With the NFL wrapping up its season this past weekend, baseball is back in the air. Who are the top five sleeper teams to look for this year? As Spring training is approaching, we’ll take a look at some underrated teams heading into the 2021 season.
The Washington Nationals won the World Series back in 2019 and shouldn’t be written off too early this year. With one of Baseball’s best up and comers in Juan Soto, a slugging veteran in Kyle Schwarber, and a crafty shortstop in Trea Turner, the Nationals offense has the potential to blow games open. Expect the Nationals young bats to make a significant impact in the NL East.
In addition to their powerful bats, the Nations could put out the best rotation in baseball this season. Max Scherzer has repeatedly proven himself as one of the premier arms in baseball, and that’s not changing soon. Followed by scary second and third options in Steven Strausburg and Patrick Corbin, the top half of that rotation is phenomenal. However, the 4 and 5 spots are a little shaky with an aging Jon Lester and two unproven starters in Erick Fedde and Austin Voth. The strength of these pitchers really makes the Nationals a sleeper team this year.
In the bullpen, the addition of star pitcher Brad Hand will be sure to add to a somewhat shaky bullpen in the past. Hand has proven to be one of the best relievers in baseball these past few seasons, finishing last year with 16 saves.
The Nationals have one of the most talented rosters in baseball and should come out hot this season.
St. Louis Cardinals:
The St. Louis Cardinals had a very active offseason and put themselves in prime position for a strong season. The huge acquisition of Nolan Arenado makes that infield dangerous paired with Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt. Matt Carpenter adds great infield depth as he recovers from a rough 2020 campaign. This star-studded infield makes the Cardinals one of the most promising sleeper teams. Center Fielder Harrison Bader has proven to be a solid average hitter with a career WAR of 6.6. Besides that, the rest of the outfield is unproven. Expect the infield to carry the bulk of the load behind the plate with a rather inexperienced outfield.
Don’t expect this lineup to be the best in baseball this season, but certainly be ready for them to hold their own and let the offense do the rest. Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright are a solid one-two punch at the top of the order. Miles Mikolas looks to come back from a season-ending injury last year and continue his solid play for the Cardinals, with former KBO star Kwang Hyun Kim looking to continue his MLB success.
The Cardinals have a real solid bullpen this upcoming season with Alex Reyes finally showing life as a former top prospect. He had an impressive 32.1 percent strikeout rate in a successful 2020 campaign. Reyes, paired with reliable veterans like Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos, should hold their own in the later innings of games this upcoming season.
The Cardinals did everything right this offseason, so expect them to start 2021 off strong.
Los Angeles Angels:
While the Angels have played seemingly mediocre baseball these past few seasons, things should certainly be changing soon. You can never count out the great Mike Trout, who has finished top five in MVP voting every year of his career.
Matched with third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has been phenomenal, these two will be one of the best duos in the league. Not to mention future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, who is eager to add to his resume.
This is undoubtedly the weak spot for the Angels lineup heading into 2021. With Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani proving to be an injury risk in the past few seasons, the Angles do not have many star pitchers to rely on. None of the starting pitchers on the roster are predicted to have an ERA lower than 4.00, leaving them in some serious trouble this year.
Hopefully, Shohei Ohtani can return to the mound and perform as he did in his rookie season. In doing so, he could leave the pressure off of veterans like Jose Quintana and Andrew Heaney.
Raisel Iglesias goes into this season looking to be the star closer for the Angels this season. He had a stretch of 28, 30, and 34 save seasons from 2017-2019 and will look to perform just as well this year. Iglesias looks to lead the bullpen this year with some help from young bucks like Ty Buttrey, and in veterans like Alex Claudio.
This offense will have to compensate for a lack of pitching prowess, but that is what makes them one of the great sleeper teams.
The Phillies have as much offensive firepower as any team in the league but aren’t talked about enough because of the NL East’s depth. Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Didi Gregorius. These are just a few of the weapons that the Phillies have this season. This team could be extremely dangerous if their offense stays healthy, and could be real contenders in the National League.
The Phillies have great starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Nola has been in Cy Young contention recently, and Wheeler is looking to prove his true potential and cement himself with the aces of this league. Expect young pitchers Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard to make a name for themselves this season and solidify this starting lineup.
While the Phillies lack a big-name arm in their bullpen, they make up for it with several reliable arms. They may look to use a closer by commit approach this season, with great arms in Hector Neris, Joe Alvarado, and Archie Bradley. Hector Neris has been the closer in Philly for a few years now, so don’t expect him to back down. Some friendly competition in the bullpen should foster strong performances out of these three pitchers, leaving the Phillies with a stellar bullpen.
With a roster this talented, the Phillies are poised to be one of the top-five sleeper teams.
The Astros roster is jam-packed with impact players who will produce at the plate this year. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa are all premier players at their respective positions. With an infield like that, the Astros already have a leg up on most teams in the league. Right field is a question mark after star George Spring took his talents to the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, but the Astros lineup is poised to move forward without him.
Justin Verlander is a world-class ace and will be more than reliable this year. Not to mention Zack Greinke entering a contract year this season, these Astros have an established top of the rotation. In addition to these proven arms, they have promising young talent in Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez.
Even in a shortened season, closer Ryan Pressly finished 2020 with a career-high save total (12). Expect him to enter the 2021 season with a determination to continue his success. He should have some help with unproven youngsters in Luis Garcia and Enoli Paredes.
Astros have a strong rotation and phenomenal bats, making them one of the best sleeper teams.