1 Hot-Take Prediction for Every MLB Team During the 2021 Season
The start of the 2021 Major League Baseball season is just a few short days away, but let's spice up the lead-up to Opening Day with an unlikely but feasible season prediction for each of the 30 teams.
Could the Boston Red Sox make the playoffs while the New York Yankees get left out? Will the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Jorge Soler bounce back to All-Star levels? Might a certain Seattle Mariner join an elite club that currently only consists of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez?
Some of these takes are much hotter or more unnecessarily specific than others.
Many are team-based forecasts, while others just pertain to one player.
Most of them are positive hot takes, but we did sprinkle in a few negative hunches.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini Will Get MVP Votes
In 2019, Mancini hit .291/.364/.535 with 35 home runs for an Orioles squad that finished dead last in the AL East for the third consecutive season. He then missed the entire 2020 campaign while undergoing chemotherapy to treat Stage 3 colon cancer.
His return to the field is going to be a season-long inspirational story. As a result, if he's able to more or less pick up where he left off 18 months ago, that stat line is going to receive way more attention than it did in 2019.
It won't be enough to seriously make a push for AL MVP because Baltimore is going to have another rough season. But he'll get at least one vote for that award, which will be the first time an Oriole appears on that voting sheet since Jonathan Schoop in 2017.
Boston Red Sox: Will Bounce Back to Make the Playoffs
Last year was a nightmare for the Red Sox, who posted a winning percentage of .400 or worse for the first time since 1965. J.D. Martinez had by far his worst season since 2013, Michael Chavis had a brutal sophomore slump, and then not getting a single inning out of Chris Sale or Eduardo Rodriguez resulted in one of the worst pitching staff in the majors.
It's still unclear if or when we'll see those two starting pitchers again. Sale is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and Rodriguez was scratched from the Opening Day start because of dead arm. But both should be back on the mound at some point. Martinez should bounce back to some degree, and Bobby Dalbec is a major breakout candidate after clubbing seven home runs during the spring.
New York Yankees: Will Miss the Playoffs
New York is deservedly the front-runner to win the ALCS and reach the World Series for the first time since 2009. The lineup is absolutely loaded, per usual, and the Yankees added Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to bolster a starting rotation anchored by Gerrit Cole.
But no team has been more snakebitten by the injury bug over the past three years, and the Yankees have already lost Luke Voit—who led the majors with 22 home runs in 2020—for at least a month to a torn meniscus. In what figures to be the most loaded division in the majors, they can ill afford to have another season full of bumps and bruises.
Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena Wins AL Rookie of the Year Unanimously
AL Rookie of the Year has been one of the least debated races in recent years. Seattle's Kyle Lewis won it unanimously in 2020, Yordan Alvarez did so in 2019 and Aaron Judge got all of the first-place votes in 2017.
This time around it'll be the hero of the 2020 postseason running away with the title.
Can't imagine there have been many instances in MLB history in which a guy with 10 postseason home runs was able to start a subsequent season with Rookie of the Year eligibility, but that's the case for Arozarena.
He hit seven home runs in 64 regular-season at-bats and then had 10 more in 77 postseason ABs. There's no way he'll stay that hot, but he'll win this thing with room to spare. He'll probably even get some MVP votes.
Toronto Blue Jays: Will Win First World Series Since 1993
Toronto's bats should be awesome. The Blue Jays already had limitless potential with their young, second-generation-of-MLB-stars club of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, but then they went out and grabbed George Springer and Marcus Semien. Aside from the catcher spot, good luck finding an easy out in this lineup.
The big question is the pitching staff. Hyun Jin Ryu is a bona fide ace, but which versions of Tanner Roark, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz will the Blue Jays get? If those guys pitch like they did in 2020, Toronto may miss the playoffs altogether. But if all three can regain their 2019 form, there would be more than enough run support to win a whole bunch of games.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Will Have Best Starting Rotation in the AL, Possibly the Majors
Dallas Keuchel finished fifth in last year's AL Cy Young vote, Lance Lynn placed sixth and Lucas Giolito came in seventh. Now those three guys are together at the top of the White Sox rotation, ready to pitch Chicago to a whole bunch of victories.
