Flowers are blooming and trees are sprouting. Baseball fans know what this means, then. With spring settling in, baseballs are about to start flying, too.
Yes, baseball is officially back, as the 2021 MLB season will officially get underway with a full schedule of Opening Day matchups on Apr. 1.
The question now, of course, is pretty simple, yet straightforward. What teams are above all the rest? What teams are on the cusp? Well, luckily for you, there is an answer to this. Here is the first installment of Rich 10 MLB Power Rankings, 2021 edition.
Just a bit outside: Milwaukee Brewers
2020 record: 29-31
A lot did not go right for Milwaukee last season. Lorenzo Cain opted out, Christian Yelich had his worst season statistically and the infield did not provide much consistent hitting. All of that should change for the better this season, as Cain is back, Yelich is hungry for a rebound and infielder Keston Hiura will transition from second base over to a more comfortable first base. The Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. signings will quietly reinforce the defense, while the Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff tandem will stabilize the starting five. Then, of course, there is the Devin Williams-Josh Hader two-headed monster revving up to bring the filth out of the bullpen. Need I say more?
10. Oakland Athletics
2020 record: 36-24
No matter what happens, Oakland will always be gritty. They might not possess the household names, but this does not deter them from winning ball games. Even when players depart, they plug in the gaps and keep chugging away. In particular, reliever Trevor Rosenthal will look for similar success his previous counterpart in Liam Hendricks had while in Oakland before heading over to the Chicago White Sox in the offseason. There might be an adaptation period where the A’s mold the roster into winning form, but listen up – it is not about how you start, but how you finish. Oakland has taken this message to heart.
9. St. Louis Cardinals
2020 record: 30-28
Two words. One name. Nolan. Arenado. With the four-time Platinum Glove winner now calling Busch Stadium home, there is no doubt that the Cards should make a run for the top division spot in a very, very wide-open National League Central. The question about Arenado will not be so much about his glove, but about his slugging. “Coors Field Factor,” anyone? However, try this on for size – in 24 career games at Busch Stadium (98 career plate appearances), Arenado has slashed .278/.337/.511/.848 with 11 extra-base hits (six doubles, five home runs). If Arenado puts up this kind of production, I think the critics will begin to warm up to him more.
8. Tampa Bay Rays
2020 record: 40-20
One would expect the reigning American League pennant winners to be higher in this ranking installment, but alas, the Rays find themselves in eighth. Why is this? For one, the field is simply that deep. Secondly, Tampa Bay is going with a newer and fresher look atop their rotation, as Blake Snell and Charlie Morton both departed the team over the winter. However, as many a baseball fan knows, Tampa Bay simply finds a way. Their farm system remains elite, and several of their more prominent prospects (including top-overall MLB Pipeline prospect in Wander Franco) should make their debut this season. This ranking might seem low, but no matter – Tampa Bay will definitely be in the thick of things from start to finish.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
2020 record: 32-28
There is excitement in the Toronto (or Dunedin?) air. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks more in shape. Hyun-Jin Ryu looks primed for a repeat 2020 after being named the Opening Day starter and former Houston Astro George Springer will don the blue and white. Now, Toronto has been dealing with a slight injury bug coming out of Spring Training – Springer (oblique) and left-hander Robbie Ray (elbow) will both start the season on the Injured List (IL). Even still, Toronto has the youth and the depth to gradually find their way into the playoff mix when it is all said and done.
6. New York Mets
2020 record: 26-34
The Mets went back to their offseason splurges once more. Their most recent spree, however, has more direction to it. After all, the franchise officially went under new ownership after Steve Cohen officially purchased the club for $2.4 billion on Nov. 6. Almost two months to the day after, New York made a blockbuster deal by trading for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor on Jan. 7. They then extended Lindor to a 10-year, $341 million extension the eve before Opening Day. To double down on a strength, Carlos Carrasco was also brought in to shore up an already efficient starting rotation headlined by two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. The Mets are sixth in this ranking installment but could fluctuate in the wrong or right direction in future rankings, depending on if their star-studded transactions pan out.
5. Chicago White Sox
2020 record: 35-25
A White Sox season ripe with optimism has already hit a snag before a game of regular season baseball has even been played. Star outfielder Eloy Jimenez ruptured his left pectoral tendon during Spring Training and is expected to miss the next five to six months. This is a tough blow, but depth is Chicago’s friend – their rotation headlined by Lucas Giolito and offseason acquisition Lance Lynn will be formidable, as will their lineup even without Jimenez in the meat of it. A relatively weaker American League Central should also help the South Siders, even if it was not by their design.
4. Atlanta Braves
2020 record: 35-25
In terms of what a rebuilding team should strive to replicate, look no further than Atlanta. A collection of homegrown bats, up-and-coming arms and a slew of hard-nosed veterans all go a long way toward short and long-term success for the franchise. Luckily for Atlanta, they have all the pieces. Unfortunately for them, they share the same circuit with a pair other super teams on this list (you’ll see, just keep on reading). Atlanta’s x-factor to overcome this? Mike Soroka. After suffering an Achilles injury last season, the 23-year-old right-hander played in Atlanta’s final Spring Training game, where he fanned two batters over two innings. While definitely a baby step, it is still a significant leap for the youngster, who could make his return to the team by the end of April.
3. New York Yankees
2020 record: 33-27
Sure, the National League might be stacked with super team after super team, but the Yankees could theoretically monopolize the American League. An offense with surplus power via Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton definitely establishes a precedent. The DJ LeMahieu extension will solidify the top of the batting order, but regardless of what the offense does, the starting pitching behind Gerrit Cole will be the million-dollar question (no pun intended). There are intriguing names who could grab the bull by the horns and pitch the needed innings – Corey Kluber (yes, that Corey Kluber), Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino later in the season are all possibilities. Regardless, New York should be a legitimate World Series contender throughout the entire season. Can they stay healthy, though?
2. San Diego Padres
2020 record: 37-23
San Diego is going for it. If you needed proof, one could look back to the Eric Hosmer signing several years back. Or even the Manny Machado deal. The Mike Clevinger trade during last year’s trade deadline would make one think the Friars were damning the torpedoes right then and there. Then again, they also went full steam ahead this past winter and acquired top-tier arms in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. If this was still not enough, San Diego then extended their star shortstop in Fernando Tatis Jr. to a gargantuan 14-year deal worth $340 million. The Friars have been splurging the past few seasons, and if all goes well, they will take a significant leap forward this season. There is only one hitch to this plan, however…
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2020 record: 43-17
If you thought another team would inhabit the top spot in this ranking installment, well, I hate to disappoint you. This team is simply stacked. Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Co. solidify the lineup, while a rotation spearheaded by Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw brings the heat, spin, control and everything in-between. And to think – Los Angeles brought back Justin Turner and reeled in 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer during the offseason. Talk about an absolute embarrassment of riches. In total, the Dodgers, in their current form, have the potential to be a dominant dynasty not only this season, but also next season and beyond. This reason alone is enough to put them atop this power ranking installment.