Baseball is back, and with it, the 162-game season. Opening Day is Thursday, and we have a lot of questions, such as: Can the Dodgers repeat (and be historically great)? How will their rivalry with their neighbors down the 5 shape up? Can Shohei Ohtani finally make good on his two-way promise? And will the Mets’ big offseason make a difference in the standings?
Below are our MLB team’s picks for the 2021 season. Some of them seem obvious—spoiler: We like Mike Trout for MVP—but others may surprise you. Read on to get a sense of who we think will be great (and who could flop) this year. And be sure to check out the rest of our preview coverage here.
Michael Baumann: This is kind of a bummer, because there are half a dozen other NL teams that would make for fun World Series contestants, but the Dodgers are too good. Going with anyone else is just a little too cute.
That said, I’m not above getting cute. Picking the Yankees to represent the AL is just boring, and the Twins and White Sox both have holes they’d need to fill before I’d feel good about predicting a long playoff run for either. That leaves the Astros. As a professional sportswriter, I serve the gods of Content first and foremost. And how pleased would those gods be if we got to cover a rematch of the 2017 World Series—which was an absolute adrenaline-spiking classic even before we knew the Astros had been cheating? The more I think about how easy this matchup would be to write about, the more disappointed I’m going to be when it doesn’t actually happen.
Ben Lindbergh: True to chalky form, I’m eschewing surprises and picking the best team in baseball to repeat as World Series winner. (Granted, no team has gone back-to-back since 2000, so maybe the Dodgers successfully defending their title would be a surprise.) Which makes me wonder: Is this the year the Dodgers become villains? As long as they were playoff losers, the Dodgers were sympathetic, almost tragic, characters; even though they’ve been hogging playoff spots since 2013, they never wore out their welcome in October, because they never went all the way. Now that they have won a World Series and erased any narrative other than “the Dodgers are juggernauts,” there’s little reason for neutral fans to feel for them. (Especially since their division rivals happen to be the incredibly compelling and likable Padres, who are 0-for-52 as a franchise when it comes to titles.) It’s hard to hate any team with Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw, but if they run the table during the regular season and run it back in the playoffs, the Dodgers’ days as the privileged paragon that’s still somehow relatable will probably be behind them, and everyone except Dodgers fans will be sick of seeing them win.
Bobby Wagner: Please know that this pick comes at great risk to many of my personal and professional relationships. Before this blurb ever ran, I had three people tell me they’d never speak to me again if this happens. Which is peculiar, because I thought Yankees fans were totally fine with their 27 rings, bro. They have no issue with the Mets, bro. The Mets are like a little brother to them, bro. It’s cute when the Mets are good, bro. It’s fun to see some orange and blue in the city for once, bro. The Yankees are still the only real franchise in New York, bro. Please, bro, I swear Gerrit Cole is better than Jacob deGrom, bro. No for real, bro, if Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge could just stay healthy, bro. This is the year Aroldis Chapman locks it down in the playoffs, bro.
Zach Kram: Before last season began, I picked the Padres, a fifth-place team in 2019, to make the World Series—and while they fell short of that ambition, I maintain that they would’ve had a real chance if they hadn’t lost their two best pitchers by the NLDS. And then they traded for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove; added Korean star Ha-Seong Kim; and boosted the bullpen over the winter. If you’ve read The Ringer at all this month, you know how psyched we are about the Padres.
Just as with my Padres pick last year, however, my choice of their World Series opponent inspired derision from an editor upon submitting my picks: “The Twins??????” But the Twins boast a bountiful offense, improved defense with Andrelton Simmons in the fold, and sufficient depth to make Luis Arraez, the projected MLB batting champ, a utility player. They also have a strong one-two punch in the rotation and a sneakily excellent bullpen—check out Tyler Duffey’s stats! If all the Yankees’ reclamation pitching projects don’t pan out, Minnesota will be the best team in the American League.
Baumann: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. I’ve been picking Trout for so long that I have to go back to previous years’ preseason predictions to make sure I’m not reusing jokes about how I pick him every year.
Wagner: Mike Trout.
What’s the code?
Lindbergh: Mike Trout.
This is the free space on my MLB preview post bingo card. In 2018, I wrote:
Note to editors: Please paste this selection next to my name in all future installments of our preseason-prediction group posts. I will reevaluate whether Trout is still the default AL MVP pick either in 2024 or when he signs with or is traded to an NL team (whichever comes first). Thank you.
