The Tampa Bay Rays came up two wins shy of their ultimate goal last year, but the journey has moments we will never forget. Now it’s time for another entertaining season of Major League Baseball to kickoff. Let’s take a look through my very cloudy crystal ball.
American League East
New York Yankees 95-67
Tampa Bay Rays 94-68
Toronto Blue Jays 84-78
Boston Red Sox 81-81
Baltimore Orioles 65-97
This time the New York Yankees don’t get crushed in the head to head (2-8) versus the Tampa Bay Rays last season. The gap between the Yankees and Rays isn’t as big as it looks on paper. If the Yankees have a little bit of health fortune on their side they should win the division, but when three pitchers in your Opening Day starting rotation (Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and Domingo German) threw a combined 1.0 innings in 2020 there’s a risk things could fall apart.
In a departure from recent Rays teams this year’s team will be led by their offense. The only major change comes in a full season of Randy Arozarena replacing Hunter Renfroe in a corner outfield as no prospects make a real impact. Austin Meadows bounces back closer to his 2019 form after dealing with COVID-19 last year. On the pitching side it will look much closer to the 2018 team that pieced things together without any particular player carrying the load. Tyler Glasnow could get enough innings to be in the Cy Young conversation, but it’s likely the Rays will limit the load to some degree. Bring on the opener and multiple inning relievers as the Rays find a way to once against be near the top of the pack in preventing runs.
The Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash this winter picking up George Springer and Marcus Semien. Unfortunately their big addition in the bullpen Kirby Yates is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Their pitching is of some concern. Especially after Nate Pearson suffered a groin injury that will delay his start to the season. The Blue Jays look to take a step forward after getting swept by the Rays in the first round of the playoffs last season, but they fall short of their goal.
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Boston Red Sox were hoisting the World Series Championship trophy, but that was only 2018. Their starting outfield of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all gone. Chris Sale will return from Tommy John surgery sometime this winter. All is not lost for the Red Sox as they still have some promising youngsters like Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo to pair with Xander Bogaerts. They need to remain very healthy on the position player side and see a bounceback from JD Martinez. The pitching looks like it is going to have difficulty finding enough quality innings to be a real threat in the division.
The Baltimore Orioles rebuild after trading away Manny Machado in 2018 is progressing slowly. The major league talent base is shallow. The good news is Trey Mancini returns after missing the 2020 season due to colon cancer. The Orioles remain one of the five worst teams in the majors in a division that won’t afford them any chance at being competitive.
American League Central
Minnesota Twins 87-75
Cleveland Baseball Team 85-77
Chicago White Sox 83-79
Kansas City Royals 77-85
Detroit Tigers 67-95
The Minnesota Twins look to end an 18 game playoff losing streak. It has been a brutal run when they do get the chance they have been quickly silenced. They re-signed Nelson Cruz while adding Andrelton Simmons, JA Happ, and Alex Colome to the roster.
The Cleveland Baseball Team takes a step back after trading face of the franchise Francisco Lindor. They still have one of the best position players in the game in Jose Ramirez, but the talent surrounding him is light. The pitching looks to continue carrying the team headed by the best pitcher in the American League Shane Bieber.
The Chicago White Sox traded for Lance Lynn as their biggest move this winter. They added one of the best relievers over the last two seasons in Liam Hendriks. Unfortunately they have lost Eloy Jiminez for most if not all of the 2021 season with a torn pectoral muscle. The fight between the top three in the division could end in almost any order and I wouldn’t be surprised, but none of the teams are great.
The Kansas City Royals look to start making strides as they look to win games following a rebuild. Offensively they added Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi to an interesting offense. Their farm system is filled with solid pitching prospects that should start providing Major League production. They signed Greg Holland and Wade Davis from their last good Royals teams unfortunately they are still about a year away from having any real shot in the division. The right oblique strain that sent Alberto Mondesi to the Injured List to start the season won’t help.
