With Spring Training right around the corner and Opening Day just down the block, get yourself all caught up (and a step ahead) as we enter the 2021 Major League Baseball season, with an emphasis on the reigning champs.
Fresh off their 8th straight National League West Division title, the Los Angeles Dodgers cruised through the late months of the 2020 Major League Baseball season and breezed past the NL Wild Card and NL Division Series — sweeping both the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres. Then, in the NL Championship Series, with fans present for the first time all season, the Dodgers found themselves behind the Atlanta Braves three games to one. With LA on the brink of another postseason letdown, Game Five of the NLCS was a must-win. The Braves, tasting a World Series trip, pulled ahead 2–0 early. Thanks to a tremendous catch by Mookie Betts, the first year Dodger who had quickly implemented himself as a premier superstar in the City of Angels, LA grabbed the momentum. Will Smith’s clutch sixth inning three-run home run lifted the Dodgers past Atlanta to force a Game Six. Led by early runs, dominant pitching, and another brilliant Betts catch, they avoided elimination once again. Game Seven was an all-time classic, punctuated by Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead solo shot in the seventh inning that gave LA their third pennant in four years. Despite a defensive breakdown that gifted the Tampa Bay Rays Game Four that evened things up at two games apiece, it was pretty clear who the better team was in the World Series. The Dodgers tightened up the screws in Game Five, a 3–1 victory, and grabbed a 2–1 edge in the fifth inning of Game Six. Betts added a dramatic solo homer in the eighth inning, and Julio Urías shut the door on the Rays with a seven-out save to clinch LA’s first World Championship in 32 years.
In a season that occurred during a global pandemic, the Dodgers were the best, and they came out on top. It was a moment of pure elation, field with tears, hugs, and happiness. In the ensuing months, the joy never wore off. To be quite frank, it would be unrealistic to say it ever completely will. But, as the calendar flipped to 2021 and the middle of February arrived, big free agent decisions were made, star-studded trades were agreed upon, and MLB came together as it always does ahead of a new Spring Training. So, we take a look into how LA and their competition shape up in the ‘21 MLB season. The Dodgers will look to repeat as Champions, hoping to become the first team to achieve the feat since the 1998–2000 New York Yankees.
Speaking of the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers headline an unproven American League. The Yanks, filled with studs, are yet to prevail in the Postseason due to a combination of under-performances and injuries. The Rays, who won the AL pennant over the Houston Astros, should be a playoff team again, but will likely take a small step back after winning the division in 2020. The Toronto Blue Jays added George Springer, Marcus Semien, and Kirby Yates to a young and already very talented roster. In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox made some very big acquisitions to put themselves as the favorites. Liam Hendriks and Lance Lynn will help further improve their very good pitching staff to pair with a scary lineup. The Minnesota Twins can never be counted out of a playoff spot either. The AL West is completely up for grabs. With the young and exciting Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics, the Astros, and of course Mike Trout’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, that division will be a season-long battle for the top spot.
