Tuesday, March 30, 2021

2021 Major League Baseball Predictions

 


In 2020, I decided to not bother writing up predictions for what ended up being a 60 game Major League Baseball season, 102 games shorter than a regular season. While it was nice to finally be able to watch some games on TV when the season eventually started on July 27,2020, everything about the season definitely felt odd. That is to be expected though when trying to play a game during a pandemic. Due to  Covid-19, some rules changed in the shortened 2020 season. 

- For a doubleheader, the two games were 7 innings each, as opposed to playing the full 9 innings for both games. 

- If a game went extra innings, the player to make the last out in the 9th inning would start on 2nd base at the beginning of the 10th inning for each team. If the game was still tied after the 10th, then it would start with a runner on 2nd again in the 11th inning, and so on.... 

- The pitcher would no longer hit in the National League and a Designated Hitter would be used in both the National and American League.

These rules were all said to be for 2020 out of safety for the players in keeping them healthy (in addition to their Covid protocols. There was a even a rule that said "no spitting" but I saw plenty of spitting). Another rule went into effect last year as well that stated any relief pitcher coming into a game had to face at least three batters before being replaced. (unless, the pitcher recorded the final out of an inning without facing three batters) The three batter rule was going into place regardless of the pandemic though. 

Let's not forget that the entire 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled. Instead, MLB teams had Alternative Camp sites where a select number of their prospects would work on their skills to stay sharp. The number of players at these sites hardly made up for the lack of a minor league season though.

After much back and forth between MLB and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), it was concluded that the 2021 season would start on time and that the goal will be to play a full 162 game season. There will be no expanded playoffs in 2021 (which is something else they added in 2020). Great! Baseball is going to feel normal once again! Or is it? Because even though they said some of the previous rules wouldn't be returning, it turns out that the 7 inning doubleheaders and man on 2nd to start extra innings will be returning again in 2021 anyway. However, the Designated Hitter is not returning again in the National League. Personally, I dislike the doubleheader and man on 2nd base rules...but apparently enough people like them to keep them around.  The current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires after the 2021 season so we can probably expect some more changes going forward in 2022.

So MLB is scheduled to start the season on April 1, 2021. Starting the season on April Fool Day a year after so many games had to be canceled and rescheduled.... the joke writes itself.  

The Minor Leagues will return in 2021 thankfully but will start a month later than normal (May 4, 2021) as they hope to get everyone vaccinated by the time they begin play. There are also 40 less minor league teams now, but I won't get into that here - you can check this story out for more about that. The minor leagues will also be "testing" out different new rules at every level this season (which are pretty much all stupid in my opinion. You can read about those here in this piece from The Athletic (subscription required).

Ok, so now I am ready to give you my 2021 Major League Baseball predictions. Let's hope all teams can play all 162 games without much trouble and that fans can enjoy games at ballparks again in some capacity! (* denotes Wild-Card team)


American League West
Sean Murphy
Houston Astros (93-69)
Oakland Athletics (90-72)
Los Angeles Angels (86-76)
Texas Rangers (78-84)
Seattle Mariners (77-85)

As much as it pains me to put the Astros ahead of my favorite team, I still see the Astros as the team to beat. Even though Justin Verlander will miss all of the 2021 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Astros still have the upper hand when it comes to pitching. I also expect a rebound season from Jose Altuve in 2021 after a subpar 2020. Fans have not forgotten about the Astros though and their cheating ways in 2017 - which was discovered following the 2019 season. After not being able to attend games throughout 2020, fans will be ready to boo them regardless of how many of the players on the team were even on the 2017 squad. The Oakland Athletics lost some key members due to free agency during the offseason and their unwillingness to pay anybody to stay (no surprise there). However, they should still be a competitive ballclub. Matt Chapman will look to get another Gold Glove Award at third base after an injury plagued 2020. Matt Olson had a subpar 2020 but looks to be back on track in Spring Training. Sean Murphy may very well be the best overall catcher in the American League now. The Los Angeles Angels have a stacked offensive lineup, no doubt about it. Even with arguably the best player in baseball right now in Mike Trout, the Angels still come up short in the pitching department. I expect they will win a lot of high-scoring games this year. A lot will ride on the health of two way player, Shohei Ohtani. Can he complete a full season as both a starting pitcher and a Designated Hitter on days when not pitching? The Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners will likely end up battling each other to stay out of last place in the division. Kyle Gibson looks to be the ace for a mostly inexperienced Texas Rangers pitching staff. Khris Davis will hope to get back to his power hitting ways in Texas (and hitting .247), after being traded from division-rival Oakland in the offseason. The Seattle Mariners made some noise during the offseason but not the good kind. More here on that drama which led to their President/CEO resigning from his duties. After Kyle Lewis won the AL Rookie of The Year in 2020, Jarred Kelenic will look to make it two in the row for the Mariners. Kelenic will not make the team out of Spring Training, but he is expected to be in the majors before too long. 


