B/R's MLB Experts Predict Every Major Award and 2021 World Series Winner

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2021

B/R's MLB Experts Predict Every Major Award and 2021 World Series Winner

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    With the 2021 MLB season set to kick off on Thursday, it's time for the MLB writers here at Bleacher Report to make their official predictions for the upcoming season.

    That includes each of the major awards in both leaguesMVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year—as well as the AL pennant winner, NL pennant winner and World Series champion.

    The B/R MLB writing team of Martin Fenn, Abbey Mastracco, Joel Reuter and Zachary Rymer made up our expert panel, and we had just one unanimous opinion among the 13 voting categories.

    Let the debate begin!

NL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Stephen Strasburg
    Stephen StrasburgAssociated Press

    Fenn: Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves

    Soroka is on track to return as early as mid-April after tearing his Achilles last summer. The young right-hander will rediscover the success that resulted in a 2.68 ERA in 2019 while helping to lead the Braves to a second straight NL East title.


    Mastracco: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    Strasburg is one of the most talented and most dominant pitchers in baseball when he's healthy. He was instrumental in the Nationals' World Series run in 2019, but he pitched only five innings last year because of a nerve issue in his throwing hand. If he can stay healthy, he'll return to form.


    Reuter: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    After making just two starts in the first season of a seven-year, $245 million contract, Strasburg could prove to be a bigger addition to the Nationals roster than any of their high-profile newcomers. That's assuming the nerve issue is in the rearview.


    Rymer: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

    If the 33-year-old can stay healthy, the mature feel for pitching that served him well in '19 should serve him well once again.

AL Comeback Player of the Year

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    Eduardo Rodriguez
    Eduardo RodriguezJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Fenn: Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles and Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox

    I'd really like to see MLB declare Mancini and Rodriguez co-winners if they perform admirably. Mancini overcame cancer, and Rodriguez recovered from a scary bout with myocarditis. It only feels just to go with co-winners here, though it remains to be seen whether that's something MLB would actually do.


    Mastracco: Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

    Mancini was sidelined during 2020 to receive treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer. He received chemotherapy and made a full recovery, and he is now fully aiming to be back on the field for Opening Day.


    Reuter: Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners

    It's easy to forget that Haniger was an All-Star and a 6.2-WAR player in 2018, hitting .285/.366/.493 with 38 doubles, 26 home runs and 93 RBI while playing stellar defense in right field. After playing just 63 games the last two seasons while battling injuries, he's finally healthy and ticketed for the leadoff spot in the Seattle lineup.


    Rymer: Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox

    The coronavirus did a number on him last year, leading to a case of myocarditis that caused him to miss the entire 2020 season. But he's healthy now, so it won't be a shock if he reverts to the form that led him to a 126 ERA+ and 203.1 innings in 2019.

NL Manager of the Year

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    Craig Counsell
    Craig CounsellGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Fenn: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers

    Counsell was runner-up for the award in both 2018 and 2019. It might be tough to keep him from winning should the Brewers capture their second NL Central crown in the last four seasons.


    Mastracco: Jayce Tingler, San Diego Padres

    He's not yet a household name, but he could be if the Padres unseat the Dodgers as the top team in the National League. Tingler had never managed in the major leagues before last season, but he showed his managerial chops by getting the team to the postseason. It helps that he has a talented roster to work with, including Fernando Tatis Jr.


    Reuter: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers

    The Brewers might have to get creative in eating up innings behind Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, and there are few managers in the game better at bullpen management than Counsell. Add in the return of Lorenzo Cain and potential bounce-back seasons from Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura, and they could exceed expectations.


    Rymer: Luis Rojas, New York Mets

    Rojas will have a case if his Mets unseat Atlanta as the top power in the National League East. Even without Carlos Carrasco for the first few weeks of the season, they still have enough star power in both their lineup and in their pitching staff to get the job done.

