Five teams the Dodgers could beat this season
The reigning 2020 series world champion, Los Angeles Dodgers, enters the 2021 season as a favorite. In fact, the best-case scenario for this year’s LA squad is downright scary. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the league will just lie down and watch the Dodgers roll to successive titles.
With that in mind, we asked five of our ESPN MLB experts to each choose a team that they thought would be best placed to take out the Dodgers – in October when it matters most. While none of our pundits necessarily expect this team to be better than LA on the 162-game long haul, they have all made their strongest arguments as to why their pick could be the team to push LA out of the postseason. How bad were their cases? Well, we’ve left that to our resident judge, the Honorable Jeff Passan, to rule on each case with his decision.
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AP Photo / Eric Risberg
The case for the White Sox: If ever a team explodes, it’s this year’s White Sox. Last year Chicago had the AL’s second best offensive, despite Yoan Moncada having a year off after contracting COVID-19 and the Sox having massive holes in right field and DH. This year they filled those gaps with a veteran in Adam Eaton and a front runner in Rookie of the Year in Andrew Vaughn, two improvements whose skills balance the line-up. And Moncada is a direct hit.
There’s no question that the loss of Eloy Jimenez takes a bite out of the White Sox’s chances of making October. But if they are able to make up for his absence until he returns late in the season, the White Sox will become the team no one – including the Dodgers – wants to face in the playoffs. By that point, the White Sox will really be one-nine in the line-up with at least four players – Jose Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, and Luis Robert – capable of starting an MVP season. Then, when the White Sox get into the playoffs, they have a solid veteran rotation for October and a bullpen of flamethrowers (Codi Heuer, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet) that will bridge the gap with Chicago’s new elite, Liam Hendriks. – Bradford Doolittle
Judge Jeff says: The court isn’t going to spend too much time reviewing your decision to leave Tim Anderson off the Chicago MVP nominee. Problematic, however, is your unwillingness to acknowledge what a meeting with the Dodgers might rule out: a rotation that isn’t exactly “built for October”. Lance Lynn hasn’t started a postseason game since 2014. Lucas Giolito made a career off-season start. In the last eight playoff starts of Dallas Keuchel, he has passed more than five innings once. This is built for October the way I am built for the beach. As much as Moncada’s health should help the White Sox, there are a number of regression candidates, starting with Abreu and Anderson.
None of that means the White Sox are a bad choice. The evidence threshold just has to be higher. Application refused.
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The case for the padres: Um, AJ Preller stood up for me this winter: Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Jurickson Profar, Mark Melancon, Kim Ha-Seong, Fernando Tatis Jr. OK, Tatis was already on the team but kept him locked up for 14 years just another sign that this team is serious about winning big. Tati’s recent shoulder injury is definitely worrying, but I’m not ready to jump the ship as his prognosis is decent (for now, at least).
I understand that teams that win the winter sometimes have a lot of holes to fill, but that wasn’t the case with the Padres. And that’s why they can challenge the Dodgers. They already had a really good team. Now they have a great one that includes a deeper pitching team.
The fact that the two teams are in the same division is actually a plus. To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Padres will try again this year with 19 attempts. You can’t tell me this won’t improve the Padres’ competitive spirit. If there is ever a time to beat a multi-year division winner, it is right after winning a World Series. The Padres will smell blood in the water the moment the Dodgers show signs of hangover. And of course, this all depends on San Diego’s recent update that Tatis will be back and how the superstar he will be sooner rather than later will play. – Jesse Rogers
Judge Jeff says: “To be the man, you have to beat the man” is the saying, advisor, and no good argument starts with a bad imitation of Ric Flair. However, the Padres present a reasonable case. Their depth of rotation actually matches that of the Dodgers, especially with Darvish mimicking his 2020 self, Musgrove taking his expected step forward, and Dinelson Lamet staying sane. The line-up is excellent and deep – although Kim has been looking above average since spring training – and the bullpen is on par with Los Angeles.
Application approved, with a four-legged lock to the lawyer who disrespected the Nature Boy.
