also troubling.
On the topic of Ohtani, what a season for him. To be that dominant at the plate and on the mound is incredibly impressive. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had a fantastic season, but Ohtani is the clear-cut MVP.
On the topic of Vladdy, the Blue Jays were so close to the postseason. Robbie Ray, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jordan Romano, and Jose Berrios were integral to their success.
But their offense is where everything shined brightest.
Vladdy Jr. broke out with a near 50-home run season and MVP campaign. Marcus Semien set the record for most home runs in a season by a second baseman in history. Teoscar Hernandez, Bo Bichette, George Springer, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were phenomenal bats for the Jays.
What killed their hopes of a postseason were all their injuries on the pitching staff, especially the bullpen.
The last team that missed out on the postseason was, surprisingly, the Seattle Mariners. Although they barely missed the playoffs, the future looks bright in Seattle. A team comprised of young players such as Ty France, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, J.P. Crawford, Jarred Kelenic, and Logan Gilbert, with Julio Rodriguez still in the minors? The Mariners are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
Finally, the playoff teams. This season saw a ton of drama unfold over the last half of the season was legendary, going all the way to the last day.
So who are this year’s contenders for the 2021 World Series?
First was the St. Louis Cardinals, who seemed dead in the water in July and August. A 17-game win streak in September propelled the Cards to the second wild-card spot.
Nolan Arenado had a solid season in his first year as a Cardinal. The Cardinals also sported Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Dylan Carlson in their lineup. Adam Wainwright turned the clock back 10 years to put up another solid season. And the St. Louis bullpen is led by the trio of Alex Reyes, Giovanny Gallegos, and Genesis Cabrera.
Even if the Cardinals will have to go against the two heavyweights of the National League, never count out St. Louis. Think back to 2011.
The Cardinals’ opponent? The powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. The superteam of the MLB won 106 games this year and somehow is only in the Wild Card. Their bats are absolutely stacked. Just to name “a few,” Will Smith, Max Muncy, Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, AJ Pollock, and Mookie Betts. Their pitching staff is loaded on top of that monstrous lineup: Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Max Scherzer, Kenley Jansen, and Blake Treinen. There’s a reason this team is seen as the World Series favorite.
When discussing the Mets and Phillies, I mentioned how bad the NL East has been.
So who took the honors of division champs? The Atlanta Braves.
Yes, the Braves, even when losing Ronald Acuna Jr. to a devastating leg injury, have catapulted themselves to the playoffs. The reason for this was the front office bolstering their outfield at the trade deadline, acquiring Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall. Not to mention Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Freddie Freeman, a.k.a. the best infield in all of baseball. The pitching has been solid with Charlie Morton and Max Fried leading the charge following a slew of injuries.
Their opponent in the National League Division Series is the Milwaukee Brewers. Just like the Bucks, the Brew Crew will look to capture another championship for Milwaukee. The greatest strength of this squad is easily pitching, with the trio of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta dominating opposing batters. The Brewers also have a monster bullpen, with Brent Suter, Brad Boxberger, Hunter Strickland, and Josh Hader cleaning up big innings.
Don’t sleep on the bats, too; Milwaukee’s lineup is solid. Willy Adames, Omar Narvaez, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong, Luis Urias, and Avisail Garcia can all make for solid offense in a pitching-heavy postseason.
The final team in the postseason, the best team in the league, the San Francisco Giants. A surprise to many, the Giants reached a league-best 107 wins through solid offense, a deep bench, and sheer dominant pitching.
Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford all turned back the clock to put up solid offensive seasons. Mike Yastrzemski, Steven Duggar, and Alex Dickerson make a solid “core” outfield.
I put the word core in parentheses because there really is no true outfield or infield to the Giants. With guys such as LaMonte Wade Jr., Wilmer Flores, Darin Ruf, Austin Slater, and the newly acquired Kris Bryant, Giants manager Gabe Kapler is able to make multiple different lineups to combat different types of pitching.
