Beating expectations

The Giants, Mariners, Rays, and Brewers confounded Las Vegas this year

There seemed to be nothing exceptional about the game in Oracle Park on August 15.

Tommy La Stella doubled in the fifth inning to stake the Giants to a 3-0 lead over the Colorado Rockies, and Austin Slater and Wilmer Flores drove in a pair of insurance runs in the seventh. San Francisco held on for a 5-2 victory, then turned its gaze to an upcoming series against the New York Mets.

The Giants had a 76-42 record at that point, good for a four-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West. But everything remained in flux. There were 44 games left to play in the 2021 season.

Yet that August 15 win was significant in one sense. It put the Giants above the 2021 victory total envisioned by Las Vegas oddsmakers. The preseason line for San Francisco had been just 75.5 wins, as reported by Vegas Insider, a harbinger of an unhappy sub-.500 performance.

The Giants. of course, obliterated that total. They finished with 107 wins, 31.5 above the line, the widest gap in the majors. Five other teams exceeded their preseason forecasts by at least 10 victories: the Mariners, Rays, Brewers, Red Sox, and Rockies.

Four of these overachievers are among the 10 teams that qualified for the playoffs. San Francisco, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee won their divisions, while Boston plucked one of the American League’s wild-card berths. (And Seattle fell just two wins short of the postseason.)

Sixteen clubs, in all, exceeded expectations in 2021, while 14 fell short. The Diamondbacks were the worst of the latter. The oddsmakers set the line for Arizona at 74.5 wins, but the actual total was just 52.

You’ll find the results for all 30 clubs below, based on comparisons with the preseason lines reported by Vegas Insider.

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Actual vs. predicted performances in 2021

1. San Francisco Giants: surplus of 31.5 wins (predicted wins: 75.5, actual wins: 107) — Nobody, absolutely nobody, pictured the Giants finishing with the best record in the majors, but that’s what they did.

2. Seattle Mariners: surplus of 17.5 wins (predicted wins: 72.5, actual wins: 90) — Las Vegas saw the Mariners as a sub-.500 mess, but they could have been a playoff club if Sunday had gone their way.

3. Tampa Bay Rays: surplus of 14.5 wins (predicted wins: 85.5, actual wins: 100) — We should know better by now. The Rays are written off every year, but they always exceed expectations.

4. Milwaukee Brewers: surplus of 12.5 wins (predicted wins: 82.5, actual wins: 95) — The Brewers finished below .500 in last year’s truncated season, but exceptional pitching powered a rebound in 2021.

5. Boston Red Sox: surplus of 11.5 wins (predicted wins: 80.5, actual wins: 92) — Last year’s .400 winning percentage proved to be an aberration. The Red Sox spent 85 days in first place this year, then hung on for a playoff spot.

6. Colorado Rockies: surplus of 10.5 wins (predicted wins: 63.5, actual wins: 74) — The Rockies were never in the playoff hunt, unlike the five clubs above them. But this was their best season since 2018.

7. Detroit Tigers: surplus of 8.5 wins (predicted wins: 68.5, actual wins: 77) — An 8-19 record in April seemed to confirm the dismal expectations, but the Tigers went a respectable 69-66 after that.

8. Houston Astros: surplus of 7.5 wins (predicted wins: 87.5, actual wins: 95) — This is the team that everybody loves to hate. Yet the Astros managed to overcome the negativity with another divisional title.

9. Toronto Blue Jays: surplus of 4.5 wins (predicted wins: 86.5, actual wins: 91) — A young, vibrant, and exciting club. The Jays were still a playoff contender on Sunday afternoon, falling a single victory short.

10. Los Angeles Dodgers: surplus of 3.5 wins (predicted wins: 102.5, actual wins: 106) — This year’s Dodgers tied their club’s all-time record for victories, but what did it get them? Just a shot in the wild-card game.

10. St. Louis Cardinals: surplus of 3.5 wins (predicted wins: 86.5, actual wins: 90) — A sizzling 17-game winning streak in September pulled the Cards from their .500 lethargy and propelled them into a wild-card slot.

