2021 Playoff Chances for Each MLB Team 2 Weeks from Opening Day

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 17, 2021

2021 Playoff Chances for Each MLB Team 2 Weeks from Opening Day

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    As per usual, the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking good.
    As per usual, the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking good.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    With Opening Day of the 2021 campaign just two weeks away, the sun is about to shine on a new Major League Baseball season.

    While we wait for April 1 to arrive, we thought we'd take a fresh look at how likely teams are to still be playing baseball in October.

    We've sized up all 30 clubs' chances of making a playoff field that, after expanding to eight teams per league in 2020, will revert to five per side in 2021. This involved weighing what kind of bats, arms and gloves each team is packing, as well as any pressing injury concerns.

    Our chances range from 0 to 95 percent and are rounded to the nearest five for simplicity's sake. We'll go division by division, starting with the American League East and ending in the National League West.

American League East

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: 0%

    With Trey Mancini back in good health and Ryan Mountcastle ready to build on last year's breakthrough, the Orioles have at least two solid hitters. This year could also see John Means, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer emerge as an underrated rotation trio.

    This is, however, baseball's losingest team over the last three seasons. Even if the O's make progress toward contention this year, their shortage of depth on both sides of the ball means they have no chance of playing postseason ball.


    Boston Red Sox: 20%

    The Red Sox have been hitting home runs in bunches this spring, and that may well continue into the regular season. They would merely need rookie Bobby Dalbec to continue his rise as a slugger and for Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez to bounce back from their tough times in 2020.

    But in the wake of last year's 5.58 ERA, whether Boston has enough pitching is a good question. The answer's a huge "maybe," and it as much depends on Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi staying healthy and Chris Sale making a timely return from Tommy John surgery—which seems like a long shot.


    New York Yankees: 85%

    Questions loom over the Yankees. For instance, can Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy for a change? Likewise, will they get as much as they hope out of newcomer starters Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon after the pair pitched all of one inning in 2020?

    Nevertheless, it'll be an upset if the Yankees don't at least nab a wild-card berth. The humongous potential of their power-laden offense can't be ignored. And even sans Zack Britton (elbow) for the next few months, the Yankees also have good pitching depth behind ace Gerrit Cole and closer Aroldis Chapman, especially with Luis Severino on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery.


    Tampa Bay Rays: 40%

    Last year saw the Rays go an AL-best 40-20 and advance to the World Series. But that was with co-aces Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. They're both gone, and neither their replacements (Chris Archer, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha) nor a lengthy list of injuries bode well for Tampa Bay's pitching.

    On the plus side, the Rays offense should get a boost from a healthy, functional Austin Meadows and a full year of Randy Arozarena, the latter of whom destroyed the record book last October. Because the Rays should also be good defensively, they might at least chase a wild-card spot.


    Toronto Blue Jays: 50%

    As if the Blue Jays offense wasn't already scary enough, they went and added George Springer and Marcus Semien over the winter. Assuming they do their thing while Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio make further strides, the Jays should be one of baseball's top run-scoring teams in 2021.

    Of course, they'll need to be if they continue to have issues with their defense and their starting depth behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu. But they can contend for a wild-card spot despite those issues, and the AL East title could be within reach if young fireballer Nate Pearson and veteran closer Kirby Yates pan out.

American League Central

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: 70%

    Tim Anderson might be right about the White Sox being the best team in the American League. They might at least be the best offensive team, as they led the AL with 96 home runs last year even without a fully functional Yoan Moncada. And for the record, he's feeling better now.

    Also, don't underrate Chicago's pitching. The South Siders boast a three-headed rotation monster of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel. And with flamethrowers Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet slated to set up for new closer Liam Hendriks, their bullpen should give hitters nightmares.


    Cleveland: 20%

    What does life after Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco and Brad Hand look like for Cleveland? If nothing else, pretty good from a run-prevention standpoint. Its rotation is still captained by AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, and Andres Gimenez is a solid defensive stand-in for Lindor at shortstop.

    But will Cleveland hit? Well, it didn't last year as its offense managed just an 86 OPS+ and 4.1 runs per game. And sans Lindor, Jose Ramirez is the only star-caliber hitter left in Cleveland's lineup. So if the team's run prevention falters even a little, the playoffs could be out of reach.


    Detroit Tigers: 0%

    The Tigers were still in the AL playoff picture going into August 2020, and they aren't without hope for 2021. They added upside to their offense in the persons of Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara and Wilson Ramos, and it may not be long before Casey Mize puts himself on a path to acehood.

    Still, the Tigers are in the same boat as the Orioles. Even if they make strides in 2021, they have neither the depth nor the star power to break free of a cycle of losing that's seen them finish in last place in the AL Central in three out of the last four seasons.


    Kansas City Royals: 10%

    Pssst, don't sleep on the Royals. They spent the winter aggressively pursuing depth pieces, such as Mike Minor, Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi. And they're putting on a show in spring training, particularly with regard to their MLB-high pile of home runs.

    Yet the Royals figure to be more interesting than good. Their offense has only so much upside, and the same is true of their staff outside the potentially dynamic duo of Brad Keller and Brady Singer. At best, they're probably only a third-place club.


    Minnesota Twins: 60%

    The Twins have won the AL Central in each of the last two seasons, and they figure to challenge the White Sox for control of the division in 2021. With Nelson Cruz back, the club's primary weapon will surely be an offense that set a single-season record for home runs two years ago.

    Yet unlike the White Sox, the Twins didn't make any major additions this past winter. If anything, it's easier to notice losses such as reliever Trevor May, starter Jake Odorizzi and utility man Marwin Gonzalez. Such things paint a picture of a club with a high floor but a ceiling lower than that of the White Sox.

American League West

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: 60%

    The Astros did well to immediately sign Odorizzi earlier this month after Framber Valdez broke his finger. There's nonetheless a chance that Valdez will miss the entire season, which would be a huge blow for a pitching staff that's already without future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

    In this context, the Astros can't abide a second straight disappointing year on the part of their offense. It's a good thing, then, that their run-scoring upside will be sky-high if Yordan Alvarez's knees stay healthy while Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve bounce back from rough 2020 seasons.


    Los Angeles Angels: 50%

    Even after five straight losing seasons, the Angels stand a good chance of playing in October. Reason No. 1 is that their Mike Trout- and Anthony Rendon-led offense is coming off a hot finish to 2020. Also keep an eye on Jared Walsh, who broke out with nine home runs last September.

    Though pitching was the Angels' biggest shortcoming in 2020, they have sneaky-good depth after adding starters Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb and closer Raisel Iglesias. And with Shohei Ohtani seemingly all the way back from Tommy John surgery, the Angels might at least have a legit No. 1 every sixth day.


    Oakland Athletics: 30%

    The A's have been getting it done in recent years, winning 97 games in 2018 and 2019 and then the AL West title in 2020. But after losing Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella and others to free agency, Oakland is heading into 2021 with a thinner margin for error.

    The A's will need Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to put their 2020 troubles behind them. Likewise, they need Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and prospect A.J. Puk to realize their collective upside on the mound. If all those boxes get checked, a fourth straight postseason will await the A's.


    Seattle Mariners: 5%

    Thanks to AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, the Mariners beat expectations to go 27-33 last year. Their youth movement will continue in 2021, and it could equate to a ton of fun on offense if top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell live up to the hype.

    But after posting a 5.03 ERA in 2020, does Seattle have enough upside on the mound to compete? Since the club lacks top-tier talent in both its rotation and its bullpen, we lean decidedly toward "no." Maybe next year if pitching ends up being a point of emphasis for the Mariners during the offseason.


    Texas Rangers: 0%

    The Rangers went an AL-worst 22-38 last season, and their most notable move of the winter was to deal Lance Lynn to the White Sox. Such things typically don't denote a likely playoff contender, and it's hard to conjure reasons the Rangers might be an exception.

