One thing we got wrong for each team

August 23rd, 2021

It's never easy to forecast what will happen for every team -- let alone every player -- over a 162-game Major League Baseball season. No matter how much research and information goes into it, something unexpected always pops up for each and every club at some point.

After all, that's why they play the games, right?

With that in mind, decided to take a look at the one prediction or expectation that has proven to be the most wrong for each club (so far) in 2021.


Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 2021 projections
When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. came into camp looking more athletic, optimism was high -- but nobody could have predicted what he’s done this season. On March 16, a certain writer who looks a lot like me wrote that Guerrero’s “realistic” line would be an .820 OPS with 30 home runs, while his absolute “ceiling” would be a .930 OPS with 38 home runs. He entered Monday with a 1.005 OPS and 36 home runs -- with more than a month remaining to add to that total. If it weren’t for the historic performance we’re seeing from Shohei Ohtani with the Angels, Guerrero would be on his way to an MVP season at just 22 years old. Next year’s projections will be slightly more generous. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Cedric Mullins’ ceiling
The Orioles long knew Mullins was talented, but nobody saw his 2021 breakout coming the way it did, with Mullins turning into a down-ballot AL MVP candidate seemingly overnight. Making the decision to abandon switch-hitting over the winter, Mullins started hitting from the second he stepped foot at Spring Training and he hasn’t stopped. Through 117 games, he was tied for the AL hit lead and ranked among its leaders in batting average, OPS and WAR, to go along with 21 homers and 22 steals. It’s the kind of year the rebuilding Orioles desperately needed from him as they continue to search for long-term pieces. More than anyone else on the current roster, Mullins now looks like one of those pieces. Now, the question becomes how do they build around him? -- Joe Trezza

Rays: The defending AL champs were due for a step back
It’s not like anybody was counting out the Rays this offseason. They entered Spring Training with the same lineup that led them to the World Series last year, a ton of talent on the pitching staff and the game’s top-ranked farm system headlined by a bunch of near-ready prospects like Wander Franco. But when Tampa Bay parted with starter Charlie Morton and traded away fellow front-line starter Blake Snell, there were plenty of questions about the course the club was charting for this season. Would Tampa Bay take a step back in the always-competitive AL East? Hardly. The Rays always seem to find a way, and they’re doing it again this year. They sit atop the AL East and own the American League’s best record. Their starting staff has done enough to get by. Their bullpen has been incredible despite countless key injuries. And the biggest surprise has been their lineup, which entered Monday with the second-highest run total in the Majors. They finished last season as the AL’s best team, and they currently have the same distinction this year. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: Hunter Renfroe just a platoon player?
Heading into the season, most expected that Renfroe would be the starting right fielder against lefties and an occasional righty. After all, he was non-tendered by the Rays before the Red Sox got him for the modest price tag of $3 million for one year. However, Renfroe has emerged as a mainstay in manager Alex Cora’s lineup, starting 108 of Boston’s first 125 games. Renfroe has 22 homers, just one fewer than J.D. Martinez. The right-handed-hitting veteran has held his own against righties, belting 14 homers to go with a .755 OPS. Defensively, he’s been tremendous, leading the league with 14 outfield assists. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: AL East was theirs to lose
There have certainly been some encouraging developments for the Yankees this season, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton staying healthy amidst productive seasons, Gary Sánchez rediscovering his power stroke at times and Gerrit Cole overcoming some midseason bumps to remain a top AL Cy Young Award candidate. The club, however, has once again dealt with a rash of injuries -- from the starting lineup to the starting rotation to the bullpen -- and inconsistent play at times from a number of key contributors. Though the Yankees were the preseason favorite to win the AL East -- and were selected to do so by 83 of 100 panelists at -- it's taken a recent hot streak just to jump back into AL Wild Card position. -- Paul Casella


Indians: Rotation would anchor roster (again)
A rotation with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac easily gave the impression that the team’s pitching staff would once again carry the club throughout the season. However, injuries got in the way, sidelining the trio for extended periods of time. The Indians had to quickly learn what they had in their farm system, bringing up Eli Morgan, Sam Hentges and J.C. Mejia, while also moving Cal Quantrill from the bullpen into the starting mix. Collectively, the starting rotation has posted the fourth-worst ERA in the American League and the sixth-worst in the Majors. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Nicky Lopez just a bench option?
Lopez has played his way into the conversation to be an everyday piece of the Royals’ lineup. Not only has he put up a solid .278 batting average with a .346 on-base percentage, but he’s playing Gold Glove-caliber defense on a game-by-game basis. Lopez’s 14 Outs Above Average rank fourth in the Majors and second in the American League -- and that’s come almost exclusively while he’s played shortstop, a position he’d hardly played at the big league level prior to 2021. -- Ryan Herrera

