Image credit: Christian Yelich (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
This is one of 10 burning questions comprising Baseball America’s 2021 MLB Season Preview. To see the full preview, click here. Below, our staffers pick their breakout team of 2021 and offer a brief explanation as to why.
Ben Badler — Brewers. I don’t think the Brewers are a great team. But there isn’t an obvious, runaway favorite to win the NL Central this year, opening the door for the Brewers to get to the playoffs if they perform a little bit above their true talent level.
Alexis Brudnicki — Blue Jays. The Blue Jays have worked to make significant additions over the last two offseasons to their young and exciting core, highlighted by big contracts for Hyun-Jin Ryu and George Springer. It might be a surprise to see Toronto rise to the top of a division shared by the Yankees and Rays, but it’s doable.
Mark Chiarelli — Brewers. Milwaukee’s rotation duo of Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes is quietly excellent and will benefit from the addition of Gold Glove defenders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong. Add that to a potent bullpen and a return to MVP-type production for Christian Yelich, and the Brewers will be the class of the NL Central.
Carlos Collazo — Brewers. The Brewers might not be elite in any one area, but they look pretty good across the board. Christian Yellich isn’t going to hit .205 again, and the team should be much better defensively with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong at up-the-middle positions. That should help an already-strong pitching staff.
J.J. Cooper — Twins. If Minnesota ever won a playoff series, it wouldn’t be reasonable to put them here, but since they haven’t done so in the 21st century, predicting them to hold off the White Sox in the AL Central and actually win a playoff series or two seems like a surprise. The lineup remains very deep. While you wish the Twins had a better front to their rotation, they have depth and an impressive bullpen.
Matt Eddy — Indians. No team is as practiced at moving on from star players as Cleveland, which traded Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco and let closer Brad Hand walk. The Indians will weather those departures, just as they weathered the losses of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger before them. The organization is swimming with young big leaguers who could take steps forward, including Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill and others in the rotation; James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase in the bullpen and Josh Naylor, Andres Gimenez, Franmil Reyes, Oscar Mercado and Amed Rosario in the lineup. The farm system runs deep, which could manifest in both callups and trade chips. In other words, do not assume that the Indians are playing for third place in the AL Central.
Kyle Glaser — Phillies. The Phillies offense and rotation were quietly among baseball’s best last year, but they were undone by a historically terrible bullpen. That won’t happen again in 2021, especially with the sneaky-good offseason additions of Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson. The NL East will be tough, but the Phillies have enough to at least post their first winning record since 2011.
Josh Norris — Rays. Yes, they got rid of Blake Snell and lost Charlie Morton, but they added Rich Hill and Michael Wacha and Collin McHugh. If there’s one team that knows how to maximize what it has, it’s the Rays. They should battle for the AL East again in 2021.
Chris Hilburn-Trenkle — Twins. The Twins will undoubtedly be good again this season, but the big surprise will be that the Twins finally exorcise their postseason demons and win not only a playoff game, but a playoff series in 2021.