We all know the list of the long-standing baseball rivalries. Those will never go away. There's always going to be something about the Dodgers-Giants, Cubs-Cardinals and, yes, the Yankees-Red Sox series that draws our eyeballs with a bit extra fervor (and we won't have much choice if we want to watch baseball on several Sunday nights). That does not, however, mean those are going to be the most intriguing series every single season. With that in mind, what are lining up to be the best rivalries in the 2021 version of Major League Baseball?
The number of times the teams face each other head to head matter, of course, and so do playoff implications. Along the way, a good-spirited "hatred" of each other -- especially looping in the fan bases, so long as we can keep things civil -- goes a long way in making things more interesting.
Here are my top five rivalries, ranked in order of intrigue, to watch for the 2021 season followed by five other areas of possibility.
Go West, people. This is where the good stuff resides. These two teams occupy the top two spots in my first version of power rankings. The Padres have made some serious noise the last few years, but they have not toppled the Final Boss (more on that here) in the defending champion Dodgers. We often say, rightfully so, that the Padres might be the most fun and/or exciting team to watch in baseball. Let's just not lose focus on just how fun the Dodgers are, though. Their championship and huge payroll don't negate the watchability, which is obscenely high.
These two teams first play on April 16 in San Diego and meet in the final week of the season (Sept. 28-30). Their head-to-head matchups could very well decide the NL West (and hopefully they meet again in October).
The Rays are the defending AL East and American League champions. The Yankees actually don't have a pennant since 2009 and that's an eternity the way that franchise and its fan base views things. That puts the Rays squarely in the way. The Little Guy is in the way of the should-be Big Guy. That's good theater.
There's more, too.
Last season, the Rays won eight of the 10 regular season games between these two teams. The Rays ended the Yankees' season in the ALDS, too, when Mike Brosseau took Aroldis Chapman deep in the eighth inning. In the ninth, Diego Castillo struck out Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit before Gio Urshela's lineout closed the door.
On paper, the Yankees should be better while it looks like the Rays took a step back in the rotation. Games aren't played on paper, though. We actually get to watch them. These will be must-watch TV (or whatever device you watch these days).
It's a bit of an old-school rivalry that new Mets ownership seems to have jumpstarted for 2021. The Braves have won the NL East three straight seasons and were the second-best team in the NL last year. They appear primed for another deep playoff run, but the Mets would like a word on that. They already had a strong offense and an ace, but they beefed up this offseason by adding superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor along with starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker and Marcus Stroman (he accepted a qualifying offer, but he had opted out in 2020). Noah Syndergaard will be back at some point from Tommy John surgery, too. There's great potential for a battle down to the wire here.
4. Twins-White Sox
A few projection systems have been a bit bearish on the White Sox, but Fangraphs has these two teams just one game apart, and that's about my thinking as well. I really like the White Sox to continue on last season's breakout and they are better in a few spots. The Twins aren't going anywhere, though, and are a decent bet to win their third-straight AL Central title. If they don't, the White Sox are the pick to take them down. The two teams don't face off in April or September, so there's a lot of head-to-head action in between.
This was a consideration to be ranked higher, but these two teams only square off six times out of the 162 in the regular season. Baseball gods willing, though, we'll get a rematch of the NLCS at some point in October. Remember, the Braves had a 2-0 series lead before the Dodgers scored 11 in the first inning in Game 3. Then the Braves blew things open in the sixth inning in Game 4 and took a 3-1 series lead, only to see the Dodgers win three straight with their backs against the wall. Game 7 was a beauty with Cody Bellinger's go-ahead bomb in the seventh proving to be the series winner. Both teams remain loaded and exciting.
If those don't end up being the top five rivalries in the 2021 season, something from below likely will have emerged.
The NL Central?
The Pirates are an embarrassment, so disregard them. Otherwise, who knows how this is going to go? I feel like the Reds are a decent bet for fourth place, but it's possible they can top the Brewers and/or the Cubs. We've got the ol' Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. The Brewers have plenty of rivalry-level hatred built up against both of those teams, too. This is the worst division in baseball, but the chances of it being competitive are decent. Something good will arise.
The AL West?
Astros-A's seems a good bet here and it's possible there's still bad blood between Houston and sign-stealing whistleblower Mike Fiers. The Astros aren't quite the juggernaut they were a few years ago and the A's could be down as well. There's room for something else to brew here (an Angels breakout?).
The Blue Jays vs. the top of AL East
We've already discussed the Yankees and Rays competing and we've been knocked over the head plenty about the one rivalry we don't need to mention again. What about the Jays, though? They started to come into their own last season and look to be better this time around. Might we end the season talking about the great battles between the Yankees and Jays? Or Rays and Jays? Both? It's all possible.
The rest of the NL East?
We already talked about the Mets and Braves, but we can't discount the rest of what could be the most competitive division in baseball. The Nationals won the World Series in the last full season and have retooled things a bit. They still have three aces, too. The Phillies were very inconsistent last season but they have talent and there's no way their bullpen could possibly be worse. And what do the Marlins do for the encore to their upstart playoff run? There's potential for all kinds of East-on-East crime.
Is everyone over this? I know I am. The Dodgers should be, since they just won the 2020 World Series. Then again, two rings are better than one and 2017 definitely happened. Benches cleared last season when the two teams met. They play six times in 2021, too -- likely with some fans in the stands.