10 MLB Teams That Will Either Overachieve or Underachieve in 2021
In many ways, baseball is one of the most difficult sports to predict. The 162-game season is far longer than any other professional sport, the roster sizes are bigger than ever, and teams can’t always put their best players on the field when the game is on the line.
There are so many things that can go wrong during a season, and many times, prognosticators just set themselves up for failure when they try to make baseball predictions. That’s why we wanted to predict what others will get wrong by highlighting teams we think will overachieve preseason expectations and other teams that seem destined to become disappointments by failing to live up to expectations in 2021.
Boston Red Sox: Overachieve
A lot of people are down on the Red Sox after they finished last in the AL East in 2020. With a projected win total of 80.5, Boston looks to be at best a .500 team in 2021. But the Red Sox should be better than that.
They still have a strong core of Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers who were a part of the club’s most recent championship. Alex Verdugo should start to settle in after coming over in the Mookie Betts trade last spring. Also, the presence of Hunter Renfroe provides another power threat while Franchy Cordero is a breakout candidate.
Boston’s pitching should also be greatly improved with Eduardo Rodriguez coming back and the addition of Garrett Richards and Matt Andriese. While they wait for Chris Sale to return, the Red Sox will have a lot more pitching depth than a year ago, as well as enough offense to make them a relevant part of the Wild Card race in September and a dark horse in the AL East if the Yankees somehow collapse.
Chicago Cubs: Underachieve
The Cubs tried to play both sides this winter, trading away Yu Darvish and letting go of Kyle Schwarber while declining to trade players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez who are approaching free agency. But this is a far cry from the team that barely won the NL Central last year and has made the postseason in five of the last six years.
Outside of Kyle Hendricks, Chicago’s rotation is full of new faces and has some question marks, even with veterans Zach Davies and Jake Arrieta. The bullpen also has some concerns, meaning the Cubs will have to score a lot of runs to stay in the playoff race.
Being in a mediocre NL Central will give them a chance despite a projected win total of 79.5. Unless the pitching staff over-performs early in the year, the Cubs could struggle early, making them sellers at the deadline and leading to the first losing season on the North Side since 2014.
Milwaukee Brewers: Overachieve
There’s almost no preseason hype or expectations around the Brewers this season, which tends to play in Milwaukee. The Brew Crew is projected to win 82.5 games, which makes them an aggressively average team. However, they have some intriguing young hitters in their lineup, most notably Keston Hiura and Luis Urias. Those two will be big X-factors for Milwaukee.
The same is true of Christian Yelich, who had a dreadful 2020 campaign but is more than capable of bouncing back and becoming the type of hitter who can carry a team.
The pitching staff doesn’t look like anything special on paper, but the rotation looks solid and Josh Hader still leads what should be an above-average bullpen.
While the Cardinals are the favorites in the NL Central, the Brewers could be the best bet to challenge them and become one of the biggest surprises in the National League this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Underachieve
When it’s World Series title or bust, there is always a good chance of being a disappointment.
Admittedly, the Dodgers are perhaps more loaded than last season. Trevor Bauer is joining the Los Angeles rotation alongside Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. Of course, young arms like Dustin May and Julio Urias are just as talented as the trio at the top. Plus, nobody is worried about the Dodgers scoring runs this season.
However, the National League is a lot more competitive than it was a year ago. Keep in mind the Braves led L.A. 3-1 in the NLCS. Atlanta will be as good if not better this season while the Mets have bulked up and look like a contender.
Even in the NL West, the Padres will be a far more formidable challenger after all of their offseason moves. The path to a second straight championship is filled with a lot more stumbling blocks than in 2020, and if the Dodgers don’t win a World Series, their season will be considered a disappointment.
Kansas City Royals: Overachieve
There is a surprising lack of respect for the Royals heading into 2021.
Kansas City was on pace for 70 wins if they had played a full season in 2020, and yet the Royals are projected for just 72.5 wins this year. That’s not much of a jump for a team that quietly had a strong offseason.
Veteran Carlos Santana adds some depth to the Kansas City lineup while Andrew Benintendi could easily become an impact player once again after getting a change in scenery. Keep in mind that Whit Merrifield is one of the best overall hitters in baseball and Jorge Soler has massive power potential. Plus, Salvador Perez is one of the best two-way catchers in baseball, providing power at the plate while managing Kansas City’s pitching staff behind the plate.
Let’s be clear, the Royals still have a long way to go, but there’s more than enough talent on the roster to finish above .500 and perhaps be on the periphery of the Wild Card race in September.
New York Mets: Underachieve
It’s been 15 years since the Mets had high expectations coming into a season and actually lived up to them. The club made major moves in the offseason by acquiring Francisco Lindor, solidifying their catching situation with James McCann, and adding depth to the starting rotation.
But there’s still a lot that can go wrong in Queens.
There are lingering concerns about Edwin Diaz and the back end of the bullpen. Also, adding Lindor may not be enough to improve a problematic defense. Plus, they are losing Robinson Cano’s bat and veteran leadership.
Perhaps more than anything, the Mets are playing in the most competitive division in baseball. The Braves are still the betting favorites in the NL East. The Marlins are no longer a pushover after reaching the postseason last year. The Nationals are poised to rebound with their rotation. The Phillies are also good enough to make some noise.
Given the hype around the Metropolitans, they are almost setting themselves up for disappointment because the path to the top of the National League is by no means easy.
Cleveland Indians: Overachieve
With a win projection of 80.5, most folks believe that Cleveland’s window is closed and that the Tribe won’t be able to keep up with the White Sox and Twins in the AL Central. On paper, that makes sense after the club traded away Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. But Cleveland added Eddie Rosario and should get something out of Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, who came over in the trade for Lindor.
More importantly, Cleveland’s rotation remains one of the best in the American League. Shane Bieber is the reigning Cy Young winner and there is a lot of high-end talent in the rotation behind him. Even if scoring runs remains a concern, Cleveland’s rotation will make the Tribe a lot better than most people realize.
Houston Astros: Underachieve
Don’t let Houston’s run to the ALCS last year fool you. The Astros played well for a couple of weeks, but that shouldn’t negate the fact that they finished the abbreviated regular season with a losing record.
While they managed to re-sign Michael Brantley and will get Yordan Alvarez back from injury, the dynamic of the lineup changes without George Springer. We’ve also seen star players like Carlos Correa become injury-prone in recent years.
Pitching-wise, the Astros won’t have Justin Verlander to lead the way. They’ll be relying on the aging Zack Greinke and several promising but largely inexperienced pitchers to fill prominent roles.
This isn’t the same team that won 107 games two years ago, nor is the AL West the same division. The competition will be fierce, causing the Astros to miss the postseason and fall short of their 87.5-win projection.
Los Angeles Angels: Overachieve
The Halos will be one of the teams challenging the Astros in the AL West.
In fairness, we’ve seen this script before. The Angels have a good offseason, only to fall flat on their face amidst a sea of injuries. But things are different this time around. Dylan Bundy is a proven ace while Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb should help stabilize the back end of the rotation.
Trading for Raisel Iglesias will also do wonders for the bullpen. The X-factor on both sides of the ball is Shohei Ohtani, who is now two and a half years removed from Tommy John surgery and should be healthy. Plus, if nothing else, the Angels will be anchored by Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
With a little support behind those two superstars and a little luck, the Angels will be a genuine contender in the AL West.
Miami Marlins: Underachieve
After making the playoffs in 2020, the Marlins are on equal footing with the rest of the NL East, right? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; being one of eight playoff teams in the NL after a 60-game season is different from playing a 162-game marathon.
The Marlins undoubtedly have some electric arms in their starting rotation. But can they hold up over a full season, especially with a bullpen that’s being held together by superglue and scotch tape? Miami’s lineup looks solid on paper but pales in comparison to the star power that every other NL East team possesses.
Even with a modest win projection of 72.5 games, the Marlins could struggle to avoid a 100-loss season.
Photo: Getty Images