Spring Training camps are in full swing, players are in the best shape of their lives and baseball cliches are being debated on Twitter -- all hints that glimmers of normalcy are starting to poke through. With that, let’s kick off our first Power Rankings of the spring season, with an eye on what to watch in 2021.
This isn’t difficult -- when a team has too many aces among its crowded field of starting pitchers and the biggest conundrum entering Spring Training is which potential All-Stars will get pushed to the bullpen ... well, you get the drift.
The Dodgers were already the perceived best team in baseball, then they added reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. So while we’re drooling over the notion of watching the Dodgers and Padres claw each other for the top spot in the NL West -- and we fully expect that to happen -- for now, Los Angeles gets deference as No. 1 in our Power Rankings.
Fun fact: the Dodgers’ record over last year’s 60-game season translates to 116 wins over a full campaign, which would have tied the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs for the most in baseball history.
Non-San Diegans probably know more about Yu Darvish and Blake Snell at this point, but there are others who could help tip the NL West scales in the Padres’ favor -- namely, Dinelson Lamet, who, in the wise words of MLB.com Padres beat reporter AJ Cassavell, “is really, really good, you guys.”
If Lamet is healthy, this rotation could rival the Dodgers' staff. It’s a big if, but it's also a promising one. Lamet was shut down early in 2020 with arm issues, and that was a big blow. But if that leads to him being healthy in ’21 and beyond, then it was more than worth it. The test will be when Lamet is cleared to ramp up his throwing program and test out the slider. Stay tuned.
Position battles always headline the news this time of year, but in the Yankees’ case, it’s the position battle that isn’t happening that is drawing attention. After several springs of having to fight for a role on the Opening Day roster, Clint Frazier's status has been elevated to projected starting left fielder. He rounds out an outfield that includes Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge, with Giancarlo Stanton projected as the designated hitter.
One general theory among those who like to theorize is that the Braves, winners of three straight NL East titles, will have to prove they aren’t up to the task before we anoint another team as the kings of that division. So while the Mets look ready for a fight, the Braves, however imperfect, get the edge here.
Atlanta needed rotation depth and added Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly; it re-signed Marcell Ozuna, deciding his offensive upside is worth taking on the problematic defensive shortcomings. And the Braves have Freddie Freeman, who, by the way, had arguably one of the worst COVID-19 cases in baseball and rebounded to win the NL MVP Award last year. So yeah, the Braves are probably going to be very good, again.
OK, so while we clearly believe the Braves are going to finish ahead of the Mets in the NL East race, we’re just as certain this will be a race that will be undecided heading into the final stretch. Regardless of whether it’s Braves-Mets or Mets-Braves, it’s guaranteed to be a fun run to October.
What’s different this year than the past, when expectations for the Mets started high but ended with a thud? New York had a legitimately productive offseason and fortified its roster with winners. That includes Carlos Carrasco -- a major upgrade to that rotation.
The rest of the field of 30
- White Sox
- Blue Jays
- Red Sox
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn