Predicting the MLB season with 7 big questions

The 2020 MLB season was unlike any other with the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the season until late July. Everything is on track for a more normal season with a chance to even get fans into the stadium at limited capacity for the first time in more than a year.

The rich got richer this offseason with a loaded Dodgers team loading up even more for what could very well be another run at defending their World Series victory. Can the new-look New York Mets or Fernando Tatis Jr.-led Padres throw those plans off track? Will the Yankees finally make it back to the World Series, or will their own health (and lack thereof) prove to be their downfall?

Before the 2021 MLB regular season gets underway, we asked our staff to predict how this year will go. Picks are being made by Andrew Mearns of Pinstripe Alley, Brady Klopfer of McCovey Chronicles, Sara Sanchez of Bleed Cubbie Blue, Kris Willis of Talking Chop, and Ashley MacLennan of Bless You Boys and DRaysBay.

1. Give us one bold prediction for the season

Andrew: The Phillies & Angels both end their playoff droughts with Wild Card runs. The Padres quickly dispatch the Phils from the postseason in the Wild Card Game, but behind big homers from Anthony Rendon & Shohei Ohtani, the Angels upset the Rays before falling to the Yankees in a tight ALDS. But hey, at least Mike Trout finally has a postseason win?

Brady: Someone will hit the 60 home run barrier, and at least two other players will cross 50 homers. A home run race will develop in the final months of the season, and that will become the biggest storyline of the season.

Sara: Kyle Hendricks will win the NL Cy Young award. Projection systems really don’t appreciate the way he gets guys out with 88 mph pitches while masterfully working the corners and playing with speed. In a year where very few pitchers will top 170 innings, Hendricks’ efficiency means he may have more innings, and more complete games than any pitcher in baseball. He’s not going to turn any heads with his K/9, but if he quietly puts up a sub 3.00 ERA while leading the NL in innings in 2021 voters will have a difficult decision to make in the fall.

Kris: Between Fernando Tatis Jr and Juan Soto, it feels like everyone is forgetting about Ronald Acuña Jr. He will give the Braves their second straight MVP Award winner in 2021 and put up a 40-40 season in the process while reentering the conversation of who is the best young player in MLB.

Ashley: Home runs are going to drop considerably with the slightly deadened ball, and the new laces may see us get a pitcher reach 22 wins (yeah, I said it). There will be exceptions but I’m thinking 2021 will be the year of the pitcher.

2. NL Champions: Dodgers or the field?

Andrew: Dodgers. If they didn’t exist, we could debate Padres vs. Braves all season long, but the Dodgers are just too absurdly good. I’m not convinced that they ever actually lose. The league’s just throwing us off the scent when they print those faulty box scores.

Brady: The field. The Dodgers are deserving favorites, but the field is always the safe pick in baseball, especially when there are still a decent number of elite teams to challenge the defending champions.

Sara: The field. The Dodgers are going to get some stiff competition from the Padres and the Braves at bare minimum. I think one of those teams will knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs.

Kris: Dodgers. The rich just get richer with the addition of Trevor Bauer. There are teams in the National League that could beat the Dodgers but given their resources, it is hard to pick against them.

Ashley: Dodgers. I’d much rather say the Padres will win the NL this year because they’re a much easier team to root for, but the Dodgers have absolutely done everything right this offseason to stay competitive and I don’t see them slowing down. That said, I’m hoping to see the Padres in the WS.

3. Who will win the MVP from each league?

Andrew: AL: Mike Trout; NL: Juan Soto.

The combination of an improbable Angels playoff run and Trout being, well, Trout, gives him his fourth MVP. As for Soto, the Nationals don’t even necessarily have to do much around him. His time is just now to be the modern-day Ted Williams.

Brady: AL:Mike Trout; NL: Juan Soto

Are these the obvious picks? Yes. But baseball is straightforward enough that I can’t break out of the box here. Mike Trout is the best player alive, has been the best player alive for a very long time, and no longer is battling Mookie Betts for this award. Soto is coming off a 201 wRC+ season, and is at an age where you expect him to not only get better, but significantly so. These are the heavy favorites in my eyes.

Sara: AL: Mike Trout, NL: Juan Soto

I thought about being contrarian here, but I just can’t. Soto is poised to put up a season for the record books and Mike Trout is Mike Trout. Depending on the prediction system both should put up OPS over 1.000. It is possible someone else gets hot in either league and runs them down, because baseball will always baseball, but I can’t bring myself to put anyone else’s name down here.

Kris: AL: Mike Trout; NL: Ronald Acuña Jr.

It seems like this is the same answer every year, but if he stays healthy, Mike Trout has to be the favorite for MVP in the American League. Especially if the Angels are an improved team and in the running for a playoff spot. Ronald Acuña Jr goes 40-40 and leads the Braves back to the NLCS and captures his first career MVP award.

Ashley: AL: Mike Trout; NL: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Trout has openly spoken this offseason about moves he has made to “improve” the things that have been slowing him down, and I for one am eager to see what those moves will change in terms of his performance. Is it possible to get better? We’ll see! I could have gone for any of the big three youth-movement guys in terms of the NL because Soto and Acuña Jr are incredible and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them take it, but my gut says Tatis Jr is just going to keep building off last year’s success and be an absolutely monster in the NL in 2021.

4. Which team will be the biggest surprise?

Andrew: Angels. For all the reasons above because I am a gigantic sucker and this time, Lucy absolutely won’t pull that football away.

Brady: Angels. This is the year it finally happens, and Mike Trout wins a playoff game. Trout, Anthony Rendon, and a healthy Shohei Ohtani is just too much talent, and I think the Astros are primed for regression. I say the Angels win the AL West and, at a very minimum, at least win a playoff game.

Sara: Blue Jays. They may not have a home park to play in but they made a lot of interesting moves in the offseason. Losing Yates for a while doesn’t hurt them as much as one might think and they have some really interesting bats. I think they are trying to chase down the Yankees in the East all year, and if the Yankees can’t stay healthy the Blue Jays may just win the division.

Kris: Rays. It is always the Rays is not in? No matter how unimpressive they look on paper, they find a way to win, and I do not think this season will be any different despite the departure of Blake Snell.

Ashley: White Sox. It’s hard to say they’ll be a surprise only because most predictions suggest they’ll be among the best in the very bad AL Central, but all the same I’m really interested to see what they pull off. Tony La Russa is going to be something the team has to overcome, rather than something that will help them win, I think, but they have such a strong core of talented players, I really want to see what they can pull off.

5. Which team will be the biggest disappointment?

Andrew: Blue Jays. The Mets would also be a decent choice since I have them missing the playoffs, but not by much. The Jays, however, could really crash and burn with that pitching staff (no matter how much that young offense terrifies me).

Brady: Astros. A run to the ALCS hid what was a pretty bad season for Houston last year. Not only did they finish the truncated season with a losing record, but their win differential suggested they were a highly mediocre team. I think we see that in full this year.

Sara: Yankees. For the past three years I feel like all I’ve heard is how great the Yankees will be, but it hasn’t gotten them another ring. Unfortunately for New York anything less than another ring is a disappointment for that fanbase. I know the projections love the pitching staff, but ace Gerrit Cole is one of the pitchers most likely to be impacted by MLB’s stated intention to crack down on substances because of spin rate discrepancies, Corey Kluber is a huge injury risk, Jameson Taillon is a good addition – who has thrown 37.1 innings in the last two seasons. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are both injury prone, and Gary Sánchez has shown no sign of turning it around at the plate. This is the same team that hasn’t delivered in the last 4 years, they are just a year older.

Kris: Blue Jays. Toronto looks like a fun team on paper, but I am worried about their starting pitching and whether they have enough depth to hold up over a full 162 games. They should score plenty of runs but in the end, I am afraid their rotation will cost them.

Ashley: Blue Jays. They made all the right moves in the offseason to push themselves as a competitive team, but a bunch of spring training injuries and some pickups that are as likely to implode as they are to succeed (Robbie Ray?) means the Jays could be a team that spent to lose instead of spending to compete. A lot of focus is going to be on the young talent like Guerrero and Bichette to see if they can shine as future superstars.

6. Which player will lead the majors in home runs?

Andrew: Pete Alonso. The dude knows how to go deep, and even in an “off year” when no one talked about him, he was still within shouting distance of the home run crown. Give him a real season again and he’ll go bananas.

Brady: Aaron Judge. Sure, it’s been four years since he hit the 52 homer mark, but he’s still got that power in him, and he can’t be pitched around on this Yankees team. If he stays healthy, I think it all clicks.

Sara: Mike Trout. I thought about getting cute about this and saying Eugenio Suárez because I love that bat and he plays in a bandbox, but I think it’s Trout. And even though you didn’t ask this, I think that number is less than 45…at least it is if MLB is actually deadening the ball like they claim.

Kris: Ronald Acuña Jr. I already picked Acuña to win MVP and the home run crown will be a big part of that. He makes a run at a 50 homer season and leads the majors in 2021.

Ashley: Mike Trout. I really, really want to see him kill it this year. In think home runs overall will be down, but I genuinely believe Trout will hit about a tenth of them.

7. What is your World Series matchup prediction?

Andrew: Dodgers/Yankees. The chalk pick, but the correct pick. The door is wide open in the AL for the Yankees to return to the World Series, and if not now, then when? But also, no one’s beating the Dodgers unless something goes seriously wrong.

Brady: Padres/Yankees. I have the Pads finally eclipsing their big brother Dodgers in a stacked NL, while the Yankees run circles around the competition in the AL. And it all makes for a star-studded World Series, that San Diego wins in seven.

Sara: Padres/White Sox. I refuse to pick the Yankees/Dodgers matchup that math, the universe and logic so desperately want us all to pick. Don’t get me wrong, I’d watch that World Series, but I wouldn’t get excited about it. Let’s watch the kids thrive and play. The Padres are a brilliantly constructed team and they are built to beat the Dodgers. They came close in the shortened season – then they went out and added Blake Snell and Yu Darvish to the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer and David Price. The Yankees should be a juggernaut, but they are fragile. Someone in the AL will step in and beat them, it might as well be the team that employs Luis Robert and Lucas Giolito.

Kris: Dodgers/Yankees. I think the Dodgers are the clear favorites in the National League given roster depth and they will be looking to prove that last season’s championship was not a fluke. It seems like there are a lot of things that could go wrong with the Yankees’ pitching staff, but I do not see anyone else in the American League that can match their fire power.

Ashley: Padres/Rays. I cannot imagine a more fun final showdown than this, especially with former Rays Tommy Pham and Blake Snell in the mix for the Padres. These two teams have taken very different approaches to spending and signings this offseason and I think it would be an electric matchup (for everything except maybe TV ratings).

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