There will be 10 MLB playoff teams in 2021, according to current league rules. If that holds and previous negotiations for a 14- or 16-team playoff format don’t materialize into playoff expansion, six 2020 playoff teams won’t reach the 2021 playoffs.
Never before in nearly 140 years of MLB postseason history has math eliminated six teams from playoff contention before Opening Day. Which of last year’s 16 playoff teams are most likely to be victims of math and/or a poor offseason and regular season? Which teams will be wiped off the World Series odds board come October?
The baseball masses celebrated each of the Houston Astros’ losses last year as the defending AL champion stumbled through their first sub-.500 season since 2014. The disgraced franchise’s playoff run–eight wins in 13 games to come within one victory of a third World Series appearance in four years–overshadowed a season of mediocrity and futility.
“I know a lot of people are mad,” shortstop Carlos Correa said after the Astros swept the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card series. “I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?”
The quote was almost as asinine as the sign-stealing scandal itself and Rob Manfred’s subsequent immunity-for-all investigation. And while Correa is partially right–their playoff run did infuriate most of the baseball world and, in a small manner, silenced critics–the run didn’t hide how flawed that team was in 2020 and will be in 2021.
Most notably gone from a team that ranked near the middle or bottom of the MLB in most areas are George Springer and Josh Redick, who combined for 18 home runs and 55 RBI in the 60-game season. Jose Altuve is hitting like a veteran-minimum player, Yuli Gurriel fell off a cliff in the second half of the season, and even with Michael Brantley back on a two-year deal, the outfield is unsettled.
The Milwaukee Brewers opened their World Series window with an unconventional rebuild that relied on previously underachieving players within their organization. After blowing a prime World Series opportunity two years ago, they’re undergoing another rebuild as a soaring strikeout rate and declining home-run rate, among other things, sent them tumbling in the standings the last two years.
Like the Astros, the Brewers only landed in the 2020 postseason because of an expanded field. On the field, in the books, and in the standings, this was nothing near a true playoff team. And if Christian Yelich doesn’t rebound from a miserable season, new general manager Matt Arnold doesn’t make some mid-winter additions to bolster a lost offense, and the pitching staff has any amount of regression, the Brewers won’t be a playoff team in 2021
The Cincinnati Reds had one of the league’s best rotations in 2020. They’ll have a good rotation in 2021, but not one of the league’s best.
The Reds have made a billion transactions since a 31-win season ended with a Wild Card sweep. Re-signing Trevor Bauer was not among them, as expected. Bauer rejected a qualifying offer from new baseball operations head Nick Krall and, barring a late push or shocking drop in market value, the Cy Young winner won’t return to the top of an incomplete rotation.
The good news: Krall squashed a Luis Castillo trade rumor, and Sonny Gray trade rumors haven’t gone anywhere. Even with depth concerns, they have enough top-end pieces to have a top-10 rotation.
The bad news: Krall hasn’t added any notable pieces to a horrendous offense that will drag down whatever decency the rotation is able to provide.