After a shortened 60-game schedule in 2020, Major League Baseball returns to a full 162-game season in 2021.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ruled last year’s unusual campaign, beating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games for L.A.’s first World Series title since 1988, but are they still the team to beat over the course of the new season? Will one of the exciting teams such as the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox or New York Mets emerge as a legitimate threat to L.A.’s dominance? Can the New York Yankees pass the Rays in their battle for the top of the American League East on their way to a first Fall Classic trip in more than a decade? And who are the surprise teams that could surge in our rankings throughout 2021?
We asked our baseball experts to rank every team from 1-30 going into the new season for our first MLB Power Rankings of the year, while ESPN.com writers Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield teamed up to provide a best and worst case, most exciting player and one bold prediction along with Doolittle’s win-loss projection for all 30 teams.
Here’s everything you need to know before Opening Day arrives on Thursday.
Watch: Baseball Tonight season preview, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Projected record: 107-55 (99.3% playoff odds)
Best case: The Dodgers look as good on the field as they do on paper, featuring an All-Star-caliber player at every position in the lineup most days. Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager square off for NL MVP honors, while Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw do the same for the Cy Young Award. L.A. clinches the NL West early, challenges the all-time wins record and cruises to a second straight World Series title. — Bradford Doolittle
Worst case: A spate of injuries forces the Dodgers to rely on their considerable depth during a season in which the San Diego Padres explode with a dream season. Los Angeles’ division title streak ends at eight, then the Dodgers enter the postseason as a 92-win wild-card entrant and hope to get a crack at the Padres in October to reestablish their supremacy in the division. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: He can hit, he can hit for power, he can run, he can throw, he can field, he made big plays in the postseason, he took to Los Angeles like he was born to wear Dodger Blue (sorry, Red Sox fans) … he’s Mookie Betts … he’s Superman. — David Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: The Dodgers win 110 games — a National League record for a 162-game season and tied for the most in the NL since the 1909 Pirates also won 110.
Projected record: 98-64 (91.5% playoff odds)
Best case: The Yankees stay healthy! The rotation stays intact, with Gerrit Cole joined in every five-day turn of the schedule by Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. They are joined by Luis Severino sooner rather than later, setting up a vicious October rotation. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both play at least 150 games. The Yankees don’t need depth this time on the way to 102 wins, setting them on a path for an epic World Series showdown with the Dodgers. — Doolittle
Worst case: Can’t this team ever stay healthy? The Kluber-Taillon-Severino-Domingo German portion of the rotation, which combined for 18 pitches a season ago, combines for 35 starts. Judge and Stanton both pull muscles that most people don’t have. Gary Sanchez goes 17-for-402 on the season, albeit with 16 homers. The Yankees sink to 89 wins and have to battle just to squeak onto the October bracket via the wild card. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Aaron Judge manages to be both a hulking presence at the plate and a graceful, athletic right fielder. Maybe he never hits 52 home runs again like he did in 2017, but he’s still been one of the best all-around players in the game the past three seasons — when he’s been on the field, which hasn’t been often enough. Stay healthy, big guy. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Giancarlo Stanton and Judge both play 140 games and combine for 90 home runs — 46 from Stanton and 44 from Judge. The Yankees lead the majors in runs scored.
Projected record: 91-71 (66.7% playoff odds)
Best case: The Padres are one of six active franchises without a World Series title. The best-case scenario for this team, now and going forward, is to leave that unfortunate club. It can happen if Fernando Tatis Jr. continues his takeover of the big leagues and the rotation gets enough innings from its most dynamic performers to make San Diego an elite run-prevention squad. If it all comes together, the Pads can win upward of 100 games and end the Dodgers’ hegemony in the NL West. — Doolittle
Worst case: For all the reasons to be excited about the Padres, it’s not an airtight roster. For all the names in the rotation, they’ve all been plagued by either inconsistency or durability. The bullpen could be anywhere from elite to below average. And while the offense looks great, you could also envision a team that falls just a little too much in love with the long ball during the very season when homers become harder to come by. If it all goes bad, the Pads could land in the low 80s in wins, wondering how the heck they are ever going to catch the Dodgers. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Yu Darvish is one of the most entertaining pitchers in baseball, Blake Snell has the best stuff of any lefty in the game, Manny Machado is a potential Hall of Famer, but come on, there is only one correct answer here: Fernando Tatis Jr. They called Ken Griffey Jr. “The Kid,” and they call Tatis “El Niño” — The Kid in Spanish — and like Griffey, his appeal goes beyond the numbers. He’s why we love to watch. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: The Padres win 100 games for the first time in franchise history, win the wild card and then upset the Dodgers in the division series, only to fall to the Mets in the NLCS.
