While the MLB season is still a few months away, there has been plenty of excitement to what the new campaign could bring. With that, multiple analysts within The Athletes Hub have sat down and explained their personal opinions on what could take place.
What’s one team that missed the postseason in 2020 that makes it this season?
Ray Ashworth: Washington Nationals
If Rob Manfred decides to go from a 16-team to a 14-team playoff, it’s very possible we don’t see any new team in 2021. However, if we do, I’m going to say it comes out of the NL East. The Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Washington Nationals all have a shot to make that leap, depending on how the offseason plays out. I like the Nationals here, however. Juan Soto and Trea Turner had a strong outing in 2020 and they’ll have Stephen Strasburg back to start the year. They also have young bright spots in Victor Robles and Spencer Kieboom. Max Scherzer and Strasburg will have to stay healthy and Patrick Corbin will have to return to his 2019 form to make a playoff push though.
Isaiah Hansen: New York Mets
It sounds insane, but with half of the league making the playoffs last season, we don’t have a ton to choose from. The Philadelphia Phillies would be a smart pick, but it seems as though they are set to lose more than they will gain in this year’s offseason, while the Mets are brand new. They are determined to add during the offseason and they already have the best pitcher in baseball. A rebound season from Pete Alonso, along with a few additions could result in the Mets sneaking in via the Wild Card.
Devon Withers: Philadelphia Phillies
Like others, I believe the diverse field of candidates to jump into the postseason comes through the NL East. The Phillies still have a barricade when it comes to J.T. Realmuto, but their roster was competitive enough to compile 28 victories in a shortened season. Their run differential was -5 (15th in the MLB) last season, which showcases their ability to stay in close games.
Davis Byrd: New York Mets
I’m buying into the Mets hype this year. They should have a much improved rotation with Noah Syndergaard returning from Tommy John and the return of Marcus Stroman makes their rotation very formidable. The addition of James McCann behind the plate should be a good one as well. They could also have an easier ride through the strength of their division with the Marlins figuring to take a step back and the Phillies currently in a state of flux.
What’s one team that made the postseason in 2020 that misses it this season?
Ray Ashworth: Milwaukee Brewers
The obvious answer here is the Miami Marlins. A young team that got hot during a shortened season, but I’m going to go with the Brewers. Last year they ranked 27th in runs scored and have a strapped payroll in 2021. Josh Hader and Devin Williams are strong bullpen pieces, but it’s all for not if the team can’t hold a lead into the later innings.
Isaiah Hansen: Miami Marlins
It was a nice story to see Miami make the playoffs for the first time in a long time. In addition, they even knocked off the Chicago Cubs. There is no doubt they benefited from the shorter season, however. The team doesn’t have the depth to compete over a full season. There is a solid chance they jump back to last place, as one would expect a bounce-back season from Washington.
Devon Withers: Toronto Blue Jays
During the course of the shortened MLB season, the Blue Jays were a top 10 team when it came to runs scored (7th, 302) and slugging percentage (9th, .441). They are within arguably the most competitive division in baseball, as the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are expected to compete for the division title. They are a young roster, but repeating their success in a full season will be difficult to manage.
Davis Byrd: Miami Marlins
The Marlins were a big story from the shortened season last year, playing with a decimated roster at points due to COVID19 but at the end of the day they finished the season with a -41 run differential. They’re taking steps in the right direction with their rebuild but I don’t see them making it back in 2021.
Who is your pick for the American League and National League MVP next season?
Ray Ashworth: Mike Trout, Juan Soto
Trout is the best player in baseball, so it’s hard to pick against him here. The National League however, is far murkier with Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, Fernando Tatis and Christian Yelich, but I’m going with Soto here for his batting eye and plate discipline. In 47 games last year, Soto batted .351 with a .490 OBP and a 41/28 BB to K ratio. He has all of the makings of a young Mike Trout. Betts and Tatis round out my top three picks to win the NL award.
Isaiah Hansen: Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts
Lindor has the talent and is approaching the prime of his career, while also being in a contract year. He is among the elite and has a lot of motivating factors. Mike Trout is a cheat answer, because he will automatically be in the discussion. In the National League, Betts is always going to be in the MVP conversation, but he’s fresh off a World Series win and has found his permanent home with the Dodgers. The guy is just good. He’s in a great situation and will have protection in the loaded lineup. He will be the engine that drives the Dodgers to having the best record in the NL once again.
