Short trivia question for you: How many replay division winners were there in 2020? The answer is three: Minnesota, Atlanta, and eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The year before there were also three: Houston and again Atlanta and Los Angeles. That’s two years in a row, half of the years
Short trivia question for you: How many replay division winners were there in 2020? The answer is three: Minnesota, Atlanta, and eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The year before there were also three: Houston and again Atlanta and Los Angeles. That’s two years in a row in which half of the defending champions won again and the other half didn’t. Will that also happen in ’21?
It is obvious that there should be more deviations in at least 2021: the teams that won the championship title last year only played 60 games. But will there be? Today we take a look at the six division title winners from year 20 and rank them according to their likelihood of doing so again in year 21. And it will probably turn out that only half of them make it again … if that is the case.
It’s a pretty good sign that we should expect sizable division championship sales in 2021 that the Dodgers, which the Padres have been shooting arrows on the back throughout the off-season, is still the safest bet here. There are questions with the Dodgers; Who will play third base, if the bullpen has enough arms, what will they do with Gavin Lux? But they’re still the Dodgers, and they’ve won the division eight times in a row at this point. It’s a little scary that maybe the second best team in baseball is in their division too, but we’ll believe the Dodgers are anything but a team in first place when we see that.
Do you understand what I mean? Using the currently predicted rankings from Fangraphs, the Dodgers are the only defending champions preferred to win their division in 2021. That’s a good deviation! Difficult to find number 2 here, but I’ll go with the twins because:
A: It took a while, but Nelson Cruz will be back.
B: Josh Donaldson looks ready for a rebound season.
C: The addition of Andrelton Simmons adds an elite glove to their infield defenses.
D: Cleveland is essentially out of the race.
The White Sox are obviously the biggest challenger here: there’s a reason the projection systems have them as favorites. But the twins are still pretty impressive and maybe even better positioned than the White Sox for the long season. This is a close one, but the twins get the nod.
The Mets got some major roster upgrades this off-season, but the Braves are still setting the bar for this division, right? They probably don’t have a big bat without Marcell Ozuna – though they could still re-sign him, of course – but they still have reigning MVP Freddie Freeman and future MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. The rotation should be better with Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly and full seasons of Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright should help cement it. And this could be a breakout year for Cristian Pache. The Braves are full of talent and may not be able to be added.
The Mets are right there, maybe even with Atlanta. But the idea that the Mets secured their place on the division is disproved by the fact that the Braves have now won that division for three consecutive seasons. The depth of this division – the Phillies, Nationals, and Marlins are all good – makes predicting a winner a breeze, but the Braves are clearly going nowhere.
This off-season has broken away from the A’s a bit. They lost a lot of key pieces from their 2020 team, from Liam Hendriks to Marcus Semien to Tommy La Stella, and there are still some frustrations that they couldn’t get past Astros in the AL Division Series. But it’s not that the rest of the division has made massive strides forward. The Astros, which finished under 500 last year, lost George Springer; The Angels are looking to improve but have finished 10 games behind the A’s in a season of just 60 games. The Mariners are still building; The Rangers could tear down. The A’s look like they were worse than they were in the 20s, but there’s not much evidence that the rest of the division is ready to take advantage.
Unlike perhaps the Rockies, no fan base has had such a daunting off-season as Cubs fans, whose team celebrated a division championship by not listing a World Series hero (Kyle Schwarber) and trading off his ace (Yu Darvish). And they couldn’t be done.
They also watched their rival the Cardinals bring in Nolan Arenado, a move that is exactly the opposite of what the Cubs have been doing all winter. That said, before trading with Arenado, I argued that the Cubs could still be the division’s favorites, and my colleague Mike Petriello made a compelling argument that that division is far from being resolved.
Joc Pederson is a perfect match for this team and despite all the rotation issues, the line-up is strong. And it’s not that this is a titanic division: the reds and brewers were even quieter than the boys. The cardinals can now be favorites. But the edges here are narrow.
The fun thing about this exercise is that the Rays are possibly the second best team on this list. Sure, they’re without their two best 2020 starters, with Morton to the Braves and Blake Snell to the Padres, and they’re sure to be counting a lot on Randy Arozarena to stay the Randy Arozarena in October. There’s reason to believe they’ve taken a step back. But they’re still an organization with a lot of talent, and sometime this year Wander Franco will show up and just start destroying things.
The problem for the Rays, however, is that the Yankees have improved their rotation – they may have nine pitchers to choose from – and must finally have some luck with injuries. And the Blue Jays, a team that made the playoffs last year anyway, went out and got George Springer, the best free agent on the market. (Not to mention Marcus Semien.) The Yankees and the Blue Jays are going to try, and hey, the Red Sox haven’t faded away either. The rays are still good. You could just go in the wrong direction … at least for 2021.
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