The Detroit Tigers have one of the worst offenses in the American League. They signed Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Schoop, and Nomar Mazara in free agency, but that should do little to help a team that was bottom ten in the league offensively. Their pitching prospects should be here soon, but they need to find some hitters.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels 87-75
Oakland Athletics 85-77
Houston Astros 84-78
Seattle Mariners 74-88
Texas Rangers 65-97
Finally Mike Trout has another shot in the playoffs. The problem has always been pitching and specifically avoiding pitching injuries. This year they added Alex Cobb and Jose Quintana while also welcoming back Shohei Ohtani following Tommy John surgery. Their pitching depth is a little better than it has been in recent history, but they can’t afford much to go wrong.
The Oakland Athletics are looking for bounceback seasons from new acquisitions Elvis Andrus and Jed Lowrie. They need Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to continue to lead the way offensively, but the season likely comes down to how many productive innings they can get from their starting rotation. The bullpen should be able to cover a fair amount of innings should they need to.
Finally losing big players comes back to haunt the Houston Astros. Losing George Springer following the loses of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander brings them back to the field in the American League West. Framber Valdez is looking to avoid surgery after suffering a broken finger that expected him to miss the entire season. During spring training they signed Jake Odorizzi to try to fill the hole.
The Seattle Mariners are looking to make strides this season after going through their rebuild. Jerrod Kelenic should be up shortly. Taylor Trammel has made the Opening Day roster. Mitch Haniger looks to return to form after missing the 2020 season. The rotation has potential with the addition to James Paxton. They don’t have a lot of depth, but they have the pieces where if things click they could surprise though end up short in the division.
The Texas Rangers are going to be terrible. They traded their best starting pitching in Lance Lynn. Joey Gallo doesn’t have much help on the offensive side of the ball but if you enjoy baseballs being sent into orbit he will at least provide a reason to watch. This is going to be the start of a lengthy rebuild.
National League East
New York Mets 93-69
Philadelphia Phillies 87-75
Atlanta Braves 85-77
Washington Nationals 83-79
Miami Marlins 71-91
The New York Mets are under new ownership, but didn’t make as big of a splash as many fans expected. They did add Francisco Lindor along with good depth pieces like James McCann, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker. They have the best pitcher on the planet in Jacob deGrom. One of these seasons things has to work out. If it doesn’t there will be many fingers pointing to ownership to make big changes.
The Philadelphia Phillies were able to re-sign JT Realmuto. Their starting pitching was good, but it is difficult to be worse than the Phillies bullpen was last year. They posted a 7.06 ERA and the team still went 28-32. They added Archie Bradley, Brandon Kintzler, and Jose Alvarado (this is strictly a bet on positive regression), promoted Sam Fuld to General Manager and stole Dave Dombrowski away from the Nashville baseball project. They’re here to compete.
The Atlanta Braves bring most of their team back intact. They were able to re-sign Marcell Ozuna. They signed former Rays Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly in free agency to help bring more depth to the rotation. You might remember these things.
The Washington Nationals are one of the most fascinating rosters to look at. They have one of the best young hitters in Juan Soto. They have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin leading the rotation. The problem is the depth dries up very quickly. If some of the role players step up it’s easy to see how this team wins 90 games. If they suffer injuries to their key contributors it could get ugly very quickly.
The Miami Marlins made the playoffs for the third time in team history last year. Unfortunately this time it didn’t end up in a World Championship. The starting rotation has potential, but quantity of innings is going to be a problem. Offensively they have a couple veterans leading the way in Brian Anderson, Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, and Jesus Aguilar. Jazz Chisholm will be on the Opening Day roster, but they need to find more offensive help before they are a threat in the deepest division in baseball.
National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers 84-78
Chicago Cubs 82-80
St. Louis Cardinals 81-81
Cincinnati Reds 80-82
Pittsburgh Pirates 63-99
The Milwaukee Brewers are the best team in a division filled of mediocrity. They have the best player in the division in Christian Yelich which helps separate the Brewers from the rest of the pack. They added defense with Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. Lorenzo Cain returns after opting out of the 2020 season. The Brewers are willing to think outside the box in using a pitching staff. They have the best one-two combo out of the bullpen in Josh Hader and Devin Williams. This is enough to win a division that it didn’t feel like anybody wanted to win this winter.
