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Projected Standings for the 2021 MLB Regular Season

Predicting and guesstimating where each of the 30 teams will finish and how each division will play out for the 2021 Major League Baseball marathon of a season.

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Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez (AP)

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is (scheduled to be) one week away! Of all the major professional sports, the MLB regular season represents the very definition of the phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Considering the potential chaos that the ongoing pandemic may cause for the league and its teams, trying to predict the order of finish has an added degree of difficulty.

But that shouldn’t halt our very best guesswork and leaps of faith. The below interpretation is how I predict the 2021 MLB regular season will play out within each of the six divisions.


American League East

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* Yankees96-6633-27
2* Blue Jays91-7132-28
3Rays84-7840-20
4Red Sox79-8324-36
5Orioles61-10125-35
* Projected Playoff Team
  • The Yankees have plenty of offensive firepower to run away with the division, but a surplus of wins will depend on the rotation, to which they added former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Jamison Taillon. The bullpen is still elite and I think they comfortably manage to fend off the young Jays.
  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, what a fun (and frightening) lineup this is going to be in ’21. The kids (Bichette, Guerrero, Biggio) are entering their second full seasons, and the team added George Springer and Marcus Semien to make the lineup even more potent. Toronto’s degree of success will depend on the back end of their rotation. But they will present a challenge to the Yankees.
  • The Rays had the best record in the AL and lost in the World Series last season, but they’ve lost some pieces (and potentially some mojo). Thought they always seem to find pitching within the system, I’m skeptical that they can trade runs with the Yanks and Jays.
  • Last season was a disaster for the Red Sox, who find themselves in a rebuild. They still have the bats to put up some runs, but their rotation is a mess (paging Chris Sale) and the bullpen is just confusing. It’ll be another long season at Fenway.
  • The reclamation project continues for the Orioles (though for bragging rights, they did actually finish a game higher than the Sox in the division last year).

American League Central

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* White Sox97-6535-25
2* Twins94-6836-24
3Royals78-8426-34
4Cleveland77-8535-25
5Tigers66-9623-35
* Projected Playoff Team
  • After my beloved Jays, this White Sox team is my favorite going into the 2021 season. They are loaded. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, and Joan Moncada are studs in the making, Lucas Giolito has a legitimate shot at the AL Cy Young, they have the reigning AL MVP, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal is one of the best all-around catchers, Tim Anderson has won a batting title, Nick Madrigal was the 4th overall pick in ’18, Andrew Vaughn was the 3rd overall pick in ’19. Then they added Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks in free agency. This team could win 100 games.
  • I picked the Twins to win the World Series last year. A reach? Maybe. But I still like them to go toe-to-toe with the White Sox for the division and/or the AL wild card spot. There’s lots of depth on the roster. A (healthy) bounce-back season from Josh Donaldson certainly wouldn’t hurt.
  • The Royals are mildly intriguing this season. While their rotation is a little thin and built partially on potential, I do like their lineup more than say, Cleveland. They have a respectable combination of power (Santana, Perez, Soler) and speed (Merrifield, Mondesi), with a couple of young-ish guys (Benintendi, Dozier) mixed in.
  • Cleveland still has above-average arms, but their lineup has some major holes and/or unproven commodities. Tito Francona will have them competing, but this is the year they take a step back in the division. Maybe a new name will help going forward?
  • In what feels like Year 3,641 of the Detroit Tigers rebuild, they did add some veterans in Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara, Jonathan Schoop, and Wilson Ramos to the lineup to pair with the young guys. They should be slightly better than last year.

American League West

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* Angels92-7026-34
2Astros89-7329-31
3Athletics83-7936-24
4Mariners76-8627-33
5Rangers62-10022-38
* Projected Playoff Team
  • The Angels win the division! Mike Trout finally gets enough help to capture his second division title. They’ve added some veteran arms, a real closer, and depth to the lineup that could/should be enough to overtake the Astros and A’s. Though I think we say this almost every season.
  • The Astros lineup is still plenty dangerous, but I’m just not sold on the makeup of the rotation. Can Lance McCullers throw more than 130 innings? Are Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez ready for full time gigs? Too many questions at the moment for me to peg them in for 90+ wins. And if/when fans are allowed, let’s see how the real “Tour of Shame” goes in visiting ballparks.
  • I count the Athletics out every single season, which typically ends with them winning 90+ games. I’m not counting them “out,” but I am counting on them regressing from a .600% winning percentage. It’s nothing personal, I just like the Angels and Astros more.
  • The shortened season actually benefitted the Mariners, as they ended up with a semi-respectable record (27-33). Their lineup is void of sexy names, and they’ll be a team that has to manufacture runs, as opposed to playing the power game. That isn’t the true recipe for success in today’s game.
  • The Rangers now feature a roster that’s a complete shell of that when they were competing for World Series’ just a few seasons ago. Unless Joey Gallo can club 200 home runs this season, it’s going to be a long one in Arlington.

