Warm Take: Major League Baseball in 2021 is already better than last year

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Cleveland Indians starter Shane Bieber delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Chicago. Bieber is the first pitcher since the mound was moved to its proper home to have four consecutive 10+ K games to start the season. Photo courtesy of Paul Beaty / AP Photo.

After so many months away from the sport, baseball has finally returned. Although the season is only a few weeks old, I feel it has already been more exciting than the abridged 2020 season. 

For the record, the 2020 season was a 60-game season where teams played everyone in their “region,” which was everyone in their division and everyone in the other league’s division. The season also saw the universal DH and the universally disliked runner on second in extra innings rule. 

Even though the universal DH was not brought back (the runner on second, as well as the seven-inning doubleheaders were) and COVID-19 related postponements are still a major concern, there have still been some electric moments thus far that have made us miss the full season that much more. 

Let us start with the pitching so far this season. At this point in time, Shane Bieber and Jacob deGrom are locks for the Cy Young Awards. Nothing against Corbin Burnes, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Glasnow and Gerrit Cole among others, but these aces have thrown so much gas toward the plate that batters can only marvel at their craft before taking a strike three call. 

I mean, Bieber is the first pitcher since the mound was moved to its proper home to have four consecutive 10+ K games to start the season. He is averaging 12 a game after four starts, and that is very impressive.  

Even then, deGrom could be pitching, and the entire Mets’ defense could pull out beach chairs, especially when he strikes out 14 in consecutive starts. deGrom was a question mark for the award, but once he sat down nine Rockies in a row on Saturday, he locked it up and threw away the key at 100 miles per hour. 

I would like to give a shoutout to Joe Musgrove and Carlos Rodon here, as they both pitched no-hitters and were one hit-by-pitch away from pitching perfect games. The highlights of these no-hitters were amazing to watch, and I hope there are more of them throughout the season. 

Next, baseballs may be deadened a little, but that has not stopped hitters from raking day in and day out. Ronald Acuna Jr. started ice cold and then picked up some hot steam over the span of a week to lead the league with seven home runs while hitting with runs in mind.  

In addition, Ryan McMahon (6 HR), the entire Reds offense and even people like Wilson Ramos (6 HR) have been surprise power hitters, and we can only watch as they slam the baseball deep into the sky. 

People will have their hot streaks when it comes to home runs and plating runs, but if these early season indicators are anything, sluggers like McMahon and Ramos could be All-Stars, while Acuna secures his spot in the NL All-Star lineup. Hitters have slightly improved across the board, which has also involved a handful of rookies getting the job done. 

When you think of rookies this season, you might think of Jared Kelenic, Christian Pache or even Wander Franco. But nope, the likes of Yermin Mercedes and Akil Baddoo have come from nowhere to take the league by storm. 

Boston Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo (39) gets the tag on Chicago White Sox runner Yermin Mercedes (73) at second base during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Boston. Photo courtesy of Mary Schwalm / AP Photo.

Mercedes has been the replacement for Eloy Jimenez in the White Sox lineup, and his eight consecutive hits to start his career will never be forgotten. The White Sox were already loaded in terms of hitting, but this propels them over the top, especially if Mercedes can have a solid 30-homer season. 

The hype from Baddoo is dying down a little bit, but that does not mean he didn’t have an excellent start to his career. Baddoo homered on his first career pitch and then followed that up with a grand slam and a walk-off single in consecutive games. Baddoo is a bad man, so do not be surprised if this is just the start of a long and successful career with the Tigers.  

These rookies have brought the most electricity to the major leagues since Devin Williams shut down everything in his path last season. With Kelenic and studs like Mackenzie Gore on the way, the only direction has to be up for strong debuts. 

Speaking of surprises, how about the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals? The Red Sox have gotten off to a red-hot start that includes a nine-game winning streak, and everything is clicking for them. The Mariners lead the confusing AL West and as mentioned earlier, the inevitable callups of Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez will do wonders for this team. The Royals, meanwhile, have not lost a series and have continually proven why they are a dark horse playoff contender. If they can get one more talented pitcher, they may be able to do it. 

Before I move on to my last point, I want to say I am quite proud of Sean Kazmar’s determination. He debuted in 2008 and has finally returned to the big leagues after 12-plus years away from the big stage. Just for that, Kazmar should win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. 

With the addition of fans in the stands, new chapters in historic rivalries can be written. Although there have been no fights yet, the benches have cleared between multiple teams, whether they are the Cubs, the Reds or even the Dodgers. There just was not that much intensity between teams when there were no fans in the stands, but again, the return of said fans should spice things up once again. 

There is a huge rivalry that has already gotten off to a white-hot start — the rivalry between the Dodgers and the Padres. They have met three times thus far, and each game has lived up to the hype. You can see the hatred in their eyes, especially since the benches have cleared twice without coming to blows. 

To show how incredible this rivalry has been so far, the first game was an offensive contest that ultimately ended in extra innings. The second was a defensive battle where neither team could buy a run until the bullpens entered the fray and the third had an eighth-inning rally by the Padres. With 16 games left in the series, the rivalry should only heat up in the California sun. 

Overall, it is great to have a full season of baseball once again, and especially with the current CBA expiring after this year, we should not take this for granted. With over five more months of nine-inning ball left to play, I am excited to see the future highlights and headlines that come from this season. Until then, play ball. 

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