We’re only [checks calendar] halfway to 2024, and I haven’t had any reason to rethink that stance as we enter the last season in which Trout’s “baseball age” still starts with a 2. It helps that six of the top 10 projected position-player WAR leaders this season are in the National League. And apparently Trout has “figured out how to fix” a swing that produced a 162 wRC+ during a “frustrating” season in which he was still a top-five player in the American League. I wish we could all have his down years.
Kram: Mike Trout. I can’t well pick the Angels to finally make the playoffs and not also take Trout here, can I?
Wagner: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals. I’ve wrestled back and forth between Soto and Mookie Betts about a hundred times. The Mookie case goes like this: At this stage in his career, his floor as a hitter is a 120 wRC+, and his ceiling is a 185 wRC+. He’s the best right fielder in baseball by a long shot, and his defense isn’t going away any time soon—in fact, with Cody Bellinger manning center and Jackie Bradley Jr. out of Boston, Betts’s position is more solidified in right field than he would be if the Red Sox had never traded him. He’s going to be the face of the defending champions, who are almost certainly going to be the best team all regular season, playing in the game’s best rivalry.
Choosing Soto over all of that is a true testament to his inevitability. He is the toughest out in baseball. He is a surefire .400 OBP guy who has the type of home run power that Betts could never dream of. It’s time to crown the 22-year-old as the best pure hitter in baseball, and accordingly, the most valuable player in the National League.
Baumann: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres. In addition to being one of the best half-dozen position players in the NL, Tatis will also be the biggest star in the sport soon—if he isn’t already. No player will generate more column inches, more SportsCenter highlights, or more viral GIFs of cool shit on the diamond. MLB has been trying to replace Ken Griffey Jr. as the sport’s avatar of cool for the past 20 years. A-Rod was too weird, and then he went out and got caught doing PEDs. Clayton Kershaw kept losing in the playoffs. Trout is easy to like, but kind of boring. Ditto Aaron Judge. And Bryce Harper never really clicked for a multitude of reasons.
I think Tatis is it. He’s the two-way star who gets casual fans to turn around and go, “What the hell was that?” He turns an unfashionable also-ran franchise into one of the coolest teams in sports. He’s provocative, but in a low-grade, PG kind of way. (The precedent for the 3-0 Grand Slam Incident of 2020 is a bunch of busybodies losing their gourds when Griffey wore his hat backward in batting practice.) This is the year Tatis gets anointed as the next face of baseball.
Lindbergh: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers. Betts was my NL MVP pick last season, and he led the major leagues in Baseball-Reference WAR. There will come a season sometime soon when Tatis, Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Co. knock Betts off his perch as the best player in the Senior Circuit. It’s just not this season, or at least not this spring. Here’s hoping Betts can follow in the footsteps of Frank Robinson and take home the hardware in his second league before he cedes the pole position to the stars of Gen Z.
Kram: Betts. It is a historical fluke that Frank Robinson is the only player ever to win an MVP award in both leagues. There’s no real reason nobody has done so since the 1960s; a half-dozen pitchers have won Cy Young awards in both leagues in that span, most recently Max Scherzer. So I think I might just pick Betts, the 2018 AL MVP winner in Boston, every year until he matches Robinson with an NL trophy in Los Angeles.
AL Cy Young
Lindbergh: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees. Cole finished his first season in New York with a top-10 innings total and a sub-3.00 ERA, and if anything, his performance was somewhat underwhelming. He’s been a top-five finisher in Cy Young voting for three seasons in a row, and despite his extra October workload, he’s hardly missed a start since 2016. Yankees fans haven’t seen his ceiling, but I’m betting they will this year.
Wagner: Cole. Gerrit Cole feels like a chalk pick. Maybe not at the magnitude of picking Trout for MVP, but chalk nonetheless. Cole has been—by traditional metrics like strikeouts and games started, or advanced metrics like WAR and FIP—the third-best pitcher in baseball since getting traded to Houston in 2018. He was so far and away the best pitcher in the AL in 2019 that it’s easy to forget he was robbed of the actual Cy Young Award. He led the league in WAR, FIP, ERA, and set the MLB record for most strikeouts per nine in a single season, but lost the Cy Young to teammate Justin Verlander because, as far as I can tell, Verlander won 21 games and Cole won only 20.
Cole is due.
