MLB Preview: Who are the contenders for baseball’s 2021 World Series?
By Tom Scarborough
Longer evenings, milder temperatures and the pesky dawn racket of songbirds. Spring is undoubtedly a season for the senses; listen closely and you’ll also hear the distant first cracks of bat striking ball.
After a truncated 2020 campaign, MLB returns this year with a fully stacked programme. Pre-season ballgames are now underway in Arizona and Florida, signalling opening day on 1st April is just around the corner.
Tom Scarborough looks at 2021’s World Series contenders and the crucial players in each clubhouse.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Hollywood’s reigning champions are intent on becoming MLB’s first back-to-back top dogs since the 1999/2000 New York Yankees. Easily baseball’s strongest outfit, the Dodgers have attended three of the past four World Series.
They’ve upgraded even further during the off-season, signing 2020 Cy Young Award winner (prized to the best pitcher in each league), Trevor Bauer. Bauer slots into a star-studded pitching roster, spearheaded by Clayton Kershaw, who last year became MLB’s recordholder for the most strikeouts in play-off games (207). 2020 World Series MVP Corey Seager leads the infield, whilst Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger will certainly build upon their impressive championship season, both outfield and at bat.
Capturing their first World Series since 1988 has given the Dodgers a taste for triumph. They’ll undeniably be amongst the favourites to reach the finals once again in 2021.
San Diego Padres
Hot on the Dodgers’ trail are divisional rivals San Diego. The 2020 Padres finished only six games behind Los Angeles in the National League (NL) West and their success can be traced to talisman Fernando Tatís Jr. The Dominican enjoyed a spectacular 2020, ranking in the top two of both runs and home runs scored. During the off-season, the Padres secured the “face of baseball” to an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract extension.
The Padres’ aggressive spending has also enticed heavyweight pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darvish to southern California. Between them, Snell and Darvish have five All-Star appearances, and both have been pitching wins league leaders in past seasons.
“Slam Diego” are going for it and must be considered serious championship contenders. A Wild Card play-off run could carry the Padres to a first World Series victory in their 52-year history.
New York Yankees
The 2010s marked the first decade in 100-years that baseball’s most recognisable team hadn’t featured in the World Series. According to the bookies, the Yankees are finally championship contenders once more.
The Yanks will be craving for Aaron Judge to continue his elite 2020 form. Batting machine Judge began last season in impressive fashion, hitting home runs in five consecutive games. The Yankees’ biggest business this winter was to re-sign utility infielder DJ LeMahieu on a six-year deal. LeMahieu finished with the highest average batting rate in the American League (AL) in 2020.
On the mound, Gerrit Cole remains the Yankees’ pitching ace. Baseball’s highest-paid arm is yet to taste World Series success; being a life-long Yankees fan gives Cole extra impetus to bring a 28th World Series pennant to the Bronx.