Tigers: Renato Núñez would be a perfect fit in Detroit’s offense
Núñez looked like he had a ready-made situation to slide into and rekindle his career when the Tigers signed the slugging first baseman to a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite in February. However, Núñez never found a fit in Detroit, where the team's newfound emphasis on versatility and athleticism worked against him. He lost out to Jonathan Schoop at first base, then lost an Opening Day roster spot to utilityman Harold Castro. Núñez earned a shot in mid-April and he homered in back-to-back wins in Houston, but he slumped after that, a pattern that repeated itself when he finally got another chance in August. The Tigers designated him for assignment on Friday, and it's clear he'll have to find a fit somewhere elst to get his career going again. -- Jason Beck

Twins: The team could scrape together another playoff-caliber pitching staff
An alternate (and acceptable) answer to this question is “everything” for a club that many thought would doggedly battle the White Sox for a third straight division crown. The Twins very clearly have not done that. But boiled down to its essence, the problem is that the club’s pitching plans backfired at every turn -- and that never gave Minnesota a fighting chance. In a sense, that’s not any different than what the Twins did in 2019 and ‘20 -- they valued depth over all else and trusted their ability to leverage pitching coach Wes Johnson’s strengths to squeeze playoff-quality value out of less-established players. Instead, all four offseason pitching acquisitions -- Matt Shoemaker, J.A. Happ, Alex Colomé and Hansel Robles -- imploded spectacularly, sending Minnesota to a 4.95 staff ERA, second-worst in the AL. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Carlos Rodón would maybe be team’s fifth starter
Rodón was non-tendered in December after throwing a combined 42 1/3 innings over two injury-plagued seasons. The southpaw was eventually brought back via a one-year, $3 million deal in February, and he was thought to be competing with Reynaldo López for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. As things stand now, Rodón is one of the top 2021 AL Cy Young candidates and he certainly starts one of the first three games in any White Sox playoff series. Rodón has fanned 160 against 30 walks and 75 hits to go with a 2.38 ERA in 109 2/3 innings this season and he figures to be back from the injured list this week. -- Scott Merkin


Angels: How often Shohei Ohtani would play
When manager Joe Maddon declared before the season that there would be no limits on how often Shohei Ohtani would play this season, few thought Ohtani would be an everyday player in addition to his pitching duties. In the past, he had been out of the lineup the day before, the day of and the day after his starts to keep him healthy and fresh. But this season, he’s been in the lineup for nearly every game and he has been doing things never seen before in the Majors, and thus, is the frontrunner for the AL MVP Award. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Starting pitching depth would be an issue
That issue became magnified when left-hander Framber Valdez fractured a finger in his first start of the spring in early March, but the Astros responded by signing Jake Odorizzi and Valdez came back sooner than initially expected. Rookie Luis Garcia stepped up and was perhaps Houston's best starter for a stretch, and Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke have each posted double-digit wins. That depth has allowed the Astros to absorb two stints on the IL by José Urquidy. Houston is second in the AL in ERA and innings pitched by starting pitchers. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Cole Irvin would not last season as a starter
Competing with top A’s pitching prospects A.J. Puk and Daulton Jefferies for the final rotation slot in Spring Training, Irvin was viewed as a longshot just to make the Opening Day roster. Not only did the left-hander outperform those two in the Cactus League, he’s carried over the success into the regular season as one of Oakland’s more reliable starters, entering Monday with a 3.57 ERA across 24 starts. Especially with ace Chris Bassitt now possibly out for the season, Irvin’s importance on this club only grows as one of the pitchers the A’s count on for a quality outing every fifth day. -- Martin Gallegos

Mariners: A statistically bad bullpen in 2020 entered ’21 with too many question marks
Well, technically it still did face legitimate questions. That part isn’t necessarily in doubt, especially given that Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and J.T. Chargois were all non-roster invitees to Spring Training, and Kendall Graveman had only one month of relief experience under his belt. The latter two were dealt away at the Trade Deadline, but those deals brought in reliever Diego Castillo and second baseman Abraham Toro, which were vital additions to the long-term core. Steckenrider has been solid in this rebound season, but absolutely nobody -- except for perhaps general manager Jerry Dipoto -- saw Sewald developing into one of the AL's best high-leverage relievers. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Everything about Adolis García
García was designated for assignment on Feb. 10. He cleared waivers and was invited to big league Spring Training before heading off to the alternate training site at the start of the Major League season. The Rangers, as well as the other 29 MLB teams, initially passed on García, who has become somewhat of a sensation after his callup on April 13. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, García made his mark by earning his first All-Star Game selection, and he was the only Rangers All-Star not to be dealt at the Trade Deadline. He’s taken a bit of a step back since the break, but he’s no doubt been an anchor for a young Texas lineup on both sides this season. He’s slashing .286/.333/.571 in his last seven games and he will likely finish high in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. -- Kennedi Landry