Speaking of pitching, the Giants were really, really good at that this year. They ranked fifth in opponent batting average and second in team earned run average and walk and hits per innings pitched this season. The staff was led by Kevin Gausman, a journeyman who rode a stellar first half to an All-Star season. The rotation is rounded out by Anthony DeSclafani, Logan Webb, Alex Wood, and Johnny Cueto.
Their bullpen was also top-notch this season. Ranking first in ERA, WHIP, and walks allowed, the staff is led by Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia, Dominic Leone, Zack Littel, and Jose Alvarez.
Are they more talented than the Dodgers? Certainly not, but they have the batting depth and stellar pitching that could propel San Francisco to their first World Series since 2014.
Now for the American League side, the Wild Card race came down to the last day of the season. For the Mariners and Blue Jays, they fell out and the Yankees and Red Sox both won to set up a rivalry Wild Card matchup.
For the Yankees, this postseason birth was almost like a mirage prior to the trade deadline, as the team struggled to gain consistency. But after trading for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, the team skyrocketed up the standings following a torrid hot streak in August. The team is led by sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, with other solid players such as Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, and DJ LeMahieu.
As for the pitching staff, they are led by ace Gerrit Cole, with Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Corey Kluber also in their starting rotation. The bullpen has also been really good, with Jonathan Loaisiga, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Wandy Peralta, and Lucas Luetge.
Their opponents in the Red Sox have not had the best second half, sputtering down the standings during the final months. Fortunately, the team won at the right time to set up a showdown with their arch-rivals in the playoffs. The hitting is led by the fearsome trio of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. Other pieces include Hunter Renfroe, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec, and the newly acquired Kyle Schwarber.
Their pitching has been a focal point of improvement the past couple years, and the Red Sox have developed it well. Chris Sale returned from Tommy John surgery to dominate like his old days. Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, and Nick Pivetta round out a solid rotation. The bullpen took some hits during the final couple months, but Garrett Whitlock, Hirokazu Sawamura, Josh Taylor, Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles, and Matt Barnes have the ability to close out games when it most matters.
The Yankees and Sox weren’t the only AL East teams to make it. The honor of AL East champions went to the Tampa Bay Rays, who continue to defy the odds as a team with little on their payroll, but constantly dominate the opposition. The lineup is very well-rounded; they can dominate with power from Mike Zunino, Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, and Nelson Cruz. Or they can beat you with speed and contact from Joey Wendle, Kevin Kiermaier, Randy Arozarena, and former top prospect Wander Franco.
However, the Rays’ strength has always been pitching.
They lost Tyler Glasnow to an injury, but they have solid replacements in Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen, Josh Fleming, and Ryan Yarbrough. The bullpen has also been their strength, with Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh being a nasty one-two punch.
The opponents for the American League Division Series will be between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros.
For the White Sox, this is the first time back in actual the postseason in a long time. Their hitting was electric and fast this year, led by Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew Vaughn. The pitching has been well-rounded, manned by Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease in the starting rotation. Their bullpen is composed of solid players such as Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Michael Kopech, and Liam Hendriks.
Their opponents are no slouches either in the Astros. Following the cheating scandal, everyone is wishing for an Astros loss to see them knocked out, but it will be a tough task. The team has tons of great hitting, including Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Michael Brantley.
The starting pitching misses the presence of Justin Verlander, but is still well-rounded with Lance McCullers Jr., Zack Greinke, Luis Garcia, and Framber Valdez. The bullpen isn’t top-notch, but also isn’t a slouch either. Ryan Pressley, Crisitan Javier, Ryne Stanek, and Kendall Graveman can lock down big innings for the offense.
So with all of the hype going into the postseason, who will come out on top?
Prep senior baseball player Patrick Sullivan said, “I hope that it’s the Cardinals, but I think it’ll be either the Dodgers or White Sox.”
Another Prep senior baseball player, Jackson Mattocks, says he wants the Red Sox to win, but he thinks that the Rays have the best chance.
The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 6-2 in Boston in part to a stellar performance from Nathan Eovaldi and home runs from Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber. The Cardinals and Dodgers face off at Dodger Stadium tonight at 8:10 p.m,. on TBS.