The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit iffy. Dylan Cease has a career MLB ERA of 5.00, and Carlos Rodon has made just 11 ineffective appearances over the past two seasons due to injuries. Both guys have been lights-out this spring, though.
And the White Sox still have an intriguing prospect in Michael Kopech, though he last saw game action in September 2018. Not a bad "break in case of emergency" option.
Cleveland: Shane Bieber Repeats as AL Cy Young Winner
Picking the best pitcher in the league to remain the best pitcher in the league might not seem like a hot take, but this would be a surprisingly rare achievement if Bieber can pull it off. It happens in the National League pretty regularly, but Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000) was the last player to win win back-to-back AL Cy Young Awards.
Bieber could pull it off, though. He was lethal last year, increasing the average velocity on his fastball from 93.1 to 94.2 mph while adding a cutter to his arsenal. He struck out at least eight batters in each of his 12 starts in 2020, and his strikeout rate thus far this spring suggests more of the same is forthcoming.
How well the rest of Cleveland's rotation will do is another story altogether, and the lineup definitely won't feel the same without Francisco Lindor. But at least the team's ace will be fun to watch every fifth day.
Detroit Tigers: Akil Baddoo Makes a Serious Push for AL Rookie of the Year
Two years ago, Baddoo was playing High-A ball in the Twins' farm system. He only played 29 games that season, batting .214. With minor league baseball getting wiped out by the pandemic, Baddoo went over a year between games before getting a spring training invitation with the Tigers.
And he was the surprise sensation of the past month. Baddoo swatted four home runs and stole four bases, leading Detroit in both categories and earning a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Tampa Bay's Randy Arozarena is the fairly obvious favorite for AL ROY after his preposterous run through the 2020 postseason, but Baddoo is going to get a nice chunk of playing time and make a legitimate run at knocking Arozarena out of that top spot.
Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler Regains His 2019 Slugging Form
After mashing an AL-best 48 home runs in 2019, Soler never really got going during the truncated 2020 campaign, finishing with just eight dingers. He went from averaging one home run for every 14.1 plate appearances to one for every 21.8.
This spring, though, he's at five home runs in 59 plate appearances, which is one for every 11.8 trips to the plate. Spring training stats, grain of salt, yada yada yada. He's hitting for power again, and that will continue into the regular season. If he stays reasonably healthy, expect at least 40 home runs again.
Minnesota Twins: The Postseason Losing Streak Comes to an End
Since winning the opening game of the 2004 ALDS against the Yankees, Minnesota has lost 18 consecutive postseason games. Just a mind-blowing drought for a franchise that has won its division five times in the past 15 years.
This is the year the Twins finally break through, though. Replacing Eddie Rosario (now with Cleveland) in the heart of the lineup won't be easy, but they made a bunch of intriguing acquisitions in Alex Colome, J.A. Happ and Andrelton Simmons. That trio of veterans will play a key role in not only getting Minnesota to the playoffs but in finally also winning at least one game—maybe even a full series.
American League West
Houston Astros: Will Miss the Playoffs
Per DraftKings, there are 24 players with 40-1 or better odds of winning AL MVP, five of whom are Houston Astros. Houston is also favored to win the AL West, though not by much.
But what if Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman struggle for a second consecutive year? What if Zack Greinke has an ERA north of 4.00 again? What if 2019 AL ROY Yordan Alvarez doesn't return to form after missing almost all of last season following arthroscopic procedures on his knees? (He has struggled mightily this spring.) What if needing to replace George Springer's production in the lineup is just too much to overcome?
At least one of the division favorites will fall flat. It almost always happens. And after four consecutive years of at least reaching the ALCS, perhaps it's time for Houston to pass the torch.
Los Angeles Angels: An Angel Will Win AL MVP, But It Won't Be Mike Trout
Trout is, per usual, the heavy favorite to win MVP. He has finished top-five in nine consecutive seasons, winning it in 2014, 2016 and 2019.
But he's not the only star on this roster.
Anthony Rendon has received MVP votes in each of the past four years, and after a slow start in his first season with the Angels, he batted .333/.435/.573 with eight home runs over his final 40 games last year.
