After only a 60-game 2020 season, Major League Baseball is officially set for a full 162-game season and there is lots to be excited about. The ups and downs of a baseball season were missing because of the shortened schedule, but with a full season, there is a lot of time to monitor the MVP race, see standings change in each division and watch a true pennant race come to fruition. So, as the season starts let’s take a look at some predictions for the 2021 season.
American League MVP: Mike Trout
There’s no flashy or hot pick here. Trout is arguably the best player of all time and definitely the best player in the league today. He already has three MVPs and has finished in the top five of MVP voting every year of his big league career, except for 2011 where he only had 123 at-bats and didn’t qualify as a rookie. With a full season and the Trout’s consistency, there’s not much that can stop a healthy Millville Meteor.
National League MVP: Juan Soto
Juan Soto flat-out rakes, there’s no better way to put it. Mike Trout might be the best overall player in the league, but it’s not a stretch to say Soto is the best hitter in the game today. The last two years for the Childish Bambino have made him one of the most renowned faces of the game. After a 2019 World Series championship where Soto was a critical part of the Nationals’ success, he became a superstar in the game. In 2020, Soto missed time due to COVID-19 and still ended up leading the national league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. The argument can be made that if he did not miss time, then he would have been the MVP last year. Nonetheless, it seems like Soto’s time for the MVP to really solidify a three-year stretch as one of the game’s bests.
American League Cy Young: Hyun Jin Ryu
Ryu has become an ace starting pitcher over the last two years. In 2019, he led the entire league in ERA and finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He then signed with the Blue Jays and there’s always a concern on how players will adjust with a new team. Well, Ryu just kept dealing and finished third in the AL voting. With the Blue Jays adding a lot of firepower to their offense, there will be less pressure on Ryu this year as he continues dealing his way to a Cy Young Award.
National League Cy Young: Blake Snell
Obviously, Snell’s biggest competition for this award will be Jacob deGrom, who’s always a frontrunner for this award. Even so, I think Snell is destined for a big season this year. He hasn’t been as dominant as he once was in 2018 when he won the award, but with the change in scenery, he could get back to his former dominance. There’s more trust between the Padres and Snell and he is going to pitch past the sixth inning of games for swinging friars. He won’t have to anchor the rotation by himself and there will be a ton of offensive support for Snell, which means a lot less pressure for him as well. I expect big things from Snell this season.
American League East Champ: New York Yankees
The Yankees need to stay healthy, and if they can, they have the potential to dominate the East. The Rays took several steps backward, even if it is the “Rays way” to trade away their best players. The Blue Jays will be a good team, but are still young and in need of a starter or two. The Yankees have their ace and added arms behind Gerrit Cole, including Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. The lineup is a powerful one that will drive in plenty of runs, of course, if they stay healthy.
American League Central Champ: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are a very complete team. Their lineup has plenty of production with star sluggers. Lucas Giolito is getting better every year and they added the workhorse, Lance Lynn, behind him. The bullpen got even stronger with the signing of Liam Hendricks, so this is a very good Chicago ball club, in what I’d call a weak central division. The Indians are getting to take a step back and I am still not sold on the Twins being contenders from start to finish, so this is the White Sox division to lose.
American League West Champ: Oakland Athletics
The West will be up for grabs as it is a weak division. The A’s have nice pieces around the diamond, anchored by Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen. The loss of Marcus Semien hurt them, but they’ve since landed Elvis Andrus to help fill in at shortstop. They have quality pitchers and could always add another at the deadline. No matter what, the West will be a fun race to watch.
American League Wild Card #1: Toronto Blue Jays
As mentioned before, the Blue Jays are really young and full of expectations this year. They need to add pitching behind Ryu, but that doesn’t make them a bad team, just not as good as the Yankees. They are going to be a successful team that will make it to October.
American League Wild Card #2: Minnesota Twins
I’m still not sold on the Twins, but there aren’t many other great teams in the American League. Kenta Maeda has become a dominant pitcher in a short time and they have solid bats throughout their lineup. I see the Twins taking the second wild-card spot over the Astros, which may be their biggest competition.
National League East Champ: Atlanta Braves
There is so much talent on the Braves and they might start a real dynasty in the East. They have plenty of young arms led by Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka and Max Fried plus they added the veteran Charlie Morton to the rotation. The lineup speaks for itself: Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Travis d’Arnaud, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. Plenty of pop in the lineup and a lot of pitching to go with it.
National League Central Champ: St. Louis Cardinals
The acquisition of Nolan Arenado took the Cardinals a level up. They could use some more acquisitions on the deadline to address any part of the team, because they could improve everywhere. However, Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup and Jack Flaherty at the top of the rotation is not a bad start. It’s not a great division, so that might be enough to secure the central crown.
National League West Champ: San Diego Padres
The Dodgers were on another planet in 2020, but that was last year. The Padres can compete 1-5 in the rotation with the Dodgers; they also have a lineup that can put up runs with the Dodgers lineup. Every game will be a must-watch, but I like the Padres rotation a little bit more than the Dodgers and I think pitching is easier to sustain over hitting throughout a full season. Therefore, I’m giving the upper hand to the Padres.
National League Wild Card #1: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are still a powerhouse team in the league and will be a competitive playoff team. We might see a situation where the Padres and Dodgers have the best records in baseball and just happen to be in the same division.
National League Wild Card #2: Philadelphia Phillies
I expect the Phillies to turn the tides and end their playoff drought this year. I don’t think the Mets are going to be as favorable as everyone predicts, because it will inevitably take some time to get used to all the new changes. The Nationals are going to be a strong team, but they are getting older and will need to stay healthy. This year, there are no distractions for the Phils. In 2019, there were so many expectations for the Phillies as they brought in Harper and Realmuto. In 2020, COVID was a distraction itself and the bullpen let them down. This year, there are really no other distractions to stop them and they addressed the bullpen heavily. Phillies fans, this is the year to get excited about the Phillies again.
World Series Champions: White Sox over the Padres 4-3
The White Sox are a very complete team on the come-up last year and I think this is the year where they put it together and win a championship. I think the Padres pitching staff will take them far but in the end, but the trio of Giolito, Lynn and Dallas Keuchel can keep up and the offenses will match each other. So for 2021, I’m picking the White Sox to win it all.
Opening day is April 1 and the rivalries will start right away with the Yankees and Blue Jays matching up and the Phillies and Braves also playing each other. It will be a long season filled with homers, strikeouts and stolen bases that lead up to a trophy being handed out.