    Mind you, there's plenty to like about how Joey Gallo is swinging it this spring. Yet he's the only player the Rangers have with legitimate superstar potential. And if he lives up to it this season, chances are the Rangers will capitalize by cashing in his trade value ahead of the July 31 deadline.

National League East

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Atlanta: 75%

    After winning its third straight NL East title, Atlanta nearly advanced to its first World Series since 1999 last year. The driving force behind those efforts was an offense that effectively tied for the MLB lead in runs, and pretty much the whole gang—including reigning MVP Freddie Freeman—is back for 2021.

    Atlanta's starters had an ugly 5.51 ERA last year, but the club's rotation is looking rock-solid with newcomers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly joining Max Fried, Ian Anderson and a soon-to-be-healthy Mike Soroka following his 2020 Achilles injury. With a solid relief corps also in place, Atlanta has everything it needs to remain elite.


    Miami Marlins: 10%

    Though the Marlins snapped a 16-year playoff drought last year, there was some good luck involved as they allowed 41 more runs than they scored. They had a subpar offense, and they did little to change that during the offseason.

    On the plus side, the 3.23 ERA that the Marlins have this spring is indicative of how much upside is contained within their Sandy Alcantara- and Sixto Sanchez-led pitching staff. But that likely isn't enough to put the NL East lead within reach, and the NL wild-card race won't be any more forgiving.


    New York Mets: 75%

    After the Wilpon era concluded with a 26-34 season, Steve Cohen took control of the Mets and spared no expense in outfitting them with upgrades. The club's lineup got Francisco Lindor and James McCann, while its pitching got Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker and Trevor May.

    An offense that led the majors in OPS+ in 2020 looks even stronger. And while the Mets' pitching is top-heavy, that's OK when the "top" consists of guys like Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman and Carrasco and three of last year's most strikeout-happy relievers. In short, the Mets should give Atlanta a challenge.


    Philadelphia Phillies: 15%

    The Phillies also had a change in leadership this winter, bringing in veteran front-office chief Dave Dombrowski to run things in December. He did well to retain J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, thereby ensuring that Bryce Harper will have plenty of help in a stacked lineup.

    But for the Phillies to escape their .500-ish purgatory, they must improve on last year's 5.14 ERA. That's where things are less certain, as Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are once again tasked with carrying a thin rotation, and Dombrowski patched the club's woeful bullpen on the cheap.


    Washington Nationals: 20%

    Even the long-delayed start to the 2020 season couldn't save the Nationals from a World Series hangover, but they at least reacted accordingly during the winter. Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber look good alongside Juan Soto and Trea Turner, as do Jon Lester and Brad Hand in the club's rotation and bullpen, respectively.

    Trouble is, there's a certain "stars and scrubs" quality to the Nats roster. Though they got away with that in 2019, that was with Anthony Rendon and with younger versions of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Between this and the depth of the NL East, the Nats have little margin for error.

National League Central

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: 25%

    The Cubs made the playoffs for the fifth time in six years last season, but it was in spite of a bad offense. If all goes well, a seemingly revitalized Joc Pederson, bounce-back years from Kris Bryant and Javier Baez and a newly conceived old-school approach will save the Cubs from more of the same in 2021.

    It's harder to be optimistic about the Cubs' post-Yu Darvish pitching staff, which features many questions in between ace Kyle Hendricks and reborn closer (no, really) Craig Kimbrel. But if their offense at least does its part, the Cubs might nonetheless have a path to the lead of a wide-open NL Central race.


    Cincinnati Reds: 10%

    The Reds also made the playoffs in spite of a bad offense last year. That was largely a credit to their pitching staff, but said staff is sans Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and closer Raisel Iglesias. What's more, incumbent ace Sonny Gray (back) and new closer Amir Garrett (forearm) are banged up.

    Because it didn't get any impact additions over the winter, there's also a question of whether Cincinnati's offense will be better in 2021. That's at best a "maybe," as nothing outside a vintage season from 37-year-old Joey Votto—which isn't likely—is likely to erase the flaws that plagued the Reds last year.


