By Daniel Multz
Boston University News Service
With the 2021 MLB Playoffs starting tonight with the Yankees and Red Sox facing off in the American League Wild Card Game, the league wrapped up its first full season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with an impressive number of firsts.
With only 60 games last season, this year featured many first-time occurrences that took previous records and broke them over their knee, like a bat. Here’s some of the firsts from this year’s full, 162-game campaign.
- A new record for home runs by a catcher
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez hit 48 home runs this season, breaking the previous record of 45, held by hall-of-fame Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench since 1970.
According to Baseball Savant, Perez ranked third among catchers with a .273 batting average, and had the second-highest slugging percentage among catchers of .544 (league average was .411).
While the Royals continue to rebuild, Perez’s historic season makes the MVP race tighter, and establishes him as one of the league’s best catchers.
- Two teams in the same division won more than 105 games
This almost happened in 2018 in the American League East, when the World-Champion Boston Red Sox won 108 games, and the New York Yankees won 100.
However, not until 2021 with the San Francisco Giants (107 wins), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (106 wins) of the National League (NL) West did two teams in the same division both reach 105 wins.
Both of these teams are eyeing a deep playoff run this October, but their race for the NL West crown was unlike any other in MLB history.
- Shohei Ohtani’s dominance on the mound, and at the plate
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first debuted in 2018 with plenty of attention on his ability to both pitch and hit.
No MLB player has done both full-time quite like Babe Ruth over 100 years ago, but Ohtani took things to another level in 2021. According to Baseball Reference, Ohtani hit 46 home runs and finished fifth in MLB with a .965 on-base plus slugging (OPS) this season.
He also pitched over 130 innings with a 3.18 earned run average (ERA). His production on both sides of the field at the level he performed has never been seen before, and gives Ohtani a strong chance to win American League MVP honors.
- Four teams in the same division won at least 90 games
Another divisional first resulted from the American League (AL) East race in 2021. The Tampa Bay Rays (100 wins), Boston Red Sox (92 wins), New York Yankees (92 wins) and Toronto Blue Jays (91 wins) led to the first instance in the divisional era (since 1994) of four teams in the same division winning 90 or more games.
The Rays ran away with the division title, leaving the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays locked in a tight Wild Card race. All three teams put together streaky, but ultimately successful, campaigns, but the Blue Jays fell one win short with the Yankees and Red Sox occupying the two wild cards.