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The 2021 MLB season is off and running, with clubs beginning the grind that is a 162-game season. Everyone is battling for a chance to play in October and the hope to knock off the Los Angeles Dodgers. In our updated MLB predictions, we pick division winners, wild-card teams and a 2021 World Series champion,
Updated Weekly: As injuries occur, rookies are promoted and player performance stabilizes, we’ll adjust expected standings. Although relative roster strength between divisions is dramatic, within the divisions themselves there should be exciting competition all year.
MLB Predictions: Picking MLB playoff teams, division winners
National League East champion: New York Mets
- Key players: Mike Soroka, Marcus Stroman, Josh Bell
- Sleepers: Victor Robles, Zach Eflin, Drew Smyly
It’s been a slow start to the 2021 season for the Atlanta Braves, but not star Ronald Acuña Jr. Already an All-Star slugger, the 23-year-old is taking the next step in his career. Acuña entered play on Sunday with seven home runs, a 1.6 fWAR and an absurd 1.409 OPS. Look no further for the leader of the NL MVP race.
But it still hasn’t been remotely enough for Atlanta, which finds itself below the .500 mark. Meanwhile, the New York Mets are overcoming the inability to provide Jacob deGrom with run support and a seemingly endless number of postponements. We still haven’t seen the best that New York’s lineup is capable of when its stars (Michael Conforto, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith) are hot at the right time. Sprinkle on the return this summer of Noah Syndergaard, you’ve got a World Series contender.
Winning the NL East won’t be easy. Atlanta is far better than its record indicates, the Miami Marlins can cause some problems and the Philadelphia Phillies are capable of giving anyone a competitive series. We’ll get two playoff teams from the division, but the smart money is on the Mets winning the NL East.
National League Central champion: Milwaukee Brewers
The St. Louis Cardinals entered as the favorites to win the NL Central and things aren’t going according to plan. A rotation that had some major holes is worse than expected and this lineup is producing to match the early expectations. St. Louis is still better than its record, but winning the division looks increasingly unlikely.
Just two weeks in, we’re already excited about the looming battles between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati doesn’t quite have “The Big Red Machine” in 2021, but this batting order is doing incredible work right now. Some regression is likely on the horizon, but that should be balanced out by Sonny Gray returning to stabilize the top of the starting rotation.
Our faith in the Brewers is tied to Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Everyone already knew Woodruff boasts ace-caliber stuff and was prepared to watch it over a full season. He has been as advertised, but Burnes (48.4% strikeout rate, 0.22 WHIP and four hits allowed) looks like the NL Cy Young after his first three starters. Milwaukee’s lineup is one of the worst in baseball (78 wRC+) right now, but a healthy Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Kolten Wong should fix that.
St. Louis might make things interesting, but the NL Central will likely come down to Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Winning the division will be crucial since the Braves and San Diego Padres are strong bets for the wild-card spots.
National League West champion: Los Angeles Dodgers
The NL West is home for the two best teams in MLB, there is little denying that. Los Angeles entered the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series and for good reason. The Dodgers had the most talented roster in baseball last season, won a World Series and then added even more talent.
A recent series victory over the San Diego Padres proved two things. First, Los Angeles remains the No. 1 team in our MLB power rankings. Second, the San Diego Padres are more than capable of beating this team in a playoff matchup.
San Diego’s pitch staff is as advertised. The Padres’ starters entered Sunday with the third-lowest ERA (2.51) and sixth-best strikeout rate (27.9%) in baseball. We haven’t even seen Dinelson Lamet yet, Mackenzie Gore is waiting in the minors and Blake Snell is far better than his early numbers (4.35 ERA, 1.65 WHIP) indicate.
We will note, the San Francisco Giants are at least interesting. They stand no chance in the NL West and even competing for a wild-card spot is out of the question. But, for the fans, it is nice that Farhan Zaidi is executing his plan and building a foundation to sustain success in the future.
We’ll see the Padres and Dodgers clash plenty of times in the regular season and every series will be captivating. Of course, the real fun will come when they face off in October in a series that could decide who will be the World Series champion a few weeks later.
MLB Playoff Picture: Projected wild-card teams
- (1) Los Angeles Dodgers vs. (WC) San Diego Padres/(WC) Atlanta Braves
- (2) New York Mets vs. (3) Milwaukee Brewers
- National League champion: Los Angeles Dodgers
MLB Predictions: Projecting American League standings, playoff teams
American League East champion: Toronto Blue Jays
The New York Yankees aren’t the worst team in the American League. The team’s run differential (-9) is alarming and getting pushed around by the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays is even worse. But this is still a talented team. Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu will return to form, Luis Severino will return and this club will right the ship.
But expectations for the Yankees were out of control to begin the season. Many viewed New York’s rotation as the third-best in MLB, which was betting on everything going right. It turns out, Corey Kluber won’t be rediscovering the form that once made him great and Domingo German is a liability as a regular starter.
We thought the Blue Jays could win the AL East before the season started. While the Tampa Bay Rays are the reigning AL champions, they gutted their rotation this winter and the bullpen is one of the worst in baseball. Toronto, on the other hand, boasts a lineup loaded with emerging talent and its rotation is good enough to get the job done most weeks.
There’s a chance the Boston Red Sox could surprise, but the hot start and early lead seem like a fluke. Ultimately, this figures to be a three-team race and we’ll pick the Blue Jays to emerge on top.
American League Central champion: Minnesota Twins
This might finally be the year Byron Buxton puts it all together. Before dealing with a hamstring injury and then being sidelined by the Twins’ COVID issues, the 27-year-old was playing at an MVP-caliber level. Buxton always played Gold Glove defense in center, but his five home runs and 1.622 OPS in his first 36 plate appearances was the signs of offensive potential everyone has waited years to witness.
He’s not the only Twins’ hitter doing well. Luis Arráez is an OBP machine, capable of playing multiple positions. Nelson Cruz defies Father Time as a candidate to lead the AL in home runs this season. Just as importantly, Jose Berrīos, Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda provide Minnesota with the stability its rotation needs.
We do expect the Chicago White Sox to make this a tight race, one that sill carry into September. But losing Eloy Jiménez for most of the season is a significant blow. Andrew Vaughn is better defensively in left field, but he doesn’t seem ready to handle MLB pitching.
It would be easier to pick the White Sox if there was more faith in the manager. However, Tony La Russa inspires little reason for confidence and an increasing belief the game has passed him by.
The Cleveland Indians don’t have the hitting to compete for this division and the Kansas City Royals lack the starting rotation to match up with either Minnesota or Chicago. As a result, we view this as a two-team race that should ultimately go to the Twins.
American League West champion: Los Angeles Angels
The AL West projects to be one of the most interesting division races for the remainder of the 2021 season. The Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros all boast strong cases to win the crown. Naturally, there are also Achilles’ heels with each club.
It’s been a fascinating start for Oakland. The Athletics lost their first six games, getting blown out of the water as their pitching failed and the lineup could hardly muster a run. Suddenly, something clicked and they enter the week riding an eight-game winning streak. Matt Olson is starting to get his timing down at the plate and recent gems from Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea provide reason for optimism.
There are also reasons for concern. Jesús Luzardo (8.31 ERAm, 4.85 BB/9, 2.08 HR/9) doesn’t look like he can be trusted as a front-line starter. The rare free-agent investment, Trevor Rosenthal, also backfired and it’s unlikely he makes it back until late in the year. Also, unlike the other two threats, we can’t trust Oakland’s ownership will make the money available for this team to become buyers at the MLB trade deadline.
In Los Angeles, the Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout duo is healthy and surpassing even the wildest expectations people had for these two stars. Trout, a three-time AL MVP, is always a threat to win the award again. But with Ohtani now a challenger for 30-plus home runs, a 1.000-plus OPS and capable of being a front-line starter, he might be the best bet.
There is more work to be done on the pitching side. The Angels’ rotation enters play Monday with the sixth-worst ERA (5.26) and that is no fault of Ohtani or Dylan Bundy (3.32 ERA). Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning have potential, but Los Angeles could still use another playoff-caliber starter. Given how tight this AL West race will be, upgrading the rotation is crucial.
Houston could go either direction. It started the season 6-1, dominating the Athletics with timely hitting and dominant pitching. But losing series to the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners is a bad look for this franchise. The pressure is on Houston’s young rotation to eat innings and keep games close. How they handle that pressure will determine if the Astros make it to October.
MLB Wild Card picks: Projected American League playoff matchups
- (1) Minnesota Twins vs. (WC) New York Yankees/(WC) Chicago White Sox
- (2) Toronto Blue Jays vs. (3) Los Angeles Angels
- American League champion: Toronto Blue Jays