Just a few months into 2021, sports fans have already experienced a return to normalcy in a variety of ways, whether they decided to watch the Super Bowl, the NBA’s regular season and All-Star Game, or March Madness across a slew of collegiate sports.
Similarly, it looks like the baseball fans will be able to get back to their usual routine in 2021, as MLB prepares for its first full, 162-game regular season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those watching both at home and in stadiums around the country will begin to draw battle lines, getting behind their respective teams and latching onto whatever chance their squad may have as it relates to a championship run.
Simultaneously, insiders will do their best to predict what will happen in 2021, and speculate about which team will be raising a trophy when the World Series ends in the fall.
With less than two weeks to go until the start of the regular season, we did just that, as well. Taking a look at the 30-team field that will take center stage starting on April 1, we broke down the league’s top 10 franchises and put pen to paper for some power rankings before the 2021 season.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
After a 30-28 campaign in the shortened 2020 season, the St. Louis Cardinals made a big splash in the offseason in their pursuit of their second NL Central title in three years.
In a blockbuster deal with the Colorado Rockies early in 2021, the Cardinals landed a 29-year-old superstar in Nolan Arenado, which will certainly provide a major boost in both the infield and the batter’s box in 2021.
22-year-old up-and-comer Dylan Carson should add a spark of his own after his first major-league reps in 2020, and the litany of depth throughout the rest of the roster makes the Cardinals incredibly dangerous in the National League.
St. Louis seems to be sitting in the best spot as it relates to the NL Central standings, and could be a surprise contender come October, as well.
9. Washington Nationals
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like it’s been a decade since the Washington Nationals were hoisting a trophy at the end of the 2019 season after beating the Houston Astros in the World Series.
But, fans and insiders need to jog their memories and remember that the Nats have only played 60 games since that moment in October of 2019, and the franchise has gotten a lot better throughout the offseason in preparation for 2021.
Adding big names like outfielder Kyle Schwarber, pitcher Jon Lester and first baseman Josh Bell, the Nationals plugged a lot of holes that sunk the ship in 2020. Factor in the returning Stephen Strasburg after a nerve issue impacted his own 2020 campaign, and things are looking up in D.C.
The NL East is loaded this year, but don’t count out the Nationals when debating the division’s best for the 2021 season.
8. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays found themselves looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East standings when the dust cleared on the 2020 season, and were left to watch the Rays in the 2020 World Series come October, as well.
Based on their activity in the offseason, the Blue Jays don’t want to deal with that same situation again in 2021, and look primed for a potential run to the top of the division in a full schedule.
They landed former Astros outfield George Springer in free agency, along with former Athletics infielder Marcus Semien. With all of their talent stepping up to the plate, they could easily be in the conversation for the league’s best offense.
If they can become a more well-rounded team as it relates to pitching, they could be the complete package that could take down the talented Rays and New York Yankees towards the top of the division.
7. Minnesota Twins
Last year’s AL Central champions, the Minnesota Twins will surely be in a closely-contested race as they look for their third straight division title in 2021.
Their pitching should be just as strong as it was in 2020, when the Twins ranked third in ERA and ninth in strikeouts. Their offense could use some work, though the presence of great pitching certainly helps them in the long run.
They may not be the top-ranked AL Central team on this list, but the Twins are a solid contender in their division. It shouldn’t be a surprise if/when they land near the top of the AL Central in 2021, and they’ll certainly serve as a tough matchup for whoever draws Minnesota in the postseason bracket.
6. New York Mets
New York sports teams haven’t exactly inspired confidence in the last decade, with the state’s NBA, NFL, and NHL teams struggling in recent years.
But, with a new decade comes a new sense of pride and hope across a few of those leagues, specifically as it relates to the MLB season.
The New York Yankees have long been the state’s gold standard when it comes to baseball, evident by their presence towards the top of the American League over the last two decades. Heading into 2021, the New York Mets could make a real case as the team’s premier contender after a successful offseason.
They made a massive splash by landing former Cleveland Indians star Francisco Lindor, and made all sorts of moves elsewhere as they signed outfielder Albert Almora Jr., pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Trevor May, and catcher James McCann.