Karl Ravech previews what to expect this season from the loaded NL East.
Projected record: 96-66 (85.9% playoff odds)
Best case: The Braves’ offseason acquisitions of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly pay off to bolster a rotation happy to be getting Mike Soroka back to join Max Fried and Ian Anderson. That group could become a classic Atlanta rotation that undergirds a run at 100 wins and an NLCS shot at the Dodgers. — Doolittle
Worst case: Another injury spate hits the rotation and the Braves’ reworked bullpen mix doesn’t hold up, and they slip into the mid-80s in the win column and fall behind the Mets, Nationals and Phillies in what shapes up to be a rugged NL East. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: The 30/30 player (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases in the same season) was once a staple in the majors (it happened 20 times in the 1990s and 17 times in the 2000s), but it has happened just four times in the past eight seasons. Ronald Acuna Jr. did it in 2019 with 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases, so it’s possible he becomes just the fifth 40/40 player (Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano), and even the kids will watch those highlights. — Doolittle
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Acuna does not go 40/40 or even 30/30, but he does lead the majors with 52 home runs — breaking Andruw Jones’ franchise record of 51.
Projected record: 91-71 (68.6% playoff odds)
Best case: The Mets emerge as the team mostly likely to knock off the Dodgers, as Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and Dom Smith lead the NL’s best offense. The rotation enjoys health and a grand in-season return by Noah Syndergaard. The Mets finally give Jacob deGrom the support he deserves, and he cements his status as the game’s best pitcher en route to 25 wins and another Cy Young Award. Lindor has so much fun, he decides to stick around for a while. — Doolittle
Worst case: Despite the new owner and all the good tidings from the offseason, the Mets prove to still be the Mets. The rotation behind deGrom can’t stay healthy. The bullpen implodes. The defense is one of the league’s worst. The Mets stagger to 80 wins and a fourth-place finish. Discord ensues and Lindor decides there has to be a better situation for him somewhere else. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Yes, Francisco Lindor is on this team and Pete Alonso was the toast of Queens in 2019 when he was ripping off his jersey for postgame interviews, but let’s go with the best pitcher in the game. When Jacob deGrom starts, you get a clinic in modern pitching: velocity, movement, command, athleticism, the feeling that on any given night the opposing hitters will have no chance.
He has won two Cy Young Awards yet somehow keeps getting better and throwing harder. His average fastball velocity has increased from 94.2 mph as a rookie in 2014 to 98.6 in 2020 and he hit 102 in a spring training game. Worth noting: Only 10 pitchers have won three or more Cy Young Awards. All are in the Hall of Fame, will be there (Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer) or otherwise would be in (Roger Clemens). — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: deGrom not only wins that third Cy Young Award — he wins MVP honors as well. And then has a dominant postseason and pitches the Mets to a World Series title. That’s one not-so-bold prediction and two bold ones!
Projected record: 91-71 (71.9% playoff odds)
Best case: Byron Buxton stays healthy and approaches his speed/defense/power ceiling. Miguel Sano, Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz prove to be the AL’s top power trio. Alex Kiriloff is promoted early and helps balance the offense. The Twins win 96 games, repeat as AL Central champs and show that their recent run of success is built on a sustainable foundation. — Doolittle
Worst case: The lineup is beset by injuries and age. The revamped rotation flounders. The Twins slip to 82 wins and start to look over their shoulders at the likes of the Royals and Tigers in their division. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Byron Buxton may never be Eric Davis 2.0, but he has that same “Did he just do that?” level of astonishment to his game. Really, we just want to see him on the field for 150 games. We can apply the old quote about former Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox to Buxton: “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water and the other one-third by Byron Buxton.” Then there’s the power (Buxton hit 13 home runs in 39 games in 2020) and the speed (Buxton ranked as the fifth-fastest player in 2020). — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: The Twins not only snap their 18-game postseason losing streak, but they go all the way to the World Series.