Devon Withers: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts
These are the obvious selections, but it showcases how talented both players are. The current odds for Mike Trout to secure the AL MVP sit at +175, while the next-best bet would be Alex Bregman at +1000. With a standard year from Trout, he will remain in the conversation. As for Betts, he has finished in the top two of MVP voting in three of the last five seasons. The Dodgers offense puts runners on the base paths, so Betts should be set up for success.
Davis Byrd: Mike Trout, Ronald Acuña Jr.
Mike Trout is Mike Trout. It’s hard to bet against Mike Trout. If he retired tomorrow he’d make it into the Hall of Fame. On the N.L. side I have an Atlanta Brave winning it for the second year in a row. Acuña Jr. opens up with +750 odds to be the N.L. MVP, 50 points higher than reigning MVP and teammate Freddie Freeman. Acuña Jr put up a 159 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR in 46 games in 2020. He finished with 12 MVP votes. I could keep going. He’s got the hitting numbers, plays in a premium position, he fits the bill for early MVP favorite.
Who is your pick for the American League and National League Cy Young next season?
Ray Ashworth: Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom
The American League will likely be a two-horse race between Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber. Bieber dominated in 2020, but it is tough to win the award in consecutive years and he had an easy schedule due to the COVID changes; playing the AL and NL Central. Lucas Giolito is a dark horse here for me as well. In the National League, it’s difficult to predict with Trevor Bauer’s future still up in the air. Until he signs with a team, deGrom is the easy choice.
Isaiah Hansen: Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw
Cole is arguably the second-best pitcher in baseball behind Jacob deGrom, but Cole has proven his ability to pitch on the big stage in New York. He is in the middle of his prime and over the course of a long season, he’s going to stand out. In the National League, I believe the Dodgers may end up having both the Cy Young and MVP winner this season. Kershaw is also going to be riding high after a World Series win, especially one where he finally got the playoff struggle monkey off his back. He has statistically fallen off in the past few seasons, yet is still putting up elite numbers. I believe Kershaw, like Justin Verlander and others, will reinvent himself and ride that elite offense to a Cy Young-winning season.
Devon Withers: Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom
The state of New York will be responsible for both Cy Young winners next season. For Cole, his first season with the Yankees resulted in a 7-3 record to go along with a 2.84 ERA. While it’s impressive, a longer season will result in more innings pitched, which the Yankees will benefit from. In the National League, deGrom is clearly the best pitching talent. While Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish impressed last season, deGrom will receive volume from a team that is awaiting the return of Noah Syndergaard.
Davis Byrd: Shane Bieber, Dinelson Lamet
Shane Bieber was otherworldly in his Cy Young winning campaign in 2020. The Indians ace won 8 games, finished with an ERA under 2 at 1.63 and led the majors in strikeouts, ERA+ and FIP. He struck out opposing batters 41.1% of the time. For a pitcher that has improved each season thus far in his young career, he could absolutely maintain that success over an entire season. On the N.L. side I have a different pick. The Padres are grabbing headlines by trading for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, but Lamet will be this rotation’s ace. Sporting a 2.09 ERA and striking out 93 in 69 innings, Lamet overpowers hitters with his wipeout slider. Don’t forget he finished 4th in Cy Young voting too.
Who is your pick for your American League and National League Rookie of the Year next season?
Ray Ashworth: Jarred Kelenic, Mackenzie Gore
In a vacuum, the obvious answer for the American League is Wander Franco, who under normal circumstances would have been a shoe-in to make the team. Due to COVID however, he lost out on the entire 2020 minor league season. At only 19-years old, it’s likely he stays in the minors longer than fans would like, which could lead to the Mariners having consecutive Rookie of the Year winners. In the National League, I like Mackenzie Gore. With Clevinger missing the entire 2021 season due to Tommy John, Gore is likely going to be asked to step into the rotation very early in the year. He has the potential to be an ace stuff and a future Cy Young nominee.
