Forget the weather forecast or your local groundhog, spring has officially arrived. Well, at least spring training has arrived.
By Tuesday, all 30 MLB teams will have had their entire rosters officially report to spring training with exhibition games getting started by the end of the month. This is the time of year when every team (except for maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles) can hold onto legitimate hopes of making the postseason and having a chance to play in the World Series.
Naturally, now is the perfect time of year to start making predictions for the 2021 season, especially with most of the offseason business wrapped up. After MLB let 14 teams into the playoffs last season, we’re back to the more stringent 10-team postseason in 2021.
With spring training upon us, let’s take our best guess at predicting the 10 teams that will make the MLB playoffs in 2021.
AL East: New York Yankees
Unfortunately for the Rays, they are not nearly as good as they were a year ago after they traded Blake Snell and couldn’t re-sign Charlie Morton. Even for a team that often uses openers and has a deep bullpen, those losses will be too much to overcome. Plus, the Blue Jays are going to be scary and could easily overtake Tampa for second place in the division.
Of course, this division still revolves around the Yankees. We’ve seen the Bronx Bombers get hammered by injuries in recent years and still be among the league leaders in runs scored. New York also did well this winter to add Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber to support ace Gerrit Cole. But don’t sleep on the team’s young pitchers. We know that Jordan Montgomery is solid while Deivi Garcia and Michael King could surprise you. Also, Domingo German and Luis Severino are in the mix after their absences in 2020, so the Yankees have plenty of pitching depth to complement a lineup that will slug its way to the top of the division.
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
This was the tightest division in baseball last year, albeit over just 60 games. Minnesota won the division with Cleveland and Chicago finishing one game back, and those three teams could be just as close this season. Keep in mind that the Royals and Tigers will both be better and could factor into the equation. However, the Twins and Indians both lost key pieces over the winter while the White Sox made themselves better.
Trading for Lance Lynn will do wonders for Chicago’s rotation, which now matches up better against the Cleveland and Minnesota rotations. Perhaps more importantly, the White Sox have the most dynamic lineup in the division. Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal provide stability while Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Tim Anderson are all blossoming stars. Those young hitters will only get better and become the difference that elevates the White Sox to the top of the division.
AL West: Oakland Athletics
This is no longer Houston’s division. The Astros have a George Springer-sized hole in their lineup that will be tough to fill and they’ll be relying a lot more on young pitchers than they have in recent years. Despite their run to the ALCS last fall, keep in mind that Houston finished the 60-game regular season with a losing record.
Meanwhile, the A’s should have at least one more good year left in this team despite losing Marcus Semien in free agency. Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are still around to anchor the lineup while the A’s have done a nice job putting together a stable bullpen.
While the Astros won’t go away quietly and the Angels will be interesting to watch, Oakland’s rotation is the deepest in the division. Ultimately, that will win the AL West over 162 games.
AL Wild Card Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs Minnesota Twins
The competition for the two AL Wild Card spots promises to be fierce. Outside of the Orioles, virtually every team in the American League will begin the season believing they at least have a shot at the Wild Card. However, the development of Toronto’s young hitters combined with the addition of George Springer and Marcus Semien will be enough to get the Blue Jays to the top of the Wild Card standings.
Meanwhile, the Twins still have a solid rotation and enough firepower to reach the postseason for the third straight year.
NL East: New York Mets
In theory, this division will be a two-team race between the Mets and Braves. However, keep in mind that the Marlins made the playoffs last season while the Nationals and Phillies are both good enough to make life difficult for the two favorites. Miami remains an unpredictable enigma while Washington’s rotation makes the Nats a threat if their big three can remain healthy. But it’s impossible to ignore all that the Mets have done this offseason to improve in all areas of the game.
The Braves' big move this winter was re-signing Marcell Ozuna, as the Braves just tried to maintain the status quo. The same can be said of the Phillies and J.T. Realmuto. Meanwhile, the Mets added Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor May, and put together a strong bench of veterans like Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Villar, and Jose Martinez. With the likes of Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Jeff McNeil, and Pete Alonso in place, the Mets are going to mash.
On paper, they have a deeper lineup than the Braves, not to mention a rotation that’s a lot deeper than it was a year ago, setting up the Metropolitans to return to the top of the NL East.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
This division sent four teams to the postseason last year. However, all four of them lost in the opening round. Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard to find a team in this division that will be happy with what they accomplished this winter other than the Cardinals, who retained Yadier Molina and traded for Nolan Arenado. The St. Louis lineup still has some questions, but Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are capable of doing a lot of heavy lifting. Plus, the Cardinals will feel confident about the state of their pitching staff.
Of course, we’re expecting the Cardinals to win this division almost by default. The Cubs lost Yu Darvish, the Reds lost Trevor Bauer, and the Brewers just don’t have that strong of a rotation in the first place.
In fairness, all three teams are good enough to stay around .500 and perhaps be in the Wild Card race. But St. Louis looks a step ahead of everyone else heading into the season.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
As much as the Padres made themselves better this winter, they’re still not on the same level as the Dodgers. The L.A. rotation was ridiculously good even before they signed Trevor Bauer. Plus, the Dodgers still have the deepest lineup in baseball with star power at several positions. Also, don’t expect the Dodgers to head into 2021 complacent. This team is built to win a few more championships in the years to come and become a dynasty.
While the San Diego rotation is undoubtedly better, the Dodgers have six or seven frontline starters. Also, while the Padres will mash, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. still don’t measure up to Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger. The Padres will give the Dodgers a run for their money, but Los Angeles is too deep and too powerful. We expect Los Angeles to win the NL West for the ninth straight season.
NL Wild Card Game: San Diego Padres vs Atlanta Braves
Honestly, predicting the five teams in the NL playoffs isn’t that difficult, at least on paper.
The Braves will push the Mets in the NL East while the Padres will do the same to the Dodgers in the NL West, but there’s a gap between those five teams and the rest of the league. Most of the NL Central is mediocre at best while the NL West doesn’t look that impressive outside of Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s possible that one of the other teams from the NL East is better than expected, but both the Braves and Padres would be huge disappointments if they didn’t at least secure a Wild Card spot.
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