American League Central
Tim Anderson
Minnesota Twins (94-68)
Chicago White Sox (91-71)*
Kansas City Royals (83-79)
Cleveland Indians (81-81)
Detroit Tigers (70-92)

While the Chicago White Sox probably had the best offseason out of any of the teams in baseball, I still don't have them being the favorites in the American League Central just yet. The Minnesota Twins have a nice 1-2 punch in their rotation with Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios. They also have some great bats including the ageless wonder, Nelson Cruz, who returns for another season. He will turn 41 in July. The White Sox added a solid closer in Liam Hendriks. They also added Lance Lynn to help bolster their rotation. The White Sox did take a blow last week when they learned Eloy Jimenez will miss a majority of 2021 with a ruptured pectoral tendon suffered in a Spring Training game. The White Sox also made the bizarre move of firing their well-liked manager, Rick Renteria, in the offseason and hiring Tony LaRussa to replace him. LaRussa, already in the Hall Of Fame, was hired by White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, who felt like he owed LaRussa the opportunity. LaRussa had previously managed the White Sox from 1979-1986. Prior to being hired, Tony LaRussa, now 76 years old, was charged with a DUI in Arizona. The White Sox knew about the charge and proceeded to hire LaRussa anyway which did not please everyone. Some also question how an old-school guy like LaRussa will gel with a new school squad like the White Sox, especially Tim Anderson, who is flashier than Tony LaRussa probably appreciates. The Kansas City Royals will be without Alex Gordon, who retired following the 2020 season, for the first time since 2006. The Royals have some exciting players in Jorge Soler and recent addition Carlos SantanaBobby Witt, Jr. may also be called up to the majors before too much longer. Witt, Jr. is an infielder, unlike his dad, who pitched for the Rangers, A's, and others during his playing days.The Cleveland Indians, who will be spending 2021 as their last season being called the "Indians"  before changing their team name, have reigning AL CY Young Award winner, Shane Bieber (no relation to Justin), who will look to expand his success from last year to 162 games this year. It looks as though James Karinchak will be Cleveland's closer to start the season, but they could end up having a closer by committee. Aside from Miguel Cabrera staying healthy and possibly getting his 3,000th career hit and 500th career home run in 2021, the Detroit Tigers may not have a lot to look forward to this year. The Tigers brought in new manager, AJ Hinch (suspended last year due to connection with Astros cheating in 2017), to try and right the ship (without cheating).


American League East
George Springer
New York Yankees (97-65)
Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)*
Tampa Bay Rays (89-73)
Boston Red Sox (79-83)
Baltimore Orioles (63-99)

The New York Yankees will be tough to top in the American League East with Gerrit Cole anchoring their pitching rotation. If their gamble on signing former CY Young Winner, Corey Kluber, pays off, then they will be that much tougher. They probably have the best depth offensively out of any team in the majors. They are hoping that the Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy for the first time since 2018. With the players Tampa Bay lost in the offseason and additions Toronto made, I see Toronto making the playoffs in 2021. Toronto will be playing their home games for the month of April in Florida though at their Spring Training site though, due to the pandemic. Last year they played all their home games in Buffalo. Hopefully in May they get the go ahead to return to Toronto. Toronto has added George Springer and Marcus Semien via free agency to add to an already very young talented offense. Springer may start the season on the Injured List with an oblique injury, but shouldn't be out for too long. Toronto also signed Kirby Yates to be their closer but he will now miss the season with Tommy John surgery so there are some questions there as they may do a closer by committee approach. The Tampa Bay Rays were amazing to watch last year in the playoffs, especially Randy Arozarena, who is still a rookie, and the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. Will his display in the playoffs in 2020 carry over to a full season though? Pitchers around the league will definitely be on alert when he comes up to bat. In the short season last year, Tampa Bay relied a lot on their relief pitching. They will need to rely more on their starters if they want to get to the postseason this year and they lost two key starters during the offseason. They brought back Chris Archer after previously trading him to Pittsburgh, where he did not do well. They hope he'll be able to find his touch being back in Tampa Bay again. Chris Sale didn't play all of 2020 for the Boston Red Sox, after having Tommy John surgery. He should be back at some point in 2021. 2019 wasn't a good season for Sale either so he will look to rebound. The Red Sox added Marwin Gonzalez, who can fill in at a number of different positions on the field. A lot of Red Sox fans also seem to be excited about Bobby Dalbec. The Baltimore Orioles won't lose 100 games in 2021! They'll get pretty close though. Matt Harvey made the opening day roster for the Orioles as he looks to return to being the star he became with the New York Mets where he was called "The Dark Knight." 2019 All-Star, John Means, is the ace of the pitching staff though. Chris Davis will begin the season on the 60-Day Injured List with a lower back strain. Even though he'll be on the injured list, he will help the offense more by being there. The best thing about the Orioles in 2021 will be seeing a healthy Trey Mancini after a cancer scare last year. 


