The reigning 2020 series world champion, Los Angeles Dodgers, enters the 2021 season as a favorite. Indeed, the best scenario for this year’s LA squad is downright scary. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the league will just lie down and watch the Dodgers roll to successive titles.
With that in mind, we asked five of our ESPN MLB experts to each choose a team that they thought would be best placed to take out the Dodgers – in October when it matters most. While none of our pundits necessarily expect this team to be better than LA on the 162-game long haul, they have all made their strongest arguments as to why their pick could be the team to push LA out of the postseason. How bad were their cases? Well, we’ve left that to our resident judge, the Honorable Jeff Passan, to rule on each case with his decision.
The case for the White Sox: If ever a team explodes, it’s this year’s White Sox. Last year Chicago had the AL’s second best offensive, though Yoan Moncada had a year off after contracting COVID-19 and the Sox had massive holes in the right field and DH. This year they filled those holes with a veteran Adam Eaton and a top rookie of the year in Andrew Vaughn, two upgrades whose capabilities balance the lineup. And Moncada is a direct hit.
There is no question that the loss of Eloy Jimenez takes a bite out of the White Sox’s chances of hitting October. But if they are able to make up for his absence until he returns late in the season, the White Sox will become the team nobody – including the Dodgers – wants to face in the playoffs. At this point, the White Sox will really be one to nine in the line-up with at least four players – Jose Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez and Luis Robert – able to host an MVP season. Then when the White Sox get into the playoffs, they’ll have a solid veteran rotation for October and a ballpoint pen with flamethrowers (Codi Heuer, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet) who will close the gap to Chicago’s new elite, Liam Hendriks. – Bradford Doolittle
Judge Jeff says: The court won’t spend too much time failing to make your decision Tim Anderson of Chicago’s MVP candidates. Problematic, however, is your unwillingness to acknowledge what a meeting with the Dodgers might rule out: a rotation that isn’t exactly “built for October”. Lance Lynn hasn’t started a postseason game since 2014. Lucas Giolito started a career after the season. in the Dallas gaspAfter the last eight playoff starts, he has passed more than five innings once. This is built for October like I’m built for the beach. As much as Moncada’s health should help the White Sox, there are a number of regression candidates, starting with Abreu and Anderson.
None of that means the White Sox are a bad choice. The evidence threshold just has to be higher. Application refused.
The case for the padres: Um, A.J. Preller made the case for me this winter: Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Jurickson Profar, Mark Melancon, Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis Jr.. OK, Tatis was already on the team, but locking him up for 14 years was just another sign that this team is serious about winning big. Tati’s recent shoulder injury is definitely worrying, but I’m not ready to jump a ship as his prognosis is decent (for now, at least).
I understand that teams that win the winter sometimes have a lot of holes to fill, but that wasn’t the case with the Padres. And that’s why they can challenge the Dodgers. They already had a really good team. Now they have a great one that includes a deeper pitching team.
The fact that the two teams are in the same division is actually a plus. To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Padres will try again this year with 19 attempts. You can’t tell me this won’t improve the Padres’ competitive spirit. If ever there is a time to beat a multi-year division winner, it is right after winning a World Series. The Padres will smell blood in the water the moment the Dodgers show signs of hangover. And of course, this all depends on San Diego’s recent update that Tatis will be back and how the superstar he will be sooner rather than later will play. – Jesse Rogers
Judge Jeff says: “To be the man, you have to beat the man” is the saying, advisor, and no good argument starts with a bad imitation of Ric Flair. However, the padres present a reasonable case. Their depth of rotation actually matches that of the Dodgers, especially when Darvish is mimicking his 2020 self, Musgrove is making his expected step forward and Dinelson Lamet stay healthy. The line-up is excellent and deep – although Kim has been looking above average since spring training – and the bullpen is on par with Los Angeles.
Application approved, with a four-legged lock to the lawyer who disrespected the Nature Boy.
The case for the braves: If not for the dizzying amount of games L.A. made to break a 3-1 deficit in last year’s National League Championship Series – many of them passed Mookie Betts – We wouldn’t even have this discussion. The Braves could and should have defeated the Dodgers and should probably move up to last year’s World Series. And since they didn’t make it the penultimate round, the Braves have added Charlie Morton to the top of their rotation and brought back Marcell Ozuna for the middle of their lineup. Before the end of April Mike Sorokawho has already turned into one of the best young pitchers in the game, should return from a torn Achilles tendon.
The top of their lineup (Ronald acuna jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Ozuna) and the tip of their rotation (Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Morton and Soroka) is as good as anyone else at the sport, including the Dodgers. Her bullpen is stacked, her 40 man roster is deep and Cristian Pache – mostly forgotten on this list – could be the National League Rookie of the Year 2021. If you were to give Dodger’s players the truth serum and ask which team they’d rather avoid in a best of seven series, I’d bet most of them would even get these braves over the padres. Your flukish slow start – the product of really close losses – will soon be a slip on your radar. – Alden Gonzalez
Judge Jeff says: That’s a damn good case. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their top four of the season. But don’t forget your thin bank. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their top four of the season. But don’t forget their thin bench that seems to be only supported by Pablo Sandoval. This is still the NL and the Braves will have to upgrade at close of trade to better match the designated batsman who is no longer in play in the late innings. That is, application approved.
The case for the Yankees: With all the hype surrounding many of the talented young baseball teams like the Padres, Braves and White Sox, the Yankees are still the Yankees. You still have Aaron Richter, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton In the middle of the line-up, of course, apart from injuries. You still have Gerrit Cole at the front of their rotation and anchored by a bullpen Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Zack Britton. Throw in Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and you have a group that can easily keep up with you Los Angeles Dodgers as the most talented team in sport. To mention the Yankees have a chance to win the championship is like saying LeBron has a chance to win an NBA final, but sometimes the boring choice is still the right choice. – Joon Lee
Judge Jeff says: While I appreciate Mr. Lee’s attempt to spontaneously eliminate the Yankees’ penchant for injury, there is an undeniable element of skepticism about them for not staying healthy. It’s difficult to buy the Yankees’ idea without taking that leap – a leap that goes beyond Stanton and Judge to Kluber, Taillon and Luis Severinoreturning from surgery on Tommy John. Complicating matters is an AL East that is not a cake. The Blue Jays were a playoff team last year and are better this season. The Rays beat the Yankees in last year’s postseason and are always a threat. Boston is better. Baltimore, as the Red Sox found out on the opening weekend, is not a cake run either.
New York may be AL East’s favorite, and it has the knack for dethroning the Dodgers, but this dish has to see half a season of health from the principles before clinging to a cart that is always missing a wheel. And Gleyber Torres must catch the dungball too. Application refused.
The case for the Mets: I originally wanted to go here with the Nationals, but how do I choose them afterwards? Max Scherzer gave up four runs on the opening day !? So I choose the Mets instead. Yes, coming through NL Ost is like surviving the Hagler-Leonard-Duran-Hearns snail festivals of the 1980s. But if the Mets do that, they can roll out an October rotation from Jacob deGrom … and well, they have other good starters like Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, and hopefully Carlos Carrasco will be healthy and Noah Syndergaard returns around the mid-season. But it’s all about deGrom. He’s so good that he started his season with 24 straight fastballs. It beats more than 100 mph with ease. He paints the corners. This is deGrom’s year. He is capable of a Madison Bumgarner– 2014 similar run and closure of the Dodgers lineup. (The Mets can hit a little too.) – David Schoenfield
Judge Jeff says: Well, the last team to beat the Dodgers in the postseason was the Nationals. So I see where you’ve gone with that first thought, but if you choose another NL-Ost team to beat the Dodgers, the Mets might be a better candidate for this season. (Screams from Philadelphia) There’s actually an argument that the Nationals are more likely to miss the playoffs than beat the Dodgers.
They have the best pitcher in the world in deGrom and that rotation including Stroman, Walker and – if they return from injuries – Syndergaard and Carrasco is dangerous enough to follow what the Nats did against LA in 2019 is little too early to adopt that all of these pitchers will be in tip-top shape on the hill by October. What if manager Luis Rojas can’t turn one of them into a super helper and has to stick with this bullpen? Well, that means the move has been rejected – for now.