Kram: Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins. Shane Bieber rightly gobbled all the oxygen in the AL pitching conversation last year, but Maeda, finally freed from being yanked between the Dodgers’ rotation and bullpen, quietly boosted his strikeouts and slashed his walk rate in half to finish second in the Cy Young vote. He should be just as effective this season, especially with Andrelton Simmons now manning the Twins’ shortstop position behind him.
I also don’t really believe in spring training stats, but for whatever it’s worth, Maeda posted a 0.49 ERA in 18 1/3 innings this spring, during which he struck out 22 and walked one. I think he’s ready for the season.
Baumann: Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox. Giolito took a huge step forward in each of the past two years, and he’s in great shape—from both a performance and a narrative perspective—to top all AL pitchers this year. In the past half-decade, Giolito went from the best pitching prospect in baseball to the worst starter in MLB to one of the league’s elite frontline starters. He’s built a reputation for eye-popping performances with his no-hitter last season and perfect game bid in his first playoff start. And he’ll be at the front of the rotation for a team that will get a lot of attention. There’s a possibility that Shane Bieber or Gerrit Cole goes absolutely berserk and sews up the Cy Young by Bastille Day, but if voters want a change of pace, Giolito would make for good copy.
NL Cy Young
Baumann: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets. I’m not sure how, but deGrom keeps throwing harder year after year. He’s increased his average fastball velocity each season since 2017; and last season, he threw four and a half miles an hour faster than he did in 2014, when he was NL Rookie of the Year. This spring, deGrom wowed onlookers by hitting 102. There are so many NL pitchers I’d like to see make a run at the Cy Young: It’s ridiculous that Yu Darvish hasn’t won one yet, and this piece of hardware could validate the incredible work that Luis Castillo and Aaron Nola have been doing for years. But I don’t know how anyone gets past deGrom when he’s throwing that hard, with that command, and that quality of secondary stuff. I’d be surprised if his ERA gets over 2.00 this year—and if that’s the case, it’d be hard to vote for anyone else.
Wagner: Jacob deGrom. If not for the shortened season, it’s fair to make the case deGrom would be aiming to join Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to ever win four consecutive Cy Youngs—incredible company for a college shortstop who made his big league debut just one month before his 26th birthday. Every year, it seems like deGrom can’t get better, and every year, he makes evaluators look silly. His velocity is up again this spring, sitting 100 mph on his fastball, and he’s ripping off 95 mph sliders with consistency. He may not be human. But best I can tell, MLB hasn’t discovered that yet, so he’ll still be allowed to pitch for the Mets every five days in 2021. He’s as lock-y and as chalk-y as Gerrit Cole, and if my Subway Series prediction is anywhere close to right, this year might be annoyingly dominated by New York baseball.
Lindbergh: Jacob deGrom. Look, I’m a simple man: When I see a pitcher who’s been by far the best in the league through the past three years, who won two Cy Young Awards and was a “finalist” for another, and who’s seemingly still as healthy and unhittable as he was during that superlative stretch, I pick him to be great again. My main concern about deGrom is that his almost-33-year-old body will break down under the sheer force of how hard he’s throwing after improbably gaining velocity with each successive season. “I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out,” deGrom said when asked this spring if his pitch speeds would ever max out. When you’re the best pitcher in baseball, you’re on your second UCL, and your fastball already averages 99 miles per hour, maybe it would be better if your pitch speeds stayed there instead of climbing so high that you end up on the IL (the Icarus List).
Kram: Jacob deGrom. At the rate deGrom is going, by the time September rolls around, his slider will touch 100 miles per hour and his fastball will zoom to the plate trailing literal flames, like a space shuttle taking flight.
AL Rookie of the Year
Kram: Andrew Vaughn, Chicago White Sox. I was going to pick Vaughn even before Eloy Jiménez’s injury assured everyday playing time for the Chicago rookie, who has fascinated me since he was mashing in college. My belief in Vaughn, both in the future and in his rookie season specifically, stems from his on-base ability: He posted a .384 OBP in the minors and a .377 OBP this spring. So at a minimum, Vaughn will play a bunch, reach base a bunch, and collect a bunch of counting stats in Chicago’s high-scoring lineup. That sounds like a winning Rookie of the Year formula.