Isaiah Hansen: Nate Pearson, Sixto Sanchez
Both Pearson and Sanchez were selected based off the fact that they are going to have plenty of opportunity in the upcoming season. The Blue Jays and Marlins both are looking to improve on their pitching staff, so these rookies have the ability to receive volume over the course of a full season.
Devon Withers: Ryan Mountcastle, Ian Anderson
I mentioned the AL East being one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and unfortunately, the Baltimore Orioles have not found a way to contend. Leaning on the Triple-A International League MVP in Mountcastle would be wise. He compiled five home runs and a .333 batting average in 35 games with Baltimore last season. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves will be expecting to compete for a World Series. Still, their bullpen needs improvement. Anderson posted a 1.95 ERA to go with 41 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings last season. If he manages to control the strike zone, he will be an interesting prospect to watch.
Davis Byrd: Jarred Kelenic, Mackenzie Gore
The Mariners have a bright future, Kelenic should join reigning A.L. Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis in the outfield and stake his claim to that title. He should debut sometime this upcoming season and show just how bad the Mets lost in the Cano, Diaz trade. Mackenzie Gore will likely be the 5 starter in a loaded Padres rotation but he’s no regular number 5 starter. The Padres number 1 prospect will step in and flash the top prospect kind of potential stuff he has and cement himself in that rotation for years to come.
Who is your way-too-early pick for the 2021 World Series? Who wins?
Ray Ashworth: Chicago White Sox def. Atlanta Braves
The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees will be the early favorites, but the Yankees can’t stay healthy and may very well lose DJ LeMahieu, who is the backbone of that offense. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have struggled to win one World Series over the past five years, let alone back-to-back titles. The White Sox are an up-and-coming team with a loaded lineup and the reigning AL MVP and I expect them to add a star in free agency to further increase their chances. The Braves just barely missed the World Series last season, but their pitching staff impressed in the 2020 postseason and will have Mike Soroka back in 2021. They also just added Charlie Morton in free agency. Combine that with an offense that ranked 2nd in the MLB in 2020 and an NL MVP award and that should be enough to get past the Dodgers.
Isaiah Hansen: New York Yankees def. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the most complete roster in the MLB, but I believe the Yankees finally get the monkey off their back. The Yankees, with a returning Luis Severino and Domingo German to accompany Gerrit Cole in the rotation, will be difficult to beat. By playoff time, the Yankees should manage to sort out all of their injury issues.
Devon Withers: New York Yankees def. Atlanta Braves
Over the last several seasons, the Yankees have been forced to deal with more injury issues than other competing franchises. Still, they have managed to find themselves as early favorites for the 2021 World Series. In a full season landscape, I believe New York should be favored over the Atlanta Braves. While the Braves are a dynamic roster with loads of talent, this will be a competitive series full of offensive firepower.
Davis Byrd: San Diego Padres def. Chicago White Sox
Let’s all have fun and dream with this one. The two young and fun impending superpowers of the game go to 7 games in a slugfest. The White Sox were an incredibly explosive offense last season, they still boast the A.L. MVP in Jose Abreu, young stud hitters in Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiminez and Yoan Moncada. Luis Robert should take steps in the right direction after a disappointing second half of the 2020 season. The White Sox are definitely talented but the belle of the ball right now are the Padres. The ridiculous rotation they have on paper is tough to contend with, they have exciting young hitter in their own right with arguably the most exciting player in the league Fernando Tatis Jr. The supporting cast is there too with Manny Machado, N.L. rookie of the year runner up Jake Cronenworth and the resurgences of Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers make them a formidable offense in their own right. This would be a fun series.
What is one bold prediction you have for the 2021 season?
Ray Ashworth: The Colorado Rockies trade Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, leading to them finishing with the worst record in the MLB in 2021.
Isaiah Hansen: I believe Mike Trout has an off-year. While he still may be great in certain categories, he may temporarily fall in comparison to past seasons.
Devon Withers: The New York Yankees have seen the brightest and darkest moments of Gary Sanchez’s career, but he hasn’t been reliable as of late. The team will deal him away before the 2021 Trade Deadline, naming Kyle Higashioka as the everyday starter.
Davis Byrd: The Cleveland Indians trade Francisco Lindor to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline.