The baseball season offers so many games that strange trends are likely to follow. At the beginning of the 2021 season, numerous different stories have started to take shape. Some will persist. Others will not. Let’s take a look at some of them and make five predictions too early for the rest of the season.
The Dodgers’ offense will be better than last year
If you had to pick one aspect of the Dodgers to be better than last year, you’d probably say pitching: They added Trevor Bauer, last year’s NL Cy Young winner, to an already loaded rotation. However, the same cannot be said for the lineup. Losing Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernandez, at the same time he had to compete against a Padres pitching team and the possibility of a World Series hangover, all could have pointed to a slower season for Los Angeles’ offense.
Well, that has not happened. So far, Los Angeles has an OPS + of 143, up from 121 last year. Of course, it’s early and things could change, but the Dodgers have done it without being in tip-top shape. Two of his best players, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts, have lost time due to injuries. Bellinger played in just four games before landing at the IL with a left calf contusion. Betts is back in the lineup after recovering from a stiff lower back, but due to the injury, he has played only in eight of his 13 games. Never mind, he’s cutting .323 / .447 / .581 in his second season with Los Angeles.
Max Muncy has started the season with tears in his eyes, as have Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Chris Taylor. The Dodgers are even getting production from unexpected sources like Zach McKinstry, a 25-year-old playing his first full season in the majors and who didn’t have a home run in his entire college career at Central Michigan. Entering the game on Friday, he is hitting .297 with three home runs in 37 at-bats.
Part of what makes the Dodgers such a well-oiled machine is their depth, and that has been shown so far this year, particularly on offense. If the stars continue to be stars and the role players continue to produce, it is difficult to see how this offense can be stopped in 2021.
Byron Buxton to make a Triple Crown career
The Twins may not have the same level of depth as the Dodgers, but they have Byron Buxton. Since picking him second in 2012, he has struggled to reach his potential, with several seasons derailed by injuries. But so far in 2021, he has argued not only to be an early favorite for the league MVP, but also to make a run in the first offensive Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera’s in 2012.
Through nine games, Buxton ranks second in the American League with five home runs, while he hit .469 with nine RBIs.
This is no accident. Buxton has crushed the ball this season – he’s in the top 1% in the league in hard hit rate and barrel percentage and second in average muzzle velocity. Sure, he won’t maintain a .469 batting average, but advanced metrics suggest that the success he’s had is sustainable. With your skill set, all you need to do is stay healthy and you will finally showcase the talent that baseball fans have long waited to see.
Verducci: Long-awaited breakup season for Byron Buxton is finally here
Cubs will have a historically bad offense
Cubs fans waited a long time for a World Series championship. Now, the joy of lifting that trophy feels like eons ago. Through 12 games, the Cubs have scored 32 runs (2.7 runs per game). When the Astros lost 111 games in 2013, they scored more runs per game than Chicago has so far.
Of course, this is a small sample, but manager David Ross should be concerned. The Cubs have not scored more than five runs in a game and have played six games against a Pirates team that is expected to lose more than 100 games.
Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras are the only two hitters on the team with an OPS greater than .800 (the MLB average last year was .740). As a team, Chicago ranks last in MLB in batting average (.163), on-base percentage (.254), slugging percentage (.307) and OPS (.561).
The focal points of the Cubs’ previous lineups, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez, have yet to ignite things. Additionally, offseason acquisition Pederson has the second-lowest batting average and the fourth-worst OPS among qualified hitters.
Since the beginning of last season, this core of players has simply not been consolidated. Unless Rizzo and Báez turn things around quickly, it will be a long stint on the North Side.
The Royals will be playoff contenders
After the first weekend of the 2021 season, the highest team OPS in baseball did not belong to the Yankees or the Dodgers; It belonged to the Royals.
Sure, they faced a Rangers pitching staff that could be historically bad this season, but the Kansas City offense has continued to score. The Royals are scoring 5.09 runs / game this year, fifth most in the majors coming into play on Friday. If they continue like this, the Royals will find themselves chasing the playoffs all season, ahead of schedule.
After winning the World Series in 1985, Royals fans had to wait 30 years for the next championship. General manager Dayton Moore is doing everything he can to make sure the next trophy arrives much earlier.
The Royals broke things after going 80-82 in 2017. But after two 100-loss seasons, Kansas City has a new window of success on the horizon. Many probably don’t expect it to start in 2021, but a lineup with this kind of talent cannot be overlooked, especially in a weaker division. The Royals enter the AL Central on Friday first with a 7-4 record.
Whit Merrifield was on track to hit 190 hits for the third straight season last year and provides consistent speed at the top of the lineup. Jorge Soler led the majors with 48 home runs in 2019, while Hunter Dozier also added 26 that year. Kansas City also added Andrew Benintendi, who had a brilliant start to his career with the Red Sox before breaking down the past two seasons, and Carlos Santana, who is one of the most skilled hitters to find a way on base. And, of course, the Royals still have Salvador Pérez behind the plate.
This team will likely only go as far as its lineup will allow, but that might be enough to have the Royals in contention for the playoffs all year.
Corbin Burnes to win National League Cy Young Award
Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes has done everything he can to try to keep his team in contention for the playoffs. He has made three starts this season; he led a no-hitter in the seventh inning against the Twins, then pitched six scoreless innings against the Cardinals and Cubs. Overall, he has struck out 30 batters and hasn’t walked in 18 1/3 innings of work. He is the first pitcher since at least 1901 to strike out that many batters without walking a pass in his first three games.
After starting nine games (and pitching in 12 total) for Milwaukee in 2020, Burnes showed his potential by striking out 88 batters in nearly 60 innings (nearly 1.5 K / IP).
Burnes’ shooting arsenal has proven its worth because throw some four-seam fastballs. Most of your hard stuff sags or shears, making it difficult to square. Your cutter sits on around 96 mph and its plumb bob at 98 mph. Add to that a nice change, a slider, and a curveball, and the 26-year-old is not only a Cy Young candidate, but also one of the favorites to win the award this season.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.