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2021 Know Your Enemy Season Preview: The Top Tier

“Siri, play Know Your Enemy by Green Day”

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Milwaukee Brewers
TLR stares down his opponents.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to 2021, White Sox fans! We’re in the home stretch of the pandemic, with some people getting vaccinations and others like me being classified as Phase “LOL 2022 if You’re Lucky.” I’ll be jealous of you all who get to see teams live.

But I digress, let’s get to business.

For this season preview, we’re starting off with the first 14 teams in order of 2020 finish (excluding our beloved White Sox). So sit back, relax, strap it down, and enjoy some totally irrelevant analysis.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers had one of the most talked-about offseasons in, well, this year. Not only did they sign big dumb a-hole Trevor Bauer in the most obnoxious media storm since LeBron left Cleveland, they were able to re-sign COVID-free Justin Turner for two more years, and manage to avoid arbitration with Walker Buehler and Austin Barnes. Bauer has been bringing his usual crap during spring training with pitching with one-eye open as well as not trying as hard to strike batters out when he gets in to the fifth inning. You got what you paid for, Dodgers. In non-player news, Ron Roenicke was hired as special assistant to GM after tanking the Red Sox last season. Cody Bellinger is coming back from offseason surgery (after a very Eloy-like injury, hurting his shoulder celebrating) so don’t expect too many differences in his game. Joc Pederson absconded to the Cubs, but overall the Dodgers kept the band together and are looking for another World Series title ASAP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Coming off an awesome 2020 season, the Rays didn’t make too many big moves. Signings include old friend Kevan Smith and Michael Wacha, while re-signing Chris Archer. Rich Hill is set to become the oldest pitcher in Rays history (but only if he appears in a game from May 24 onwards) after turning 41 during spring training. Other random Rays facts include when Brent Honeywell reaches the bigs he will be the second player to reach the majors from Franklin County High School in Royston, Ga. (the first? Ty Cobb) and Brandon Lowe’s wife recently launched Sweet and Lowe Bakery, which features custom cakes and cookies. Tampa also has like a dozen guys named “Lowe,” and they all pronounce their name differently. The Rays are looking to correct the mistake of pulling the since-traded Blake Snell during the World Series, so they’ll be out for blood this season. In making a game out of small-market Moneyball, the Rays are not making a lot of splashy-splashy signings down in Florida.

San Diego Padres

Ever since they signed Manny Machado, the Padres have demanded that you take them seriously (rightfully so). One of the major disappointments of the truncated regional 2020 season was not being able to witness Slam Diego live. Luckily Fernando Tatís Jr. is sticking around for a little bit, so there’s hope for us being able to enjoy him live yet. San Diego took time this offseason to beef up its pitching staff with trades for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove, all of whom will definitely help since they’re probably losing Jacob Nix to Tommy John surgery. Victor Caratini was brought on as Darvish’s personal catcher (essentially) so he may only be seeing work behind the plate every few days once Austin Nola returns from injury. The Padres are definitely going to be the “fun” choice in baseball for the next few years, and are able to back up their record with power at the plate and speed on the bases.

Minnesota Twins

Well the Twins did some things this offseason, probably in the hopes of snapping their postseason winless streak. Signings include (bringing back to torment us) Nelson Cruz, Andrelton Simmons, JA Happ, perpetually poker-faced Alex Colomé, Matt Shoemaker, and Hansel Robles — but faced tough losses in Jake Odorizzi, Eddie Rosario, Trevor May, Tyler Clippard, Sergio Romo, Rich Hill, Matt Wisler, Marwin Gonzalez, Homer Bailey, Alex Avila, Ehire Adrianza, and Sean Poppen. That is ... quite the list. The addition of Simmons is as much of a splash for the Twins as they could muster, and there’s hope that it plays out. If it doesn’t, they’re out $10 million, but it’s just a one-year deal. Everyone’s favorite projection system, PECOTA, has the Twins in first place in the AL Central. But because projections can be mostly garbage, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. And if they do make it to the postseason, there’s always the option of a round, 20-year loss streak.

