This is a week of great excitement for the New York Yankees and all the other MLB teams; spring training is in full swing, and the Yankees have their first exhibition game this Sunday against the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. In just a few days, the long wait during a cold winter that saw the coronavirus surge will be over, and fans can again enjoy baseball games, even if they are only training games; some may even be in the stands according to local health policy.
Today MLB.com has released the first power rankings of the season. The New York Yankees came in at number 3 of the 30 teams. It’s not surprising that the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, with their amazing pitching rotation, came in as number one. Following them is the San Diego Padres, a team that did the most to improve their team in the offseason. They now have a pitching rotation that nearly rivals the Dodgers. The Yankees could be number one, but with questions revolving around the pitching rotation’s stability, the placement is not without reason.
The voters for MLB.com were Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn.
# 1 Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have the best and most proven pitching rotation in baseball. The old saying that good pitching outweighs good hitting is true, and has worked for the Dodgers winning their first World Series since 1988. The Dodgers had beat the Yankees in the World Series only three times, once in 1955 when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers and again in 1963 and 1981.
The Dodgers record during 2020 would equate to a 116 game winning season if it were 162 games. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler leading the way for a staff that has a 3.02 ERA for the season, the best in baseball. This year they have David Price, who opted out last season back with the staff. The Dodger’s biggest move is acquiring the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Trevor Bauer to add to an already scary starting rotation setting up for a fight as to who will be the starting ace.
# 2 San Diego Padres
As I said in my introduction, no team did as much to improve their team like the San Diego Padres, so much so that the Padres will likely be barking at the Dodgers’ heels all season who are in the same division. Last season they got shot down, losing Mike Clevinger to Tommy John Surgery and Dinelson Lamet with an elbow ailment that caused him to miss games late in the season and all the postseason games. For a team that hoped to contend, this was a big blow.
The season the Padres are taking no chances. The acquired Black Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays; he will certainly be the ace for the Padres. They also acquired Yu Darvish, who will follow him in the rotation. If Dinelson Lamet is healthy, he will be number three. He pitched to a 2.09 ERA last season. The Padres also got Joe Musgrove from the Pirates. Add to that they have Ha-Seong Kim and three major league-ready pitchers in the minors. The fight for the NL West is going to be very interesting.
# 3 New York Yankees
The New York Yankees have not won a World Series since 2009. Before the 2020 season, the Yankees went out and got the best pitcher in baseball Gerrit Cole to get to a 28th World Championship. The Yankees depended on the rotation that included Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Jordan Montgomery to get them there. But for the fourth year in a row, it didn’t work out, mostly attributed to the pitching.
The Yankees basically scraped the rotation by letting Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ walk into free agency. That created the biggest change in the look of the Yankees in years. They hired two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber and traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for starter Jameson Taillon. The starting rotation will now be Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and most likely Domingo German. Still, if they don’t go with German, they have a bevy of major league-ready pitchers to go to.
The Yankees have one of the most powerful hitting lineups in baseball, including last year’s batting champ and last season’s home run winner. How the New York Yankees do in 2021 is all about the health of the lineup and the pitching staff that have three pitchers that didn’t pitch last season.
# 4 Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves are always contenders, and this season will be no different. They have won three straight NL East titles and have improved the team over the offseason to make that again a reality. They added pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to the mix. Their starting rotation will be Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Drew Smyly, and Kyle Wright; the Braves use a six-man rotation.
With Marcell Ozuna’s resigning and having Freddie Freeman healthy again, the Braves are in a pretty good place. Freeman had one of the worst cases of the coronavirus in baseball but rebounded to win the NL MVP Award last season.
# 5 New York Mets
This year, it may be a surprise, but the Mets will be contenders this season also; the Mets and the Braves will likely fight for first in the NL East. The Braves made upgrades in their pitching, but so did the Mets. The Mets win out for having the best ace in Jacob deGrom. He is followed by newly acquired Carlos Carasco, Marcus Stroman, Tiajuan Walker, David Peterson, and Joey Lucchesi. The Mets also use a six-man rotation.
Much of the hype this year for the Mets is its new owner Steve Cohen and his attempt to make the Mets the best team in New York. He showed that commitment by getting the services of the best shortstop in baseball in Francisco Lindor.
Rounding out the top ten are number 6, the Chicago White Sox, who made several upgrades, the Minnesota Twins, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays, and finally the Houston Astros. The Boston Red Sox are number 19, and the Orioles, Rockies, and Pirates anchored the list.
The ratings are from MLB.com, but the commentary is from this writer. EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. You can follow him on Twitter @parleewilliam.