Remember: This 2021 season began with Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, a 37-year-old veteran at the time, hitting a home run to the opposite side under a snowfall and then slipping confusedly to second base.
It was clear, at that precise moment, that this year was going to be like any other in the history of this great game: absolutely unpredictable.
Here are eight things that absolutely none of us (no, not even you, stop bragging) saw coming.
1. The Giants have the best record in all of baseball
But that is not all. They also have one of the best records since Wildcard was established!
With a .647 winning average when the weekend began, the Giants have the 11th-best record for any team since 1995. And taking out last year’s 60-game season, it would be the ninth-best. The Giants are also on pace to post the 8th-best winning percentage in franchise history and the best since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
Not pretending to be disrespectful to Gabe Kapler’s guys, but how did this happen?
Everything indicated that we would have a fierce battle between the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West. We wondered if the two were going to win more than 100 games, given the quality present in both rosters and what seemed easy opponents in the division. And even if you thought the Giants were going to fight for a spot in October, it was impossible to assume they would play this well.
Much of the success has revolved around the ability of the president of the baseball operations department, Farhan Zaidi, and his entire team to find value under the radar in players like Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf, Lamonte Wade Jr. and many others who have made this team so surprisingly complete and fun.
And, for now, the fierce battle between the Dodgers and Padres looks like it will be in the NL Wild Card Game, with the Giants waiting quietly in the Division Series. Impressive.
2. The Major League Baseball Home Run Leader… He’s a Pitcher!
It’s still crazy to write such a sentence. Let’s not normalize what Shohei Ohtani is doing, because it is not normal.
It doesn’t matter if you adore Ohtani, are related to Ohtani or got an Ohtani tattoo on your forehead after her stellar Spring Training. There is no way he would have anticipated that he would play at such a level as a pitcher and a batter.
Ohtani has an OPS + of 166 (66% better than the league average) and an EFE + of 159 (59% better). He participated in the Home Run Derby and started the All-Star Game as an LA pitcher the next day (in addition to being BD and leadoff hitter).
There were those who saw with doubts the plans of the Angels not to put limits to Ohtani this year, due to the great risk to his health. Ohtani had pitched a grand total of 79.1 innings over the previous four seasons (including his senior year in Japan). And in the 2020 season, in which he only pitched 1.2 innings, he posted a .657 OPS. So they’re forgiven if they didn’t predict he was going to be close to 40 home runs by mid-August and leading his team in ERA.
3. Cedric Mullins is a star
During Spring Training, the Orioles, unsure what to do with Mullins, considered alternating him in center field or trading him. Think about it: a team that was basically set up for a rebuilding process wasn’t sure it was going to be able to stay on the roster.
So naturally, Mullins ended up starting the All-Star Game in center field for the American League.
With a .322 / .387 / .549 line, 20 home runs, 29 doubles, four triples and 22 stolen bases, Mullins has been a blast. He forgot to hit two-handed, focused exclusively on hitting left-handed and – combined with a higher fly percentage – became a completely different slugger. He has a real chance of ending the season as the WAR leader among position players. At the time of writing, Mullins’ 4.8, as calculated by FanGraphs, was behind only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (5.1) and Marcus Semien (4.9).
4. Joey Votto and Buster Posey with arguments for the JMB of the National League
No, it is not a phrase written in 2015. Votto, 37, has an OPS of .957 and Posey, 34, has an OPS of .988, reminding us (and perhaps themselves) that they can still produce an elite level.
Posey did not play last season, while Votto had seen his production drop significantly in recent years and was at .226 / .305 / .425 when he entered the disabled list due to a broken thumb earlier in the year. May, an injury that caused him to miss a month of action.
Due to the time Votto missed and Posey’s schedule, which has included a healthy dose of days off to keep him fresh, it is possible that neither of them will win or finish as a finalist on MVP when the year is out. But right now, it’s hard to talk about such an award without mentioning them. Who’d say.
5. Carlos Rodón is a horse
Rodón started the season with 536.2 career innings in MLB and an EFE + of 100. Last year, he allowed seven runs in 7.2 innings and was not offered a contract.
But the White Sox (smartly, we now know) re-signed him, hoping he could earn a spot at the back of the rotation.
Well, Rodón is not exactly filling a position. He’s the anchor for the LA’s best rotation, in part because his fastball’s speed jumped from 92.8 to 95.8 mph. For life, he has struck out 24.2% of batters faced. This year? At 36.2%. And he has also thrown one of the seven no-hits no runs that have been thrown this year. He is currently dealing with shoulder fatigue, which could lower his chances of winning the Cy Young, but Rodon has drastically exceeded any expectations.
6. Zack Wheeler leads the race for the NL Cy Young
Wheeler has been a very good pitcher for most of his career. But even he himself would admit that it has been difficult for him to have a consistent year from start to finish. He did wonderfully in 2020, but it was just 11 starts.
Injuries have played a role in Wheeler’s history, but it is deGrom’s injury, who had the Cy Young in his pocket with his 1.08 ERA, that has changed the landscape. If the vote were today, Wheeler, who leads the majors in (156), strikeouts (181), complete games (three) and is tied for the WAR lead (5.6) for FanGrahps pitchers, would have to be considered as the big favorite.
7. The Twins are just not very good.
There is no team that has disappointed this year as much as the reigning two-time champions of the American League Central Division Champions.
The Twins began the season as favorites, according to FanGraphs and PECOTA projections, to repeat the Central crown. But they got 15 games under .500 this weekend, with a -81 run differential.
Things got so bad in Minnesota that they traded not only looming free agents like Nelson Cruz, but Puerto Rican José Berríos as well. The Twins were expected to get a strong fight, and perhaps be outmatched, by the White Sox. But not something like that.
8. Albert Pujols plays for the Dodgers
With the Angels’ new leadership desperately trying to straighten the course, it was no folly to think that Pujols, late in his career, would be released. But who would have thought it would be the defending World Series champions who needed his services … or that Pujols responded with a .270 average and a .780 OPS?
As things tend to be in baseball, it has not been the year we anticipated.