These 7 teams could be better than you think

February 15th, 2021

The Dodgers are loaded. The Padres are electric. The Mets have a whole new energy. The Blue Jays are blossoming. The Yankees are the Yankees.

There's plenty of hype for the 2021 baseball season, and there are plenty of hyped teams. But what about the surprises?

Here are seven teams that could be better than you think.

1. Nationals

The Nats fell from World Series champs to cellar dwellers in a year, and the Mets and Braves are grabbing the attention in the NL East right now. But this isn't a last-place team we're looking at in 2021. Washington's top starting-pitching trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin rivals any trio in baseball -- even the Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw/Walker Buehler/Trevor Bauer) and the Mets (Jacob deGrom/Marcus Stroman/Carlos Carrasco) and the Padres (Yu Darvish/Blake Snell/Joe Musgrove or Dinelson Lamet). And did you know that projections think the hitter most like Juan Soto is Ted Williams? Yes, that Ted Williams.

Trea Turner can give Francisco Lindor a run for his money in the competition to be best shortstop in the NL East, the Nats addressed a bunch of needs this offseason by adding Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber and Brad Hand and Jon Lester, and if Carter Kieboom finally breaks out, Washington starts to look like a pretty deep team.

2. Brewers

The Brewers made the playoffs last season, but it wasn't exactly inspiring -- they backed in with a losing record at 29-31. And Christian Yelich, their superstar centerpiece, didn't play like one. But Yelich is going to bounce back, believe that -- just look at his projections (FanGraph's Depth Charts have him with 34 home runs, 19 stolen bases and a .902 OPS that would make him a top-10 hitter).

The Brewers have maybe the most underrated starting-pitching duo in the Majors, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, and the best bullpen duo in the Majors full stop (Josh Hader and Devin Williams). Kolten Wong is a great value add at second base. Keston Hiura rakes. Lorenzo Cain should be back in center field. Even with the division-rival Cardinals making the biggest splash by landing Nolan Arenado, the NL Central could be the Brewers' for the taking.

3. Royals

The White Sox, Twins and Indians look like they're going to be jockeying for top position in the AL Central again in 2021, but the Royals could be a frisky team. Now that they've traded for Andrew Benintendi, they actually have a lot of good hitters in their lineup -- Benintendi, Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana, Hunter Dozier -- plus the elite speed threat of Adalberto Mondesi. Think about this: the Royals' lineup has a potential home run leader (Soler, the 2019 AL leader), hits leader (Merrifield, the MLB leader in 2018 and '19) and stolen base leader (Mondesi, the 2020 MLB leader).

On the pitching staff, Brady Singer could be a breakout starter in 2021 (3.98 expected ERA as a rookie based on his quality of contact allowed), Josh Staumont is the hardest-throwing reliever in baseball right now (only pitcher with a 102 mph strikeout in 2020), Brad Keller is a ground-ball machine (2.47 ERA in 2020 thanks to a 53% ground-ball rate), and if the return of Mike Minor pans out like the return of Greg Holland did last year, this staff has potential.

4. Giants

With the Giants stuck in the same division as a juggernaut World Series champion and a rising powerhouse, you might not give them a second look. But San Francisco actually has some interesting pieces. Mike Yastrzemski has blossomed into a star in their outfield. Players like Alex Dickerson (who had a weighted runs created plus of 150 last year, 50% better than a league-average hitter), Donovan Solano (.328 batting average the past two seasons) and Tommy La Stella (120 wRC+ or better three of the past four years) are better hitters than you might realize. The same goes for Kevin Gausman on the pitching side (3.62 ERA, 11.9 K/9 last season) and bullpen arms like the 100-mph-throwing Reyes Moronta and submariner Tyler Rogers.

Last but not least: Buster Posey is returning for 2021. The Giants don't have anywhere near the star power of the Dodgers and Padres, but their veteran core of Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford and Johnny Cueto could certainly lead them to surpass expectations.

5. Astros

You see George Springer leave for Toronto, and Justin Verlander sidelined with Tommy John surgery, and the ugly 2020 stat lines for Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, and you start to think, "Maybe 2021 is the Angels' year…" but not so fast. No Springer is a big blow to the lineup, to be sure, but look at the projections for who's still there. Depth Charts has Bregman at an MVP-level 6 WAR -- the best of any player besides Mike Trout or Mookie Betts -- with 31 home runs and a .909 OPS (one of only 11 Major Leaguers at .900-plus). Correa and Altuve, shockingly below-average hitters in 2020, are projected to have huge bouncebacks in 2021, especially the latter of that pair.

And all that's before we address the elephant returning to the room: Yordan Alvarez. The 2019 AL Rookie of the Year barely played at all last season, but if he's healthy he could be the biggest X-factor in baseball in 2021. Right now, Alvarez is projected for a monster year -- 36 home runs, a .930 OPS and 143 wRC+ that would make him a top-five hitter in the game. Add all that up, and Houston is projected to have the second-best offense in the game in 2021 behind only the Dodgers.

6. Red Sox

Trading Mookie Betts and plummeting to the bottom of the AL East took a lot of the shine off the Red Sox. But Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are stars on the left side of the infield, Alex Verdugo looks like a future star in the outfield, Bobby Dalbec has 30-homer breakout potential, Franchy Cordero has intriguing tools, and Enrique Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez bring valuable versatility. If J.D. Martinez hits like J.D. Martinez again, he's the anchor of a really strong lineup. (The Sox should still bring back Jackie Bradley Jr., though.)

Boston's pitching staff could be better than you think, too, with Eduardo Rodriguez returning, Nathan Eovaldi improving, Tanner Houck impressing in his debut, Adam Ottavino arriving from New York and Garrett Richards bringing electric stuff. And what if Chris Sale comes back from his Tommy John surgery at some point? That would be a nice extra boost.

7. White Sox

You already think they're good. But they might be the straight-up best team in the league.

This roster has no holes. José Abreu-Tim Anderson-Eloy Jiménez-Luis Robert-Yoán Moncada-Yasmani Grandal in the lineup. Lucas Giolito-Dallas Keuchel-Lance Lynn at the top of the rotation. Liam Hendriks at the back of the bullpen. Blue-chip prospects like Nick Madrigal, Garrett Crochet, Michael Kopech and Andrew Vaughn ready to contribute. The White Sox are stacked.