AL Manager of the Year

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    Charlie Montoyo
    Charlie MontoyoFrank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Fenn: Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners

    Do not sleep on the M’s in the AL West. They have a promising group of starters and play terrific defense. Plus, Mitch Haniger is looking good this spring and Jarred Kelenic is knocking on the door. Even if Seattle misses the playoffs, Servais should garner Manager of the Year honors if he helps lead the club to somewhere in the area of 83 wins.


    Mastracco: Charlie Montoyo, Toronto Blue Jays

    The Blue Jays have made no secret of their plans to build a contender. Now it's up to Montoyo to direct all of the pieces on the field. This is always a difficult award to predict, but Montoyo will have a good case if the Blue Jays can knock off the Rays and Yankees in the AL East.


    Reuter: Charlie Montoyo, Toronto Blue Jays

    If Montoyo can successfully navigate the boom-or-bust potential of a confounding pitching staff and the offense can take another step forward with George Springer and Marcus Semien in the mix, the Blue Jays could easily be a playoff team once again in 2021.


    Rymer: Alex Cora, Boston Red Sox

    Manager of the Year is always the toughest award to predict, but Cora will automatically have a case if the Red Sox overcome what seem to be universally low expectations. Given how much power they're packing in their lineup, they have at least one avenue through which to achieve that goal.

NL Rookie of the Year

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    Ke'Bryan Hayes
    Ke'Bryan HayesGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Fenn: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Hayes slashed .376/.442/.682 in 24 games this past season and had a 1.263 OPS through 13 spring training games. The wildest part about his success at the plate is his glove projects even better at the hot corner. Pittsburgh will be hard to watch, but Hayes' star shines bright.


    Mastracco: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Thanks to a weird 2020, we've already seen what some of these rookies can do. Hayes tore the cover off the ball with five home runs last year for the Pirates during his September call-up and played Gold Glove-caliber defense. It's a small sample size, but it should be a sign of good things to come.


    Reuter: Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins

    Still just 22 years old, Sanchez delivered on years of hype last season when he posted a 3.46 ERA in seven starts for a playoff-bound Marlins team before tossing five scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series. With a fastball that averaged 98.8 mph, a plus-plus changeup and a good slider, he's destined to be the ace of the Miami staff.


    Rymer: Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves

    It feels like it took him forever to make it to the majors, but all that time in the minors was clearly worth it. All he did in 10 starts last year was post a 1.59 ERA with 65 strikeouts and only three barrels allowed in 51 innings.

AL Rookie of the Year

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    Randy Arozarena
    Randy ArozarenaJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Fenn: Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays

    Arozarena’s October will be a precursor to his ROY campaign. The toolsy outfielder can hit with power to all fields and wreaks havoc on the bases. His progression is an important development for the Rays.


    Mastracco: Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays

    If his huge postseason is any indication of what's to come, then Arozarena is about to have an exciting season. The ALCS MVP set records for hits (29), home runs (10) and total bases (64) in a single postseason, so imagine what he can do over the course of a full regular season.


    Reuter: Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays

    With just 84 regular-season at-bats, Arozarena is still well short of exhausting his rookie status. He was the best hitter on the planet for a couple of weeks last October, and with his mix of power, speed and athleticism, it's easy to buy into him living up to the hype.


    Rymer: Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays

    His epic postseason performance from last year might seem too good to be true. It's really not. He had a monstrous season in the minors in 2019, and the numbers he put up last year more than passed the smell test.

NL Cy Young

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    Jacob deGrom
    Jacob deGromNick Wass/Associated Press

    Fenn: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

    Jacob deGrom's last three Cy Young finishes: first, first, third. He is the best pitcher in the game, and his performances will be of even greater import with the Mets hoping to contend for a playoff spot and then some.


    Mastracco: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

    Jacob deGrom has a feel for pitching that few do, and it will lead him to his third NL Cy Young Award. The Mets have put together a quality team this year, so he might finally get some offensive help along with quality infielders behind him defensively. But he won two Cy Youngs without those things, so imagine what he's capable of with a good team around him.