Lindbergh: Nick Madrigal, White Sox. I like to pick players who are up on Opening Day instead of trying to predict when teams will promote prospects, so for me this came down to Randy Arozarena (yes, he’s still technically a rookie) and two White Sox players, Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn. Vaughn may mash from day one, but his lack of defensive value and prior pro plate appearances makes me hesitate, even though he could win the award on power and ribbies without leading AL rookies in WAR. Madrigal is more of an all-around player, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him pick up where he left off last year and compete for a batting title.
Why Madrigal over Arozarena, who was probably baseball’s most valuable hitter after August last year? Mostly because I find Madrigal fascinating and don’t want a reason to root against the guy with the minuscule strikeout rate. Did you know that Madrigal’s 99th-percentile PECOTA projection has him hitting .407? You didn’t need to know that, because it’s not going to happen, but it’s a hoot that the computer even thinks he has a chance. Madrigal turned 24 last month and has 35 career hits to his name, so if he’s going to get to 3,000, he has to hurry. I think he’ll add plenty of tallies to that total this year, especially if he doesn’t get buried at the bottom of Tony La Russa’s lineups.
Baumann: Triston McKenzie, Cleveland. I’m not sure why McKenzie isn’t getting more attention in this year’s race. In 2020, the 23-year-old right-hander held opponents to just 5.7 hits per nine innings while striking out a third of the batters he faced and walking just 7.1 percent. The only knock against him is that he gave up six home runs in just 33 1/3 innings and had a HR/FB ratio that would’ve been seventh highest in baseball if he’d had enough innings to qualify. That low innings total gives Dr. Sticks another swing at the piñata, however, and I’m convinced he’ll make the most of it.
Wagner: Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays. Wander Franco is the consensus best prospect in baseball. He plays a premium position, shortstop, and has the type of tools that could command Tatis-level attention. Rookie of the Year is my least favorite award to predict, though, because a guy like Franco may not get the opportunity to show those tools off. The Rays will do all they can to extract more years of service time out of Franco, and I imagine they’ll take their time trading Willy Adames, an above-average shortstop who is already at the big league level.
NL Rookie of the Year
Bobby Wanger: Sixto Sánchez, Miami Marlins. If Sixto Sánchez’s name was something that didn’t sound as pleasing—like Juan Sánchez, for example—would the entire baseball community be rooting as hard for him as they are? No. Do I want to live in a baseball world where a guy named Sixto Sánchez mows down hitters with nasty one-two of a 99 mph fastball and devastating changeup? Yes, I do.
There are some fair concerns about Sánchez’s hard-contact rate and inability to generate strikeouts. There’s no reason for a guy with that much velocity and a put-away pitch to be striking out less than a batter per inning, especially in the modern climate. But with the way that teams are able to analyze data on young pitchers, I’m willing to bet the Marlins can find a go-to pitch sequence to help generate more whiffs on his fastball. Bet on the guy with stuff that no one else has.
Baumann: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates. Hayes and Ian Anderson were both good enough to receive Rookie of the Year votes last year, but they played so little they’re still eligible in 2021. Anderson got to show his stuff in the NLCS and therefore is the better known of the two; but if you didn’t watch the Pirates last year (which, like, I get it), you missed the rookie position player I’m most excited about in 2021. Hayes is a middle-of-the-order hitter and a plus defender at third base, the easiest position on the diamond from which to create highlights. It’d be premature (and borderline sacrilegious) to drop a Matt Chapman comp on Hayes now, but he could be in that neighborhood by the end of the year.
Kram: Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves. With a normal schedule, Anderson would have blown by his rookie limits in 2020. Instead, he’s eligible for this award again after a monster debut. The former no. 3 pick posted a 1.95 ERA in six regular-season starts, followed by an 0.96 ERA in four playoff games, and pitched well against the Dodgers, Yankees, and Nationals along the way. Moreover, nothing about Anderson’s underlying performance suggests those results were a fluke: Combining regular season and playoffs, he struck out 30 percent of opposing hitters while allowing just one home run.
Lindbergh: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates. I want to believe that Ha-Seong Kim will follow the 2018 Ohtani blueprint—sign as a free agent after tearing up an Asian league, struggle in spring training, then turn it on after Opening Day and win the award—but his path to playing time is too cluttered for him to be the best bet. There are plenty of promising players to choose from—Dylan Carlson, Ian Anderson, Sixto Sánchez—but I’m going to go with the guy who hit .376/.442/.682 in the big leagues last season while playing ridiculous defense. Obviously, citing Hayes’s small-sample slash line (which was inflated by a .450 BABIP) is a formula for unrealistic expectations, but even realistic expectations should be high for someone with his combination of contact, power, and a great glove. Plus, Pirates fans deserve to see their team win something this season.
