Of all the baseball leagues we run on these pages, the only one that actually happened in 2020 was the triennial regional alignment corresponding with the correct alignment for interleague play. We can compare 2020 with the first half of 2021.
It's the All-Star break in 2021 and we still haven't gotten around to publishing the results from the only baseball competition on these pages that survived coronavirus in 2020, the triennial regional leagues.
We track these leagues during the years, ideally one out of every three, in which MLB aligns the divisions for interleague play so east plays east, etc. In an ordinary season, if every team in both central divisions play each other, we end up with a round-robin, though still unbalanced, schedule of 96 games. And if we get rid of the National League and American League labels, the 10 teams in each of the three resulting leagues can be divided into two regionally interesting divisions.
As it happens, the ideal alignment for running these leagues actually has been popping up much more than every three years, due to travel cautions over coronavirus. Indeed, 2021 is the third year of the last four to be aligned this way, and the second year in a row. We tracked for the first time in 2015, the alignment returned in 2018 and it was going to come back for 2021, anyway, but 2020 was forced by the virus.
So, when we look at these leagues now for 2020, we can compare them directly with how they shape up at the All-Star break in 2021.
We'll start with the East League, where the Boston Red Sox show their cyclical tendencies. In 2015, the first year we tracked, the Red Sox were all the way down from their 2013 World Champions, 78-84, and in the East League they were 48-48, second division overall and second from the bottom of the North Division.
The 2018 edition ended with the Red Sox dominating, as they actually did. In the East League, they were 68-28, 11 games ahead of the nearest contender. Over the full season, they won 108 during the regular slate, then won the World Championship with three playoff wins in which no opponent beat them more than once.
But we revisited the triennial leagues prematurely in 2020 because of coronavirus, and the timing was poor for the Red Sox, who perhaps didn't have enough time in a 60-game campaign and finished 24-36. Then again, Chris Sale was out for the year with Tommy John surgery, so it might have been to no avail.
We don't have this in the agate, but the playoff championship in the 2020 East League would have gone to the Rays. If two division champs in one of these leagues meets in the playoffs, we count that as the league championship series, and the Rays beat the North Division champs, the New York Yankees, in a five-game ALDS.
We come now to the All-Star break in 2021 and the Red Sox, still without Sale, are leading the East League, holding on tight with a two-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays, who blitzed through last year's regional season with a 40-20 record, winning the East League overall and the East League South on their way to a six-game loss to the Dodgers in the World Series.
The very next year, this year, the Yankees are hapless against Eastern competition, 21-30 in this East League, protected from the bottom only by the Baltimore Orioles. Thus, it looks like the East League in 2021 will come down to the Rays and Red Sox, though the Toronto Blue Jays, third-place at the break, can be influential, as they are in the same Major League division.
The difference a year makes in the Center League is rather stark. In 2020, the Twins blew through a 60-game season at 36-24. They were the regular season champions across the league, the premiers, as they are sometimes called in Australia.
At the All-Star break in 2021, the Twins were 39-50, a .438 winning percentage. In the Center League, they were much better, 24-27, .474. In the Center League, they're a middle entry, the top team in the second division. In the North Division, they're fourth out of five.
The Twins nosed out the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians by one game and the Chicago Cubs by two in a thrilling race last year. Through Sept. 18, the White Sox held a two-game lead on the Cubs, a three-game lead on the Twins and a five-game lead on the Indians. But the White Sox lost seven of their last nine. A six-game losing streak during that span involved getting swept four in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Twins were winning four in a row, including two against the Cubs. By the final weekend, the Twins were a game up on the Sox, two up on Cleveland and three up on the Cubs.
The Twins lost two of three during the final weekend at the Cincinnati Reds, who were fighting to enter the expanded playoffs. The Indians won two of three at home against cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cubs beat the Sox two out of three at the South Side venue.
As the visiting Twins licked their wounds in Cincinnati, having lost a chance to clinch the Center League by losing, 5-3, on the final day of the season, the Cubs and White Sox were putting the finishing touches on a strange game. A loss by the Twins and a Sox win would tie them atop the final standings, and the Twins certainly lost. But anyone watching the scoreboard would also have given up on the Sox, who trailed, 10-1, after seven innings.
In the eighth, new Cubs reliever Brailyn Marquez really needed to just throw strikes with a 10-1 lead and six outs to get. But he walked the first two batters of the eighth before wild pitching them to second and third. A ground ball scored the lead runner. The next hitter struck out. The inning should have been over. Then, a walk, a hard single that advanced each runner two bases, a wild pitch, a double ... Then a new pitcher, another wild pitch and another hit. Five runs brought the White Sox within 10-6.
The second Cubs pitcher in the eighth, Duane Underwood, Jr., allowed a leadoff single in the ninth, followed by Yasmani Grandal's homer. 10-8. Two outs later, with a runner at third, still another reliever, Andrew Chafin, struck out Nomar Mazara looking at a 2-2 pitch. Game over. All around Minnesota, we presume, toasts were raised to Andrew Chafin for helping the Twins win the Center League and its North Division. The Cubs got to spoil the White Sox ... Chafin, by the way, was having quite a nice year for the Cubs in 2021 as a specialty left-hander out of their bullpen before they traded him just now to Oakland.
At the All-Star break in 2021, the White Sox and Indians have returned as contenders, but the Twins and Cubs have not. Instead, we see the Reds sitting one game behind the Sox at the pause. The Brewers, the top team in the 2021 NL Central, are strangely low in these standings, seven down at the break. In fact, the Brewers swept three from the Reds right after the break, and later won two of three from the White Sox, so they have moved to within five games of first place ten games after the break.
We've seen the Dodgers run hot before. The 41-8 run in 2013 was one for the ages. But the Dodgers were on just a slightly slower pace during the 2021 regular season, 43-17. Play at the clip over 162 games and you're finishing with 116 wins. Not happening.
So, the Dodgers won the West League without a fight. The San Diego Padres, up and coming, still were close to a week behind the Dodgers in the end. After the strong third-place Oakland Athletics, the remaining seven teams in the 2020 West League finished with losing records.
Flash forward to the West League in 2021 and we've got a smoking race with the Dodgers, Padres and San Francisco Giants all within a game of the top, and the Houston Astros three games down.
That was at the All-Star break, these standings. Since then, and including games through July 28, the Dodgers have found rough sledding in the west, going 6-6, including four losses in six games to the Giants. Those are the only games the Giants have played in the West, while the Astros were 5-1 against the West and the Padres were 1-1.
Put it all together and the Dodgers were tied with the Giants in first place, one game ahead of the Astros and 1½ ahead of San Diego.