Experts pick 2021 division winners, champion
Although there were many twists and turns in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the year ended with a result that wasn’t all that surprising, as the Dodgers won the World Series. It was a finish our prognosticators saw coming before Opening Day.
With the 2021 season about to get underway, a panel of 100 MLB.com experts took their best shot at predicting how the campaign will play out, submitting their picks for each division winner and Wild Card team, the two pennant winners and the World Series champion.
Here are the results.
American League East: Yankees
New York was unable to repeat as the AL East champ last season, finishing seven games behind the Rays, who won eight of 10 against the Yankees in the regular season before defeating them in the AL Division Series. Tampa Bay still has a deep and diverse pitching staff despite trading Blake Snell to the Padres, and the Blue Jays got better with the additions of George Springer and Marcus Semien, among others. But with Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon joining Gerrit Cole in the rotation and DJ LeMahieu back on a new six-year contract, the Bronx Bombers are the consensus pick to win this division in 2021, garnering 83 votes.
AL Central: White Sox
After stockpiling young talent during a lengthy rebuild, the White Sox emerged as a contender in 2020, getting an MVP Award-winning season from José Abreu and reaching the postseason. Losing 24-year-old slugger Eloy Jiménez to a torn left pectoral muscle is a devastating blow, but Chicago’s roster is still impressive, bolstered by offseason additions Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks and Adam Eaton. Getting 71 votes, the White Sox are the clear choice among MLB.com's experts to win the AL Central for the first time since 2008.
AL West: Astros
Houston lost Gerrit Cole to free agency, 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery after one start and ’19 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez to double knee surgery after two games, leading to a 29-31 finish last season. However, the expanded postseason field allowed the Astros to make the playoffs, where they knocked off the Twins and A’s before nearly coming back from a three-games-to-none deficit against the Rays in the AL Championship Series. While Springer left to sign with the Blue Jays, Alvarez’s return and bounce-back efforts from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa could help the Astros withstand the loss of the center fielder’s bat. This was the closest of any division; the Astros edged the A’s, 46 votes to 33, with the Angels also getting some support.
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Blue Jays
While MLB.com's experts don’t have the reigning AL champion Rays winning another division title, they believe Tampa Bay will grab one of the two AL Wild Card spots. With a deep collection of arms, the Rays could be well-equipped to manage the innings increase this year, and getting a full season out of postseason superstar Randy Arozarena should help their offense. Tampa Bay also has the ultimate wild card in Wander Franco, the game's No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline.
The AL East gets a third postseason representative, with our panel picking the Blue Jays for the other Wild Card spot. Toronto’s rotation has some question marks behind ace Hyun Jin Ryu, but Springer and Semien are joining a club with some serious offensive firepower. Bo Bichette has done nothing but hit since he debuted in the Majors in 2019, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Rowdy Tellez are all coming off breakout seasons and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be set for an eruption of his own, making Toronto a potentially formidable foe.
AL champion: Yankees
Last season marked the Yankees’ 11th straight without a World Series appearance, but our panel believes that drought will end in 2021. The Yankees have as much talent as anyone in the AL. It’s just a matter of keeping everyone on the field -- especially imposing sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who have missed a ton of time in the past two seasons. Cole gives New York one of the most dominant pitchers in the game atop its rotation, and Kluber, Taillon, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo Germán have looked great this spring. The White Sox were the runners-up here, getting 28 votes to the Yankees' 54.
National League East: Braves
Only the Dodgers have a longer active division-title streak than the Braves, who have won the NL East in each of the past three years. This division could be one of the most competitive in baseball after the Mets’ offseason bonanza, but Atlanta is MLB.com’s consensus pick to finish in first place yet again, receiving 64 votes to New York's 33. It’s easy to understand why the Braves got so much support, with reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna leading the offense, and Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly giving the club a strong rotation that will get even better when Mike Soroka returns from surgery to repair a torn right Achilles.
NL Central: Cardinals
The Cardinals have reached the postseason in each of the past two years, but after ranking 14th among NL clubs in runs and OPS last season, it was clear the Redbirds needed to address their offense during the offseason. They did just that, trading for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who comes to St. Louis with 235 career home runs and an .890 OPS, not to mention eight Gold Glove Awards in eight seasons. Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish -- last year’s first- and second-place finishers, respectively, in the NL Cy Young Award race -- are no longer in the division. This wasn’t a particularly close call; the Cardinals received 66 votes, compared to 25 for the Brewers, six for the Cubs and three for the Reds.
NL West: Dodgers
As if this roster wasn’t deep and talented enough, the Dodgers went out and signed Bauer, adding the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to an already stellar rotation. David Price and Tony Gonsolin would all be starting for most MLB teams, but they are depth pieces for this organization. Los Angeles has an embarrassment of riches on the other side of the ball, too, including Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Will Smith. The Padres might have the second-best team in baseball, but the Dodgers won this comfortably -- 82 votes to 18. They’re that good.
NL Wild Cards: Padres, Mets
There aren't many duos, if any, that are better than Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, and the Padres augmented their rotation by trading for Darvish, Snell and Joe Musgrove during the offseason. The Friars clearly have one of the game’s most impressive rosters, with more talent in the Minors, but only one team can win the NL West and they happen to share a division with the Dodgers.
If this plays out as our experts predict, the Padres will end up facing the Mets -- and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom -- in the winner-take-all NL Wild Card Game. The Mets had a busy offseason after new owner Steve Cohen officially took control in November, trading for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco and signing Marcus Stroman, James McCann and Trevor May.
NL champion: Dodgers
The Dodgers have represented the NL in the Fall Classic in three of the past four seasons, and MLB.com’s panel believes they’ll be back there this October. The Padres were the runners-up to their division rivals again, finishing 38 votes short of Los Angeles.
World Series champion: Dodgers
Once upon a time, the Dodgers facing the Yankees in the World Series was a near-annual tradition. The two clubs squared off in the Fall Classic in 1941, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56, with the Yankees defeating the then-Brooklyn Dodgers in six of the seven meetings (all except ’55). They’ve played four more times in the World Series since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, winning twice each, but the last of those matchups came in 1981.
Our experts see the two clubs rekindling their rivalry in 2021, with the Dodgers prevailing to become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat as champions.