Lindbergh: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels. I’m violating my cardinal rule of (and greatest gripe about) breakout picks, which is that in order to be eligible, a player shouldn’t have broken out already. In some respects, Ohtani has: In addition to dominating NPB, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 2018. However, in his three seasons stateside, Ohtani has been healthy and fully effective as a two-way player for two months. He’s thrown a total of 79 2/3 innings over the past four years, and he’s coming off a lost season. There’s not a lot left for the 26-year-old to prove about his talent, but doubts about his durability abound, and 2021 could be his last chance to make good on the full-time two-way dream. If I have one wish for this season, it’s that Ohtani turns in the sort of sensational, one-of-a-kind campaign I’ve been fantasizing about since the summer of 2016. Aside from a blister-sabotaged last start, his spring training work couldn’t have been more encouraging, so I’m picking him as much because I believe in the breakout as I want to put this positive Ohtani energy into the world.
Kram: Ha-Seong Kim, San Diego Padres. This pick is probably cheating because the newest Padres position player was already a star in the KBO, where he hit 30 homers, stole 23 bases, and walked more than he struck out in 2020. And unlike most international players who come stateside, he’s 25 years old, a ripe age to break out in front of new fans. Kim’s natural position of shortstop is already filled in San Diego, so he’ll play all over the diamond: behind Fernando Tatis Jr. on off days, at second base, and in the outfield. He didn’t hit well this spring, but neither did Shohei Ohtani when he first arrived; the Padres aren’t concerned by Kim’s early showing, so neither am I.
Baumann: Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers. Hiura’s a really talented player who’s coming off a pretty dreadful 2020 season. His strikeout rate jumped and his BABIP regressed, which cut his wRC+ almost in half. Hiura’s had a busy spring, though, learning to play first base and slugging over .600 in Cactus League action. And given his eye-popping rookie-year numbers and his pedigree as a hitter, I’m confident last year’s disappointing season was a sophomore slump. Hiura should return to being an All-Star-level hitter in 2021.
Wagner: Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers. Lux wasn’t really a factor for the 2020 World Series Dodgers. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Just last year, Lux was the second overall prospect in baseball, according to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen. His hit tool was as sure as anyone not named Wander Franco, and his pop was undeniable. But Lux has struggled with making throws to first, both in the minors and since being called to the majors. I’m not willing to give up on Lux after just 42 games in the bigs. For one thing, the Dodgers make the most out of positionally flexible players like Lux, who should be a second baseman, but may need to play primarily in left. And for another, he’s looked solid enough in the field in spring training for the Dodgers to claim they want him to play every day. For most teams, that’s a low bar to clear for your former top prospect. For a team as loaded as the Dodgers, that means you’re a star waiting to happen.
Baumann: Chicago Cubs. This is a tough year to predict flop and breakout teams. Apart from the Dodgers, Yankees, Padres, and maybe Braves, no team is good enough that missing the playoffs would come as a shock. If the Cubs finish 78-84, nobody’s going to freak out. What the Cubs have, however, is the potential for things to get ugly. The three biggest stars on the team—three-quarters of the starting infield—seem to be convinced they’re on their way out. The rotation gets collar-tuggy really quickly after Kyle Hendricks, and this bullpen is going to devote a lot of high-leverage innings to Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Workman. In all likelihood, the Cubs will be contenders in the NL Central, but this team has nontrivial Beer and Chicken Red Sox potential.
Wagner: Chicago Cubs. FanGraphs predicts the Cubs to win 79 games. PECOTA has them at 85. Vegas has them way down at 78. So, the public sentiment isn’t exactly in favor of the Cubs. But when I say flop, I mean flop. Like, fourth in the division, lose 90 games, trade Kris Bryant, fail to extend Anthony Rizzo, flop.
The Cubs have been actively trying to get worse for as long as they were legitimate World Series contenders. Whether it was trading Yu Darvish (who finished second in Cy Young voting last year), shopping Kris Bryant (whom they tanked their relationship with by manipulating his service time), or forcing Jon Lester to walk (who tried to come back and play for free). After breaking the curse in 2016, it would’ve been impossible to predict a vibes decline as precipitous as this one. You have to hand it to the Ricketts.