He could win MVP, and so could Shohei Ohtani, who has been both mashing the cover off the ball at the plate and spinning filth from the mound throughout spring training. Having him back on the mound at (hopefully) full strength immediately makes him more attractive as an MVP candidate.
Oakland A's: Will Be Aggressive Buyers at the Trade Deadline
We traditionally equate Oakland with "Moneyball" and penny-pinching. But after a bunch of hullabaloo this offseason about Billy Beane potentially leaving the baseball world altogether, the executive VP of the A's is back for at least one more attempt at getting this franchise to a World Series.
To get there, Oakland will loosen the purse strings a little bit this summer to add a couple of bats.
The pitching rotation is strong, and the A's have a couple of excellent hitters in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. To really make that playoffs run, though, we suspect Oakland will rank among the top suitors for guys like Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and Starling Marte who are on expiring contracts with teams likely going nowhere fast this year.
Seattle Mariners: Dylan Moore becomes Seattle's first 25 HR / 25 SB Guy Since 2002 Mike Cameron
Causes for excitement in Seattle have been few and far between over the past two decades. The Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001, and the last time they finished fewer than nine games back in the AL West was in 2007.
Moore should be an exception to that rule. He only played in 38 games last season, but he batted .255/.358/.496 with eight home runs and 12 stolen bases. Extrapolated to a full 162-game campaign, that's 34 home runs and 51 stolen bases.
In franchise history, only three Mariners have joined the 25-25 club: Alex Rodriguez (42 HR, 46 SB in 1998) and Mike Cameron twice (25 HR, 34 SB in 2001; 25 HR, 31 SB in 2002). And if we slightly tweak the club to 26 home runs and 24 stolen bases, the only Mariners to do that are Rodriguez in 1998 and Ken Griffey Jr. in 1999 (48 HR, 24 SB).
Moore's ceiling is nowhere near those HOF names, but that would be a fun, elite group for him to join.
Texas Rangers: Will Not Receive a Single Vote for MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year
This one seems harsh, but it's not even that bold a prediction. Texas was shut out of all three votes in both 2017 and 2018, and Lance Lynn placing top six in the Cy Young vote in the past two seasons was the only time the Rangers have come close lately. But they traded Lynn to the White Sox in December, so now what?
Joey Gallo bashed 40-plus home runs in both 2017 and 2018 and didn't get any votes. Unless he suddenly corrects his career .208 batting average and gargantuan strikeout rate (37.7 percent), that won't change. Maybe Kohei Arihara will make enough of a splash in his MLB debut to get a few ROY votes, but that's about the only way this prediction could go awry.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Trades for or Signs a Starting Pitcher by April 30
Mike Soroka has been pitching simulated games, but he hasn't faced live action since tearing his Achilles in early August. Drew Smyly has never been durable or all that effective. Ian Anderson was fantastic last year and has a bright future, but a slow start or a sophomore slump can befall anyone.
The Braves have the bats to win a pennant, but maybe not the pitching. They won't even make it a full month before desperately trying to cobble together a better starting rotation. Whether it's a big splash in the form of a trade or bringing in an aging free agent like Rick Porcello or Anibal Sanchez, Atlanta will be the first contender to shake things up.
Miami Marlins: Makes Playoffs in Back-to-Back Years for First Time in Franchise History
Weird things happened during the 60-game 2020 season, one of the strangest of which was Miami finishing above .500 for the first time in a decade and making the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Most everyone expects the Marlins to return to their normal place in the NL East basement, though I'm not sure why. Aside from replacing Matt Joyce with Adam Duvall and bringing in Anthony Bass to replace Brandon Kintzler as closer—both moves may well be upgrades—not much has changed from that postseason roster. If tantalizing rookies Sixto Sanchez and Jazz Chisholm deliver, this team will be solid.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom Leads MLB in Wins
Jacob deGrom has been, indisputably, the best pitcher in the majors since the start of the 2018 season. Yet all he has to show for it is a 25-19 record, thanks to frequently-mentioned-but-still-unfathomably-terrible run support.
