Major League Baseball spring 2021 season preview

Major League Baseball is set to begin a normal 162-game season starting April 1. During the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, MLB added a universal designated hitter, a 16-team playoff format, seven-inning double headers, and a runner on second base to start off every extra inning. The first two rules are no longer intact for this upcoming season, but the latter two will remain.

Many baseball fans have never liked the concept of the DH — which was first implemented in 1973 — because basebal traditionally had the pitcher bat for himself. Therefore, once the DH was implemented, the manager had fewer opportunities to change the lineup and defensive alignment throughout the game. As a result, many baseball purists were angered when the universal DH was instituted last season.

Jacob King, ’23, who is a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, provided some context for the disdain.

“I’m not a big fan of the DH,” King said. “I like watching the pitchers bat, it can be a real exciting aspect of the sport, especially if it comes down to a big situation that can be one of the most exciting moments of the season if a pitcher gets a clutch hit.”

Baseball fans have also had mixed feelings about the expanded playoffs. Originally, the best team in each league made the playoffs. Last year, teams such as the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers, who were below .500 made the playoffs. Although the Brewers were eliminated in the first round, the Astros were just one win away from winning the pennant.

Additionally, the Miami Marlins were expected to finish dead last in the National League East, made the playoffs and even took down the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card Series. The latter caused some controversy, as even though the Cubs had the better record and appeared to be a better team, the Marlins swept them in a short best-of-three series.

King understands the pros and cons of adding more teams to the playoffs.

“More teams making the playoffs is better for the sport as a whole,” King said. “It’s always nice for your team to make the playoffs, especially if they are a cusp team that can definitely grow the sport in the area. However, when you narrow it down, each game becomes more impactful during the regular season.”

Another change from last year is that all teams will allow a varying capacity of fans at the ballpark. Many teams, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, will have around 20% capacity. Still, there are a few outliers like the state of Texas, which has already been fully reopened to the public, and will allow the Texas Rangers to be at 100% capacity. On the other hand, the Washington Nationals will only have fans at 10% capacity.

Harrison Seabold, ’24, remains optimistic about the increase of fans at baseball games over the course of the season.

“We are seeing the (NCAA) March Madness tournament (allow) upwards (of) 35-to-40% (of capacity),” Seabold said. “I think it will be upwards towards that percentage in baseball because there are more seats, and they are more spread out.”

Besides being able to see more fellow fans rather than cardboard cutouts in the stands, many baseball fans are excited for the wave of young players making a huge impact on the game. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuna Jr. are a pair of five-tool players that can crush 40 home runs and swipe 40 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Juan Soto is an on-base machine and has already been receiving comparisons to the great Ted Williams. All three of these players are under 24 years old.

Seabold is looking forward to seeing these young players compete during the regular season.

“I think they are going to be great this year,” Seabold said. “We are seeing all these young dudes hitting bombs over and over again. It’s super exciting to watch, especially since they are so close to our age.”

Victoria Vradenburg, ’21, is especially excited about Wander Franco. She predicts that the 19-year-old shortstop will win the American League Rookie of the Year award.

“The way he has been producing in the preseason,” Vradenburg said. “I really like how he has come out and made a huge impact for the Tampa Bay Rays. I like the fact that even though he’s a rookie, he looks like he has been in the Majors for ten years.”

As for surprise teams, Vradenburg has confidence the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals can find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Both teams had underrated offseasons. The Brewers acquired defensive wizards Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong, whereas the Nationals added sluggers Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber. Both teams play in two very competitive divisions that feature at least four potential contenders.

“The Brewers are not necessarily a surprise team, but they have been up and down. I definitely think they will make a (playoff) run this season and come back from the last season they had. I also think the Nats could maybe come back (to the playoffs),” Vradenburg said.

The new and improved team rosters will also be fun to watch this season. Several teams had huge offseasons such as the San Diego Padres, who inked Tatis Jr. to a 12-year, $340 million extension, and added former All-Stars Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to the rotation. Besides the Padres, the St. Louis Cardinals traded for Nolan Arenado — one of the best third basemen in all of baseball — to strengthen their chances to win the NL Central.

Vradenburg is a Los Angeles Dodgers fan and cannot wait to see the reigning NL Cy Young award winner, Trevor Bauer, don a white and blue uniform. Bauer will be the highest paid player in a single season this year as he is set to make $41 million.

“When (Clayton) Kershaw was out and was injured, the Dodgers could not pick themselves up, or find the motivation,” Vradenburg said. “So adding a new pitcher (such as Trevor Bauer) to their staff is a very good move for their organization.”

With just six days until the season begins, fans can look forward to revamped rosters, rule changes, breakout players, and fans in the stands.