We’re almost at the All-Star break in 2021, an amazing feat considering where we were at this time last year when there was no baseball and MLB was desperately trying to cobble something together to salvage a few bucks amid an ugly dispute with the MLBPA.
But this is a legitimate season for all intents and purposes, even as the Dodgers continue to pimp their 2020 rings after capturing a “title” in a season that barely eclipsed a third of a normal one and was played in front of nobody (except at the very end). So with that, the 2021 MLB season has earned enough respect to take some time and examine the title contenders, with odds of winning it all on each one. These are my odds, not Vegas’, although I’m sure they’ll match up somewhat similarly.
Los Angeles Dodgers — 4/1
This IS on par with the Vegas odds, and I believe that, in spite of last year having a major asterisk, the Dodgers are still the team to beat. They have been beset at times by injuries, but are getting closer to full strength. The surprising thing is that the NL West has become a three-team race, rather than just a Dodgers-Padres affair that was expected. The Giants’ emergence adds a slight wrinkle, but the cream always rises, and the Dodgers are so loaded — especially in their wallet — that any so-called “holes” that need plugging will be addressed before the trade deadline.
A playoff rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias is unparalleled, and it doesn’t hurt that the odd man out is a $30+ million reliever named David Price.
Houston Astros — 6/1
I’ve been calling the Astros as a major threat from day one. Their four-game whitewashing of the Athletics opening weekend was not a fluke; performances that dominating rarely are. The Astros’ offense is so potent that you wonder if anyone other than the Dodgers’ pitching staff can slow it down. When you realize that to the casual fan, players like Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Myles Straw are afterthoughts, it’s apparent that the Astros’ lineup in 2021 may not be far off from the ridiculous, title-winning 2017 group.
The pitching is really strong as well, scary when you consider this is without Justin Verlander. The only possible weakness may be the bullpen, but weren’t we saying that about Houston when it won it all in 2017, too?
New York Mets — 8/1
The only reason I’m putting the Mets up this high is because of their division. 2015 was a good example of the Mets kind of sneaking into the World Series in a sense. It’s not that the ’15 Mets didn’t earn it, but they had the worst record of the five NL playoff teams and benefitted greatly from the fact that the three powerhouse teams were all in the NL Central and beat up on each other before the Mets were able to sweep aside a Cubs team in the NLCS that was a little bit tapped out emotionally.
In 2021, the NL West could provide the Mets that same opportunity. The NL East appears to be the Mets’ for the taking, especially as more healthy bodies return to the active roster. Jacob deGrom is pitching in another stratosphere right now, and you wonder what Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco can provide once they return. If the Mets win the division, there is a good chance they’ll face the winner of the NL Central while the top-seeded West team faces a western rival wild card team in the NLDS. And at the moment, it does not appear an NL Central team is in a great position to knock off the Mets in the NLDS.
San Diego Padres — 10/1
This Padres team can be so tantalizingly good at times, and so maddeningly inconsistent at other times. One theme for them has been to play down to competition, with the last few weeks serving as a perfect microcosm. The Padres dropped seven of eight, culminating with an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the lowly Rockies. They then rallied to win eight straight, including a four-game sweep of the resurgent Reds and a three-game sweep of the Dodgers. On the heels of their three wins over LA, San Diego had to grind out a series win against Arizona, arguably the worst team in baseball.
The starting pitching is capable of carrying the Padres. The offense can go quiet at times, but when the stars are clicking, it can compete with anyone. And the bullpen is very dependable. The real question is whether the Padres can win the NL West. A one-game wild card playoff game for a Jekyll-and-Hyde team like the Padres is an iffy proposition, even with the kind of talent they have.
Chicago White Sox — 10/1
You could probably argue that the White Sox should be higher odds — or lower. My argument for putting them this “high” would be the same one I used for the Mets. The AL Central is theirs for the taking, but their road to the pennant is considerably tougher with the likes of the Astros, Rays, Red Sox, Athletics, Yankees, and even maybe the Blue Jays all potentially standing in the way.
Health is the reason to pessimistic. If Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez return, the lineup changes drastically. Michael Kopech could be a wild card in the postseason, so a healthy return of him is critical as well. The starting pitching is very strong and the team has already withstood a lot in terms of injuries, so getting healthy and hot late in the season isn’t out of the question, but the team also lacks postseason experience.
Tampa Bay Rays — 11/1
I only rank the Rays a bit lower than Chicago because of the American League East. The Red Sox are no fluke and I still don’t think you can count the Yankees out. Heck, even the Buffalo Blue Jays can’t be overlooked. Once in the dance, the Rays have the experience and depth to make a run, but you wonder whether Tyler Glasnow can return and if he does, whether he’ll be effective. It’s also hard to repeat, so following up last year’s short-season pennant will be difficult for no other reason than, well, it’s just difficult.