Projected record: 84-78 (33.6% playoff odds)
Best case: The White Sox stay healthy — starting … now! — and avoid having to tap too deep into their organizational depth. The team responds to the return of Tony La Russa to the South Side en route to 95 wins and a top seed in the AL bracket. The postseason run is bolstered by the blistering return of Eloy Jimenez from his late-spring injury. — Doolittle
Worst case: The Jimenez injury turns out to be just the downgrade the ChiSox couldn’t afford, as Adam Eaton fails to find his earlier White Sox form, and a lack of depth leads to an inconsistent attack. As things unravel, so does La Russa’s relationship with his young charges, and a disappointing season ends with 80 wins and a third-place finish. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Tim Anderson is an absolute joy, but this has to be Luis Robert. He’s the most tooled-up player this side of Fernando Tatis Jr. His defense in center field as a rookie was sensational — he won the Gold Glove in a league with Kevin Kiermaier, Byron Buxton and Jackie Bradley Jr. — and his 11 home runs included blasts of 449 and 458 feet and two more of 430-plus feet. He went 30-30 in the minors in 2019 and could do that for the White Sox. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Lucas Giolito becomes the first White Sox pitcher to win 20 games since Esteban Loaiza in 2003, but finishes second in the Cy Young balloting.
Marly Rivera previews a loaded AL East, with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox battling to take the division.
Projected record: 86-76 (43.5% playoff odds)
Best case: The Rays use 72 players who all contribute exactly .6 WAR, and Tampa Bay’s hive approach leads to another AL East crown. Kevin Cash is selected by the Cylon Empire as its new Imperious Leader, knowing that he could be replaced by a replicant if things should go awry. — Doolittle
Worst case: The Rays are set up to get better as the season goes along, with young waves emerging from the minors (or the alternate site) to plug holes in the rotation and lineup. But the veteran rotation flops early, before the Rays are ready to start moving up young arms. It becomes a middling season of trying to stave off the Red Sox for third place. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Can Randy Arozarena repeat his magical October performance when he turned into Babe Ruth and hit .377/.442/.831 with 10 home runs in 20 games? (Ruth actually had a couple of full seasons like that: He hit .376/.532/.847 in 1920 and .378/.512/.846 in 1921. So, yes, Randy Arozarena was Babe Ruth for a month.) — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Arozarena wins AL Rookie of the Year, finishing with 32 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Projected record: 93-69 (77.8% playoff odds)
Best case: Yordan Alvarez picks up where he left off in 2019, while Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa find their respective forms from that campaign as well. Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker matures into an All-Star-level hitter to fill George Springer‘s void in the lineup as the Astros again push into the mid-90s in the win column and back to the top of the AL West. — Doolittle
Worst case: Altuve’s 2020 season turns out to be more a signpost than a fluke, Correa struggles under the pressure of his walk season and the Astros have to dip further into their pitching depth than they would prefer. Houston ends up winning 84 games and misses the playoffs for the first time since 2016. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Let’s hope Yordan Alvarez’s knees stay healthy, because he hit .313/.412/.655 in 87 games as a rookie in 2019, showcasing the rare ability to hit for a high average along with with upper-deck power. He’s a big, intimidating presence in the batter’s box, one of those hitters you can’t keep your eyes off when he digs in. — Schoenfield
Projected record: 80-82 (19.2% playoff odds)
Best case: Toronto’s offseason emphasis on collecting veteran starters who can provide stable innings, and lots of them, pays off. The bullpen finds answers in the aftermath of losing Kirby Yates for the season. And the offense becomes one of the game’s best, most prolific and most fun to watch. The Jays take advantage of another injury-riddled Yankees squad, win 93 games and steal an AL East title. — Doolittle
Worst case: Marcus Semien is more 2020 than 2019. George Springer falters from the pressure of his new contract. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continues to hit a lot of hard groundouts. And the rotation turns out to be a mess, a situation exacerbated by a team defense that could hardly be worse if the players wore mason’s trowels rather than gloves. The Jays flop to 88 losses and leave everyone wondering what comes next. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: This is a tough one — a good sign for Blue Jays fans! We haven’t quite seen Home Run Derby Vladimir Guerrero Jr. show up in the regular season, but that might happen in 2021. Bo Bichette is going to be smoking line drives for the next 15 years. Teoscar Hernandez was a beast in 2020. But let’s go with new center fielder George Springer, who will set the tone from the leadoff spot with his power and energy. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Bichette and Guerrero both make the All-Star team — and this time Guerrero wins the Home Run Derby.