Again, the NL East is loaded heading into 2021, and the Mets likely aren’t the first team that comes to mind when picking the franchise that will be atop the standings come October. But, the Mets are for real heading into the first full season of the COVID-19 era, and could shock some folks over the span of this decade.
5. Chicago White Sox
If you’re a fan of the league’s talented youth, look no further than the Chicago White Sox when looking for an MLB franchise on the rise.
23-year-old outfielder Luis Robert is a star in the making, and will likely pop up in the American League MVP conversation in 2021.
24-year-old Eloy Jimenez adds some more flare to the White Sox outfield, and proved to be one of the league’s best youngsters when it comes to his performance at the plate.
Oh, and Chicago happens to boast the reigning AL MVP in Jose Abreu, along with a 27-year-old superstar at shortstop in Tim Anderson.
There’s an insane amount of superstars in the White Sox lineup heading into 2021, and the rest of the teams in the AL Central are in for a real treat as they try to compete with Chicago throughout a 162-game schedule.
4. Atlanta Braves
Even when factoring in how loaded the NL East is ahead of the 2021 season, the Atlanta Braves look like clear-cut favorites to win the division for the fourth year in a row.
They may not have the best depth out of the league’s top-tier teams, but the Braves improved their pitching in a big way by adding starters Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly in the offseason.
They have the reigning NL MVP in Freddie Freeman, a perennial MVP candidate for the future in Ronald Acuna Jr., and the ever-powerful Marcell Ozuna to round things out offensively.
They were incredibly close to advancing to the World Series in 2020, but just couldn’t close it out against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, despite a 3-1 series lead.
Consistency will be key in 2021, especially in such a tightly-contested NL East. But, if the Braves can replicate their performance in 2020 and fix some of the issues that plagued their chances in the postseason, they could easily represent the National League in the World Series.
3. New York Yankees
This may seem like a “hot take” when factoring in the New York Yankees’ underwhelming performance in 2020, especially when adding in the fact that a divisional rival made it to the World Series.
But, if the Yankees are able to click on all cylinders in 2021 with their talent pool, they could roll through the AL East en route to a run in the postseason.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are one of the league’s best one-two punches, and when they’re fully healthy, it’s almost impossible to avoid their power in key situations.
Bringing back star infielder DJ LeMahieu was massive in keeping the Yankees’ core together, and bringing in a superstar, two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher in Corey Kluber was just icing on the cake for Aaron Boone’s bunch.
The AL East won’t be a walk in the park for the Yankees by any stretch of the imagination, especially with the improvements the Blue Jays made and the performance the Rays put together in 2020.
But, as long as all goes according to plan, the Yankees should be the team to watch in the American League in 2021.
2. San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres ran into a buzz saw in the 2020 National League Divisional Series when they had to go up against the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. If San Diego can live up to their full potential, they could get a chance to right the wrong in the 2021 postseason.
The Padres possess arguably the biggest star in the entirety of the league with Fernando Tatis Jr. in their lineup, and made sure that he won’t be leaving anytime soon by signing him to a record-breaking deal in the offseason.
The franchise made all sorts of moves to improve their rotation and bullpen heading into 2021, specifically signing starters like Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, along with reliever Mark Melancon.
The Padres are loaded heading into 2021, and almost certainly will wind up as one of the National League’s top two teams. But, if they want to jump to the next level, they’ll have to get through the top team in our preseason power rankings.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
You guessed it. The reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers clock in at the top of our preseason power rankings, and they look like the favorite once again to make a deep run in 2021.
The franchise has its core intact with superstars like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager getting ready for their first 162-game season together. Plus, the Dodgers were able to add the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Trevor Bauer, which was widely considered one of the biggest signings league-wide this past offseason.
The biggest issues will likely come in relation to depth, with the losses of players like Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernandez potentially looming large as a longer season rolls along and COVID-19 testing remains a factor.
But, as the saying goes, “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
The Dodgers are the team to beat in 2021, and it looks like they’ll be sticking around at the top of the mountain when the schedule wraps up in October.