National League West
Trevor Bauer
Los Angeles Dodgers (105-57)
San Diego Padres (93-69)*
San Francisco Giants (80-82)
Arizona Diamondbacks (78-84)
Colorado Rockies (72-90)

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the 2020 World Series Champs. Whether you think that the championship was valid in the shortened season or not, the team looks to be in great position to win it all again in the 2021 season. A majority of the Dodgers roster returns and the team also shelled out a lot of money for Trevor Bauer, winner of the 2020 NL CY Young Award. David Price will also be back in 2021 after opting out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns. The Dodgers pitching rotation is arguably the best in baseball. The San Diego Padres don't want the Dodgers to have it so easy though. After a nice run in the shortened 2020 season, the Padres made additions to their rotation too as they acquired Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in separate trades. They also gave the young exciting shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. a monster contract extension. The San Francisco Giants will welcome back catcher Buster Posey in 2021 after he opted out of the 2020 season.  Doing so will allow them to give prospect Joey Bart some more time in the minors to work on his hitting and catching. The Giants picked up Tommy La Stella on a free agent deal. La Stella is a rare player in today's game as he rarely strikes out (he only struck out 12 times in 55 games in 2020). Perhaps the most exciting player on the Giants these days is Mike Yastrzemski (grandson of Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski) . I expect him to make the All-Star team this year. The Arizona Diamondbacks hope that Madison Bumgarner can find his old form that made him a star when he pitched with the San Francisco Giants. Zac Gallen was the standout starting pitcher for them in 2020, but he recently suffered a hairline stress fracture in his right arm so there is no telling yet how much time he may miss. The Colorado Rockies two biggest stars are shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon. Story is a free agent after 2021 so there is a chance he could be traded before the season comes to an end. The Rockies team will look a lot different now that familar face, Nolan Arenado, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason. It appears that Josh Fuentes (who happens to be Arenado's cousin) will be taking over at third base for the Rockies. Now 29 years old, starter Jon Gray still has to prove he was worth the 1st Round Pick (3rd overall) in 2013 draft. Gray's best season so far was 2019, but he took a big step back in 2020.


National League Central
Ke'Bryan Hayes
St. Louis Cardinals (91-71)
Chicago Cubs (85-77)
Milwaukee Brewers (79-83)
Cincinnati Reds (75-87)
Pittsburgh Pirates (55-107)

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best corner infielders in the National League now that they've acquired third baseman, Nolan Arenado, to play across the diamond from first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt. Veteran catcher Yadier Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright are both back for 2021 on one year deals. It will be weird to see them play anywhere else if they ever do. The biggest question for St. Louis is in the outfield where they are pretty inexperienced overall. Dylan Carlson should be a contender for NL Rookie of Year out of the group. The Chicago Cubs hope to catch lightning in a bottle by bringing back starting pitcher, Jake Arietta. Prior to leaving for Philadelphia in 2018, Arietta played some of his best baseball with the Cubs, including a CY Young Award winning season in 2015. The Cubs are hoping that closer Craig Kimbrel, who they signed late in the 2019 season, to get on track and become the dominant closer they hoped they were getting when they signed him. First baseman, Anthony Rizzo, is in the last year of nine year contract, so it wouldn't be surprising for him to have a monster season as he enters free agency. The Milwaukee Brewers will be without a familar face, Ryan Braun, as they enter the 2021 season. Braun, who has had his production decline recently, hasn't officially retired from baseball but has said that he is not currently interested in playing. The Brewers added Kolten Wong to their roster to take over second base. The addition moves Keston Hiura to first base. The Brewers hope the move to first base will allow Hiura to focus more on hitting and less on fielding. (Why some teams think players don't have to focus as much when playing first base, I don't understand though). The Brewers lineup should score a lot of runs with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, who is returning after opting out of the 2020 season. The team's pitching will be their biggest question mark. After going all in for 2020 and the expanded playoffs, the Cincinnati Reds will backtrack in 2021. They no longer have their ace in Trevor Bauer and they let Archie Bradley (who they acquired last year) go as well. Although they did let Bradley go, they did add bring in Sean Doolittle, who may not be out of the closer mix. There were talks the team may trade starting pitcher, Sonny Gray, in the offseason, but he remains with the team for now. Starting Pitcher, Luis Castillo, will look to build on the All-Star season he had with the team in 2019. The Pittsburgh Pirates are officially the hardest team to be a fan of for the 2021 season. They seemed to let everyone go during the offseason (Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, etc.). Ke'Bryan Hayes (son of former Major Leaguer, Charlie Hayes) should be fun to watch though at third base. He will definitely be in line for a lot of playing time and may have a chance at the National League Rookie of the Year award.


