A look at the top five storylines heading into the 2021 MLB season, which begins on Thursday:
1. Teams all face a math problem — how do they add up to 1,400? That is roughly how many innings a team throws in a season. It is always tricky to get there. But now each organization must do so with their pitchers coming off either a severely reduced workload due to the pandemic season or nothing if they were minor leaguers.
Already at least two teams are planning a six-man rotation, others plan to insert a sixth man on occasion, some are thinking about using openers regularly and all are trying to stash as many potential solutions during the season fearing pitchers hitting walls or incurring injuries, particularly as workloads mount.
2. Can the Dodgers repeat? No club has done so since the three-peat Yankees of 1998-2000. The Dodgers kept their championship core intact and added Trevor Bauer. Within their own division, the Padres have bulked up to make a run at the NL West with the addition of starting pitchers Yu Davish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell. It could be that the most interesting rivalry in the sport is out West, but no longer Dodgers-Giants.
3. On Oct. 28, 2011, Jason Motte induced a flyout from David Murphy to close out a World Series win for the Cardinals. That represented Tony La Russa’s third title as manager, in what was believed to be his final game. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. But White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has long said his greatest baseball regret was firing La Russa in 1986. So three-and-a-half decades later, Reinsdorf is trying to reverse that.
La Russa is 76. He has had a couple of high-profile intoxication issues in recent years. The White Sox might be the most talented team in the AL (though the loss of outfielder Eloy Jimenez for the season could be a huge shortcoming). Is La Russa still a great manager who can lead talent to accomplishment or have the game and players’ attitudes passed him by?
4. Mike Trout finished fifth for the AL MVP last year. For him, that actually represents slippage. In his first eight years, he finished first or second seven times and fourth once. He is assembling one of the greatest careers ever. But he will turn 30 in August. Will we leave the 2021 season believing that someone else — Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. — is the best player in the sport? And will we leave the season with Trout having appeared in the playoffs just one time in his brilliant career?
5. The season within the season involves a group of elite shortstops jockeying as they head to free agency simultaneously. There could be a signing or two that sets the market, but as the season neared, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Trevor Story were all entering their walk years. They were shortstops, stars and stocks — who will rise and fall in this pivotal season?