San Francisco Giants — 12/1
The Giants are making more believers every day, but I believe they need to add a couple of impact players to truly compete with the Dodgers. The amazing seasons of guys like Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeScalafani, Steven Duggar, and Brandon Crawford give you hope, even if you wonder how they’re doing it at this stage of their careers.
Still, 50-27 is nothing to sneeze at, and if the Giants at the very least keep beating the teams they’re supposed to, they’ll find themselves playing October baseball for the first time in five years.
Boston Red Sox — 12/1
I’ll put the Red Sox at 12/1 because, well, they’re the Red Sox. I know, they weren’t supposed to be good this year, but didn’t we use that same refrain in 2013. This franchise keeps finding a way, and Alex Cora’s return shows what a difference-maker he is as a manager. The lineup is stacked, and if they are active in the trade market for pitching, they can absolutely win the American League East and position themselves for another title run.
New York Yankees — 14/1
I’m actually dropping the Yankees because at some point, you start to wonder if this is just a “slow start” or the sign that this team really isn’t as good as advertised. If Gerrit Cole continues to pitch like a good-but-not-great pitcher, you can bet this team isn’t going anywhere in the postseason. Aroldis Chapman also needs to turn things around, and the offense just can’t seem to generate runs without hitting home runs.
Alas, with all of that said, they are still the Yankees, they are still a talented group, and they still have the deep pockets to modify their roster come summertime. The returns of Luis Severino and Corey Kluber also could be a big boost, assuming the Yankees don’t suddenly flatline and fall completely out of it in the next month or so.
Oakland Athletics — 20/1
In my opinion, no matter how many games the Athletics win in the regular season, they can’t be trusted in October. Just like the Twins, this team is built for the regular season only — whatever that actually means. The A’s and Twins both have one series win this century (not including last year’s shortened season), and those came against each other, in 2006 and 2002, respectively.
Oakland should be commended for continually being relevant between April and September, but they simply don’t have the horses to match up with the big dogs in October. So what would it take to make a serious run? Winning the division, which looked somewhat realistic until the Astros took off recently, would go a long way. Potentially some lucky breaks, like avoiding the Astros or Red Sox, could also be needed. The A’s do have solid starting pitching and you would think their small-ball approach would play in October, but that just hasn’t been the case.
Milwaukee Brewers — 20/1
I wouldn’t be shocked if the Brewers ran away with the NL Central given the Cubs’ mediocrity coupled with the awfulness of the other three teams. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes give Milwaukee a formidable one-two punch, and the bullpen can be really good. The lineup is questionable, although the healthier it gets, the better you feel about it.
Three years ago, the Brewers were America’s darlings and came one game shy of a pennant against the Dodgers. They could be a sleeper team in the playoffs, but not if Christian Yelich is putting up mediocre numbers like he is in 2021.
Buffalo Blue Jays — 25/1
The list ends here, with Buffalo bringing up the rear. Until their country decides to welcome them back, they will henceforth be known as the Buffalo Blue Jays. The bullpen has crumbled from overuse, although I believe the second-half return of a healthy Julian Merryweather could be a game-changer. They truly need another starter though, otherwise the bullpen will continue to have to carry the load for the pitching staff.
The lineup, however, held its head over water even without George Springer, and now Springer is finally back (for now, anyway). The nucleus of young stars make this an exciting team to watch regardless, and you just wonder if they could be a show-stealer if the pitching staff does enough to get the team into the playoffs. But the hard part is getting there, not to mention emerging from a crowded AL East field.
I have to throw a few extra names in here just in case. Outside of the Marlins, I suppose it’s not completely out of the question for the three other NL East teams besides the Mets to make a run. The Nationals would be the prime candidate considering what they did two years ago, although the Braves are fresh off an NLCS appearance (albeit in last year’s asterisk season). Philadelphia is a long shot, but their lineup is fun to watch.
Elsewhere in the National League, the Cubs have played well at times, but it’s just hard to see them having the depth anywhere on their roster to be a serious threat. The Reds have also shown some flashes, and it might be a different story if they still had Trevor Bauer, but we do not live in such an alternate universe.
One day the soon-to-no-longer-be-the-Cleveland-Indians have to break their long drought, don’t they? Maybe in a perfect world, Shane Bieber dominates the postseason and brings the Tribe to the promised land.
I wish I could include the Mariners because they’re — somewhat shockingly — over .500, but it’s hard to see them sneaking into the dance.
No way, no how — even if you say otherwise
The Cardinals will not win the World Series under any circumstances, this much I’m sure. A potentially-historically-inaccurate pitching staff will keep them far from October, and I wouldn’t buy any narrative about the Royals making any real noise despite a strong 14-7 start to the season.
Sorry, Missourians, a championship doesn’t appear to be in the cards (no pun intended) in 2021.