The 2021 MLB season has been exactly what the sport needed after a shortened 2020 season completely derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the eight no-hitters, which is an MLB record at this point in the year, to Tim Anderson’s electric walk-off homer at the first-ever Field of Dreams game, the 2021 MLB season has a chance to go down as one of the most iconic campaigns the sport has ever seen (and there is still over a month left in the regular season).
This season has been filled with plenty of surprises. There was something every week that deserved a major headline, and on the latest episode of the Just Baseball Show, hosts Peter Appel and Jack McMullen ranked the ten most surprising things we’ve seen thus far.
In May, it was the four no-hitters thrown within a two-week window. In June, it was the Trevor Bauer scandal. In July, the trade deadline madness sent stars like Khris Bryant and Max Scherzer to title contenders.
The baseball world has seen plenty of unexpected moments, but there are a few that belong in a tier of their own. Here are the ten biggest surprises of the 2021 MLB season:
10: Cedric Mullins is the truth
People knew that Cedric Mullins had potential, but nobody saw this coming.
Mullins flashed his talent last year after hitting .271 in 48 games during the shortened COVID-19 season. He is firing on all cylinders this season, as he currently has 20 home runs and 22 stolen bases to go along with a .318 batting average.
There aren’t many players like Mullins. His combination of defense, speed, power, and ability to get on the base makes him a true Swiss Army Knife on the diamond. He’s still only 26 years old and has plenty of room to grow as a defender and a hitter. Cedric Mullins is here to stay.
9: The Minnesota Twins are just full-blown bad
At the beginning of the 2021 season, the Minnesota Twins were projected at 89.5 wins by the William Hill Sportsbook. At this point, they’ll be lucky if they even crack 70 wins.
The Twins are currently 16.5 games back in the AL Central, and they are 13 games under .500. They are currently 26th in the league in team ERA, and their staff has given up the 4th most hits in baseball. Minnesota is paying around $120 million in salary this season, and they have nearly $50 million committed to Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, and Alex Colome next year. Hopefully, Bryon Buxton has a huge bounce-back year once he’s healthy because right now, things are looking pretty for the Twins next season, either.
8: The Cubs fall from grace came so fast
Every real Chicago Cubs fan will remember exactly where they were on July 30, 2021.
That was the day the Cubbies decided to blow up their entire roster at the trade deadline. Javy Baez is on the New York Mets, Anthony Rizzo is on the New York Yankees, and Kris Bryant is on the San Francisco Giants. They also traded Ryan Tepera, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, and Jake Marisnick.
How has it worked out since? Well, not great. Since July 30, they are 3-13, and they now sit 15.5 games out of the division lead. The Cubs did get many prospects in return, but it is tough to be a Cubs fan right now.
7: Fernando Tatis Jr changes entire identity of the Padres
While Tatis Jr. was out with his shoulder injury, the San Diego Padres had lost four in a row to the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks. They got shutout twice, and one of those games was a no-hitter by Tyler Gilbert in his first career start.
Tatis Jr. returned this past Sunday, and the Padres felt his presence. He led the Padres to an 8-2 win after going 4-for-5 at the plate with two home runs and 4 RBI. Tatis Jr. is now third in the majors in home runs behind only Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero Jr.
It is crazy to see how much the Padres lack guidance when the 22-year-old superstar is out of the lineup. He brings a brand of swagger and confidence that few players possess, especially for a young player. The Padres very well could make a World Series run, but they won’t go anywhere without Fernando Tatis Jr.
6: The NL East is Garbage
Everyone knew the Miami Marlins weren’t going anywhere this year, but the rest of the division had so much potential.
The Atlanta Braves are currently at the top of the NL East with a 65-56 record, but they are still fighting the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets for the division crown (both teams are within 4.5 games back). The Washington Nationals are out of the picture after trading away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, and Josh Harrison.
There is a chance that both the NL MVP (Bryce Harper) and NL Cy Young (Zack Wheeler) are from one of the most mediocre divisions in baseball. Hopefully, things get spicy in the NL East as September looms.
5: The Red Sox can Pitch!
Who’s going to be our ace? That was the question that every Red Sox fan had to ponder, knowing that Chris Sale would miss significant time as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. It was a big worry for Sox Nation, but the rest of the staff certainly held down the fort while Sale was away.
Boston ranks second in the AL in strikeouts and found ways to buy time with Nick Pivetta, Garret Richards, and Martin Perez in the rotation. Nathan Eovaldi was named an All-Star for the first time this season, and Hirokazu Sawamura has been a huge plus in the bullpen. Now that Chris Sale is back in the picture, the Red Sox has a chance to be really dangerous in October.
4: The Cincinnati Reds: Best Offensive Big Three
What word comes to mind when you hear ‘Cincinnati?’ The correct answer: bombs.
The Cincinnati Red has been an offensive juggernaut this year, thanks to Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and Joey Votto. All three guys rank in the top 15 in baseball for WRC+, and the Reds have some of the best numbers in the MLB. They currently rank 4th in total hits, 5th in home runs, 4th in RBI, and 5th in team batting average.
Castellanos, Winker, and Votto have put the Reds into the Wild Card hunt, and they have also gotten key contributions from other players like Jonathan India, who is in the running for NL Rookie of the Year.
3: The Milwaukee Brewers: Best Pitching Big Three
Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta. These are three of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball, and they happen to be on the same team.
The Milwaukee Brewers are sitting at the top of the NL Central thanks to the stellar play of these three studs. All three pitchers are at the top of the leaderboards in ERA and strikeouts per nine. All three pitchers are in the top six in the NL in pitching WAR. All three pitchers are in the top 7 in batting average against. In other words, these guys are excellent.
The Brewers have one of the best records in the NL and have a good chance at winning their division. Milwaukee could make some noise in the playoffs if Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta keep this up for the rest of the year.
2: The San Francisco Giants are #1
San Francisco, we are sorry everyone doubted.
The Giants currently hold the best record in baseball at 71-41, and they were the first team to reach 70 wins. They rank 2nd in team era and 8th in runs scored. Their bullpen is second in era and first in saves. This team has completely outperformed all expectations and is poised to make a deep run in the postseason. It has also been fun to watch Darin Ruf and Stephen Duggar turn transform from role players to stars in their roles.
Gabe Kapler is a lock for NL Manager of the Year, and this team just got Kris Bryant at the deadline. Watch out for San Francisco.
1: Shohei Ohtani is Better Than Babe Ruth
Shohei Ohtani is one of one. He is actually doing things that haven’t been seen since Babe Ruth… and he’s doing it better.
Ohtani has the best WRC+ in baseball, and he currently leads the MLB with 40 home runs. He is 4th in the MLB with 87 RBI, and he ranks in the top five in offensive WAR. Also, if he qualified, he’d have a better strikeout rate than Lance Lynn and Zack Wheeler (our Cy Young frontrunner). Oh, yeah, he’s also top 10 in stolen bases.
There has never been a player that has produced as Shohei Ohtani has. This has never happened before.