After an abbreviated 60-game season in 2020, MLB returned to the marathon that is a 162-game season in 2021. With the 2021 regular season now in the books, here's a look at 25 things we learned along the way.
Anaheim's season probably would have gone sideways even if they had effective pitching this season, considering all the time Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon missed due to injuries, but the team's lack of pitching remained a killer. Shohei Ohtani was the team's only consistent starting pitcher, as the team finished in the bottom third of the league in ERA once again. The organization has taken efforts to address that area, at least, spending their entire 2021 draft on pitchers.
The O's season seemed over before it began, but even the biggest pessimists probably didn't foresee how bad it could get in 2021. The team was historically bad, with a run differential of almost -300 and finishing nearly 40 games out of fourth place. Baltimore does have several top prospects on the way in 2022 and some players to build around with Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle, but next year couldn't come soon enough.
Maligned for their cheating scandal, the Astros were expected by many to regress in 2021 between the pressure of the fans and the loss of George Springer. Despite missing an injured Alex Bregman for much of the year, the team just kept on hitting, leading MLB in runs scored for much of the year with big years from Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, and company.
Almost overnight the Brewers produced one of the best top three of a starting rotation in recent memory with breakout years from Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, adding to young ace Brandon Woodruff. With the added second-half emergence of Eric Lauer and a great year from James Houser, Milwaukee's rotation finished the year with the second-best ERA in MLB and easily won the NL Central.
There wasn't much expected of the Giants this season with a crew of old veterans and some under-the-radar offseason moves, but the team managed to exceed all expectations. Many of those veterans, including Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Kevin Gausman, seemed to exceed all expectations, and an unconventional coaching staff was a big reason. The team shocked the world by winning the NL West and has a chance to make even more noise in the playoffs.
St. Louis seemed to have very little chance of playoff contention at the trade deadline, and the acquisition of past-their-prime pitchers Jon Lester and J.A. Happ provoked a collective eye roll from the league. However, the Cardinals kicked it into high gear in September with 17 straight wins to easily claim the final NL Wild Card spot. The team has continued to be just good enough under manager Mike Shildt.
The Padres were crowned the overwhelming winners last year after acquiring Trent Grisham and Zach Davies from the Brewers for Eric Lauer and Luis Urias. One year later, that conclusion seems laughable. Grisham regressed this season and Davies had a terrible season on the Cubs, while Lauer and Urias were key to Milwaukee's NL Central title. After finishing with a 3.19 ERA, Lauer looks like a fourth ace for the imposing Brew Crew.
The defending champion Dodgers are being forced into a Wild Card game despite winning more than 100 games, easily leading MLB in run differential. The team has potentially historic talent, adding Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to a team of stars that also includes Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias, Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, and more. It seems improbable, but the team could literally be one-and-done in the playoffs.
The White Sox made the shocking decision to hire Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa at age 76, 10 years since he'd last been in the dugout. The decision was heavily criticized, and La Russa had some major managing hiccups. Still, he seemed universally well-liked by the team, and they played hard for him all season, easily winning the AL Central. He will try to win his fourth World Series for his third organization in October.
The Tigers farm system looked strong before 2021, particularly pitching, and things look even better after manager A.J. Hinch's first season. Renowned for his player development prowess, Hinch helped navigate a team of youngsters who play near .500 ball while getting the most out of future stars Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Akil Baddoo. The next layer of prospects could make this team a contender with Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene likely to make impacts next season.
The Marlins have continued to struggle since an ownership group that includes Jeter has taken over. The team did avoid 100 losses but struggled all season offensively. While Miami has some intriguing pitching, led by Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Rogers, they also had some discouraging developments on that end with Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Elieser Hernandez missing significant time due to injuries.
A big-budget isn't everything, as the Rays and A's have shown in recent years, but it can certainly make a difference in either a positive or negative way. Look no further than the Cubs' disastrous season. Chicago was quiet last offseason until late, and even their significant moves like the addition of Jake Arrieta were made on the cheap. Without the ability to spend in the offseason, the Cubs had a flawed roster and eventually a firesale at the trade deadline.
