With Opening Day nearly upon us, we have been going through predictions for the 2021 season. Recently, we published an article on World Series candidates. While that list hasn’t altered much over the past few seasons, there are five teams that are ready to take a major step forward. The upcoming season should provide opportunities to top prospects such as Alex Kiriloff, Andrew Vaughn, and others to help the landscape of their respective teams.
5. Philadelphia Phillies
As aggressive as the Phillies have been the past several offseasons, they don’t seem like a team that should be on this list. Any roster that has added names such as Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, J.T Realmuto, Jean Segura and hired Joe Girardi as their manager feels like a contending franchise.
In this case, all of the stacking has been just trying to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Last season should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the season was just two months long. The Phillies finished with an 28-32 overall record, which wouldn’t be the worst start to a regular season.
Over the course of a full season, a rotation with Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler and an improving Zach Eflin is primed to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Phillies are just a few pieces away from being a World Series contender.
4. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers strike as a team that most likely won’t be a playoff contender, but there are still reasons to believe the team will be more serious than their 23-35 record suggested last season. Detroit has been rebuilding since their last decent season back in 2016 when they finished with an 86-75 overall record; just missing the playoffs in the process.
Their rebuild is near complete, as some of their top prospects such as Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Casey Mize seem primed to take their next step. Anytime you have three top 20 prospects rising together at the same time, the potential for success is high. They already have an offense that is on the rise, led by fellow young stars in Willi Castro, Victor Reyes and others.
3. San Diego Padres
Like the Phillies, the San Diego Padres have been aggressive the past few offseasons. This time, they made sure to lock up their face of the franchise when they signed Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million extension. He accompanies the 10-year, $300 million deal the front office gave Manny Machado in 2019.
The Padres bolstered their rotation when they added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to join Dinelson Lamet and Joe Musgrove. Their only weakness would be their bullpen, but they added Mark Melancon to join Drew Pomeranz. Both Snell and Darvish have playoff experience, as does Eric Hosmer. If the Padres aren’t a World Series contender, they are the next best thing.
2. New York Mets
The Mets have been in this position before. This isn’t the first time the team seems to be on cusp of playoff contention, but find a way to fall apart at some point during the season.
In July of 2019, New York was 11.5 games out of first place with an 50-55 overall record and were believed to be sellers as rumors of trading Noah Syndergaard were running rampant. Instead, the front office traded two of their top 10 prospects in exchange for Marcus Stroman. Despite criticism, the Mets quickly compiled a 86-76 overall record and finished in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Mets couldn’t hit the ground running in last year’s abbreviated season, as they finished the year with a 26-34 overall record. Still, they answered to the adversity by retaining Stroman to join Jacob deGrom and hopefully a healthy Syndergaard. More importantly, New York added their potential franchise star in Francisco Lindor to join Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Like the Mets, the Blue Jays have been traveling on a long road to get to this point. Their rebuild seems to be coming to a close. They have their own core of young and ascending generational players such as Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vlad Guerrero Jr. As long as they continue at their current pace, Toronto is ready to contend as one of the best offenses in baseball. This comes after adding talents like Marcus Semien and George Springer in free agency.
Their Achilles heel will be the lack of consistency within the pitching staff. Both their rotation and bullpen is thin compared to other rosters, but they are prepared for their first full season with Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Blue Jays are also hopeful for the rise of their top prospect in Nate Pearson, who got his first taste of big-league action last season.