As summer ends, America’s pastime also comes to an end. From the first few months of mostly empty stadiums to the MLB’s Field of Dreams game played in a real corn field, this season has been a whirlwind. Here’s a rundown of what to look for in the final weeks of the season.
If the 2021 baseball season is going to be remembered for one thing, it is Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani, born in Ōshū, Japan, is the designated hitter and star pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels. At 18, he signed with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball (NBP) and quickly became a star. Ohtani won the Pacific League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in his third season while crushing .322 / .416 / .588 with 22 homers en route to his team’s 2016 Japan Series win. While busy winning the NPB MVP Award as a Designated Hitter, he was also the ace of the Fighters Pitching Staff every fifth day, ending his aforementioned 2016 season with a 10-4 record and an ERA of 1.86, which was accompanied by 174 strikeouts.
He made his debut with the Angels in 2018 and was named Rookie of the Year, but after two shortened seasons due to injury, Ohtani has become a real superstar in the States. He leads the league with 44 home runs and a .612 slugging percentage, making him one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Ohtani also dominates the majors as a pitcher, with his 3.36 ERA and 136 strikeouts, earning him a 9-2 record and making him the American League (AL) all-star game starter. Ohtani has become the Angels’ best player in the box and on the hill.
To some, he’s the Japanese Babe Ruth, the first two-way star in a century. In reality, Ohtani brings more into play than the Bambino. Ruth started his career as a pitcher before turning into a full-time hitter. Ruth never did more than 30 home runs in a season he was pitching full-time, while Ohtani had 33 from the All-Star break alone. Despite Ohtani’s brilliance, baseball is a team sport, and unfortunately he cannot play the other eight positions. The other generation Angels superstar, outfielder Mike Trout, has derailed his season with a hip injury. The Angels are again at around .500 and will miss the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.
Another important act during this MLB season was the controversy surrounding the verification of the use of foreign substances by pitchers in the game. After the lowest league-wide batting average in 50 years and an all-time record of strikeouts per game, Major League Baseball went for the pitcher’s use of sticky substances to alter the ball’s trajectory and spin rate. While pitchers have always used suntan lotion and pine tar to illegally add spin to the ball, they recently went to the chemistry lab to find new ways to cure baseball while making it virtually unbeatable in the process. On June 15, following allegations against many pitchers including Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, the MLB enforced its strictest rules in league history for players using foreign substances. This included ten game bans for players caught with foreign substances and routine inspections of the pitchers during each game. While players like Max Scherzer and Sergio Romo initially protested the new rules, the league seemed to adapt to the new normal.
Away from the commissioner’s office and back on the field, the surprise of the season is the San Francisco Giants, who seemingly came out of nowhere to have the best record in baseball. They currently hold a 93-50 record and a 2.5 game lead over rivals Los Angeles Dodgers. Backed by veterans Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, plus the close-of-trade takeover of former Cubs third base player and MVP Kris Bryant, the Giants are poised to take a deep run in their first playoff appearance in five years in October .
The National League (NL) West is also home to the other NL juggernaut, the previously mentioned defending champion Dodgers. They’re back with familiar faces: Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw. They also gained even more talent by acting against pitcher Max Scherzer and infielder Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals. These two teams seem almost destined to face each other in the playoffs. It could be another chapter in the historic Giants-Dodgers rivalry that dates back to when these teams both called New York City over 60 years ago.
Another familiar face leads the American League: last season’s flagship winners, the Tampa Bay Rays. We could be in the golden age of the Tampa sport, with the NHL Lightning winning consecutive Stanley Cups, Tom Brady heading south to win the Buccaneers a Super Bowl, and the Rays sailing to an AL East title. On the way to a title despite the fifth lowest payroll in baseball, the Rays lead the vanished from capitalism titans of baseball, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The leaders of the Rays are a collection of cheap veterans like second baseman Brandon Lowe, outfielder Austin Meadows, and the timeless wonder Nelson Cruz, who topped 30 homers in his season at the age of 41. Tampa also saw shortstop Wander Franco go from a tempting prospect to a major contributor as the youngster broke a Mickey Mantle record for the longest streak on the base for a player aged 20 or younger.
Anything could happen in the last month of the season: Ohtani could become the first pitcher to ever hit 50 home runs, or the Blue Jays and Padres – with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr., both sons of the Major Leagues, respectively – could be in the playoffs are sneaking in. Anything could happen except for the Mets to reach the playoffs.
World Series Prediction: Dodgers over Rays in seven games.
You can reach Rocky D’Antonio at [email protected].