National League East

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* Braves95-6735-25
2* Mets93-6926-34
3Phillies84-7828-32
4Nationals81-8126-34
5Marlins72-9031-29
* Projected Playoff Team
  • While this division could really go any of four ways, I think the Braves have the most complete team. Led by reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., Max Fried, and Charlie Morton, both the lineup and rotation are rich with talent. Enough to claim the division once again.
  • After bringing in Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, the Mets made things intriguing. If healthy, the starting rotation is elite. However, as we’ve come to know, that’s a mighty big “IF.” The lineup looks as formidable as it has in years. And not that he’s under contract with the team anymore, I’m thinking out loud here… has anyone seen Yoenis Cespedes recently?
  • Every year, the Phillies are a jigsaw puzzle. They have talent everywhere, but I don’t know whether it finally all comes together and they win 90+ games or they flounder to the expectations and barely reach 80. My guess is that Joe Girardi manages to get them somewhere in between and chasing a wild card spot.
  • Another puzzling team is the Nationals. They’ve always had pitching, but Scherzer is another year older, Strasburg is banged up, and after Patrick Corbin, things get a little murky (Jon Lester?). The lineup has a few questions as well. Let’s peg ’em in at .500.
  • Did anyone enjoy the shortened 2020 season as much as the Marlins? They led the division for parts of the season and finished with a record above .500. While I don’t think they fall all the way back to 100-loss territory, they don’t have as much firepower over a full season to keep up with the other four.

National League Central

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* Reds87-7531-29
2Cardinals86-7630-28
2Brewers86-7629-31
4Cubs84-7834-26
5Pirates56-10619-41
* Projected Playoff Team
  • Put a blindfold on, spin around ten times and throw a dart at a dartboard. That’s the NL Central. Any of these teams could rise up (except you Pirates). For the heck of it, let’s pick the Cincinnati Reds to win a close division race. They feature plus power both in the lineup and on the mound. I like them to get Joey Votto back to the real postseason again and not just a single wild card play-in game.
  • The Cardinals made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason in Nolan Arenado, but didn’t improve significantly anywhere else. A lineup that features Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt could be formidable, though the outfield is unproven. As well, the rotation is in a boom-or-bust state, and the bullpen is a little out of sorts.
  • There are a lot of “what ifs” with this Brewers team. The outfield is formidable, especially with the defensive upgrade of Jackie Bradley Jr., but the infield lacks any kind of star power or depth. We know the bullpen will be top notch with Josh Hader and Devin Williams, but the back end of the rotation is highly questionable. I think the Cards and Brew Crew are a toss up.
  • If you’ll recall, it was the Chicago Cubs that quietly won this division last year. While the core lineup guys are still in place (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Heyward), the rotation lost some real juice. It could be a major problem. Bringing in Zach Davies, a declining Jake Arrieta, and Trevor Williams shouldn’t put the fear of God into many teams. I’m not buying the pitching this season.
  • The Pirates have a couple of interesting prospects in Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds, and Mitch Keller, but wow is this roster thin. Pittsburgh had the worst record in the league last season by several games and I expect no different in 2021.

National League West

RankTeam2021 Projection2020 Record
1* Dodgers104-5843-17
2* Padres101-6137-23
3Giants78-8429-31
4Diamondbacks71-9125-35
5Rockies63-9926-34
* Projected Playoff Team
  • The NL West will be the definition of top-heavy, with the Dodgers and Padres leading the way. The defending champions bring back essentially the same roster, but happened to add NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and welcome back David Price to the rotation. The Dodgers should routinely murder teams all season long, paving the way to title defense opportunity.
  • The Padres represent the Dodgers greatest threat, both within the division and in the National League as whole. Already having made solid acquisitions during the previous offseason, the team decided to bolster its rotation this time around, bringing in Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, who’s track record speaks for themselves. This team is equally loaded. First place here is a flip-flop for me.
  • The Giants are the cute bronze medalists, where gold and silver are just out of reach. Posey and Longoria are a little long in the tooth, but guys like Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, and Logan Webb are interesting potential breakouts this season. I like the additions of Kevin Gausman and potentially Aaron Sanchez (sans blisters) to the rotation.
  • Purgatory is where the Diamondbacks find themselves. They certainly won’t be able to compete in this division, so a playoff chase is out of the question. But there are some tantalizing young guys to pay attention to (Zac Gallen, Ketel Marte, Merrill Kelly).
  • Things have gotten ugly in Colorado, especially with the measly return they obtained in the Nolan Arenado deal. The Rockies went from potential upstart a couple seasons ago to potential divisional punching bag.

Postseason

AL Playoff teams:
Yankees, White Sox, Angels, Twins, Blue Jays

NL Playoff teams:
Braves, Reds, Dodgers, Padres, Mets

ALCS:
White Sox over Yankees

NLCS:
Padres over Braves

World Series:
Padres over White Sox

That’s right, no defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Not because they aren’t loaded, but because they’re expected to win (again). For whimsical predictions, going against the grain with some “upsets” is always more fun. We’ll revisit all of this in November to see how poorly I projected this all out. Let’s just hope they all finish the marathon in one piece.


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