Projected record: 84-78 (28.4% playoff odds)
Best case: Juan Soto does what he did last year, only this time for 162 games. The Nationals remind everyone that even in 2021, it’s quite a luxury to roll out three legit aces every five days. The bullpen comes together behind Brad Hand. And the veteran-heavy position group comes together the way the 2019 title-winning Nats did. Washington rolls to 95 wins and reclaims the top spot in the NL East. — Doolittle
Worst case: Veteran savvy turns into a problem of too much age. Soto misses a chunk of time, and Trea Turner struggles out of concern about his long-term whereabouts. The mileage on the Nationals’ cadre of name-brand starting pitchers becomes a glaring issue. Washington looks tired and shiftless during an 88-loss season that suggests the rest of the NL East has passed it by. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: During a spring training game on ESPN, Tim Kurkjian asked Juan Soto if he gets more joy from a home run or a walk. Soto replied that he loves taking a two-strike pitch that’s just off the plate. Here’s the thing: In Soto’s case, that is exciting because it means he’s staring down the pitcher waiting for the next pitch — and it better be perfect, otherwise Soto is going to do some serious damage. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Soto leads the NL in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage for the second season in a row. He hits .345 with 43 home runs — just the fourth player in the past 20 years to hit at least .340 with 40 home runs (Miguel Cabrera in 2013, Albert Pujols in 2003 and Barry Bonds in 2002, 2003 and 2004).
Projected record: 90-72 (64.6% playoff odds)
Best case: Oakland’s elite defense backs the Athletics’ deepest, most stable rotation in years. Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal integrate into Bob Melvin’s back-of-the-bullpen mix to cover for the loss of Liam Hendriks. The Matts (Chapman and Olson) bounce back at the plate, joined by emergent star backstop Sean Murphy. And Elvis Andrus proves that the Rangers turned the page on him too soon. Oakland wins 97 games and holds off the Astros to repeat as AL West champs. — Doolittle
Worst case: With a less lively ball impacting teams all around baseball, the Athletics’ take-and-rake offense flounders. The new bullpen shuffle falls flat, and the rotation is pedestrian. The A’s are still a middling, 81-win team but are never a factor with the tough Astros and Angels battling it out in their division. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: If you love defense, tune in to Matt Chapman playing third base — as a bonus, maybe it will be one of those games when the A’s wear those glorious Kelly green tops. Chapman won Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting in 2018 and 2019, but suffered a hip injury and had surgery in 2020. He’s looked healthy in spring training, including making several of his signature throws from deep behind the bag. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: With the A’s scuffling at the trade deadline, Chapman is traded to the Mets in a shocking blockbuster that sends prospects Ronny Mauricio and Matthew Allan to Oakland.
Projected record: 83-79 (29.9% playoff odds)
Best case: With an elite defense, rotation and bullpen, the Brewers turn into a 2021 version of the 2020 Rays as a run-prevention juggernaut. Christian Yelich recovers his MVP form from 2018 and 2019, and that’s combined with a triumphant return season by Lorenzo Cain and a breakout campaign from Keston Hiura. Milwaukee wins 93 games and cruises to a division title. — Doolittle
Worst case: Yelich is more good than great, Cain loses a step after a year away and the offense ranks as one of baseball’s worst. Meanwhile, the bullpen disappoints, as Josh Hader shows some wear and tear before being traded and Devin Williams can’t repeat his devastating rookie season. The Brewers end up battling the Reds for third in the NL Central with 75 wins. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: OK, Christian Yelich had an inexplicable 2020 when he hit .205 and struggled with contact. More than any other player, however, you should write off his season and look back to 2018 and 2019. During those two years, he won two batting titles, led the NL in slugging both seasons, won an MVP award and hit 44 home runs and stole 30 bases in the season he didn’t win the MVP award. He will be back at full force in 2021. — Schoenfield
Doug Glanville previews the NL Central, with the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds and Pirates searching for the crown.
Projected record: 83-79 (27.4% playoff odds)
Best case: Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt spark a more balanced offense. The Cardinals play baseball’s best defense, and the young outfielder potpourri generates a sweet aroma. Meanwhile, the rotation overcomes spring uncertainty to provide stable bulk innings in front of a dynamic bullpen, as the Cardinals outman the Cubs and the Brewers in the NL Central. — Doolittle
Worst case: The outfield flops, and the Cardinals struggle for runs despite their new one-two offensive combo. The run prevention is fine, but everything St. Louis does in this area, the Brewers do better. The nightmare is completed when the demise of the Cubs proves to be highly exaggerated. St. Louis logs another winning season but misses the playoffs, and no one who can see the Gateway Arch is particularly satisfied. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: The Cardinals of recent vintage have been more about, umm, solid professional ballplayers who win games. It’s not exactly the Cardinal Way to flip bats. Newcomer Nolan Arenado will fit right in, but he also plays third base perhaps better than anyone in the history of the game, hits home runs and plays with an intensity level that will make him an instant fan favorite. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Arenado produces, but the Cardinals still struggle to score runs and finish 80-82 — their first losing record since 2007.
