Baseball, Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: Four Stories to watch unfold in the 2021 Season

As the Spring semester comes to a close here at Boston University, the 2021 MLB season is moving full speed ahead. The first month of the season is coming to a close, so let’s look at four stories and patterns everyone should keep their eye on as the rest of the season unfolds.

1. Will the Bronx Bombers start living up to their name again?

It is no secret the New York Yankees’ lineup is struggling mightily out of the gate in 2021. Through the team’s first 20 games, only Aaron Judge has an OPS over .800, and the team has been riding the white-hot starts of Gerrit Cole and the bullpen to cover for the lackluster hitting.

The good news for the Yankees is that first baseman Luke Voit, 2020 American League home run champion, is progressing in his pursuit to return from a torn meniscus he sustained in spring training. For his team’s sake, his return can hopefully act as the same resuscitation that Alex Rodriguez’s return in 2009 had — that 2009 team went 12-10 in April before catching fire in May, winning 103 games and then taking home the organization’s 27th title.

The only thing that can nullify the effects of the lineup returning to normal is the rest of the rotation — Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery, Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon — continuing to pitch short, ineffective outings. Other than that, if the 2021 Yankees start hitting again, their pursuit for No. 28 will get back on track.

2. Will Jacob deGrom end up winning the 2021 National League MVP?

If you followed MLB the last four seasons, then you know Jacob deGrom has been the most dominant pitcher in the league by a country mile. After winning the 2018 and 2019 Cy Young Awards, at ages 30 and 31 respectively, the Mets’ ace shows no sign of slowing down.

Now 33, deGrom’s fastball has undergone a transformation seldom seen by pitchers his age. His fastball velocity has increased from around 94 mph to just under 99 mph from 2016 to 2021, according to Fangraphs. With that increase, his domination of opposing hitters is ongoing.

So far in 2021, deGrom has allowed just one earned run, with 50 strikeouts and an average of more than seven innings per start. Also, his ERA+ stands at 1238 while 100 is league average. Simply put, deGrom is miles above anyone else in 2021, and that may net him an MVP along with his third Cy Young.

3. The Royals, Mariners and Giants should be struggling, but they’re contending. How long will that last?

Who could have predicted that as of today, teams such as the Yankees, Astros and Braves would all have losing records? At the same time, who could have predicted the Royals would be leading their division, the Mariners would be 13-9 and the Giants would be 14-8 in the same division as the Padres and Dodgers? But, the true question is how long before these surprisingly overachieving teams crash down to Earth.

For the Mariners, only Ty France and Mitch Haniger are hitting. Their rotation of unproven commodities is playing poorly, and the bullpen full of unknowns will not pitch this well forever. The Royals should follow. Despite the solid starts of Carlos Santana, Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez and the decent work from the pitching staff, the AL Central is too stacked for sustainable success from these teams.

Lastly, the Giants already stood their ground once against the Padres and Phillies. Additionally, their pitching staff is off to a great start with every starting pitcher doing well, and their everyday lineup is doing the same. This team looks the most well-rounded and most likely to succeed the longest.

4. What will All-Star Week look like?

The league decided to move the 2021 All-Star Game and all of its surrounding events and financial opportunities from Atlanta to Denver in response to outcry over Georgia’s recently passed voting bill. This move brought politics into the world of baseball to a degree not seen in decades.

This level of intertwining of the two worlds left everyone who either supports or opposes the decision even more passionate about defending their position. Nevertheless, the game was moved and will still go ahead in Denver. But, what will happen once All-Star Week comes around? Will there be any protests and counter-protests? Will any events get canceled? Only time will tell.

The one positive is the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game should be slugfests. Coors Field is known for being a very hitter-friendly park, so offense will come plentifully and the baseball-related events will still be exciting. However, the unfortunate reality is that this year’s All-Star festivities will not just be about baseball, and that may affect the overall environment of the generally festive week.

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