Jim Henneman: Looking Back At MLB’s 2021 Regular Season … And Ahead To The Postseason

Some not so pertinent or relevant thoughts looking back at the regular and ahead to the 2021 postseason in what could at best be called an unconventional baseball year. And, let’s face it, nobody expected it to end like it did.

We had a good idea from the start that either the Yankees or the Red Sox would have to win a one-or-done wild-card game to qualify for an American League Division Series matchup. But both of them? Come on …

Yeah, we knew Tampa Bay was good, but a team that would post a plus-206 run differential and waltz to the AL East title? Come on …

Over in the National League West, sure, the Dodgers looked like a team that could build a plus-269 plus run differential and win 106 games … but the Giants going one better? Come on …

And the San Diego Padres, with $600 million commitments to two players (Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, Jr.) and expected to be the new kid on the postseason block, failing below .500? Come on …

Did anybody see the Milwaukee Brewers cakewalking through the NL Central? Come on …

Or the New York Mets pulling off one of the best disappearing acts ever? Come on …

OK, the rise of the Chicago White Sox had been noted on the radar screen. The Houston Astros once again proved to be a dependable preseason pick. The St. Louis Cardinals always seem to be in the mix. And at the other end of the spectrum, the Orioles, Pirates, Diamondbacks and Rangers pretty much performed as expected, to the continued consternation of their respective fan bases, suffering through various stages of the “rebuild blues.”

If there’s one team that deserves an asterisk for the season it would be the Toronto Blue Jays, a sexy dark-horse pick coming into the season that put up some unbelievable numbers that may or may not have been overly affected by playing in three different home parks — their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., at the home stadium of their Triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y., and, finally, Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Without question the Yankees were the toughest MLB team to figure out, though the Padres certainly ran a respectable second. That a team with as much power and pitching as the Yankees could finish a 162-game season with a run differential of merely plus-42 boggles the mind. It certainly doesn’t offer much hope for a long run in the playoffs, which for sure would leave manager Aaron Boone’s job in jeopardy.

Top to next-to-bottom, the AL East is far and away the toughest in baseball, but if I had to make a pick (and I don’t, but I will) I think the AL World Series representative will emerge from the ALDS between the Astros and White Sox. Tampa Bay has demonstrated superiority over both the Red Sox and Yankees. I suspect the Rays will survive the wild-card winner, but I think the run ends there.

The Astros will be favored in their series, but the White Sox will be the sentimental favorites of baseball’s old guard. “A lot of the old timers weren’t big fans of Tony La Russa’s during his career,” said one major-league coach who remains anonymous for obvious reasons, “but they’re all pulling for him now.”

It’s not that the White Sox are devoid of the analytical surge that has become prevalent — no teams are — but there’s no question the 77-year-old La Russa will be carrying the banner for those whose beliefs go beyond launch angles, exit velocity and spin rates.

It’s tough picking a Final Four from this group, but it’s hard to overlook that the Dodgers have the best pitcher, Max Scherzer, and maybe the best player, Trea Turner. Both were late acquisitions from the Nationals, and the Dodgers have gone 41-11 since the trade. That’s data that is hard to ignore, so my gut feeling is we’re going to have a repeat World Series champion for the first time since the Yankees won three straight (1998-2000).

That would be sweet revenge if the Astros were on the losing end, reversing the outcome of the controversial outcome in 2017. And if you think that is something that would’ve been considered an April Fool’s joke on Opening Day … come on.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com