The Chicago Cubs have a chance at the division, but acted more like they were preparing to tear things down. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Baez are free agents at the end of the year, so this looked like an opportunity to give it one more shot before taking a big step back next year. Instead they traded Yu Darvish leaving them with a lackluster rotation. They still have a chance to win the division, but if they find themselves out of contention this is a roster that could be stripped for parts by August.
The St. Louis Cardinals made the biggest move in the division in trading for Nolan Arenado. The outfield continues to be their weak spot after trading Tommy Pham and Randy Arozarena to the Rays over the last few years. The rotation lacks depth, so they need to stay healthy to have a shot at the division.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are probably the worst team in the majors. Ke’Bryan Hayes should be exciting to watch and is one of the favorites to win the National League Rookie of the Year. There isn’t much hope on the horizon, but hopefully they see some guys step up with their opportunity.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers 102-60
San Diego Padres 91-71
Arizona Diamondbacks 79-83
San Francisco Giants 72-90
Colorado Rockies 64-98
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team in the game and I don’t think it’s particularly close. They won the most games in 2020 and won the World Sereis. They added Trevor Bauer to a stacked rotation. Their bullpen looks like the one weak point but they have enough starting pitch depth that will see many of their prospects spend time in the bullpen. Even David Price will start the season in the bullpen.
The San Diego Padres made almost every big move they could this winter. They traded for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove. They signed Ha-seong Kim. They signed Fernando Tatis Jr. to one of the biggest contracts in MLB history, but the Dodgers are just too good. They are one of the best teams in baseball but will need to win a best of one Wild Card game to have a shot to continue in the playoffs.
The gap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres is massive. The Diamondbacks need bounceback seasons from Ketel Marte, Carson Kelly, and Eduardo Escobar to be interesting. Year one of the Madison Bumgarner contract was a disaster. Zac Gallen is starting the season on the Injured List due to a fractured forearm. They couldn’t afford any room for error and are already starting behind.
The San Francisco Giants welcome back Buster Posey. They have a handful of veterans in Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, and Tommy LaStella. They are in the process of a full scale rebuild as the veteran’s contracts expire. They have enough talent that they shouldn’t be one of the absolute worst teams in baseball but they aren’t far from being a bottom five team either.
The Colorado Rockies are paying Nolan Arenado to play for the St. Louis Cardinals. They didn’t trade soon to be free agent Trevor Story. This team is bad. The biggest question will be who does Story get traded to at the deadline. The battle for the number one pick between the Orioles, Rockies, Pirates, and Rangers will be something.
Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays
In a rematch of the 2019 Wild Card game the Rays defeat the Athletics once again. This time it happens at a packed Tropicana Field. Tyler Glasnow does his thing and the bullpen locked down the victory.
Philadelphia Phillies at San Diego Padres
The Phillies take down the heavily favored Padres. In one game anything can happen and this time it’s Bryce Harper leaving the park against Yu Darvish. Aaron Nola holds off a potent Padres offense.
Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees
The Rays and Yankees are pitted in a rematch of the 2020 American League Division Series. This time the Yankees pull through in game five. Giancarlo Stanton launches one of the biggest homers ever seen to seal the victory.
Minnesota Twins at Los Angeles Angels
The Twins finally win a playoff game after their playoff losing streak gets extended to 20. Ultimately they drop the series 3-1 and Mike Trout shows what he can do in the playoffs with five homers in four games.
Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers
The Phillies pull off the big upset. Brad Miller hits the game winning homer in game five off Blake Treinen.
Milwaukee Brewers at New York Mets
The Mets sweep the Brewers in an unexcited series where the Mets offense does the heavy lifting. The Brewers aren’t in any of the three games.
Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
The Yankees are favorites heading into the series. Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon carry their way offensively in a five game victory. Trout hits three homers and drives in 12.
Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Mets
The New York Mets grind out a seven game series victory behind the strength of Jacob deGrom. deGrom picks up three complete game victories.
Los Angeles Angels at New York Mets
Trout continues a playoffs for the ages. He breaks Randy Arozarena’s record of 10 homers in a single postseason with 12. The Angels win the series in five games. Mike Trout wins the World Series MVP.