Springtime is a time for new beginnings. Nothing will make you feel better after a long cold winter, then stepping outside to the smell of fresh-cut grass, sunshine, and blue skies, and the crack of the bat as the baseball leaves the field of play.
Finally, baseball is back, and it is going to be an exciting 2021 season.
Some of the storylines worth watching this season:
The National League East is the best division in baseball with the Braves, Phillies, Mets, and Nationals. Undoubtedly, two of those teams will miss the playoffs in 2021.
Can the Padres overtake the Dodgers in the National League West?
Will the opener strategy made famous by Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash become more prevalent this season as teams look to protect pitchers from throwing too many innings?
Did the Yankees add enough to their roster to win the AL East and make a World Series run?
We will get the answer to these questions and many more starting April 1 as MLB kicks off the 2021 season.
American League East:
The New York Yankees should win the division and that is who I am picking. The Yankees barring any injuries, have the best offense in the American League and can score a ton of runs in a hurry.
The Yankees added Cory Kluber and Jameson Tailon to a rotation that boasts Gerrit Cole, Domingo German, and Jordan Montgomery.
The re-signing of DJ LeMahieu was huge for the Yankees.
When healthy, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are certainly two of the most exciting hitters in the AL.
Can the Yankees stay healthy? That is the big question going into the season.
The Tampa Bay Rays will finish second behind the Yankees in the division. The Rays are the defending American League Champions and took the LA Dodgers to six games in the 2020 World Series before being eliminated.
The Rays lost pitchers Blake Snell in addition to Charlie Morton, but added Chris Archer, Rich Hill, and Michael Wacha.
The offense remains intact from last season. As the season begins three players are under the microscope Yoshi Tsutsugo, Austin Meadows, and Yandy Diaz. Tsutsugo and Meadows both hit under .200 last season, while Diaz has yet to reach his full potential offensively.
Randy Arozarena, last year’s playoff MVP, returns, and he will be in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
American League Central:
The Chicago White Sox will finally once again win the division in 2021. The White Sox have been busy stockpiling young talent, and that talent is finally beginning to impact at the MLB level.
The Sox were a contender in 2020 led by AL MVP Jose Abreu. Young slugger Eloy Jimenez is out for the season with a torn pec muscle.
The White Sox also added Lance Lynn, Liam Hendricks, and Adam Eaton to the roster.
The Minnesota Twins will finish second behind the White Sox but will again be one and done in the postseason as the Tampa Bay Rays will eliminate them in the wildcard game.
The Twins ace is Kenta Maeda, who was a bottom rotation guy with the Dodgers. Maeda finished second to Shane Bieber in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Maeda finished the season 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA. The Twins finished third in the AL in overall pitching with a 3.58 ERA and should once again have a good pitching staff with Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda holding the top three spots in the rotation.
Offensively, the Twins will count on players such as Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Josh Donaldson, and Miguel Sano to carry the load.
American League West:
The Houston Astros will once again repeat as division champs. Yes, the Astros lost George Springer to Toronto and will not have Justin Verlander this season as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. However, the Astros are still a very good team and one to be reckoned with.
The Astros finished 29-31 last season and took out the Twins and the A’s before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Rays in a seven-game ALCS.
Despite losing Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick, this is still an excellent team offensively with Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, MVP candidate Jose Altuve, and Kyle Tucker.
This race to win the division will be close all season as the Oakland A’s are still a very good team. The big difference is the Astros have proven they can win under pressure. The A’s have not.
Matt Chapman, the A’s best offensive player returns. Pitchers Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas must have bounce-back seasons for the A’s to challenge the Astros.
The Los Angels Angels will finish third. Adding Hector Rondon to compliment Mike Trout offensively will make this Angels team fun to watch, but the Angels will come up a bit short.
National League East:
Welcome to the toughest division in baseball.
The New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies all upgraded their roster this off-season to try to unseat the Atlanta Braves as NL East division champs.
The Mets added Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco, but will that be enough to unseat the Braves as division winner? My guess is no.
The Phillies re-signed All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and relief pitcher Jose Alvarado. The Phillies will need much better pitching as they finished with a 5.14 team ERA.
Those teams’ bad news is the Braves return much of the same cast that made a deep playoff run in 2020. The Braves also signed pitcher Charlie Morton to a two-year contract. The Braves also boast three of the best young starters in baseball in Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson.
The Marlins, although improving, will finish last in the division. Pitcher Sixto Sanchez will be a National League Rookie of the Year candidate.
National League Central:
This will be a two-team race between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals have not had a losing season since 2007 and have made the playoffs during Mike Shildt’s first two years as manager.
St. Louis should win the division again in 2021. The Cardinals did lose second baseman, Kolton Wong. However, Tommy Edman will replace Wong and defensively is every bit as good as Wong.
The Cardinals hope for a bounce-back season from shortstop Paul DeJong who was not very good offensively or defensively in 2020.
The Brewers have a lot of good talent; it’s just a matter of putting it all together. Christian Yelich needs to absolutely get back to his 2019 form. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are two of the best unsung starters in the league. Of course Josh Hader is one of the best closers.
The Brewers have made the playoffs three consecutive years. That streak will surely end this season.
National League West:
The Los Angeles Dodgers over/under win total has gone to 105.5. Trevor Bauer’s addition to a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Walker Buhler, and Jose Urias form the best rotation in baseball.
The Dodgers also have the best right fielder in the game in Mookie Betts.
The San Diego Padres made a solid push to challenge the Dodgers this off-season. The Padres acquired Pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell via trades and signed shortstop Fernando Tatis to a 14 year 340 million contract.
The Padres will have one of the best offenses in baseball with Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr, Tommy Pham, Will Myers, and Eric Homer.
This will be one of those division races that will go down to the last day of the season, with the Dodgers winning it by a hair.
American League East—New York Yankees
The American League Central—Chicago White Sox
American League West—Houston Astros
Wildcard—Tampa Bay Rays
American League Champion—New York Yankees
Rookie of the Year—Randy Arozarena OF Tampa Bay Rays
Al MVP—Carlos Correa Houston Astros
Manager of the Year—Tony LaRussa Chicago White Sox
Cy Young winner—Gerrit Cole New York Yankees
National League East—Atlanta Braves
National League Central— St. Louis Cardinals
National League West— Los Angeles Dodgers
Wildcard— New York Mets
Wildcard—San Diego Padres
National League Champion—Los Angeles Dodgers
Rookie of the Year—Bryan Hayes 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
NL MVP—Mookie Betts Los Angeles Dodgers
Manager of the Year—Jayce Tingler San Diego Padres
Cy Young Winner—Jacob DeGrom New York Mets
World Series Champion—Los Angeles Dodgers