Jessica Mendoza previews the AL West, where Mike Trout and the Angels look to make a postseason appearance.
Projected record: 85-77 (38.8% playoff odds)
Best case: Mike Trout leaves no doubt about who is the best player in the game and is joined in the MVP chatter by Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani. That trio of stars is enough to boost a stable, healthy, league-average roster to 95 wins, enough to edge the Astros and Athletics for the AL West title. — Doolittle
Worst case: The Angels’ rotation can’t contribute either a quality or a quantity of innings, Trout looks like he’s lost a step and Ohtani suffers more injury woes. The Angels again limp to a losing season, as pundits start wondering if the Halos will ever contend while Trout is still a star player. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: With apologies to the BPIB (best player in baseball), the Shohei Ohtani bandwagon is back at full speed based on the two-way star’s electrifying spring training performance. Remember, Ohtani owned the headlines the first two months of the season in 2018 when he hit over .300 with power while posting a 3.10 ERA with dominant stuff. The Angels are still asking the impossible in expecting him to succeed at both, but let’s hope he can pull it off. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Ohtani follows up his big spring with a hot start in the regular season and ends up getting some MVP support after hitting .275 with 31 home runs and going 11-4 as a starter with a 3.68 ERA. He does not win MVP honors, however: That goes to teammate Mike Trout, who wins his fourth MVP trophy as the Angels get a wild-card playoff spot.
Projected record: 76-86 (7.1% playoff odds)
Best case: Dave Dombrowski knows his stuff. The Phillies’ horror-show 2020 bullpen turns out to be something you can watch without a blindfold in 2021. The rotation finds a quality third wheel behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. And Bryce Harper reminds everyone of why he was once projected as a perennial MVP candidate. The Phillies win 90 games and edge the Mets and Nationals for a wild card. — Doolittle
Worst case: The sum is still way less than the parts. Harper is fine but not transcendent. Alec Bohm commits 46 errors. And the team defense shows the range of your average foosball table. The Phils flop to 68 wins and a back seat to the Marlins in the East. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Sure, maybe Bryce Harper has been overhyped relative to his standing among the best players in the game, but he’s not exactly a player where you head to the bathroom when he’s coming up. Simply, he has that “it” factor: the presence, the hair, the energy, the cool cleats, the ability to play to the crowd. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Harper has a huge season with 44 home runs and .430 OBP, but it’s not enough to get the Phillies into the postseason (poor Joe Girardi has to churn through five different closers).
Projected record: 91-71 (70.6% playoff odds)
Best case: The Cubs’ offensive stars like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez return to producing like stars, and the revamped pitch-to-contact (by 2021 standards) rotation pairs perfectly with a strong defense. The Cubs take advantage of a soft division and win another NL Central crown, albeit with the worst mark among MLB’s first-place teams. — Doolittle
Worst case: The Cubs’ rotation turns out be the worst type of group for this era when the deadened ball turns out to be not that dead and the winds blow out at Wrigley most days. Meanwhile, the 2020 struggling hitters continue to flail, and the Cubs turn into aggressive sellers by the end of July. A golden era of Cubs baseball ends with an 85-loss flop. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: When we see all the kids at the Little League World Series name their favorite MLB player, Javier Baez always seems to receive the most votes. For a generation that connects to players via highlights, Baez is a human highlight reel from his spectacular plays in the field to his loud home runs and expressive joy. (Kids, just don’t use the same approach at the plate.) — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: The Cubs eventually sign Baez and Anthony Rizzo to long-term deals even if it comes after the 2021 season, but Kris Bryant is traded to the Nationals and Zach Davies to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline.
Projected record: 83-79 (29.6% playoff odds)
Best case: Even without Francisco Lindor, Cleveland once again churns out a top-10 rotation backed by a solid bullpen. Jose Ramirez puts up an MVP-level campaign, another hitter — perhaps Franmil Reyes — emerges to fill the offensive void opened up by the Lindor trade, and it all adds up to enough to hang tough in a three-team AL Central race with the Twins and White Sox. — Doolittle
Worst case: Ramirez is more good than great. Shane Bieber turns out to be the only standout in the rotation, as a leaky defensive outfield undermines the overall work of the pitching staff. Cleveland sinks to fourth in the AL Central, and the fan base is thoroughly discouraged in the aftermath of the departure of the face of the franchise. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Francisco Lindor received more national attention while they were teammates, but it was Jose Ramirez who finished third, third and second in the MVP voting over the past four seasons. He may lack Lindor’s flash in the field, but Ramirez hits home runs, steals bases and does it all from a physique that makes him one of the most unique, wonderful players in the majors. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Shane Bieber wins his second straight Cy Young Award, winning 19 games with a 2.35 ERA and striking out 273 batters.
Projected record: 79-83 (14.7% playoff odds)
Best case: J.D. Martinez finds his way back to his 2019 form and powers a resurgent offense to help the Red Sox hang in at just over .500 until the time Chris Sale returns. With Sale leading the pitching staff, Boston mounts a charge at 90 wins and challenges for a wild card. — Doolittle
Worst case: The Red Sox’s 2021 season looks pretty much like the 2020 season, only for a full six months. Martinez seems done. Sale’s injury rehab lingers, and Boston’s overall run prevention turns into a nightmare and leads to a fourth-place finish. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Rafael Devers hit .311 with 32 home runs while leading the American League in total bases (359) and doubles (54) in 2019. He got off to a slow start coming out of summer camp in 2020, but he’s still just 24 years old and his 2019 seasons was an indicator that he can be one of the best hitters in the game. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: How about a chase for 60 doubles? Devers becomes just the seventh player — and the first since 1936 — with 60 in a season.
Projected record: 77-85 (9.5% playoff odds)
Best case: The Reds’ defensive positioning efforts are able to overcome a lack of athleticism with their position group. Nick Senzel, Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson all look like future stars, and Cincinnati rides a strong rotation to 87 wins and an NL Central crown. — Doolittle
Worst case: The pitchers are undermined by horrific team defense. The offense flounders from a lack of elite production at any spot. And the bullpen implodes in a most unsavory manner. The Pirates keep the Reds out of the cellar, but 90-plus losses for a roster with a veteran flavor is demoralizing. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Luis Castillo is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers with a fastball that averaged 97.4 mph in 2020, which he combines with one of the best changeups around (batters hit .128 against in 2019 and .205 in 2020). He continues to improve each season and this could be the year he pitches himself into Cy Young contention. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Castillo becomes just the seventh pitcher to toss two no-hitters in one season, matching Johnny Vander Meer (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Virgil Trucks (1952), Nolan Ryan (1973), Roy Halladay (2010, his second one coming in the playoffs) and Max Scherzer (2015).
Projected record: 67-95 (0.7% playoff odds)
Best case: Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez and Sandy Alcantara lead a rotation that coalesces into the NL’s best. Jazz Chisholm gives dynamism to a lineup of average hitters and solid defenders. The plucky Marlins battle to 80 wins in a tough division and energize their fan base for the years ahead. — Doolittle
Worst case: Chisholm struggles as the Marlins continue to search for a young position player to emerge as as future star. Meanwhile, one or more of the young starters backslide or get hurt, and the Marlins lose 98 games and give back the gains they made with their faithful in last year’s surprise playoff run. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Sixto Sanchez has just nine career starts in the majors (including two in the postseason) and you always want to be careful about projecting a player several levels beyond what he’s currently established, but it’s impossible not to get excited about Sanchez’s upside. It starts with an upper-90s fastball — he averaged 98.5 mph on his four-seamer, although it does lack movement — and he also showed an outstanding changeup and command of a curveball and slider. He pitches with that little added flair and energy that makes him fun to watch as well. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Trevor Rogers actually ends up being the Marlins’ best rookie starter, winning 14 games with a 3.02 ERA and making the All-Star team.
Projected record: 78-84 (12.4% playoff odds)
Best case: Andrew Benintendi rediscovers the star path he once was on in Boston. Adalberto Mondesi breaks out with a 25-homer, 50-steal season that puts him in the MVP conversation. The rotation flourishes from depth and the ongoing infusion of recent early-round draft picks. Bobby Witt Jr. joins the party by June, pushing the Royals to a 90-win, wild-card season. — Doolittle
Worst case: Basically none of the above happens. Benintendi’s slide proves to be irreversible. Mondesi continues to be maddeningly inconsistent. The young starters can’t establish themselves. Witt remains a minor leaguer. Carlos Santana looks done, and the Royals end up dealing Jorge Soler at the deadline. K.C. flops to 95 losses, and questions about the efficacy of the Royals’ rebuild abound. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: There is still some question how good Adalberto Mondesi is or will be, but there is no doubt that he brings drama to the game with his speed. He stole 43 bases in 102 games in 2019 and 24 in 59 games in 2020, so it’s not out of the question he becomes the first player to steal 70 bases since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009. The issue: Will he get on base enough to steal that many? — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Jorge Soler proves his 2019 home run title was no fluke by leading the AL with 47 — one short of his own franchise record.