In the National League, the reigning champs are still the favorites, as they have been year in and year out during recent memory. While the Dodgers will be expected to take care of business in the NL West, it won’t be an easy task. The San Diego Padres, who couldn’t hang with LA in last year’s NLDS, weren’t hesitant in the slightest bit to make moves this off-season. It started with an out-of-the-blue trade for former Cy Young award winner Blake Snell from Tampa Bay. Nearly simultaneously, San Diego shipped off more of their homegrown talent for the Chicago Cubs’ Yu Darvish — a 2020 Cy Young award finalist. Months later, the Padres acquired Joe Musgrove. Even with Mike Clevinger missing the year due to Tommy John surgery, they’ll have a very deep rotation with plenty of skill. The Arizona Diamondbacks have shown positives signs, such as Ketel Marte, but won’t be expecting too much in the near future. Similarly, the San Francisco Giants, who were a victory away from slipping into the WC Series in 2020, have promising young players, but not a complete roster. The Giants will be relevant in the NL for years to come, though. The Colorado Rockies, meanwhile, are attempting to stay relevant with the relocation of their biggest star, Nolan Arenado, to St. Louis this off-season and the departure of their now lone star, Trevor Story, seemingly imminent. The NL Central is there for the taking between the similarly just-below-average Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, and Cubs, though the Cardinals are the favorites. The NL East will be very competitive and entertaining. The Braves, who added Charlie Morton to a roster that was a win away from defeating the Dodgers in the NLCS, are likely the best team in that division. The Mets, however, have a talented rotation led by the best pitcher in baseball: Jacob DeGrom. Additionally, they traded for “Mr. Smiles” himself: Francisco Lindor. While they struck-out on some premier free agents, Queens will host some meaningful games down the stretch as New York hopes to play intoOctober again. The Washington Nationals, who had a down year after winning the 2019 World Series, have an aging rotation, but still a very good one. Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin happily welcomed 37-year-old Jon Lester a few weeks ago. The Nats also won the Brad Hand sweepstakes, bringing in one of the game’s best closers. On top of this, Washington signed Kyle Schwarber and traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for former all-star first baseman Josh Bell. With Trea Turner and Juan Soto nearing the top of their lineup, the Nationals must be taken seriously. The Phillies, with very recognizable stars such as J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper, haven’t found their stride in years. The Marlins overcame a major COVID-19 scare in 2020 to break a 16-year playoff drought. While they fell to the Braves in the NLDS, Miami’s young talent could have them contending for a spot in the Postseason once again.
It is no question that the NL is filled with superstars and teams that can win baseball games. That said, how can you expect a team who went 43–17 last year, won their eighth straight division title, won the Fall Classic, and might still be getting better to not repeat their dominance in 2021? The Boys in Blue have played host to important ballgames annually for nearly a decade. While they fell short to the AL’s representative in the 2017* and 2018 World Series, the Dodgers finally got over the hump and started the new decade with a ring. With a weight off their backs, they’ll look to repeat with a roster that isn’t identical, but is similarly impeccable to last year’s. With guys turning the page to a new chapter in their careers, LA lost a few fan favorites over the winter. There are few characters more lovable in baseball than Kiké Hernàndez, who departed to the Boston Red Sox with the support of all fans and teammates. Comparably cherished in blue, Joc Pederson switched shades of the color and took his electrifying power and clutch performances to Wrigley Field, where he’ll star for the Cubs. While he had a fair share of mishaps, there is no denying that Pedro Báez was a big part of the Dodger bullpen for many seasons. He got some big outs, helped his teammates in some tough spots, and overcame a few rough outings to be a constantly dependable reliever. Báez chose to sign a two-year deal with the Houston Astros, and he too will be missed. Alex Wood, who was nearly untouchable during the 2020 playoffs, is now a Giant, meaning he’ll face his former squad numerous times. It’s only right that these players who gave the former team all they could have hoped for through the years were able to finish their careers in LA as Champions. Still un-signed is Jake McGee, who had a very good regular season but didn’t get the ball much in the Postseason. Much more notably, the Dodgers star third-baseman and long-time backbone of the offense, Justin Turner, still remains a free agent. Headed into his age 36 season, Turner has been a leader in the clubhouse since he debuted with the team. As one of the game’s most reliable hitters, especially in the playoffs, LA must find a way to retain him. Contract negotiations have gone on for months but the two sides are yet to reach an agreement with Spring Training near.
