Ranking the 10 best lineups entering 2021

March 31st, 2021

We’ve gone over the top 10 rotations and bullpens in Major League Baseball in advance of the 2021 season. Now let’s line up the lineups.

As you are aware, after the universal designated hitter rule briefly applied in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, we have gone back to the early 1900s (and, um, 2019) in letting pitchers swing the stick in the National League. So that impacts these rankings a little bit. But as you’ll see, the NL still has plenty of potent offenses, even when you account for those almost-automatic outs.

Here are my picks for the top offenses in the game right now, though there are certainly others worth going to bat for.

1 -- Yankees

Some of you are undoubtedly looking at this ranking and thinking, “BUT JUDGE AND STANTON CAN’T STAY HEALTHY!” And that’s understandable, except that the Yankees have scored the most runs in MLB over the past two seasons (1,258) despite that prominent pair playing a combined total of 171 games in that span. So while their trouble staying on the field is a real concern (and they will be without reigning MLB home run leader Luke Voit for the first month following knee surgery), we have reason to suspect the Yanks will be an offensive force one way or another.

Torres and Sánchez are clear bounceback candidates, Frazier is just finding his footing and LeMahieu is as steady as they come. And if Judge and Stanton actually do stay healthy, then, as they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit. Sorry, everybody, but the Yanks are going to score a ton of runs, and there’s not much we can do about it.

2 -- Dodgers

The Dodgers were the Majors’ most potent offense in the first season of the Mookie era, and, even without the designated hitter in the NL, there’s an argument to put them in the top spot again.

I’m going to stop short of that only because, until others within the organization prove otherwise, the departures of Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernández do weaken the pliability of this lineup a bit. But it is scary to think what the numbers could look like if Bellinger and Muncy can shake off their disappointing 2020 outputs and if Gavin Lux can live up to his prospect pedigree. For now, there’s no shame in being the No. 1 NL team on this list.

3 -- Blue Jays

The kids are all right. Toronto’s young and hungry lineup ran a bit hot and cold but ultimately scored the seventh-most runs in MLB in 2020. And now the Blue Jays have added Springer (though he is currently dealing with an oblique issue) and Semien to their stash. “Toronto” will start the season at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., which could lead to some silly run totals, and the Blue Jays are going to be really dangerous if Guerrero puts it all together.

Don’t sleep on Tellez, who might be a breakout candidate, or on backup catcher Alejandro Kirk, who puts together great at-bats. If you told me the Blue Jays will be worthy of the top spot by season’s end, I’d believe you. This might be the most fun lineup in the game.

4 -- Padres

Machado and Tatis both put themselves in the MVP conversation last year. But the biggest revelations were Grisham emerging as a legit table-setter, Cronenworth breaking out in the first month of the season and perpetual trade candidate Myers suddenly turning in the best season of his career. Maybe Myers is a regression candidate, but I legitimately wonder if his new stance and approach might make his surge sustainable.

The Padres also impress with the way they’ve accrued depth on top of depth, with Jurickson Profar a viable fill-in at a variety of spots when injury strikes and Ha-seong Kim an intriguing import. Those guys would be everyday pieces on most teams. A healthy Pham is a really important X-factor, too.

5 -- Braves

I biffed it on the Braves and left them out of the top 10 prior to a 2020 season in which they wound up scoring the second-most runs per game in MLB. Oops.

In my defense, it was hard to know Ozuna would be as effective a Josh Donaldson replacement as he turned out to be, or that d’Arnaud would hit like Mike Piazza or that Freeman would shake off a scary bout with COVID and become the NL MVP. I do think it’s reasonable to expect d’Arnaud, especially, to come down to earth, and the Braves could sure use a Riley breakout to take the pressure off Acuña Jr., Freeman, Ozuna and Albies. But no way I’m making the same mistake twice and leaving them off this list.

6 -- Astros

To be clear, this is not a “no Springer, no problem” situation. Losing George Springer is a big deal, because his role in the leadoff spot keyed so much of the Astros’ explosiveness. But retaining Brantley is also a big deal, as is returning Alvarez, who had a 1.067 OPS in his rookie year before issues with both knees cost him most of 2020.

If Altuve and Correa bounce back and Tucker continues to blossom, the Astros will remain an elite offense even without Springer. The first seven guys in this lineup are all projected by Steamer to be better than average offensively.

7 -- Mets

With the obvious caveat that the numbers from the 60-game season were goofy, it’s still fun to note that the Mets’ team weighted runs created plus mark (121) was just one point behind the Dodgers (122) and ranked sixth highest of all-time.

Were they really that good? No. But they did add Lindor after getting basically league-average production at short last year, and it’s not at all hard to imagine Alonso recovering from the sophomore slide his numbers took in 2020. A big key will be whether McCann can deliver against right-handed pitching after getting that unexpectedly big contract.

8 -- White Sox

Had to drop the Sox down a few spots due to the long-term loss of Eloy Jiménez, who had a .276/.321/.527 slash over the past two seasons and was projected by Steamer to be their greatest source of offense in 2021 (128 projected weighted runs created plus). It remains to be seen if the Sox use the waiver wire or trade route to address their newly altered outfield.

But this still can and will be a really fun lineup. Abreu was the 2020 AL MVP, and Anderson was in the mix. But Moncada and Robert have the talent to become MVP contenders themselves, and the Sox have one of the two most productive catchers in the game in Grandal. In Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn, they also have two rookies with advanced plate discipline.

9 -- Twins

The “Bomba Squad” took a big step back at the plate last season, revolving and relying too much on a 40-year-old Cruz. The Twins scored just 4.48 runs per game. But in a more regular season -- and, importantly, with a healthy Donaldson -- there is reason to suspect they can get back to 5+ runs per game territory again.

The Twins continued to hit the long ball last year, with the sixth-highest home run rate (1.52 per game) in MLB. Buxton will always profile as one of the league’s more dynamic players when his body cooperates, Kepler is underrated and Alex Kirilloff could be an impact rookie. You could certainly make the argument that this lineup, not Chicago’s, is the best in the AL Central. We shall see.

10 -- Angels

The presence of Trout and Rendon gives the Angels a high enough floor to merit inclusion on this list. A return to offensive form from Ohtani, whose swing mechanics this spring have mirrored what we saw when he was a legit power presence in 2018-19, would move the needle a great deal (if he doesn’t get worn out from pitching, of course). Fletcher’s high-contact skills keep the line moving, Walsh showed good power and plate discipline last year and perhaps Jo Adell and/or Brandon Marsh will come up and make an impact this season.

Having said all of that, there are some depth questions here, and the Angels are very right-handed.

Honorable mention: The Nationals and Red Sox have big stars but also depth questions that kept them out of the top 10 for now. The Cubs could merit inclusion if Kris Bryant and Javier Báez bounce back. And as usual, we are undoubtedly snubbing someone who will be better than I am personally giving them credit for. But the team that comes closest to cracking this list is the Phillies. After tying for the fifth-most runs per game (5.10) and the ninth-highest weighted runs created plus mark (109) in MLB last season, they brought back J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius to continue to support Bryce Harper, and they have a rising star in Alec Bohm.