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MLB predictions 2021: SN projects division winners, playoff picture, World Series matchup


Let the speculation begin.

It’s Opening Day, which means we’re in for roughly six months of prognostication about who’s going to win what, who’s going to surprise and who’s going to disappoint. Of course, nobody really knows anything because predicting baseball is mostly a fool’s errand. But it’s always fun, because we all get to look back in October and see just how wrong we were.

RIVERA: Meet MLB’s All-Fun Team for 2021

In the spirit of pretending to have all the answers, here are Sporting News’ certain-to-come-true predictions for the 2021 MLB season.

MLB predictions 2021

Ryan Fagan
Twitter: @ryanfagan

American League races

East: Yankees
Central: White Sox 
West: A’s
Wild cards: Blue Jays, Twins

American League awards

MVP: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Wander Franco, Rays

National League races

East: Braves
Central: Cardinals
West: Dodgers
Wild cards: Padres, Mets

National League awards

MVP: Mookie Betts, Dodgers
Cy Young: Walker Buehler, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates

Postseason

AL champ: White Sox
NL champ: Dodgers
World Series winner: Dodgers

Storylines I’m watching

— I say this every year, but it remains as true now as the first time I had this realization: The thing I love most about each new baseball season are the surprises. We go through the exercises of making predictions about division titles, playoff spots, awards and champions, and that’s all well and good. But personally? I get much more excitement and joy out of watching a player or team come from out of nowhere to capture the nation’s attention than I do in being able to say I successfully predicted the Dodgers to win the NL West. C’mon, baseball. Surprise and thrill me. 

— Will 2021 be a welcome season of success for fans of two particular franchises that have struggled to reach expectations in recent years? Everyone brings up the Angels’ failure to get back to the postseason in the Mike Trout era — as they should — but Angels fans aren’t the only ones hoping to get back to October. The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 (a year after the Angels’ last trip), hovering around .500 all three years of the Bryce Harper era so far. I think Shohei Ohtani is primed to have the breakthrough year that matches his talent, and that would be a huge boost. And if the Phillies can get even mildly competent relief pitching, they should be right there in the mix with the Braves and Mets in the NL East. But we’ve said those things in the recent past, too. 

— I do hate to bring this up, but the CBA that expires after the 2021 season will hang over everything this summer. The looming negotiation between MLB and the MLBPA is the reason we don’t have the DH this year, after playing with the DH in the shortened 2020 season. It’s the reason “only” five teams in each league will make the postseason, instead of some type of expanded playoffs. It’s going to get ugly, folks. That happens after the season, sure. But you can only ignore it for so long. 

Jason Foster
Twitter: @ByJasonFoster

American League races

East: Yankees
Central: White Sox
West: A’s
Wild cards: Angels, Twins

American League awards

MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Vaughn, White Sox

National League races

East: Braves
Central: Cardinals
West: Padres
Wild cards: Dodgers, Mets

National League awards

MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets
Rookie of the Year: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates

Postseason

AL champ: Yankees
NL champ: Padres
World Series winner: Yankees

Storylines I’m watching

— Will the Padres give the Dodgers a real challenge in the NL West? I’m picking them to win the division, so I’ll say yes. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but as talented as the Padres are, it seems like a lot of people are underestimating them. We’ll see.

— How soon before stadiums are back at full capacity? My prediction is that after gradual increases in April, May and June — boosted by ever-increasing vaccination rates around the country — that most teams will have 90-plus percent capacity by July. Come September, we might even seen 100 percent capacity. 

— How long before everyone agrees that pitchers shouldn’t be hitters? I understand that we’ll never get unanimity on this, but it seems very likely that after not hitting for a year, pitchers will have such a poor showing this season — way worse than usual — that there will be very few holdouts about the universal DH, which hopefully will become a permanent thing in 2022.

MORE: 21 things I want to see during the 2021 season | 21 very specific predictions

Joe Rivera
Twitter: @JoeRiveraSN

American League races

East: Yankees
Central: Twins
West: Astros
Wild cards: Athletics, Rays

American League awards

MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Jarred Kelenic, Mariners

National League races

East: Mets
Central: Cardinals
West: Dodgers
Wild cards: Padres, Braves

National League awards

MVP: Fernando Tatís Jr., Padres
Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets
Rookie of the Year: Christian Pache, Braves

Postseason

AL champ: Yankees
NL champ: Dodgers
World Series winner: Dodgers

Storylines I’m watching

— Once again, the Yankees are entering the 2021 season with starting pitching question marks. With Masahiro Tanaka back in Japan and Luis Severino rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, it’s Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Domingo German, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery as the one-through-five to start the season. New York seems to be relying on either veteran reclamation projects (Kluber, Taillon) or youth (Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt waiting in the wings). It’s a high-risk, high-reward rotation, so we’ll see whether it, once again, haunts them this year.

— The NL West battle is going to be, in a word, fun. The Padres are good, and legit, and once again improved with Yu Darvish entering the rotation this year. And they have plenty of youth they can turn to in the minors, as well. The Dodgers, defending champs, are clearly out to prove that their 60-game romp through the NL and World Series were no fluke. 

— Another year, another year of waiting for October baseball that features Mike Trout. The longer this goes, the sadder the story gets, man. But hopefully the Angels can at least make strides this season — but don’t count on it.

Tom Gatto
Twitter: @tgatt_tsn 

American League races

East: Yankees
Central: White Sox
West: Astros
Wild cards: Rays, Blue Jays

American League awards

MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees
Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Jarred Kelenic, Mariners

National League races

East: Braves
Central: Brewers
West: Dodgers
Wild cards: Mets, Padres

National League awards

MVP: Juan Soto, Nationals
Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, Mets
Rookie of the Year: Sixto Sanchez, Marlins

Postseason

AL champ: Astros
NL champ: Dodgers
World Series winner: Dodgers

Storylines I’m watching

— The top half of the American League will be extremely competitive. Eight teams have legit postseason cases: Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Twins, Indians, Astros and A’s. That doesn’t include teams like the Angels and Red Sox, who should be better this season. Even the Mariners and Royals are starting to think about October. Division matchups especially should become more and more intense as more fans return to ballparks during the season.

— Will the teams that won the offseason be able to carry the momentum through the regular season? The Padres and White Sox made the expanded playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 season and then added to their rosters in a big way; can they be good for 162 games instead of 60? Can the Padres match the Dodgers’ offensive firepower? Can rookie Andrew Vaughn replace Eloy Jimenez’s bat in the early part of the season and convince the White Sox that they don’t need to add a hitter before the trade deadline?

— Will the 2021 ball actually have less juice in it, and will offense really suffer if it does? Teams that are built to mash (and, really, that’s almost every team) might lose a couple of dingers in the early going, but they’ll still be able to do damage. Pitchers might feel more confident in challenging hitters if they think the ball has a better chance of staying in the yard, but naturally that might lead to more mistake pitches that can travel a long way, no matter the ball’s composition.




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