    Reuter: Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds

    Castillo quietly lowered his walk rate (3.7 to 3.1 BB/9), raised his strikeout rate (10.7 to 11.4 K/9) and posted a career-low FIP (2.65) while pitching behind Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray in the Cincinnati rotation last year. Armed with the best off-speed pitch in baseball, he's still capable of another step forward.


    Rymer: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

    It doesn't feel so good to make such an easy pick, but...come on. The guy has been the most consistently dominant pitcher in MLB over the last three seasons, and there seems to be no limit to his supply of high-velocity fastballs. The fact that he can also pitch (which is not the same as throwing) as well as anyone is downright mind-boggling.

AL Cy Young

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    Lucas Giolito
    Lucas GiolitoRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Fenn: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

    Giolito ranked in the 82nd percentile in xSLG and 94th percentile in whiff rate last season. He has been terrific this spring. It's time for the White Sox ace to make the next leap.


    Mastracco: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

    It's the lethal knuckle-curve that sets Bieber apart from the rest of the field. He gets bats swinging with one of the best curveballs in baseball, and he knows when to throw it. His 122 strikeouts led the majors last year. Bieber has consistently gotten better in each of his three major league seasons, and he's primed for an even bigger year in 2021.


    Reuter: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

    Unless he went out and threw a dozen no-hitters, Cole was going to be labeled a disappointment on some level after signing a record-breaking nine-year, $324 million contract. When the dust settled, his numbers were once again elite, and he should be more comfortable in his second year in pinstripes.


    Rymer: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

    Shane Bieber or Gerrit Cole would be the easy pick here, but Lucas Giolito is intriguing because he almost certainly hasn't peaked yet. He will if he picks up where he left off in 2020, in which he had a 2.44 ERA and 73 strikeouts over his last 51.2 innings.


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    Mookie Betts
    Mookie BettsAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Fenn: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

    I really wanted to pick Juan Soto here. But Betts just seems—for lack of a better word—comfortable in Los Angeles. He is the engine in that Dodgers lineup and the best defensive outfielder (if not best defender, period) in baseball. A superlative season from Betts and dominant Dodgers campaign could result in his second MVP.


    Mastracco: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Betts will join Frank Robinson as the only player to win the MVP award in the American League and the National League. He has a lot of competition with three of the best young players in the game in Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, but he's showed no signs of slowing down at age 28, and he'll have another monstrous season for the Dodgers as they try to defend their World Series title.


    Reuter: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

    Beneath the surface of his terrific power-speed production, Acuna quietly raised his walk rate from 10.6 to 18.8 percent last season, and with it came an elite .406 on-base percentage. That's a really good young player making the necessary adjustments to be great.


    Rymer: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

    It's probably between him, Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Mookie Betts. There's no wrong pick there, but it's simply hard to turn away from Tatis after he broke into elite territory on offense and defense last year. Of course, this is assuming that his injured left shoulder doesn't become a nagging issue.


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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Fenn: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

    Mike Trout told Ken Rosenthal he had been "fighting something" in the batter's box for the better part of a year. This is the same guy who had a .993 OPS in 2020 and has spent the spring flying around displaying terrific glove work. Yeah, I think it's entirely possible Trout gets his fourth American League MVP in 2021.


    Mastracco: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

    He's the best player in baseball. It's an easy argument and an easy pick. He'll hit 40-plus home runs, have an OPS over 1.000, and he'll put the Angels on his back to try to get to the postseason for only the second time in his career.


    Reuter: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

    Ramirez nearly stole the award last year when he hit .366/.453/.841 with 10 home runs in 23 games in September. He's finished in the top three in balloting three times in the last four years, and if Cleveland can make the playoffs on the other side of the Francisco Lindor trade, he'll have a compelling case.


    Rymer: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

    This is the first time in a while that he's been 100 percent healthy for spring training and, boy, does it show. Whether he can stay healthy remains a big question. But if he does, 20-odd starts with a sub-3.00 ERA on the mound and a .900 OPS and 20-odd home runs at the plate would make him MVP material.

NL Pennant Winner

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Fenn: Atlanta Braves

    The Braves have an offense that ranked first in the NL in OPS last season and only seems to be improving by the year. The additions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly could be two of the more unheralded moves of the offseason, as Atlanta's rotation looks much deeper pending Mike Soroka's eventual return. The Braves came within a game of beating the Dodgers last season. They'll get over the hump this time en route to their first NL Pennant since 1999.


    Mastracco: Los Angeles Dodgers

    It's the most loaded team in baseball. Sure, the Dodgers will have to fight off the San Diego Padres in their own division, and they have challengers out East in the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. But they have so much depth at nearly every position that it's overwhelming and should be what keys them to another National League pennant.


    Reuter: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres are bona fide title contenders, and they might just be the second- and third-best teams in baseball. Unfortunately, they have to go through the Dodgers to reach the World Series, and that is no small task after L.A. reloaded this offseason.


    Rymer: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Been there. Done that. And contrary to every other defending World Series champion in recent history, they shouldn't have to worry about a World Series hangover after playing only 78 games last season. One supposes it also helps to have Trevor Bauer, who was baseball's best pitcher in 2020.

AL Pennant Winner

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Fenn: Chicago White Sox

    The Eloy Jimenez injury stings, but a five-to-six-month timeline puts him in the mix for the final month-plus and the playoffs. Chicago can hang in there until then.

    The White Sox still have a strong lineup and added a frontline starter in Lance Lynn. Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease have both looked pretty strong in camp. Also, how are opposing teams going to score on that bullpen, especially now that Liam Hendriks awaits at the back end? The stacked relief corps could loom especially large come October.


    Mastracco: New York Yankees

    The AL East has historically been a deep division, and that's especially true in 2021. The Blue Jays have accelerated their rebuilding process, the Rays are coming off a pennant win themselves, and the Red Sox are hoping to be competitive again this season. The vaunted Yankees will use the trade deadline to bring in some starting pitching reinforcements and let their savages in the box guide them to an American League championship.


    Reuter: Chicago White Sox

    In terms of on-paper talent, there's not a more complete team in the American League. The bullpen has a chance to be otherworldly good. The trio of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn is the best 1-2-3 of any rotation in the American League. The lineup is stacked, even without Eloy Jimenez. This team is built to win it all.


    Rymer: Chicago White Sox

    Assuming Tony La Russa stays out of the way and top prospect Andrew Vaughn proves to be a capable fill-in for the injured Eloy Jimenez, the White Sox can make a run at 100 wins this year. And because of their powerful lineup, top-heavy rotation and sneaky-scary bullpen—imagine having to face Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet, and then Liam Hendriks—they figure to be a nightmare matchup in October.

World Series Champion

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Fenn: Atlanta Braves

    You can all yell and scream at me when this doesn't come true, Braves fans. The explosive offensive potential and deep arm pool are both there. Atlanta also has the prospect capital to make a splash (bullpen help?) at the deadline. Although the Dodgers, Padres and Mets might be sexier picks, the Braves are more than capable of capturing the Fall Classic.


    Mastracco: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The Dodgers have 2020's best pitcher in NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bayer, an MVP candidate in Mookie Betts and talented young players like Will Smith and Dustin May. The depth will allow them to hold off other teams and win their second straight World Series.


    Reuter: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Anything can happen over the course of a 162-game schedule. That's the beauty of baseball. But sitting here on March 25, I just don't see any way to pick against the Dodgers. The best team in baseball and reigning World Series champions went out and added the NL Cy Young winner, and all they lost from last year's team is a solid utility player, a platoon outfielder and a couple of veteran middle relievers.


    Rymer: Los Angeles Dodgers

    The San Diego Padres might be their only real threat, and the odds of the Padres actually coming out ahead in that struggle must not be underestimated. But the Dodgers are just too deep. And not just for the Padres, but for every team. Congratulations to them in advance for becoming the first repeat champions since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.