Oakland A’s

I always wonder whether it’s worth noting who the A’s got in the offseason because they’ll be traded away by the All-Star break. I want the A’s to be good. I want them to be one of those ragtag teams that can just make it all the way to win the World Series on pluck and grit. That is a pipe dream, because team ownership is one who cries poor, and they’ve needed a new stadium since 1995. Luckily their baseball operations team is pretty good at the copy-and-paste to field decent teams, year after year. The contention window is slim with the ownership budget restrictions, so I’m not optimistic that they won’t get bounced early again (White Sox fans feel for you, A’s fans). We know the A’s are cheap because there’s a whole movie about it, plus they floated a weird installment offer to Marcus Semien. Notably, the A’s got Elvis Andrus from the Rangers, which is just going to look strange, especially after we all finally adjusted to Adrian Beltre not being alongside him. They lost Reliever of the Year Liam Hendriks to the White Sox (thank you!), but knowing Oakland it will manage to shock us all, because baseball can be magical.

Atlanta Braves

After three straight NL East titles and a trip to the NLCS, Atlanta came thisclose to making it to the World Series last year and they’re definitely going to be out for blood. We’re going to see the return of Marcell Ozuna and Freddie Freeman, plus the additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. The 2021 season may also see the return of William Contreras behind the plate and Pablo Sandoval on the infield. Mike Soroka will be returning to the bullpen from a torn Achilles injury, and we all are familiar with Max Fried’s abilities. Offense in Atlanta looms large with the returns of Ozuna, Austin Riley, and a possibly back-to-2015-levels Travis d’Arnaud. Ozzie Albies didn’t have the best 2020, but there’s more time to get him back to 2019 in this coming season, as the short 2020 didn’t allow room for errors or slumps.

Cleveland Baseball Team

The Big News of Cleveland’s offseason was the fact that they let Francisco Lindor go to the Mets rather than pay him what he’s worth. Carlos Carrasco soon followed him to the Big Apple. Cleveland’s loss is New York’s gain. Carlos Santana went on to the greener (?) pastures of Kansas City, and Brad Hand is off to Washington. The good news is that they managed to keep ace Shane “Not Justin” Bieber around as well as José Ramírez. The 2020 season was overall not a great time for Cleveland after they got bounced out of the Wild Card. They also managed to snag Eddie Rosario from the Twins in free agency. This feels standard for Cleveland, because as soon as the team is in the position to compete, ownership gets trade-happy (did they take a lesson from Oakland?). I’m honestly surprised they let Lindor go when he is the quintessential franchise player.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs played their new favorite offseason game of “We’re broke!” but at least this time they could use the pandemic as an excuse. David Ross was a pleasant surprise in not being a total disaster as a first-time manager, so he’s back for his second season. The Cubs played bullpen roulette and saw Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester, and José Quintana all leave for other pastures (greener or not are yet to be seen). Jake Arireta, Craig Kimbrel, and Trevor Williams need to bounce back if the Cubs have any hope of competing without doing real work to replace parts. Kyle Schwarber went off to the Nationals and the constant noise around Kris Bryant continued (given how much fans appear to hate him I wouldn’t blame Bryant for throwing up two middle fingers and going anywhere else). Javier Baez could pee on the field and MLB would still write a three-page soliloquy on how wonderful he is while fans chant “MVP!” One big notable get for the North Siders was Joc Pederson, who will provide a power bat to the order.

New York Yankees

The Yankees have had some ups-and-downs the past couple years, managing to perfect the “so close but so far” of the postseason, including losing the 2019 ALCS on a walk-off from the Houston Asterisks and ending 2020 with a revenge homer by Mike Brousseau (off noted gun enthusiast Aroldis Chapman). The Yankees haven’t been big spenders in the recent offseason, with their biggest signing simply bringing back DJ LeMahieu. Obviously having Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleybar Torres in the lineup is nothing to sneeze at. Torres will be looking to right the ship after a dismal 2020, which feels more like a one-off fluke than anything. The Yankees rotation is not something to take lightly, either, with arms including Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber. Kluber is a question mark going into Opening Day, but once his shoulder heals he’ll be back to terrorizing the America League.