Braves: Austin Riley's impact
Nobody could have predicted the Braves would have a comfortable NL East lead after losing Ronald Acuña Jr. in early July and Marcell Ozuna in late May. Atlanta's ability to persevere has been fueled by the rise of Austin Riley, who is this season’s biggest surprise for the club. As Riley struggled through the season’s first couple weeks, a faction of fans called for him to be sent back to Triple-A. But the third baseman is now heading toward a 30-homer season that will earn him down-ballot NL MVP consideration. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Sixto Sánchez’s ROY candidacy
Entering Spring Training, Sánchez was considered a frontrunner for the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Award -- but unfortunately, he will finish the season having not thrown a single pitch for the Marlins. The 23-year-old experienced right shoulder discomfort in a March 31 simulated game, and after the issue persisted during his rehab, Sánchez ultimately underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on July 20. It's instead been fellow 23-year-old Trevor Rogers who has made a push for the NL ROY Award, while Zach Thompson, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara have also helped anchor the rotation. -- Paul Casella

Mets: Offense would be one of NL's best
It was easy to see why people thought so, with Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith coming off career years, switch-hitter Francisco Lindor joining the team in the heart of the lineup and Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis combining to form a core of in-their-prime hitters with solid track records. Early on, injuries ravaged this group. But with the exception of Lindor, they’ve more or less been healthy since mid-July, and the production simply hasn’t come -- an issue that could continue to haunt the Mets into the winter. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Dominance of starting rotation
The Nats opened the season with a starting five of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester and Joe Ross -- a group that was poised to be one of the best in the Majors. But Strasburg was quickly hit by injuries, while Corbin, Lester and Ross struggled to find consistency. It wasn’t long until it was a dominant Scherzer anchoring a rotation that saw pitchers like Erick Fedde and Paolo Espino step into starting roles from the bullpen. By this point in the year, Scherzer and Lester have been traded and Strasburg and Ross have been shut down with season-ending injuries. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: The staff ace
Though Aaron Nola hasn’t been the Cy Young-caliber pitcher of years’ past, this is as much about Zack Wheeler’s emergence as Nola’s occasional struggles. Wheeler earned his first All-Star appearance and leads the Majors in strikeouts (194), innings pitched (168 2/3) and complete games (three) to go along with his 2.77 ERA. The right-hander could become the first Phillies pitcher to win the NL Cy Young Award since Roy Halladay in 2010. As for Nola, he’s shown flashes of the form that led to receiving a share of NL Cy Young Award votes in 2018 and '20, most recently by striking out 11 batters and flirting with a no-hitter for much of Saturday's start against the Padres. -- Paul Casella


Brewers: That Christian Yelich would hit 60 home runs
We literally predicted this in print, for everyone to see, back in Spring Training. Oops. Even with two home runs on Saturday, Yelich entered Monday with eight. In our defense, the assignment was to make a “bold” prediction, and Yelich’s back-to-normal Cactus League performance -- a 1.357 OPS, three home runs and line drives everywhere in 28 at-bats -- inspired confidence that he had shaken whatever went wrong for him in the shortened 2020 season. Unfortunately, his power never showed up in the regular season, and a back injury suffered on the second Sunday set him back even further. But now, finally, there are some good signs. He entered Monday with a hit in 10 straight starts, including a two-homer, three-hit, six RBI breakout on Saturday, when Yelich acknowledged his season has been a bust so far, but added: “The story’s not written yet.” -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Their depth would carry them
The Cardinals preached confidence in their depth all spring, believing their plethora of arms could sustain any potential limitations coming out of the abbreviated 2020 season. The opposite rang true. After Jack Flaherty went down on May 31, the skid that ultimately derailed St. Louis' season commenced. With Flaherty and Miles Mikolas out for the majority of the year, the Cardinals deployed young pitchers like Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford in a self-proclaimed trial-by-fire. The club was forced to spend at the Trade Deadline to simply try and cover innings. Flaherty and Mikolas have returned, but as the latter proclaimed in his first start back: “Better late than never. And you kind of hope it's not too late.” -- Zachary Silver