Kram: Washington Nationals. Surprising absolutely no one, the Nationals have the most stars-and-scrubs roster for any prospective contender this season. The Nats thus need all their stars to perform as such—but there’s reason for concern after Stephen Strasburg’s injury, Max Scherzer’s slump, and Patrick Corbin’s velocity decline last season. Joe Ross and 37-year-old Jon Lester are uninspiring options at the back of the rotation; if the three pitching stars aren’t all Cy Young candidates, the team will suffer. And that’s before even mentioning the club’s dire situation at second and third base, or the shaky defense across the roster. The Nationals have little margin for error in a crowded NL East race—to the point that I wonder whether a midseason trade of Scherzer, a free agent after this season, is more likely than another Nats’ playoff run.
Lindbergh: Toronto Blue Jays. “Flop” makes me sound more down on the Jays than I feel. This is clearly a roster on the rise, and Toronto’s position-player core—newly bolstered by the addition of George Springer and the subtraction of 40-something pounds from the frame of Vlad Jr. (who raked this spring)—should make the Jays one of the sport’s most exciting squads. I’m just not sure they have the pitching to be a playoff team with a 10-team playoff format: The rotation behind Hyun-Jin Ryu is somewhat speculative, the two most promising hurlers behind him (Nate Pearson and Robbie Ray) are on the shelf to start the season, and Kirby Yates’s elbow blew out before Opening Day. Add in some stiff competition in the AL East and the uncertainty about when the team will be able to return to Toronto, and there’s a real risk that the Jays’ season will end after 162 games, which would be a disappointment after an active offseason created high hopes.
Kram: Los Angeles Angels. My pick for the Angels to take the AL West is as much about my skepticism of the Astros and A’s as anything. But I also believe in the Angels’ roster. The rotation—with Ohtani, Dylan Bundy, José Quintana, and Andrew Heaney—looks, dare I say, decent. And decent is all the team needs, because a lineup with Trout, Anthony Rendon, David Fletcher, and a rejuvenated Shohei Ohtani should score oodles of runs. Trout hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014. I’m Charlie Brown, sprinting straight for the football again.
Wagner: Los Angeles Angels. Mike Trout! Shohei Ohtani! Anthony Rendon! I could keep going, but it would completely undermine the fact that I chose this team to be good. The Angels are the most tantalizing surprise pick every year. They are incredibly top heavy, and in their middle, they load up on guys that we, as a baseball community, can at least see a hazy path for. Andrew Heaney is somehow capable of striking out 11 batters per nine but can’t get his ERA under 4.00. Once-promising prospect Dylan Bundy put up 2.0 fWAR in just 11 starts last year, but was completely ineffective in the four years prior after returning from a laundry list of injuries that have ended pitchers’ careers.
I could keep going with boom/bust pitchers, or share a soliloquy on utility-man David Fletcher, but unfortunately I have to cut this blurb short to go paint full clown makeup on my face, which I am spiritually obligated to do now that I’ve picked the Angels to be anything better than 80-82.
Baumann: Seattle Mariners. I don’t think the Mariners are going to be good, but they might be … OK? There isn’t anyone in the rotation with even the potential to be a no. 1 starter, but there are five or six guys who should be average at worst. If Taylor Trammell can hold his own against big league pitching, if Jarred Kelenic gets called up early, if Mitch Haniger returns to pre-ruptured-testicle form, and if Gold Glove first baseman Evan White starts leaving his eyes open when he swings the bat … there’s at least a .500 team in here somewhere.
Lindbergh: Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are the only one of my playoff picks that could come close to qualifying as a surprise, and even they aren’t exactly a long shot, given that they’ve made it to the tournament in three consecutive seasons. Still, they finished fourth in the Central in 2020 and lost more games than they won, and I’m picking them to take the division, which they’ve done only twice in the past 10 seasons. When the dust settled after the Nolan Arenado deal, the Cardinals appeared to have stolen the Central with one move, but the Brewers were busy after the trade, picking up Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong to solidify what should be an extremely skilled defensive team—a strength that’s still often underrated or overlooked. Part of my justification for picking Milwaukee to “surprise” is that, more so than the other contenders from this derelict division, the Brewers could be a dangerous team in October in a way they weren’t last year, when Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams were no-shows for their wild-card date with the Dodgers. The talent at the top of the rotation and in the back end of the bullpen could help Milwaukee make a deep run—and an NL Central team winning a World Series or a pennant in 2021 really would be a surprise.