12. Chicago White Sox: surplus of 2.5 wins (predicted wins: 90.5, actual wins: 93) — The Sox were slated to be a contender this year, and they met expectations by taking the crown in the AL Central.

13. Cincinnati Reds: surplus of 1.5 wins (predicted wins: 81.5, actual wins: 83) — It appeared that the Reds were going to obliterate their preseason line, but they stalled down the stretch.

13. Philadelphia Phillies: surplus of 1.5 wins (predicted wins: 80.5, actual wins: 82) — The story in Cincinnati was duplicated in Philadelphia. The Phillies didn’t get the September wins they needed for a playoff berth.

13. Pittsburgh Pirates: surplus of 1.5 wins (predicted wins: 59.5, actual wins: 61) — A disappointing season was envisioned in Pittsburgh. A disappointing season ensued.

16. Kansas City Royals: surplus of 0.5 wins (predicted wins: 73.5, actual wins: 74) — The Royals performed almost exactly as predicted, crossing the line with a half-game to spare.

17. Oakland Athletics: deficit of 0.5 wins (predicted wins: 86.5, actual wins: 86) — It seemed that the A’s were going to finish well above their predicted total, perhaps landing a playoff slot. But the final 30 games brought a reality check with 17 losses.

18. Cleveland Indians: deficit of 1.5 wins (predicted wins: 81.5, actual wins: 80) — Their final year as the Indians went according to form. Las Vegas envisioned the soon-to-be Guardians as a .500 club, and that’s almost how things went.

19. Atlanta Braves: deficit of 3.5 wins (predicted wins: 91.5, actual wins: 88) — The Braves were installed as the preseason favorites in the NL East. And they did indeed win the division, though not as emphatically as expected.

19. New York Yankees: deficit of 3.5 wins (predicted wins: 95.5, actual wins: 92) — Las Vegas believed that the Yankees would easily win the AL East. That didn’t happen, though New York did claw its way to a wild-card berth.

21. Miami Marlins: deficit of 4.5 wins (predicted wins: 71.5, actual wins: 67) — There were occasional signs of life in Miami this year, but the final result was a bit worse than anticipated.

22. Los Angeles Angels: deficit of 6.5 wins (predicted wins: 83.5, actual wins: 77) — The same question seems to be asked every year: How can a club with so much money and so much starpower be so disappointing?

22. Texas Rangers: deficit of 6.5 wins (predicted wins: 66.5, actual wins: 60) — Not much was expected this year in Dallas-Fort Worth, but the outcome was even worse than envisioned.

24. Chicago Cubs: deficit of 7.5 wins (predicted wins: 78.5, actual wins: 71) — Who could have imagined that the Cubs would deal away all of their stars, guaranteeing a second-half swoon?

25. Baltimore Orioles: deficit of 12.5 wins (predicted wins: 64.5, actual wins: 52) — The oddsmakers thought the Orioles would lose almost 100 games, which would have been bad enough. The actual total: 110 losses.

26. New York Mets: deficit of 13.5 wins (predicted wins: 90.5, actual wins: 77) — Yes, the Mets were expected to be playoff contenders. And yes, they actually spent 114 days in first place. But the final two months were ugly.

27. Minnesota Twins: deficit of 15.5 wins (predicted wins: 88.5, actual wins: 73) — The Twins were another anticipated playoff contender that crashed and burned, though their collapse came early — 9-15 in April, 13-16 in May.

27. San Diego Padres: deficit of 15.5 wins (predicted wins: 94.5, actual wins: 79) — Several experts (who mercifully won’t be identified here) pegged the Padres as World Series contenders. They sputtered so badly that they failed to reach .500.

29. Washington Nationals: deficit of 19.5 wins (predicted wins: 84.5, actual wins: 65) — A repeat of the Cubs’ story, with big stars being traded away. Has it really been just two years since the Nats won the world title?

30. Arizona Diamondbacks: deficit of 22.5 wins (predicted wins: 74.5, actual wins: 52) — The year wasn’t expected to be anything special in Phoenix, but nobody envisioned this disaster. The Diamondbacks tied the Orioles for 2021’s worst record.