3 Biggest Storylines of the 2021 MLB Season

This season is going to be an interesting one.


Oliver Hinson, Writer

     It’s been 4 long months, but the wait is finally over. BASEBALL IS BACK. After a shortened season in 2020, fans are more excited than ever to see their teams take the field for what is hopefully a full slate of games. At the beginning of every year, there are major storylines to follow, and in these crazy times, that’s probably even more true, considering the major changes that have been made to the game in the past few years. We could spend hours telling you all of them, but for now, let’s focus on the 3 biggest stories that fans should be following.


Storyline #1: A Different Look to the Season

COVID-19 wreaked havoc upon 2020, especially in the baseball world. For months, the MLB and the Players’ Association tried to agree upon a deal to get the season underway, and in July, they finally agreed upon these terms: 60 games, playoffs expanded from 10 teams to 16, and the introduction of the universal designated hitter. Additionally, some temporary amendments were made that modified the structure of the game itself, such as the inclusion of the seven-inning game (to be used in the case of a doubleheader) and the addition of a runner on second base to start extra innings. These alterations certainly made games interesting to watch, but they angered many baseball traditionalists, and it seems that the MLB is slowly attempting to return back to normal. The universal DH was done away with for 2021, as was the expanded playoffs and the 60-game schedule (as of now, teams are expected to play their normal 162 games). Furthermore, as the pandemic starts to get more under control, it’s possible that the 7-inning doubleheader could soon see an end, as teams will face far fewer scheduling conflicts when COVID-19 restrictions are done away with. However, this year will again feature limited fan attendance (although the Pirates probably won’t notice a difference). In 2020, cardboard cutouts made their debuts in MLB ballparks, and they will most likely be here to stay until the United States reaches some form of herd immunity. Last but not least, the All-Star Game has been brought back this year, and it will be held in Atlanta, along with the MLB Draft. These two events will be held on the very same day, the first time that has ever happened. Of course, just like everything else, these plans could easily be erased if COVID-19 cases don’t die down. The only thing we know right now is that this season will be anything but traditional.


Storyline #2: The New Biggest Rivalry in Baseball

Just two years ago, the phrase “Dodgers-Padres rivalry” was a dubious assertion that would get you laughed out of any baseball conversation. Now, it’s one of the main talking points on every baseball show in the country. It is certainly one of the least likely rivalries baseball has seen in several years; in the 2010’s, the Dodgers ruled this head-to-head matchup, winning 120 of their 187 contests. Due to the seemingly overnight transformation of the Padres’ organization, though, both of these teams are poised to win over 100 games this upcoming season. In terms of talent, both rosters are loaded. The Dodgers possess arguably the best starting rotation in baseball history, featuring 2018 Rookie of the Year Walker Buehler, 8 time all-star Clayton Kershaw, and reigning Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer. On the offensive side, they boast 2 former MVPs in Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. Over the past few years, the Dodgers have made a habit of big acquisitions, signing Bauer in the 2020 offseason and completing trades for Betts and 3rd baseman Manny Machado in prior years. Machado, however, didn’t stay with the team for long; in the 2018-19 offseason, he chose to sign with the Padres, thus starting one of the fastest 3-year growth periods the MLB has ever seen. Just take a look at some of the names San Diego has added to their roster since the Machado signing:

  • Fernando Tatis Jr (2020 Silver Slugger)
  • Drew Pomeranz (1 time All-Star)
  • Mark Melancon (3 time All-Star)
  • Yu Darvish (4 time All-Star, finished 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2020)
  • Blake Snell (2018 Cy Young winner)

Just 3 years ago, this team finished last place in the National League West with a 66-96 record. This season, they’re projected to win over 100 games, and they could even overtake the Dodgers, who have won the NL West every year since 2013. These two teams will meet 19 times this year, and whenever they do, it’s likely to be a thriller.


Storyline #3: A Strike in the Distance

Tensions are high, to say the least. The MLB and its Players’ Association were forced to cooperate more often than usual in 2020 and early 2021, as it took tremendous effort to get the season off the ground both times. For consecutive years, rejected proposals and angry letters filled the air with discontent, and it seemed like the only consensus was disagreement. The two parties eventually accepted a deal in July of 2020 to start the delayed season, but at that point, the damage was done; commissioner Rob Manfred said that the 30 clubs combined to lose around $3 billion in revenue from that year alone. The next year, the league tried to avoid that mistake, and planning was started early to give players (and owners) a full 162-game season. That did happen, but not without some discordance. One of the earliest proposed deals to get the action underway was one that featured the return of the universal designated hitter, but also of the expanded playoffs. This offer, however, was declined by the Players’ Association, and ever since, the agitation among both parties has been extremely potent. Now, it’s not like this period of disagreement is uncommon for baseball, or even sports in general; negotiating terms with millionaires (players) and billionaires (owners) is never an easy task. The thing that makes this situation excessively troubling is the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and MLBPA on Dec. 1. A new contract will have to be made and agreed upon, and if this level of tension remains consistent throughout the season, that renewal will likely be delayed, and we could be looking at a labor stoppage for the first time since 1994. Depending on how long the strike lasts, the league could lose billions of dollars in revenue, something they can’t afford to do after the events of 2020. For the league’s sake, we’re going to need to see some cooperation pretty soon.


     In terms of story, this season presents us with an assembly of riches we haven’t seen since… well, ever. Rule changes, a new rivalry, and a looming strike are not the only things we have to look out for this season. Not even close. Spring training games start Feb. 28, and if you blink from now until November, you’re bound to miss some major news. So put on your Pirates shirt (if you haven’t already burned it), sit down in front of the TV, and direct your attention to the greatest game our world has to offer.