Toronto Blue Jays

After the fruitful rebuild paying off earlier than expected, the Blue Jays put in some WORK this winter. They managed to acquire George Springer, Marcus Semien, Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, and Kirby Yates (who then popped his elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery). The AL East is a tough group to play against, and the bluebirds are coming to fight. On top of their acquisitions, the have a juicy lineup that includes Vlad Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel, and Bo Bichette (a name that is more hockey than baseball IMO). After coming in third in runs scored in the AL, adding Springer to the mix can only bring that ranking up. The bullpen wasn’t a great point of pride for the Blue Jays, coming in 10th in the AL in ERA. Adding Matz should help bolster the rotation though.

St. Louis Cardinals

Fredbird the Redbird is back to terrify the masses in 2021, as fans are allowed in the ballpark. The big acquisition for the Cards this winter was Nolan Arenado (arriving for surprisingly cheap) and the Cardinals are always the NL Central favorites, whether it’s deserved or not. Despite not ending on top of the division in 2020 they still managed to make the postseason due to the weird rules and having to play 53 games in 44 days after COVID showed that it’s not a part of their fanbase. Yadier Molina is still on the Cardinals. Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright are still in the rotation, but they need to make improvements after disappointing 2020 seasons. Kwang Hyun Kim is looking at his second season Stateside and made solid appearances last year when he was brought out. Keep your eye on Tony La Russa when we play the Cards, though, to ensure his loyalties are where they should be.

Miami Marlins

It’s safe to say the Marlins were another star of the 2020 season. They reached the playoffs for the first time in 17 years and made White Sox fans root for them by giving the Cubs a boot out of the postseason, in the Wild Card series. Now that we are back to no universal DH, full 162 games, and no expanded playoffs, predictions have the Marlins back in the basement of the NL East. The big news of the offseason was the addition of Kim Ng to run Miami’s front office, an Ng who has been qualified for the job far longer than any new GMs of the last five (or 15) years. That’s really the big news of the Marlins offseason, but keep an eye on these fun “bottom-feeders” in 2021.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds had so much potential going in to 2020. They still had Trevor Bauer (ugh) from their trade with Cleveland, while Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas signed on in free agency. Then the Reds were the Reds, and went downhill fast. They were one of those teams who were able to fall in to the expanded playoffs, but were roundly bounced out by Atlanta — without scoring a run! Going into 2021, they said farewell to Bauer and his obnoxious free agency circus, freeing up some money. They still have Castellanos and Moustakas along with Jesse Winkler, and of course Joey Votto. Their bullpen has potential with the addition of the always-delightful Sean Doolittle. Luis Castillo is back as well, the Opening Day starter coming off a 2020 with a 3.21 ERA and 4-6 record. In his final five starts, he went 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA. Really, 2020 wasn’t all bad for Cincinnati because it can always say it was the team that got Bauer his Cy Young in a pandemic.

Houston Astros

I’m working on a theory that the Astros actually manufactured COVID to prevent fans from watching them live and booing loudly. (Please don’t take that joke seriously, wash your hands and wear your mask). In the meantime, they posted their first losing record since 2014, which feels almost like justice for all their cheating shenanigans. They lost George Springer to the Blue Jays in the offseason, so the team will need improvements from Josee Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman if they want to bounce back from the losing season. It’s worth noting that the return of Yordan Alvarez from knee surgery fills some of the batting issues with the DH spot. In the rotation, the Astros brought in Jake Odorizzi to fill a gap in the rotation left by Justin Verlander, who is out the season with Tommy John. Prospect Forrest Whitley was looking it be a permanent spot in the majors before he tore his UCL and is also undergoing Tommy John. The days are numbered for Zack Greinke (37 years old) and Lance McCullers Jr. (made of peanut brittle) so there’s a potential gap for the AL to exploit. Defensively, Myles Straw is poised to fill the Springer-shaped hole in center that resulted from Jim Crane not wanting to spend. Straw has speed, but not much else going for him.

Part 2 — the Bottom Feeders — and a podcast discussing the MLB season, goes up on Saturday!