Projected record: 70-92 (1.2% playoff odds)
Best case: The Giants continue to engage in a bold rebuilding effort without bottoming out. That leaves their upside as mediocre, and in a league where mediocre likely leaves you out of wild-card contention, the short-term outlook is blah. But there are enough viable veterans on hand that given good health, San Francisco could push toward 80 wins. — Doolittle
Worst case: As for bottoming out … When your upside is the middle and you’ve got a lot of older players, it’s possible player- availability issues snowball and despite being a team in the tank, you do a good imitation of one. Worst case for the Giants would be finishing behind Colorado, which would translate to somewhere around 100 losses. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Is Mike Yastrzemski exciting? We know he’s really good, and that’s exciting. Yaz was a surprise as a 28-year-old rookie in 2019 and even better in 2020, when he hit .297/.400/.568 and was one of the best hitters in the league. Plus his grandfather is an all-time great, so that’s pretty fun. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Yastrzemski has a 7.2-WAR season, the highest total by a Giants player since Buster Posey in 2012 and the highest by a Giants outfielder since Barry Bonds in 2004.
Projected record: 75-87 (4.6% playoff odds)
Best case: Arizona looks solid on the run-prevention side. So if they can get a couple of bounce-back and/or breakout seasons at the plate, the Diamondbacks could mount a surprise run at the NL’s second wild card — if the NL East flops en masse. One breakout candidate among the batsmen is Josh Rojas, who has generated a lot of preseason buzz. — Doolittle
Worst case: The offense hits its lackluster projection, and what looks like a solid starting rotation doesn’t hold up. The D-backs end up as trade deadline sellers on their way to 90-plus losses. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Outfielder Tim Locastro was the fastest runner in the majors in 2020. He has a .365 OBP in his brief major league career, and he’s 26-for-26 stealing bases. I’d love to see the Diamondbacks play him regularly in the leadoff spot and let him go wild on the bases. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Ketel Marte bounces back to his 2019 form and becomes just the third Diamondbacks player with 100 runs and 100 RBIs in the same season (Luis Gonzalez in 2001, Paul Goldschmidt three times).
Projected record: 70-92 (1.7% playoff odds)
Best case: The Mariners planned for crowdsourcing their rotation this season, and this could be just the campaign where that helps as much competitively as developmentally. Any surprise Mariners push toward wild-card contention would involve a collective breakthrough by young guns like Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic, with Evan White perhaps joining them by finding another level at the plate. Even so, the upside for the M’s looks like the low-to-mid 80s in the win column. — Doolittle
Worst case: This season becomes one of growing pains for the pitching staff, and while the likes of Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield give reason for hope, Seattle struggles to prevent runs. Meanwhile, the strikeouts pile up for an offense that looks contact-challenged, and the Mariners lose 95-100 games on the way to a last-place finish. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: No disrespect to anybody who will appear on Seattle’s Opening Day roster — the Mariners have Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, and J.P. Crawford fields with flair and plays with enthusiasm — but Mariners fans eagerly await the official arrival of top prospect Jarred Kelenic. Maybe that will be Opening Day; more likely, May or June. It can’t come soon enough. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Ty France hits .337 and wins the American League batting title.
Projected record: 73-89 (4.3% playoff odds)
Best case: The Rangers see some young players plant their stake as future parts of the Texas core. Nate Lowe, Nick Solak, Leody Taveras, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Willie Calhoun, Kyle Cody, Dane Dunning are among those on the early big league roster to watch. If that happens and some of the youngish veterans like Joey Gallo and David Dahl go off, the Rangers can make a run at .500. — Doolittle
Worst case: With spring injuries hammering the Texas bullpen, you worry that a spate of early losses caused by blown leads spirals into a quick hole that a so-so rotation and a lineup that’s still too all or nothing can’t climb out of. The Rangers are evolving, but the progress would remain hard to spot in the midst of a 96-loss season. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: I will admit that Joey Gallo isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but holy cow does the ball go far when he connects. He has also turned himself into a very good right fielder — he was a deserving Gold Glove winner in 2020 — and if he can hit .253 like he did in 2019 (rather than the .181 he hit in 2020), he brings a lot of value with his power and walks. And did I mention the tape-measure home runs? — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Joey Gallo hits 45 home runs but finishes with a .205 average and sets the single-season strikeout record with 225, breaking Mark Reynolds’ mark of 223.
