Although there were many twists and turns in the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic, the year ended with a result that wasn’t too surprising when the Dodgers won the World Series. It was an ending that our forecasters saw before the opening day.
With the start of the 2021 season, a group of 100 MLB.com experts tried their best to predict the course of the campaign and submitted their selections for each division winner and each wild card team, the two flag winners and the World Series one champion.
American League East: Yankees
New York failed to repeat itself as the AL East champion last season, finishing seven games behind the Rays, who won eight of ten regular season games against the Yankees before beating them in the AL Division Series. Tampa Bay still has a deep and diverse pitching team despite the deal with Blake Snell against the Padres, and the Blue Jays got better with the addition of George Springer and Marcus Semien, among other things. But with Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon joining Gerrit Cole in the rotation and DJ LeMahieu hitting a new six-year deal, the Bronx Bombers are the consensus pick to win that division in 2021 and get 83 votes.
After the White Sox had increased young talent during a lengthy renovation, it appeared as a competitor in 2020, received an MVP Award-winning season from José Abreu and reached the postseason. Losing 24-year-old thug Eloy Jiménez to a torn left pectoral muscle is a devastating blow, but Chicago’s roster is still impressive, aided by the off-season signings Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks and Adam Eaton. With 71 votes, the White Sox are the clear pick among the experts at MLB.com to win the AL Central for the first time since 2008.
Houston lost Gerrit Cole to the free agency, the 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander after a start to Tommy John and 19 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez after two games of double knee surgery, which last season became one 29:31 success resulted. The expanded postseason field, however, allowed the Astros to contest the playoffs in which they defeated the Twins and A’s before returning from nearly a three-game-to-zero deficit against the Rays in the AL Championship Series. While Springer left to sign with the Blue Jays, Alvarez’s return and rebound efforts from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa could help the Astros weather the midfielder’s racket. This was the narrowest of all departments; The Astros prevailed against the A with 46 against 33 votes, and the angels also got support.
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Blue Jays
While the experts at MLB.com don’t have reigning AL champ Rays winning another division title, they believe Tampa Bay will grab one of the two AL wild card spots. With a deep gun collection, the Rays could be well armed to tackle the innings increase this year and getting a full season out of postseason superstar Randy Arozarena should help their offensive. Tampa Bay also has the ultimate wild card in Wander Franco, the No. 1 of the game per MLB pipeline.
The AL East receives a third representative for the postseason, with our panel selecting the Blue Jays for the other wild card spot. Toronto’s rotation has some question marks behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu, but Springer and Semien are joining a club with serious offensive firepower. Bo Bichette has done nothing but beat since making his debut with the Majors in 2019. Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Rowdy Tellez are all through their breakout seasons and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be set for a breakout of their own, making Toronto a potentially formidable enemy.
Last season, the Yankees were 11th in a row without appearing in the World Series, but our panel anticipates the drought will end in 2021. The Yankees are as talented as anyone else in the AL. It’s all about keeping everyone on the field – especially the imposing thugs Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who have missed a lot of time over the past two seasons. Cole gives New York one of the most dominant pitchers in the game on its rotation, and Kluber, Taillon, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German looked great this spring. The White Sox were runner-up here, getting 28 votes for the 54 of the Yankees.
National League East: Braves
Only the Dodgers have a longer active title streak than the Braves, who have won the NL Ost in each of the past three years. That division might be one of the most competitive in baseball after the Mets offseason bonanza, but Atlanta is MLB.com’s consensus decision to finish in first place again and get 64 votes for New York’s 33. It’s easy to see why the Braves got those votes So much support: reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna are leading the offensive, and Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly are giving The club gets a heavy rotation that gets even better when Mike Soroka returns to have surgery to repair a torn right Achilles.
The Cardinals have hit the postseason for the past two years, but after finishing 14th among NL clubs in runs and OPS last season, it was clear that the Redbirds would have to tackle their offense in the offseason. They did just that, trading for all-star third division club Nolan Arenado, who comes to St. Louis with 235 home runs and an OPS of 0.890, not to mention eight Gold Glove Awards in eight seasons. In the meantime, Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish – the first and second place winners last year at the NL Cy Young Award – are no longer in the division. This wasn’t a particularly close call; The cardinals received 66 votes, compared with 25 for the brewers, six for the boys and three for the reds.
As if that roster wasn’t deep enough and talented enough, the Dodgers went out and signed Bauer, adding the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to an already stellar rotation. David Price and Tony Gonsolin would all start for most MLB teams, but they are stunts for this organization. Los Angeles is embarrassed on the other side of the ball too, including Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, and Will Smith. The Padres may have the second best team in baseball, but the Dodgers comfortably won this – 82 votes to 18. You’re so good.
NL Wild Cards: Padres, Mets
There aren’t many duos better than Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, and the Padres have stepped up their rotation by trading for Darvish, Snell, and Joe Musgrove in the off-season. The brothers clearly have one of the most impressive squads in the game, with more talent among the minors, but only one team can win NL West and they happen to share a division with the Dodgers.
If this goes as our experts predict, the Padres will compete in the NL Wild Card Game with all winners against the Mets and the two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. The Mets had a busy off-season after new owner Steve Cohen officially took control in November, trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, and signing Marcus Stroman, James McCann and Trevor May.
The Dodgers have represented the NL for three of the past four seasons in the Fall Classic, and the MLB.com panel expects they will be back this October. The Padres were again the runner-up of their division rivals, gaining 38 votes ahead of Los Angeles.
World Champion: Dodgers
It was once an almost annual tradition for the Dodgers to face the Yankees in the World Series. The two clubs competed in the Fall Classic in 1941, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56, with the Yankees defeating the then Brooklyn Dodgers in six of the seven encounters (all except ’55). They’ve played four more times in the World Series since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and won twice each, but the last of those matchups was in 1981.
Our experts see the two clubs reviving their rivalry in 2021. The Dodgers were the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat themselves as champions.
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