We are just one sleep from Opening Day, and I feel comfortable suggesting we’ll have a season that begins tomorrow. I say that because I prefaced this piece last year by writing, “I’m doing this a bit earlier than normal this year, and that could wind up being a silly decision depending on injuries and how Spring Training plays out.” That was on March 4, eight days later Covid shut down baseball. At any rate, fans are in the stands and the world is trending back towards normal.
Despite a truncated season the Los Angeles Dodgers did as expected and emerged victorious with a World Series trophy. They are the odds-on favorites going into 2021, and it isn’t much of a surprise given the additional firepower they’ve brought in. Tampa Bay will look for a return trip to the World Series, but 162 games should allow for more nuanced results to take shape.
This is an exciting rookie class, especially from a Minnesota perspective, so individual awards will be worth watching as well. Here’s the 2020 picks which included a correct World Series champion and NLCS matchup. Let’s get into it for 2021.
MVP: American League – Mike Trout (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Bryce Harper)
It’s maybe unfair to pick Trout every year but given he’s literally the best the game has ever seen, it’s also incredibly hard to go against him. He posted a down year in 2020 and still wound up with a .993 OPS and a career worst fifth place finish in the AL MVP race. There are some contenders in the American League, and I like bounce back years for guys like Gleyber Torres and Alex Bregman, but this is Trout’s award until further notice. As a longshot the Twins Buxton makes sense. If he’s ever healthy for a full season, an OPS around .840 and his defense will get him a substantial number of votes.
On the National League side, I’m going with a pair of players tied to the Washington Nationals. For a winner, it’s Juan Soto nabbing his first of what should be multiple individual awards. Sure, he’s got a Silver Slugger, but missing out on the Rookie of the Year would be vindicated with a quicker MVP than Ronald Acuna Jr. Soto is an anomaly in that he not only hits for ridiculous power, but also has now shown he can do so with an exceptional average. The plate discipline has always been there but the league leading 1.185 OPS a year ago was bananas. I liked Harper to take this award home last year as he had settled into Philadelphia a bit more, and then oddities hit in regards to the season. He’s a polarizing player, but ultimately underrated, and I think we get another award to substantiate that reality.
Cy Young: American League – Kenta Maeda (Dark Horse Eduardo Rodriguez) National League – Jack Flaherty (Dark Horse Walker Buehler)
I can understand if the Maeda pick looks homerish, but he’s coming off a second place finish a season ago and there’s no reason to believe he slows down. The Twins ace was untouchable this spring, and it seems people are sleeping on Minnesota with all of the White Sox hype this offseason. Maeda has long been a dominant arm and being hidden in Los Angeles didn’t get him his due. Another season like he had last year and he’s just a slight step back from Shane Bieber or Gerrit Cole away from taking the crown. Boston initially tabbed Rodriguez as their Opening Day starter prior to a bout of dead arm. He’s a feel-good story in returning from Covid-19 complications last season, but he’s also an incredibly good pitcher. I don’t know what to make of the Red Sox, but their ace should provide little to worry about.
In the National League Central we may see more mediocrity than any other division in baseball. Both the Brewers and Cardinals would appear to be favorites, but neither have much to separate them from anyone else. If there’s a diamond in the rough for me, it’s Flaherty. He has looked the part since his debut, and another step forward would classify him as the type of ace any team would covet. It’s also probably not fair to dub Buehler as a dark horse, especially after picking him in this space a season ago. However, he’s working behind both Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Bauer for the Dodgers and a meteoric rise should be in the works.
Rookie of the Year: American League – Jarred Kelenic (Dark Horse Wander Franco) National League Ke’Bryan Hayes (Dark Horse Dylan Carlson)
Seattle all but admitted they are manipulating Kelenic’s service time, which is both unfortunate and understandable. The reality is that he’ll be there sooner rather than later though, and all the kid has done is rake. Kelenic put on a show this spring and was already successful at Double-A in 2019 as a teenager. The bat is going to play, and he should be a difference maker for Seattle as soon as May. I like Randy Arozarena in this space a decent amount but went with Franco as the dark horse anyways. The Rays have some exciting young options once again, and the greatest thing holding Franco back could be how soon he reaches the majors.
Having watched Hayes in person a few times this spring it was apparent that he’s special. Third base is such a smooth position for him defensively, and that seems to help a young player acclimate if the bat wavers at any point. He hits rockets all over the place, and in a National League landscape that lacks top tier names, he should establish himself as the guy. St. Louis has a lot to like in Carlson, especially the power his bat brings to the plate. There’s probably going to be a few slumps throughout the season, but a few nice stretches of homer production could push him to the top of the leaderboard as well.
American League – Angels, Twins, Yankees Wild Card – Blue Jays, White Sox
National League – Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves Wild Card – Padres, Mets
ALCS – Twins over Yankees
NLCS – Dodgers over Mets
World Series – Dodgers over Twins
I really liked this matchup a year ago and nailed half of it, time to go back to the well. Yeah, the Twins haven’t won a Postseason game in forever, but a post-hype situation seems like the perfect spot for them. Minnesota can not only win a game this year but take a couple of series on the way to representing the American League in the World Series. Too much is being made of a White Sox team without depth and looking at young volatility. Houston gets left out of the Postseason altogether but could both overtake the Angels or one of the Wild Card spots. I don’t love the Yankees going to the ALCS, regardless of who the face, because of the pitching staff. That said, you know they’ll add when warts present themselves during the course of the regular season.
It shouldn’t e pre-determined in baseball with the season as long as it is, but I’m not going to be the one to pick against the Dodgers. They have a third starter that is one of the best arms in baseball, and a former top prospect that may struggle to find a real role anywhere. In short, the team is loaded. I don’t have much belief in anyone coming out of the NL Central, but the East should be a blast with Atlanta again being great and the Mets having overhauled their roster. San Diego is going to be a fun team all year and the coasts of the National League could really be where some of the best baseball is played.
A repeat World Series winner for the first time since 2000, and the first back-to-back World Series victor from the National League since 1976, it’s happening.