Projected record: 66-96 (0.5% playoff odds)
Best case: The young rotation comes together ahead of schedule, with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning looking like the second coming of Hudson, Zito and Mulder by the end of the season. Miguel Cabrera enjoys a resurgent season that takes him past 3,000 hits and 500 homers. AJ Hinch guides the Tigers to 78 wins and convinces Motown fans the trajectory arrow is pointed in the right direction for 2022. — Doolittle
Worst case: Stagnation. Cabrera struggles, yet his slow crawl to the milestones remains the most interesting thing going on at Comerica Park during another run at 100 losses. But the worst thing is the young starters struggle to establish themselves in the majors and top hitting prospect Spencer Torkelson flails in the minors. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Miguel Cabrera is 13 home runs from 500 and 134 hits from 3,000, but milestone chases themselves aren’t really all that exciting until the moment itself happens, and Cabrera hasn’t actually had a good season at the plate since 2016 (and, remarkably, still has three seasons left on his contract). Anyway, the best bet here is probably for one of the young starters to step up, or maybe Tigers fans should just go watch Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene in the minors. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: The Tigers call up Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and Matt Manning after the All-Star break and finish over .500 in the second half.
Projected record: 58-104 (0.0% playoff odds)
Best case: Brendan Rodgers, Ryan McMahon and Sam Hilliard emerge as solid support in the lineup for Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. The rotation continues to look like a foundation for the Rockies to build on. Story signs an extension to win back a modicum of goodwill from Rockies fans, though Colorado still finishes under .500. — Doolittle
Worst case: It all falls apart. Story is traded for pennies at the deadline. Blackmon begs to follow him out of town. The rotation struggles, the Rockies lose 110 games, everyone gets fired and the Monforts call John Elway to gauge his interest in a return to baseball. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Trevor Story is one of the best athletes and best all-around players in the sport, a power-hitting shortstop who led the NL in steals in 2020. He set a personal goal of going 30-30, which seems doable after cracking 37 and 35 home runs in 2018 and 2019 and stealing 15 bases in 59 games last season. The only question: Will all those numbers come with the Rockies? He’s a free agent after the season, so look for the Rockies to trade Story if they sputter. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: C.J. Cron finishes with more home runs than Nolan Arenado.
Projected record: 65-97 (0.4% playoff odds)
Best case: The upper end of the Orioles’ projection doesn’t get them to .500, but there is a 31% shot at escaping the cellar. If that happens and multiple young players establish themselves as future regulars, it will be a good season in Baltimore. — Doolittle
Worst case: Baltimore could well challenge for the top pick in the 2022 draft, so even a disastrous win total isn’t the worst-case scenario for the O’s. But if that is paired with a lack of progress by their top prospects, especially Ashley Rutschman, that would be bad news. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: Trey Mancini‘s comeback after missing 2020 due to colon cancer is certainly one of the most exciting and inspirational stories of 2021. He can also mash: He hit .291 with 35 home runs back in 2019. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Mancini hits 19 home runs by the All-Star break and represents the Orioles at the All-Star Game. Two days later, he gets traded to Cleveland.
Projected record: 63-99 (0.2% playoff odds)
Best case: The Pirates get promising news on their future core. Ke’Bryan Hayes becomes the NL Rookie of the Year. Mitch Keller starts to find himself. And the Pirates play with vigor despite a 104-loss season that puts them in the top slot of the 2022 draft. It’s certainly possible that the Bucs could overachieve, win 70 games and escape the NL Central cellar, where projections slot them 85% of the time, but would that really be a “best case” for this team? — Doolittle
Worst case: Well, it’s not the 1899 Spiders or the 1962 Mets or the 2003 Tigers, but if Hayes flops and the pitching staff ends up populated by AAAA arms, the Pirates could thread the needle in terms of losing 105-plus games while failing to establish any semblance of hope that things are going to get better. But they could still get that top draft pick. — Doolittle
Most exciting player: He has only been in the majors for a month, but Ke’Bryan Hayes has stardom written all over him: great range at third base, the ability to hit for average, the power to rack up doubles and more than a few home runs, the speed to leg out triples. He is leaner and more athletic than his father, Charlie, whom you might remember catching the final out of the 1996 World Series for the Yankees. — Schoenfield
Schoenfield’s bold prediction: Hayes not only wins NL Rookie of the Year when he hits .302 with 17 home runs, but he also snaps Nolan Arenado’s streak of eight straight Gold Gloves.