The 2021 MLB Season is dead. The Atlanta Braves are the World Series Champions. We’re entering an offseason facing a ton of questions, with potentially a work-stoppage, rule changes, and tense moments between players and ownership in the works as they negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But we don’t want to think about that.
We want to think about the next time baseball will be played, whenever it may be, and the reality is that 9 other teams made the postseason and went home empty-handed and will be doing whatever it takes to get back. CBA not included, let’s evaluate the National League teams that came up short of a title and what’s next for them in Part I of the MLB Playoffs “In Memoriam” Series.
St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, Lost in Wild Card to Dodgers)
The Cardinals came into the season with some of the most sky-high expectations in the National League and were seen as the favorites to win their division after making the trade for Nolan Arenado, and while Nolan performed well in his first year, they meddled around .500 and had to pull off one of the most-miraculous win streaks possible in order to sneak into the postseason at all. They were clearly not pleased with that ceiling and fired manager Mike Schildt.
For 2022, they’ve hired Oliver Marmol as their new manager, a bench coach who will be the youngest active manager in baseball in his first year, so all they can do is hope the player-favorite hire adjusts smoothly. They’ll look to get ace Jack Flaherty healthy, try to get a young pitching core in free agency, and be active in the market to add a big bat to pair with their big star Arenado for years to come. They’ll be in on the Corey Seager sweepstakes at shortstop.
Milwaukee Brewers (95-67, Lost 3-1 in NLDS to Braves)
The Brewers had a magical season in which they cruised through their division even without their star Christian Yelich performing at his former-MVP caliber. They had a rotation full of pitchers that could all easily be in contention for the NL Cy Young that carried them past the competition, and they traded for Willy Adames, who turned into a Kaiju upon arrival from Tampa.
They just simply burnt out and ran into a magical Braves team and their offense couldn’t string together any runs- an issue that bothered them in the first half of the year.
The Brewers operate differently and don’t typically spend big- Craig Counsell normally finds a way to win with whatever players he’s given. However, as they hope to get a bounce-back year from Yelich, it’s time to add a power bat to pair with him and go away from their mold. They’ve been rumored to trade reliever Josh Hader, which could land them a valuable return, but with the pitching talent they have, they need more lineup pieces capable of putting up runs so they can contend now.
San Francisco Giants (107-55, Lost 3-2 in NLDS to Dodgers)
The San Francisco Giants were the most pleasant surprise of the baseball season, edging out the champion Dodgers for the best record in the MLB after practically no one gave them a shot at taking the division or making the postseason at all. They got top-tier production from their old veterans on their roster and players they took flyers on! Their rotation of Gausmann, DeSclafani, Cueto, and Alex Wood is like a grab bag of random baseball cards and they domin
ated! Gabe Kapler proved he’s actually a good manager and it just sucks to be in Philadelphia! They were so much fun.
This was supposed to be a gap year before spending big, so next year will be a season of major changes in San Francisco. Buster Posey is retired and they’ll have a lot of key free agents: Kris Bryant, Gausmann, Cueto, Belt, DeSclafani, Donovan Solano, and Tyler Chatwood, to name a few. They’re looking to spend money, so if they bring back Kris Bryant to be a franchise guy, potentially get in on the big shortstop market, and build off of a young pitching core with Gausmann and Webb, Kapler has proven he can take whatever pieces they have and coach them up. The talent could be even richer in San Francisco if they explore the market and evolve from the darling story they were this year.
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56, Lost 4-2 in NLCS to Braves)
The Dodgers were the big bad all season. They were the shark chasing the little canoe known as the Giants all season, came up short during the regular season, and in Jaws fashion, devoured that canoe in the playoffs.
But it came at a cost.
Pulling off that race made even their juggernaut roster worn out and banged up and they ran into the buzzsaw Braves magic. They were without Dustin May from the beginning of the year. They were without Trevor Bauer because of off-the-field issues. Scherzer, Kershaw, and Muncy were all absent during the times that it mattered most. The Goliath finally got slayed by a phenomenon known as the turmoil of a 162-game season.
The best-coached team, most-talented team, and second-richest team will be back with a vengeance, but will have to answer the most questions they’ve ever faced. There’s no telling what will happen with Trevor Bauer’s legal situation and if he’ll ever pitch for them again. They’ll also have Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Max Scherzer, Chris Taylor, and Albert Pujols as free agents. They’ll have to decide where to spend their money given that their top young players out of that group, Taylor and Seager, will be pursued by practically the entire league at top dollar.
The reality is that the Dodgers have a young core and develop home-grown talent better than anyone else and can afford to spend on big free agents TOO. They’ve been known to make their moves during the season (just like the Scherzer and Turner bomb) to make adjustments midyear to contend. It might be tempting to spend money to bring on veteran names, but with the young core of Mookie, Bellinger, Will Smith, Trea Turner, and Muncy, they can afford to be frugal and hold out for what they really need to build a team that could stand the length of time in LA for a decade.