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The case for the braves: Without the dizzying amount of games LA made to break a 3-1 deficit in last year’s National League Championship Series – many of them from Mookie Betts – we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The Braves could and should have defeated the Dodgers and should probably move up to last year’s World Series. And since the Braves couldn’t close them on the penultimate round, they put Charlie Morton at the head of their rotation and brought Marcell Ozuna back for the middle of their lineup. By the end of April, Mike Soroka, who has already grown into one of the game’s best young pitchers, should be back from a torn Achilles tendon.
The top of their lineup (Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Ozuna) and top of their rotation (Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Morton, and Soroka) are as good as anyone else in the sport, including that of the Dodgers. Her bullpen is stacked, her 40-man roster is deep and Cristian Pache – mostly forgotten on this roster – could be the National League rookie of the year 2021. When you give Dodgers players the truth serum and ask which team they are. If I’d rather avoid doing it in a best-of-seven series, I’d bet most of them would pick these braves even over the padres. Your flukish slow start – the product of really close losses – will soon be a slip on your radar. – Alden Gonzalez
Judge Jeff says: That’s a damn good case. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their top four of the season. But don’t forget your thin bank. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their top four of the season. But don’t forget their thin bench, which it seems is only supported by Pablo Sandoval. This is still the NL and the Braves will have to upgrade at close of trade to better match the designated batsman who is no longer in play in the late innings. That is, application approved.
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The case for the Yankees: With all the hype surrounding many of the talented young baseball teams like the Padres, Braves and White Sox, the Yankees are still the Yankees. You still have Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the line-up, injuries aside of course. They still have Gerrit Cole at the head of their rotation and a bullpen anchored by Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Zack Britton. Throw in Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and you have a group that can easily keep up with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the most talented team in the sport. To mention the Yankees have a chance to win the championship is like saying LeBron has a chance to win an NBA final, but sometimes the boring choice is still the right choice. – Joon Lee
Judge Jeff says: While I appreciate Mr. Lee’s attempt to spontaneously eliminate the Yankees’ penchant for injury, there is an undeniable element of skepticism about them for not staying healthy. It’s difficult to buy the Yankees’ idea without taking that leap – a leap that goes beyond Stanton and Judge and affects clubs, Taillon, and Luis Severino returning from the operation on Tommy John. Complicating matters is an AL East that is not a cake. The Blue Jays were a playoff team last year and are better this season. The Rays beat the Yankees in last year’s postseason and are always a threat. Boston is better. Baltimore, as the Red Sox found out on the opening weekend, is not a cake run either.
New York may be AL East’s favorite, and it has the knack for dethroning the Dodgers, but this dish has to see half a season of health from the principles before clinging to a cart that is always missing a wheel. And Gleyber Torres has to catch the dangball too. Application refused.
Adam Hunger / AP Photo
The case for the Mets: I originally wanted to go here with the Nationals, but how can I choose them after Max Scherzer gave up four runs on the opening day? So I choose the Mets instead. Yes, coming through NL Ost is like surviving the Hagler-Leonard-Duran-Hearns snail festivals of the 1980s. But if the Mets do that they can put out an October rotation of Jacob deGrom … and they have other good starters like Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, and hopefully Carlos Carrasco will get well and Noah Syndergaard will return in the midseason. But it’s all about deGrom. He’s so good that he started his season with 24 straight fastballs. It beats more than 100 mph with ease. He paints the corners. This is deGrom’s year. He is capable of running a Madison Bumgarner-like run starting in 2014 and closing the Dodgers lineup. (The Mets can hit a little too.) – David Schoenfield
Judge Jeff says: Well, the last team to beat the Dodgers in the postseason was the Nationals. So I see where you’ve gone with that first thought, but if you choose another NL-Ost team to beat the Dodgers, the Mets may be the better contenders for this season. (Screams from Philadelphia) There’s actually an argument that the Nationals are more likely to miss the playoffs than beat the Dodgers.
They have the best pitcher in the world in deGrom and that rotation including Stroman, Walker and – if they return from injuries – Syndergaard and Carrasco is dangerous enough to follow what the Nats did against LA in 2019 is little too early to adopt that all of these pitchers will be in tip-top shape on the hill by October. What if manager Luis Rojas can’t turn one of them into a super helper and has to stick with this bullpen? Well, that means the move has been rejected – for now.