Every spring training there is new hope for all fanbases. Some people even travel to see their teams prepare for the regular season hustle. Spring training games and stats are all fun but are oftentimes meaningless. Now that the actual campaign is upon us, it’s time to take a true closer look.
In a season where the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers are heavily favored to repeat, there are tons of squads that might get lost in the shuffle. We’re going to look at some of those teams. Some will put up a valiant fight against the Dodges, while others will show enough improvement to get their fan bases excited for the future.
This article will mainly focus on one NL and AL team. But we’ll start with some squads worth keeping an eye on. Over in the AL, you’ve got squads like the Blue Jays who made a big acquisition. Outfielder George Springer is bringing a strong pedigree to a young squad that could go for a wild card spot.
The Los Angeles Angels will always be contenders as long as they have Mike Trout in uniform. But bringing in a piece like Alex Cobb to the rotation, and inserting shortstop Jose Iglesias to the lineup helps surround Trout with more talent. We need to see a consistent season from them before truly catapulting them into the conversation of serious contenders. Even with these reinforcements, the AL easily has less firepower than the NL.
The NL is absolutely loaded this season. There’s no question about it. We’re not going to spend too much time talking about them, but somehow even the Dodgers got better. But a team that just won the series can’t truly be considered the most improved. However, adding Trevor Bauer and getting David Price back in the fold certainly gives them a case.
By a comeback season from Christian Yelich, the Brewers will be back in the fold. They barely made the playoffs last year, so look for them to establish themselves like years prior. The Nationals are two years removed from a championship season. Megastar Juan Soto has the team in a good position to make some noise this year, along with Trea Turner and a stacked rotation, there’s just no way this team doesn’t improve upon 2020.
The hardest decision came down between two teams in the NL for most improved. To keep the suspense, only the runner-up will be revealed. The San Diego Padres are very much a threat for a title this season. They have returning players that can improve, and guys who are perennially in the all-star discussion like Manny Machado. They added a versatile Mark Melancon to the roster. He could help from the closer spot, or just boost a strong bullpen.
But, some great reinforcements came in a couple of big-time moves; a trade with the Rays secured them, Blake Snell. One with the cubs got them Yu Darvish. These are front-line guys who will instantly give them one of the best rotations in the major leagues.
The biggest move for these Padres was the 14-year deal handed out to phenom Fernando Tatis jr. Not only does it secure them a franchise cornerstone for a decade-plus, but this is a guy who will firmly be in the MVP race this season. He’s arrived and in a big way. Expect his freshly signed deal to motivate him, and strong pitching staff to back him up.
Most Improved AL Team
The time has come to discuss the clubs that are ready for the biggest jump this season. This decision might be on the controversial side, but the Chicago White Sox are the most improved AL team. They will look to make a run that their northern counterpart Cubs made not too long ago. They can make a real title chase this year.
The biggest improvement comes in the form of their newfound confidence. This is a very young group that made big strides last season in breaking the team’s postseason drought. With that out of the way and the confidence of knowing they can get there, the White Sox can relax and improve on that.
On the transactional side of things, all they did was add one of the best, if not the best, closers in all of baseball. Liam Hendricks arrives with big expectations but he makes this team better in close contests. They were also able to add Lance Lynn as a steady presence on the rotation. Both of these are savvy moves that complement the young roster very well with experience.
Lucas Giolito will only continue to ascend as an ace in the league and José Abreu will keep on powering the lineup. In an AL that didn’t have too many game-breaking changes, the continuity for the White Sox can only help. It’s championship series or bust. But, they will give the Yankees a run for their money.
Most Improved NL Team
The big moment is here. Cue the suspenseful music. The team that beat out the Padres as the most improved NL squad is… drum roll please… the New York Mets! You can’t add a superstar like Francisco Lindor and not win an offseason! Not only is Lindor a top-tier player, but at 27 years old he’s right in his prime. His defensive prowess is no joke. Inserting a shortstop like that into a lineup makes everyone around him better.
The Mets also got pitcher Carlos Carrasco in the same trade for Lindor. This was massive as they needed someone to shore up the rotation. Carrasco is a guy who can eat innings as well as keep the Mets in many games.
They didn’t stop there. The Lindor and Carrasco upgrades would qualify as a successful offseason alone. But, the organization under GM Zack Scott added a top reliever Trevor May. Not only did they get him on a reasonable two-year pact, but they added someone who strongly upgrades their bullpen. These are the types of moves that will make a huge difference in September. Adding catcher James McAnn was the icing on the offseason cake. These moves along with the continued development of first baseman Pete Alonso will help solidify the Mets as contenders in the NL East and NL as a whole.
So why are they more improved than the Padres? Well, we knew the Padres were going to be very good regardless in 2021. We weren’t sure if the Mets could escape the mediocrity they’ve found themselves in recently. These moves answered that question and more. Look for them to make a serious push for October baseball.