Cubs: The core could carry them to October one last time
In the abbreviated 2020 season, the Cubs managed to win the NL Central in manager David Ross’ first year at the helm. Chicago did so with underwhelming offensive showings from mainstays like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez. So if the North Siders could take the division without their stars at their best, the team looked like a playoff-caliber club for '21, even with expected flaws on the pitching side. While Bryant, Rizzo and Báez did bounce back at the plate, the Cubs’ other issues (a myriad of injuries and rotation depth woes, in particular) were too much to overcome. By July, an 11-game losing streak forced the front office’s hand, especially with that star trio set for free agency this coming winter. What followed was a franchise-altering Trade Deadline that made ‘22 and beyond the clear focus. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes would anchor club
Not everyone thought this per se, but expectations were very high for Hayes after his breakthrough in 2020. He was almost immediately derailed by a wrist injury in the second game of the season that sent him to the 60-day IL. The 24-year-old rookie is always good for outstanding defense -- he's second in the Majors in defensive runs saved (12, trailing Ryan McMahon’s 13) -- but Hayes’ offense has yet to really hit its stride. He’s produced a .684 OPS in 258 at-bats. He said he’s been working with video and his cage work to get back into a better position to hit. Will that work translate late this season and into next? -- Jake Crouse

Reds: Luis Castillo would be club’s Cy Young contender/best pitcher
Castillo did turn things around quite nicely in June, but not before he opened 2021 with a 1-8 record and a 7.22 ERA in his first 11 starts. Cincinnati’s best starter has been 34-year-old left-hander Wade Miley, who has turned in one of the best seasons of his career. Miley is 10-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 23 starts. Amid his incredibly consistent year, he threw a no-hitter at Cleveland on May 7. Although he likely won’t get a lot of NL Cy Young Award consideration, Miley has definitely been the Reds’ best starter so far this season. -- Mark Sheldon


D-backs: They would be fundamentally sound
There was one thing you could usually count on from the D-backs under manager Torey Lovullo, and that was that they would pick up the baseball and run the bases well. That has not been the case this year. They’ve let fly balls drop between outfielders, messed up relay plays and not done a good job of holding runners. It got to the point where Lovullo, for the first time in his big league managing career, had his team go through a popup priority drill before batting practice, something that is usually done only in Spring Training. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: The offense wouldn't need a jolt from an outside -- and unlikely -- source
When the season started, the Dodgers had Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, Corey Seager and Justin Turner as the key sluggers on their roster, while Albert Pujols was down the road suiting up for the Angels in the final year of his contract. But after losing 15 out of 20 games from April 18-May 5, the Dodgers were in need of a more veteran presence in the lineup. The stars aligned on May 6 when the Angels designated Pujols for assignment after he batted .198 with and five homers and 12 RBIs in 24 games. Since then, the Dodgers have received more than what they may have hoped for when they signed the future Hall of Famer to a Minor League contract. Pujols has hit 10 homers in 62 games while slashing .265/.311/.458, while also adopting the moniker ‘Tio Albert’ with the young core that has routinely sought his advice. -- Megan Garcia

Giants: An aging core would be exposed
Instead, the Giants are leading the NL West, in large part, because of the contributions of two 34-year-olds: Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. Posey’s resurgence will certainly earn him down-ballot consideration in the NL MVP race, while Crawford’s production led San Francisco to lock him up with a two-year, $32 million extension before he hit free agency. The Giants have celebrated their elder statesmen by printing “Let the Old Guys Play” T-shirts, a riff off Major League Baseball’s “Let the Kids Play” ad campaign. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Pitching depth would carry them
Au contraire. The Padres’ rotation depth looked elite on paper. It hasn’t been nearly enough. Yu Darvish and Chris Paddack are on the injured list. Blake Snell has struggled for most of the season, and Ryan Weathers has joined him lately. Injuries have forced Dinelson Lamet to the bullpen. Tommy John surgery rendered Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez out for the year. And top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore simply hasn’t put it all together. Turns out, Joe Musgrove has been the only reliable starting pitcher in the San Diego rotation. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Trevor Story would have a big year going into free agency
It seemed nothing went as planned for Story. He has been among the unluckiest hitters in the Majors in terms of “almost-gone” hits -- balls that would have been home runs in different parks, for example. But it isn’t all luck. Story has hovered in the mid-.200s with his batting average all season, as opposed to the .270s and higher that had been customary. As he felt his swing coming together, Story sustained a right elbow injury that cost him time in May and June. The swing never arrived, his throwing arm wasn’t as powerful as in the past, and whether it was because teams didn’t come with the strongest offers or the Rockies were too stingy, Story stayed put at the Trade Deadline -- preventing him from a chance to jump into a pennant race to potentially increase his free-agency appeal. -- Thomas Harding