There were countless rumors surrounding the Dodgers following their first World Championship since 1988. Names such as Arenado, Lindor, Chapman, Semien, Marcell Ozuna, and many more all came up as possible targets for Andrew Friedman, LA’s President of Baseball Operations. For months, however, the Dodgers remained relatively quiet. On December 2nd, the Dodgers acquired hard-throwing reliever Corey Knebel from the Brewers. Knebel struggled in 2020 but has been terrific throughout his career, displayed by his 0.90 ERA in 9 postseason games. Being a low risk, very high reward move, Knebel’s presence in the bullpen is exciting. LA also brought back Scott Alexander, Brandon Morrow, Brock Stewart, and Jimmy Nelson — all on minor league contracts, though any of these relievers could have a role in the ‘pen. In late December, the Dodgers stole Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees, a two-year deal worth $4.75M. While Kahnle isn’t expected to pitch in 2021 due to the long recovery process following Tommy John surgery, he could prove to be real steal if he comes back strong in 2022. Nearly a week later, it was announced that big right-hander Blake Treinen would be returning to LA’s bullpen. Treinen, who was very good during the 2020 regular season and got some huge outs in the playoffs, including securing Game Five of the World Series with a save, signed a two-year contract that pays up to $17.5M, with a club option for 2023. Weeks passed and it seemed like the Dodgers were done making moves and would stand pat with their current roster. As Trevor Bauer, top-tier free agent starter, narrowed down where he would sign, LA jumped in the mix as the race was heating up. There was speculation that Bauer would join DeGrom and his former teammate Lindor in New York, but those rumors disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived. Then, on Friday, February 5th, the news broke that Bauer had chosen the Dodgers — the team he had cheered for as a child. Bauer comes off of winning the NL Cy Young award after pitching to a 1.73 ERA last season with the Reds. Bauer, a kid from North Hollywood, CA, attended UCLA. He returns home with the goal of winning a championship, knowing very well the talent he brings to an already stacked roster.
Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, both former MVP’s, highlight the Dodgers outfield along with A.J. Pollock. With third-base still vacant, the left side of the infield is currently occupied by 2020 NLCS and World Series MVP shortstop Corey Seager. On the right side, second-base will likely be top prospect Gavin Lux’s, shared with gifted utility man Chris Taylor. Max Muncy, who has consistently given LA great at-bats since he debuted with the team in 2018, will anchor first-base. Behind the plate, time will be split between Will Smith and Austin Barnes. With highly-regarded prospect Keibert Ruiz looming however, it’ll be interesting to see how the Dodgers handle their three backstops. The powerful Edwin Ríos and clutch-hitting Matt Beaty will be viable options off the bench at any time.
With the last minute addition of Bauer, LA’s rotation is very arguably the game’s best. Between Clayton Kershaw, David Price, and Bauer, the pitching staff consists of three former Cy Young award winners. On top of that, the guy who would likely receive the ball in the opener of any playoff series is Walker Buehler, who adds a dominant presence. Julio Urías, who stole the spotlight pitching extremely well in numerous roles during the 2020 Postseason, could be a full-time starter in 2021. Dustin May, the hard-throwing young righty with mind-blowing stuff, could also get the nod as a starter. Tony Gonsolin, who finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting last season, struggled in October, but could very well be given another opportunity to be apart of the rotation. Summed up, the Dodgers have depth, and they have options. The bullpen, formally anchored by Kenley Jansen over the past decade, has various weapons. With Jansen aging quickly and his performances sometimes lackluster, LA must rely on other arms in the late innings. As the rotation pans out, May, Urías, and Gonsolin all might find themselves pitching out of the ‘pen. Along with the off-season additions that will play roles in relief, Brusdar Graterol, Victor González, Dylan Floro and Joe Kelly are all experienced pitchers who can get big outs in big spots. The Dodgers pitching staff is deep, dynamic, and adept.
As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball has made it clear that they plan to start the season on time and play a full 162-game schedule. The designated hitter will very likely not return to the NL, though the seven-inning double-header and runner-on-second in extra-innings rule will remain. Also, there will be no expanded Postseason like 2020 — instead, it’ll be the usual five teams per league. The Boys in Blue will head to Arizona for Spring Training next week, with workouts scheduled to begin on February 17th. The first home games are scheduled for Feb. 27, though fan capacity will be limited.
On Thursday, April 1st, the Dodgers will be in Colorado for Opening Day 2021. They’ll commence their regular season against the Rockies from Coors Field at 1:10pm PST, with the ultimate goal of repeating a World Series run.