    Milwaukee Brewers: 35%

    The Brewers are yet another NL Central club that made the playoffs in 2020 in spite of their offense. But that had much to do with the baffling regression of 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, and the signs point toward that not happening again in 2021.

    With Kolten Wong and Lorenzo Cain up the middle and Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field, the Brewers are also set to have a heck of a defense behind aces Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes and the dynamic relief duo of Josh Hader and NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams. By NL Central standards, that's a good team.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: 0%

    The Pirates lost 93 games in 2019, and then an MLB-high 41 in 2020. And with Joe Musgrove and Josh Bell elsewhere, it's fair to say the rebuild is well and truly on in Pittsburgh.

    But even if that means Pirates fans shouldn't expect a playoff run in 2021, they will have things to keep them watching. To wit, Ke'Bryan Hayes is a budding star at third base, and right-hander Mitch Keller is a sleeper for an ace-like breakout.


    St. Louis Cardinals: 30%

    All was quiet on the Central front at the start of the winter, but the Cardinals broke the silence in a big way when they traded for Nolan Arenado in February. He brings slick defense and 40-homer power to the Cardinals, who can also hope that young outfielders Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carlson blossom in 2021.

    Yet there's some concern about Arenado struggling to adapt to post-Coors Field life and Paul Goldschmidt's power not returning after last year's six-homer output. The Cardinals were also thin on the mound even before Miles Mikolas (shoulder) and Kwang Hyun Kim (back) developed injuries. As such, there should be some crossed fingers in St. Louis.

National League West

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 10%

    The Diamondbacks flopped hard last year, going 25-35 to land in the NL West cellar. But they'll do better in 2021 if certain guys bounce back, namely Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar on offense and especially Madison Bumgarner on the mound.

    Yet the big question here is: Is there literally any scenario in which Arizona finishes higher than third in what figures to be an extraordinarily top-heavy race? Not one that we can see, and such a finish A) is not guaranteed and B) wouldn't exactly be an advantage in the wider NL wild-card race anyway. 


    Colorado Rockies: 0%

    Coors Field helped them score a sturdy 4.6 runs per game, but the Rockies still had the third-worst offense in baseball last year by way of their 80 OPS+. With Nolan Arenado, improvement would have been in the cards in 2021. Without him...well, there's only so much Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon can do.

    Which is a shame, because there's a fair deal of potential in Colorado's starting rotation of German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Antonio Senzatela and Austin Gomber. Unless the club's offense dramatically overachieves, their efforts will likely be wasted as the Rockies sink to last place.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: 95%

    The Dodgers have won eight straight NL West titles. They've also had the National League's best record in three out of the last four seasons. Best of all, they're coming off a long-awaited World Series win in 2020.

    After retaining Justin Turner for their Mookie Betts- and Corey Seager-led offense and adding Trevor Bauer to their rotation, there's little reason to think that the Dodgers won't remain a powerhouse in 2021. And even if a certain team in San Diego makes them settle for a wild-card berth, well, so be it.


    San Diego Padres: 90%

    That certain team in San Diego is, of course, the Padres. They established themselves as a threat to the Dodgers as they were going 37-23 last season, and it was mainly thanks to their offense. With Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. at the forefront, the Padres finished third in OPS+ and runs.

    That offense is still intact, and now it's backed up by arguably baseball's best rotation after the Padres surrounded incumbent ace Dinelson Lamet with Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. Factoring in the club's deep bullpen, the Padres have all they need to make their next move on the Dodgers.


    San Francisco Giants: 10%

    As they were in 2019, the Giants were better than they had any right to be as they went 29-31 in 2020. Their offense was quietly one of the best they've ever had, and it might be at least as good now that Tommy La Stella is in and Buster Posey is back from last year's opt-out.

    Excepting returning ace Kevin Gausman, what the Giants lack is upside on the mound. And the same conundrum that applies to Arizona also applies to them: Even if all goes well, a third-place finish and a relatively outside shot at a wild-card berth might be the best-case scenario for 2021.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.