With the addition of Francisco Lindor—and with guys like Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil hitting that primo age-27 or -28 range—this will be the year the offense finally repays deGrom for all that hard work. He wins 21 games and earns his third NL Cy Young Award in unanimous fashion.
Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper Regains His MVP Form
The Phillies invested one-third of $1 billion into Bryce Harper a little over two years ago, and their ROI on the 2012 NL ROY and 2015 NL MVP hasn't been quite what they expected.
However, in each of the past two seasons, he finished strong. Over the final third (54 games) of the 2019 season, his 162-game pace was 54 home runs and 130 RBI. It was a similar story for the final 18 games of last year when he hit .311/.440/.705 with a 162-game pace of 54 home runs and 108 RBI.
In 2021, though, he'll start hot and stay hot. Harper won't actually win NL MVP because MVP awards don't usually go to players from teams that miss the playoffs. But he'll regain his MVP form to finish top-five in FanGraphs WAR among hitters.
Washington Nationals: Will Lead the NL in Strikeouts x2
On the pitching side of things, this is barely even a lukewarm take. If Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin stay healthy, they'll each eclipse 200 Ks with room to spare. Jon Lester is getting up there in years, but he still has respectable strikeout stuff. And this bullpen is loaded with flamethrowers.
What makes this a hot take is we're saying the Nationals will lead the league in both strikeouts pitched and strikeouts at the plate. The acquisitions of Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber will increase the team's slugging percentage, but both of those guys whiff a ton—as does incumbent outfielder Victor Robles. There should be quite a few of the three true outcomes at Nationals Park this year.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Third Year's the Charm with Craig Kimbrel
When the Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 million deal in June 2019, they were clearly hoping to get the version of Kimbrel who had a 1.91 ERA and 0.92 WHIP from 2010-18. Through his first 36 innings in Chicago's bullpen, though, those numbers have ballooned to atrocious marks of 6.0 and 1.53, respectively.
However, he's still only 32 years old, and it's not a velocity or strikeout problem. He simply got out to atrocious starts in both years. He was stellar over the final month of last season, though, pitching 7.1 innings with 13 strikeouts, three hits, no walks and no runs allowed. He should open the 2021 campaign as Chicago's closer, and this time he won't blow it.
Cincinnati Reds: Jonathan India Immediately Emerges As Team's Best Hitter
Just to be clear, by "hitter," I don't mean "slugger." Eugenio Suarez has that gig locked down. But the 24-year-old rookie who was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft will lead the Reds in batting average in 2021.
Considering the Reds batted .212 as a team last year and had the worst batting average in the majors, perhaps this isn't a hot take at all. Among the 10 Reds who made at least 75 plate appearances, Jesse Winker's .255 batting average led the way. But India isn't even guaranteed to make the Opening Day roster, so it would be impressive if he ends the season as a team leader in hits.
Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes Will Start the All-Star Game
Expectations for Burnes are all over the map, and understandably so. In 49 innings of work (mostly out of the bullpen) in 2019, he allowed 17 home runs and had an 8.82 ERA. In 59.2 innings of work (mostly as a starter) last year, he had only two home runs allowed and a 2.11 ERA.
Both are extremes, but the latter home run rate and ERA are much closer to what he accomplished throughout his four years in the minors. If he can keep the ball in the yard and keep his strikeout rate through the roof (13.1 K/9 over the past two seasons), he just might get the nod as the NL starter in the All-Star Game.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will Be Frequently Mentioned in the Same Breath with the 43-119 2003 Detroit Tigers
Ke'Bryan Hayes is going to be an All-Star, and he would be even if there wasn't a rule that every team has to have at least one representative on that roster. He's the front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year after hitting .376/.442/.682 in 24 games last season.
Unfortunately, Hayes is a bright light in an otherwise pitch-black void. The Pirates traded away Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove and Josh Bell after last season in their multiyear quest to dump salary and beef up the farm system. The second-best player on the roster is probably Bryan Reynolds, but only if he regains his 2019 form. He hit .189 last year, and Pittsburgh could be headed for 120 losses if he does the same in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals: Will Be First Team to Clinch a Division in 2021
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are much more likely to win their respective divisions than the Cardinals are to win the NL Central. However, St. Louis is scheduled to play all of its games against Pittsburgh before the end of August. That's a great opportunity to build up a massive cushion over the Reds and Brewers.
