6 teams 'guaranteed' to be better in 2021

March 19th, 2021

One of the many aberrations we’ll see when we look back at the bizarre, unprecedented 2020 season in the record books is just how wild the winning percentages were for so many teams. Because of the shortened season, what would have ordinarily been a sustained hot streak ended up being the whole season. Three different teams -- the Dodgers, Rays and Padres -- each put up the highest winning percentages in franchise history. Would they have kept that up over a full season? It sure seems unlikely. But they didn’t play a full season; they played 60 games. That’s all the history books will remember.

That goes the other direction too, though. There were six teams that I’d argue had especially bad winning percentages which did not accurately reflect the quality of those teams. In fact, I’d argue that those six teams are virtually guaranteed to have a better winning percentage than they did last year. I’m not guaranteeing a playoff spot, or even necessarily a winning record. But they’ll improve on their winning percentage from last year. They’ll almost have to. (Teams are listed in alphabetical order.)

2020 Record: 26-34 (.433)
2021 Equivalent: 70-92

For all the frustrations of the Angels’ inability to get Mike Trout a single postseason victory in his already-Hall of Fame career, it’s noteworthy that the Angels’ two worst teams of that era (by winning percentage) have been the past two years. They’re not usually this bad, even with their current five-year streak with a losing record. (That’s truly an insane stat, right? Five years!) Anyway, if the Angels only win 70 games in 2021, the pitching has imploded in a way that’s even more disappointing than we’ve seen in the past, Trout has suffered a terrible injury, or both. And even then, in this division, 70 wins would seem like the absolute floor.

2020 Record: 29-31 (.483)
2021 Equivalent: 78-84

The Brewers made the playoffs last year, albeit briefly, but they did have a losing record and just barely staved off the Giants for the final Wild Card spot. Whether you think the Cardinals or the Brewers are the favorites to win the NL Central, there’s no question that Milwaukee is considered far better than a .500 team. This is the shakiest proposition of these six teams, but the only way the Brewers are finishing under .500 is if Christian Yelich or a couple of the top arms in the rotation get hurt. For what it’s worth, if Yelich has a great year and the Brewers still somehow finish worse than this, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear some, “Is Yelich unhappy with the Brewers’ direction?” stories in the 2021-22 offseason. But that’s unlikely to happen, either way.

2020 Record: 26-34 (.433)
2021 Equivalent: 70-92

Fair to say, the offseason moves the Mets made do not exactly point to “comfortable with a 70-win season.” The Mets might be the favorite in the NL East, and even if you like the Braves more, the number of catastrophes that would have to cascade for the Mets to only win 70 games with this roster would be comically absurd, even for the Mets. Put it this way: If the Mets only win 70 games, Francisco Lindor is going to wonder what in the world he got himself into.

2020 Record: 26-34 (.433)
2021 Equivalent: 70-92

The Nationals have Juan Soto, so right there the idea that they’d go 70-92 with him in the lineup -- not to mention Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Stephen Strasburg on the roster -- is a little bit silly. The Nationals are coming up on a bit of a transitional period, with some young stars, some hopeful prospects who haven’t shown much yet and a few older stars who have some gas left in the tank -- but maybe only some. If they somehow fall below 70 wins, we could see a rebuilding phase here pretty soon. It’s more likely they bob around .500 all year and don’t provide any clear answers. But 70 wins would seem extremely unlikely.

Red Sox
2020 Record: 24-36 (.400)
2021 Equivalent: 65-97

Even with three last-place AL East finishes in the past seven years, the Red Sox have never really approached anything like 97 losses. The last time they lost that many games was 1965, when they lost 100. And even with some continued worries about their pitching, there’s no chance everything goes wrong at once like it did last season. Heck, some projection systems see them as a Wild Card team. You can never put it past Boston to have some sort of drama-related collapse, but let’s just say it's not finishing behind Baltimore this time around. (No one is.)

2020 Record: 26-34 (.433)
2021 Equivalent: 70-92

The Royals went out and added talent this year, particularly to the lineup, which is precisely what you want a team in the Royals’ position to do. They will be more productive, more enjoyable to watch and more competitive, and they’ll be a tougher matchup for every opponent. They still have a shaky rotation and an older bullpen that really wishes it were 2015 again. (Don’t we all.) They don’t look like a legitimate threat in the AL Central or the Wild Card race, but they do look like they’re going to be better -- and a lot better than 70-92.