November 24, 2020

10 Teams That Could Dethrone the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021

Before winning the 2020 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers waited more than 30 years between championships. But now that they have one, they’ll certainly be eager to get more.

Not surprisingly, the Dodgers are the early betting favorite to win the 2021 World Series and repeat as champs. But why wouldn’t they be? Los Angeles has two of the best players in baseball in Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, as well as a deep rotation that’s even better after the emergence of young starters in 2020. However, repeating as World Series champs is easier said than done, even if the Dodgers have what most would agree is the best roster in the majors.

While it's still early in the offseason, here is an early look at 10 teams that will have a chance to dethrone the Dodgers in 2021.

Atlanta Braves

Nobody should forget that the Braves led the Dodgers 3-1 in the NLCS, putting them painfully close to reaching the World Series. They did that with ace, Mike Soroka, out of commission following a season-ending injury during the regular season.

With Soroka back in 2021 and the emergence of Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, the Braves are putting together an outstanding rotation for 2021 that will also include Max Fried.

Offensively, the Braves either need to re-sign Marcell Ozuna or replace his production another way. They do still have reigning MVP Freddie Freeman and young stars like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

With a few roster tweaks this winter, the Braves will be NL East favorites and will once again be in a position to push the Dodgers as the best team in the National League.

Cleveland Indians

It seems like a safe bet that the Indians are going to trade away shortstop Francisco Lindor, putting a sizable hole in their lineup. But as long as pitching remains the name of the game, Cleveland will be a potential contender.

Shane Bieber is the reigning Cy Young winner while the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale give them considerable rotation depth. The Cleveland bullpen also appears to be in great shape. The pitching staff as a whole will make the Indians contenders and a team nobody will want to face in October.

The caveat, of course, is how the Indians will score runs in 2021. There will certainly be some reshuffling in the Cleveland lineup. But it’s important to remember that the Indians are likely to get a nice package of players in return when/if they trade Lindor.

Between that and some creative spending, the Indians might be able to put together a halfway decent lineup that can complement an amazing pitching staff.

Chicago White Sox

The 2020 season was just the start of Chicago’s ascent to the top of the American League hierarchy. The White Sox are loaded with young rising stars who are only going to get better in 2021 and beyond. They should be able to get a little more out of Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada. And don’t forget that Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal are still around to provide a veteran presence.

Equally important, the White Sox still have the kind of rotation that can win in October. Lucas Giolito is a certifiable ace while Dallas Keuchel is the perfect running mate. Youngsters like Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning started to come into their own in 2020 while highly-regarded prospect Michael Kopech will also join the fray.

If those young pitchers take another step forward, the White Sox have a rotation that could match up well with the Dodgers in a potential rematch of the 1959 World Series. 

Houston Astros

Nobody can deny that the Astros face some tough questions with key players like George Springer and Michael Brantley entering free agency. However, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are still capable of delivering a star performance when healthy. The Astros will also bring back 2019 Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez, who will be a monster in the middle of Houston’s lineup.

No matter what happens in free agency, the Astros will still have a potent lineup. The X-factor will be how the starting rotation survives without Justin Verlander. If Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier continue to emerge, the Houston rotation could be in better shape than people realize. It’s also not hard to envision Lance McCullers Jr. being better in 2021 as he continues to recover from Tommy John.

The bottom line is that after the Astros made a run to the ALCS in 2020, it’s clear that their window is far from closed, so they shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential title contender in 2021.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins underperformed a little in 2020, but the core of the team will remain intact. Minnesota's pair of aces Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda is a great tandem at the top of the rotation, especially with the way Randy Dobnak and Michael Pineda performed in 2020 at the back end of the rotation. They didn’t get much out of free agent Jake Odorizzi last season anyway, so losing him to free agency isn’t a big deal.

The question is whether Minnesota can get bounce-back efforts from key offensive players. Outside of Nelson Cruz and Byron Buxton, most of the Twins had disappointing numbers in 2020.

Re-signing Cruz to anchor the lineup will be important for the Twins. If they can bring him back and see an uptick from players like Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Josh Donaldson, and Miguel Sano, the Twins will be as formidable as they were in 2019 when they were among the best offensive teams in baseball.

With that kind of offensive firepower and a deep rotation, the Twins will practically be a carbon copy of the Dodgers in 2021.

New York Mets

With a new owner who is promising to spend like a big-market team, the Mets are theoretical contenders in 2021. Offensively, the Mets didn’t have a lot of problems in 2020. They’ll have to find a temporary solution after Robinson Cano got suspended for the season. But they didn’t get much out of Pete Alonso last season, which is likely to change in 2021.

New York is also likely to spend big on a free agent like George Springer or J.T. Realmuto to boost their offense.

Pitching-wise, it’s hard to go wrong with Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman at the top of the rotation. However, new owner Steve Cohen will have to throw some money around to supplement the rest of the rotation and bring in some reinforcements for the bullpen.

In fairness, the Mets are unreliable at best coming out of the 2020 campaign. But they might be one of the few teams that spends big this winter, which means they can get a lot better in a short period of time, perhaps to the point of being a serious contender in the National League.

New York Yankees

It’ll be a cold day in hell when the Yankees aren’t considered championship contenders heading into a season. Obviously, the Yankees have several holes on their roster to fill, most notably in their rotation, as James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are both free agents. When you take those two away, there isn’t much certainty behind Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile, DJ LeMahieu being a free agent also creates a vacancy in New York’s lineup.

That being said, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit give the Bronx Bombers plenty of offensive firepower when everyone is healthy. The 2020 season also gave us a glimpse at some promising young arms.

More importantly, the Yankees are surely going to spend enough money in the offseason to solidify their standing as one of the favorites in the American League. It remains to be seen who the Yankees will sign. But they added Cole last winter, and there should be one or two big names that join him in 2021.

San Diego Padres

After winning eight straight division titles, the Dodgers might finally have a serious challenger in the NL West, and it’s the Padres.

With the likes of Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego has a tandem that’s not too far behind Betts and Bellinger. The Padres also have a considerable amount of depth with Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and the emergence of youngsters like Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth.

To be fair, San Diego’s rotation isn’t quite as deep as the Dodgers', especially with Mike Clevinger missing the entire 2021 campaign. But Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack comprise a promising trio. There’s also plenty of talent in the farm system, including top prospect MacKenzie Gore.

Also, don’t rule out the Padres making a splash this winter. It became obvious at the trade deadline that the Padres are all in, and they will view themselves as a serious threat to the Dodgers both in the NL West and as a World Series contender.

Tampa Bay Rays

Don’t expect the small-market Rays to go away anytime soon. The Tampa Bay bullpen is still loaded and Kevin Cash knows exactly how to manage it. The Rays will also get plenty of mileage out of Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell. When those two are healthy, they’re as good as any rotation duo in baseball. 

Of course, the Rays aren’t going to out-slug many teams, which we saw in the postseason. But a majority of the lineup that got them to the World Series is back. The Rays will be excited to get a full season out of Randy Arozarena — if he's not suspended for an alleged domestic abuse incident in Mexico — and they expect to get more out of Austin Meadows. If Meadows can return to his 2019 form, he and Arozarena will be a formidable tandem in the middle of the order.

The Rays can figure out the rest with pesky and professional hitters up and down the lineup. As long as the bullpen remains strong and Glasnow and Snell remain healthy, the Rays will have a roster capable of competing for a championship.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays could be the biggest wild card in baseball for the 2021 season. The young trio of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette will only get better with experience. Toronto will also feel good about the status of the outfield with Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk. And don’t rule out the Blue Jays making a big splash this winter to bring in an established hitter via free agency or trade.

Ultimately, scoring runs shouldn’t be an issue for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s fate in 2021 will likely come down to pitching. Hyun Jin Ryu remains the ace, but young pitchers like Nate Pearson need to take a step forward. Fortunately, the Blue Jays have no shortage of promising young arms that could emerge.

If the Toronto pitching staff can take a considerable step forward, don’t count out the Blue Jays from emerging as a serious contender because their young talent gives them plenty of upside.

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