If you were told Gerrit Cole would have a Cy Young level season, and Yankees power hitters Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge would stay healthy in 2021, the smart money would be on the team winning the AL East. Yet, New York just barely made the playoffs, as they got sub-par seasons offensively from DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela, and the pitching was stretched thin. It's a tribute to Aaron Boone and company that the team did pull off a successful season, but the year will also go down as a disappointment unless they have playoff success.
For those that thought new ownership in Queens would cure all ills, 2021 was a reality check. New owner Steve Cohen spent big to add Francisco Lindor, James McCann, and Taijuan Walker last offseason, yet still had an anemic offense, too many injuries, and embarrassing messes off the field. The Mets need more change in 2022.
The Padres were the biggest headliners of last offseason, revamping their starting rotation by adding aces Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove. Unfortunately, that trio wasn't enough, as the team struggled with injuries and suffered due to their lack of depth. The point is worth remembering when the next big spender emerges this winter.
Since he came from Japan in 2018, Ohtani's attempt as a two-way player has been questioned. The naysayers had more fuel when Ohtani struggled with arm issues and wildness on the mound over the last two years, but he was finally able to put it all together this season with an MVP campaign. If Ohtani is able to keep this up over the next decade, he could be considered the greatest baseball player ever.
If you were predicting the worst teams in MLB before the 2021 season started, Arizona, Washington, and Minnesota probably wouldn't be in the conversation. Yet, sometimes when things go wrong, they go really wrong. Those three organizations quickly went from hope of contention to a likely rebuild in just one year.
Soto has done nothing but rake since his arrival to the majors at age 19 in 2018. He seems to take his game to another level with each passing season and might have won his first MVP on one of the NL's worst teams after leading the league in batting average, walks, and on-base percentage. After posting an incredible .490 on-base percentage last season, he showed it wasn't a fluke over the full 2021 season and is in historic company with his production through his age 22 season.
The leader of the Royals roster over the last decade, Perez has taken his game to another level with his bat over the last two seasons. After hitting .333 last season, he set a new catcher home run record this year while leading the AL in home runs and RBI. Still, only 31, Perez's career trajectory has quickly gone from very good player to very possibly a Hall of Famer.
Coming off a terrible 2020 season in which he finished with a 6.62 ERA, Ray had to settle for a one-year deal with Toronto. There were rightfully doubts about his future after walking 45 batters in 51.2 innings last season, but the lefty completely turned his career around. He looks like the likely AL Cy Young winner after leading the league in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, and should be in for a huge payday this offseason.
Tampa Bay claimed the AL East for the second consecutive year despite losing Charlie Morton and Blake Snell in the offseason, and later losing ace Tyler Glasnow to a major elbow injury this season. Despite those injuries, better drafting and player evaluation has allowed the organization to just reload with talented rookies like Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Luis Patino, Shane Baz, and Wander Franco making significant contributions. Tampa Bay will now try to win the ultimate prize for the first time, a World Series.
We heard for years about second-generation MLB prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Bo Bichette. That trio put it all together this year with elite seasons, and second-generation shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr. is arguably the game's best prospect, showing just how bright the future of baseball talent is looking beyond 2021.
Max Scherzer might have sealed his fourth career Cy Young Award after an incredible run on the Dodgers late in the year, and did so at age 37. Lance Lynn was also in AL Cy Young contention for much of the season at age 34, and Adam Wainwright emerged as the Cardinals ace again 40. Baseball might be more of a young man's game now, but we shouldn't ever count out proven veterans.
It takes constant adjustments for hitters to have longevity in today's MLB. Joey Votto is a great example, changing his approach at age 37 to hit 30 home runs for only the third time in his career. The big year wasn't enough for the Reds to make the playoffs, but it certainly made things more fun in Cincy.
Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.