Clinching early certainly isn't the usual St. Louis way. Each of its last four NL Central titles (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2019) were decided by three games or fewer. But the addition of Nolan Arenado, the return of Jordan Hicks and the way the schedule is set up will bring their magic number down to zero before the final week of September.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Madison Bumgarner Bounces Back in a Big Way
MadBum's first season outside of San Francisco was a colossal bummer. He made four mostly ineffective starts before spending nearly a month on the IL with a back strain. And he still didn't look quite right when he came back in September. He ended up with a career-worst K/9 rate (6.48) and a home-run rate more than twice as bad as anything he had posted in the previous 10 seasons.
Was it the beginning of the end for Bumgarner or just a hiccup during a pandemic? We're inclined to believe the latter and that he'll be back to his usual 200-plus-innings workhorse routine in 2021.
Don't plan on it changing the Diamondbacks' lot in the NL West, though. They're still going to finish behind both the Dodgers and the Padres. But at least they'll get ace-level stuff from the guy whose base salary is more than twice that of his next-closest teammate.
Colorado Rockies: Will Begrudgingly Trade Trevor Story and Possibly Charlie Blackmon Well Before the Deadline
It's almost a foregone conclusion that Story is going to get traded. The Rockies are going nowhere fast, and they risk getting absolutely nothing in return if they hang onto him through the July 31 trade deadline and simply hope to re-sign the free-agent shortstop this offseason.
The real question is: How long do they wait to pull the trigger? And will they also try to get out from under what's left of the six-year, $108 million deal Blackmon signed before the 2018 season? Our guesses are late June and absolutely.
They already agreed to eat $50 million in the process of trading Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals back in late January, essentially waving the white flag on this season and probably the next couple. They might as well fully steer into the skid and try to expedite the rebuilding process by trading away the two biggest stars left on the roster.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dodgers Will Win Both NL MVP and Cy Young
Yes, I know I already said Jacob deGrom will win the NL Cy Young award, but allow me to hedge my hot takes here.
The last time a team won both MVP and Cy Young in the same year was in 2014 when Clayton Kershaw won both for the Dodgers. Prior to that, it last happened in the NL when Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter did it for the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals. Suffice it to say, it doesn't happen often.
But there's a great chance it happens this year for Los Angeles. In the MVP department, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger both rank among the favorites, Corey Seager isn't far behind and Max Muncy is a fun sleeper pick. On the Cy Young front, the Dodgers signed the reigning award winner in Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler is a solid candidate and Kershaw certainly isn't washed up yet.
San Diego Padres: The Offseason Trading Spree Pays Big Dividends
The Padres had a pretty solid pitching staff last year, ranking sixth in the majors in FanGraphs WAR. But they had one of the most aggressive offseasons in recent memory, trading for both Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in late December and then getting Joe Musgrove from the Pirates a few weeks later. And they didn't need to part with Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack or top prospect MacKenzie Gore in the process, so this starting rotation is absolutely loaded.
Is it enough to beat the Dodgers in the playoffs? We shall see. But the Padres are definitely going to make the playoffs, they will win a wild-card game, if necessary, and they will win an NLDS for the first time since 1998.
And that NLCS showdown between the Dodgers and Padres will be spectacular.
San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb Has a Breakout Year
Through 94 career innings pitched at the big league level, Webb hasn't been anything special, posting an ERA north of 5.00 in each of the past two seasons. But he tore through the minor leagues in 2017-19 with a cumulative ERA of 2.30 at his various stops along the way.
And while spring training stats often mean a whole lot of nothing, Webb has been fantastic this past month, racking up 22 strikeouts in 17.0 innings of one-run ball.
His spot in the Opening Day rotation was far from assured a few weeks ago, but he's penciled in as the No. 3 starter for the Giants. That's fitting, because at the end of the year, we'll look back and say that Webb was, at worst, the third-best pitcher (starter or reliever) on this roster.
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