Opening Day every year is special, but you’ll excuse us if we correctly assume there will be something exceptionally spectacular about the first day this time around.
We don’t need to rehash all of the reasons why something as normal as the start of a baseball season should bring us all so much joy, so let’s just agree to agree that Opening Day 2021 is going to be a good one for everyone, whether your team is a leading contender or on a wait-’til-next-year track.
Our first Power Rankings of the new season bring few surprises, but plenty of intrigue. Let the games begin:
The only thing that could have knocked the Dodgers out of the top spot between our last Power Rankings and this one would have been a rash of injuries during Spring Training affecting key contributors. That didn’t happen, and the Dodgers (stop us if you’ve heard this before) will begin the season with too many good starting pitchers and only a couple of relievers -- Joe Kelly and Brusdar Graterol -- on the injured list.
Player to watch: Closer Kenley Jansen. His struggles last year could be at least partially attributed to a bout with COVID-19, but there’s also been speculation as to whether he’s lost a little over time. Manager Dave Roberts did not hesitate to name Jansen as his closer, and it’s notable that Jansen had a nice Cactus League season.
The Padres, in contrast to the Dodgers, will open the season minus a handful of key players, though the team insists this is not a doom-and-gloom scenario. Dinelson Lamet, who appears on the cusp of greatness but is still working his way back from an elbow injury, is a lock to open the season on the injured list. Trent Grisham and Austin Nola, while not sure bets, are probably headed that way, too. No sweat, insists manager Jayce Tingler, who is confident the team will not be without this trio for long. Meanwhile, if there’s one thing that has not changed in the past couple of months, it’s the allure of a Dodgers-Padres dogfight that is surely going to rivet us all year. Can we get the season rolling, please?
Player to watch: Fernando Tatis Jr., if for no other reason than he’s monumentally fun to watch. So let’s watch.
There are a few questions surrounding a Yankees lineup that figures to be one of the strongest in the American League. A healthy Giancarlo Stanton will fortify an already strong offense that was OK without him for much of the past two years, but the pitching, especially the rotation, is less of a sure thing. The Yankees are gambling on Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon staying healthy, and in Kluber’s case, rising to a level that somewhat resembles his prime years. This all may work out, but if issues pop up, the Yanks’ pitching depth will be tested.
Player to watch: Clint Frazier, who was anointed the starting left fielder when Spring Training opened. Frazier has never lacked confidence, even when his chances to make the club in past years were less certain. He’s aiming to make the All-Star ballot in 2021, and he likes his chances.
Atlanta's rotation is ranked No. 6 in this MLB.com projection, but that might prove to be a little low. The only thing the Braves' starting five doesn’t have is a long history of success, given the relative youth that makes up three-fifths of this group. But by the end of the season, we may be talking about the Max Fried-Mike Soroka-Ian Anderson trifecta in particularly glowing terms.
Player to watch: Soroka, whose return from an Achilles injury last season could arrive as early as late April.
5. White Sox
The Sox came this close to getting through the spring without a catastrophic injury. Losing Eloy Jiménez for most, if not all, of the season stings, but the good news for the Sox is that their pitching depth should be strong enough to overcome minor shortcomings in other areas. The addition of veteran workhorse Lance Lynn, who slides into the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito, stabilizes an already strong starting staff, and the White Sox have arguably the best bullpen in baseball, headlined by Garrett Crochet, Michael Kopech and newly signed closer Liam Hendriks.
Player to watch: Kopech, the Sox No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He hasn’t pitched since 2018 due to Tommy John surgery and other circumstances, and while his future is likely in the rotation, for now, he’ll hone his skills as a reliever.
The rest of the field of 30:
9. Blue Jays
20. Red Sox
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn.