Baseball is set to return. Who else is excited to have baseball back for 162 games?! Old records will be broken, breakout players will make a name for themselves, and a team will be crowned World Series Champions. Before the starting pitch is thrown, I’m warming us up with bold predictions for the 2021 MLB season.
Ohtani Lives Up to the Hype
When Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels back in 2017 and debuted in 2019, the Halos found the perfect partner for star Mike Trout. Ohtani packs a punch in his bat, but can also do it on the mound. The versatile pitcher/outfielder is a unique MLB talent that LA was fortunate to land. There was a lot of hype surrounding the now 26-year old, however, injuries slowed down Ohtani’s progress. Now, fully healthy and showing out in spring (five homers, hitting .548), Ohtani could finally be the player the Angels hoped for. He is struggling a little on the mound, however, there’s plenty of reasons to believe in Ohtani this season. He can be the critical x-factor to an improved Halos team looking to snap a playoff drought.
Bryant Leads Cubs Bounce Back
There were talks of a Cubs dynasty brewing when they won the World Series back in 2016. That dynasty never came to be after early playoff exits, an inconsistent offense, and a rocky bullpen. Fast forward to 2021, and the Cubs still have most of their core intact with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras. Moreover, there are plenty of new faces on the pitching side (Zach Davies, Adbert Alzolay, and basically the entire bullpen) and even on the offense (Joc Pederson). In a tough NL Central, the Cubs will be in for a challenge, trying to fend off the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. All remain competitive, especially with the Cardinals acquiring star Nolan Arenado and Milwaukee adding Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong.
The Cubs won the NL Central last season, although got swept by the Marlins. The offense could not find a solution for the young Miami pitching. Many of the Cubs stars were in a slump at some point last season. Star 3B Kris Bryant hit only .206 while battling injuries. Bryant is a 3x All-Star, 2015 Rookie of the Year, and 2016 NL MVP/World Series Champion. He enters 2021 fully healthy and ready to prove the doubters wrong. I see a big season from the Cubs third baseman. His rejuvenation at the plate will fuel a strong season for the Cubbies.
The Mets Will Be Contenders, But Not Serious Contenders
I get it, the Mets got Lindor. He’s a star and the Mets pitching is one of the best. My concern is not with the Mets ability to win games. It’s if they have what it takes to beat the Dodgers, Padres, or divisional rival Braves in a playoff series. These teams are battle-tested, with plenty of experience in the big moments. I see a significantly improved team here. Jacob deGrom is as good as it gets. I am a little worried about the rotation to begin the season with an injury to Carlos Carrasco, Noah Syndergaard still recovering, and how Marcus Stroman bounces back after opting out in 2020. This is where the depth of the Mets starting pitching comes into play. When the rotation is fully healthy (hopefully come playoff time), I would not want to face this rotation.
An average offense from a season ago got a big boost with Lindor and C James McCann. These two will instantly add firepower to a lineup that features 2019 Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso. After he regressed in 2020, I think the off-season additions will really be helpful to Alonso. The rest of the offense will be interesting to watch, and their play will be a big x-factor for New York this season.
Phillies Tear It Down…Sooner Rather Than Later
The Phillies have invested a lot of capital in their offense with big contracts to Bryce Harper, J,T. Realmuto (five-year deal signed this off-season), Didi Gregorius (two-year deal signed this off-season), and Andrew McCutchen. The offense hasn’t been able to carry the Phillies to the postseason (last playoff appearance was 2011). This is in large part due to a very porous bullpen and below average rotation.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are a great duo to have at the top of the rotation. However, the rest of the rotation is filled with below average pitchers like Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez, and Matt Moore. I’m not expecting this rotation to break any records or provide stability to this team. With a bad rotation, comes more dependability on a bullpen. Now, that would be fine if you were a team like the Mets or Dodgers, but the Phillies bullpen was on the wrong side of history last season. This bullpen also lost a lot of veteran arms like Blake Parker, Brandon Workman, and David Phelps. Unless they make moves at the trade deadline, the Phillies productive offense will be offset by the lackluster pitching. I don’t see this pitching turning into a strength without major upgrades. I can see the Phillies tearing down the roster sooner rather than later.
Blue Jays Win AL East, Padres Win NL West, Angels Win AL West
This is the BOLDEST of all the predictions. I included this one because why not? Anything can happen in a 162 game season. The Blue Jays are riding their young offensive core headlined by Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. coupled with the addition of veterans Marcus Semien and George Springer, giving the Blue Jays a scary lineup. Their starting pitching has a lot of potential with Nate Pearson, vet Hyun-Jin Ryu, and a bounce back from Robbie Ray. Watch out for the Jays.
Ah, the Padres. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a star in the making, and San Diego went ALL IN for 2021. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove join a stellar rotation with Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. When Mike Clevinger returns, oh boy. The Padres have the pitching to shut down opposing offenses. The Dodgers got better with Trevor Bauer, but the Padres added studs to an already loaded team. Padres as the NL West Champions? Bold, but possible.
I’m really pulling for the Angels and Mike Trout this season. He really deserves to play in October. With a healthy Ohtani, adding pieces to the pitching staff (Raisel Iglsisas, Jose Quintana, and Alex Cobb), and manager Joe Maddon leading the way, the Angels can be contenders. It will be tough fending off the Astros and Athletics in the division, but with Mike Trout, anything is possible.