National League East
Jacob DeGrom
Atlanta Braves (97-65)
New York Mets (90-72)*
Washington Nationals (89-73)
Miami Marlins (80-82)
Philadelphia Phillies (76-86)

Led by 2020 NL MVP, Freddie Freeman, and the exciting Ronald Acuña, Jr., the Braves should be the favorites to win the National League East again. They also acquired Charlie Morton during the offseason, who has proven to be a great pitcher in big games. Morton actually started his career with the Braves so it is a bit of a homecoming for him too. The New York Mets, under new ownership, showed they weren't afraid to make some big moves. They added shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians. They also signed James McCann to a big deal to be their catcher. They just missed on adding Trevor Bauer to their team too before he ended up going to the Los Angeles Dodgers instead. The Mets should have an impressive starting rotation with 3 time CY Young Award winner, Jacob DeGrom, leading the way. Much of the success for the Washington Nationals will depend on the health of starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. If healthy, the Nationals could easily be a playoff contender.  Jon Lester was added over the offseason to join them in the rotation and Patrick Corbin returns as well. The Miami Marlins were a fun surprise in the shortened 2020 season. The Marlins were a team heavily hit by Covid-19 and had to make numerous roster moves just to have a healthy enough roster to compete in games. They also had to play a ton of doubleheaders as they made up numerous postponed games. They ended up making it into the expanded playoff format in 2020 and Don Mattingly was rightfully award with the Manager of the Year award. It is possible the Marlins bring back some magic in 2021 but I am not banking on it happening. The Marlins could use people overlooking them to their advantage though. The outfield of Starling Marte Corey Dickerson, and Adam Duvall will provide some power to their offense. Sandy Alcantara will lead the young pitching rotation. The closer situation could change but right now it looks like they'll give the ball to Anthony Bass in save situations (why not let a guy with a fish name save the game for the fish team?) Philadelphia Phillies fans are likely to hate me for predicting their team to finish last in the division. They definitely have some great hitters with Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and the highly paid J.T. Realmuto. Despite inking him to a 6 year, 24 million dollar deal in 2018,the Phillies sent outfielder, Scott Kingery, to the minors after a horrible Spring Training this year. Matt Moore makes his return to the Major Leagues with the Phillies after spending 2020 pitching in Japan. Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler will need help in the Phillies rotation for the team to succeed. That being said, Mark Appel is in Phillies training camp looking to make a comeback after an early retirement.

 


Wild Card Games (one game winner take all)
Chicago White Sox defeat Toronto Blue Jays
New York Mets defeat San Diego Padres

Division Series (Best of 5)
New York Yankees defeat Chicago White Sox (3-1)
Minnesota Twins defeat Houston Astros (3-2)
Atlanta Braves defeat St. Louis Cardinals (3-2)
Los Angeles Dodgers defeat New York Mets (3-1)

Championship Series (Best of 7)
New York Yankees defeat Minnesota Twins (4-1)
Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Atlanta Braves (4-3)

World Series
New York Yankees defeat Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2)


End of Season Awards - American League
AL MVP - Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
AL Rookie of Year - Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners
AL CY Young - Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
AL Manager of Year - Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
AL Comeback Player of Year - Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

End of Season Awards - National League
NL MVP - Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
NL Rookie of Year - Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates
NL CY Young - Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals 
NL Manager of Year - Luis Rojas, New York Mets
NL Comeback Player of Year - Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals






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