Justin Upton's tiebreaking homer capped a three-run rally in the eighth inning and the Los Angeles Angels, helped by a flyball that bounced off the head of Chicago center fielder Luis Robert, beat hot-hitting Yermin Mercedes and the White Sox 5-3 on Saturday night.
The World Series champions look set to repeat. Our writers run down the contenders and the best players to watch in the coming season The World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers are the team to beat in MLB this season. Photograph: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports One bold prediction Dog, if there were slightly larger bases, I would be all over MLB! , said no young would-be baseball fan, ever, at any time. Yet that s just one of a series of experiments set to take place in baseball s minor leagues as MLB brass continue their neverending search for fans under 50. Expect an announcement scrapping the obsolete 90 feet between bases in time for the 2022 season: the distance was never really right anyway. DL Trevor Bauer won t play out the season in Los Angeles. The 2020 Cy Young winner signed a three-year contract with the Dodgers and then immediately got into his usual trolling, this time adding throwing pitches with one-eye open (including one that hit a batter during spring training). If his production drops for some mysterious reason, don t be surprised if the Dodgers look into trading him. HF The Rays Randy Arozarena will be an MVP candidate and he ll be the AL Rookie of the Year. (Yes, he s still somehow a rookie.) After his borderline unthinkable performance in the postseason last fall, Arozarena will pick up where he left off, and opposing pitchers will still be no match for his swing. JN New York City will rule the baseball world this season. New York teams always receive extra attention from both the media and fans because, well, it s New York, but the Yankees and Mets will be among the best and most exciting in 2021. TF I m most excited by San Diego Padres president of baseball operations AJ Preller s seemingly endless wheeling and dealing brought even more blockbuster talent to San Diego this offseason. A refreshed rotation and a payroll up from 24th in 2019 to ninth in 2021 means a fascinating fight, finally, for the NL West divisional title. DL I ve hit the point in my life where there aren t many players around my age left in the league, so this season is about rooting for the veterans. This will likely be Albert Pujols s swan song, Adam Wainwright is hoping for one more dominant year with the St Louis Cardinals while Miguel Cabrera will be aiming for home run number 500. HF Fernando Tatis Jr will help the Padres take on the Dodgers. Photograph: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports Everything about the Padres. I hate that they re becoming a contender at the exact moment the Dodgers have a chokehold on the division and all of baseball but that doesn t mean I don t daydream about San Diego running away with the division thanks to huge seasons from Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. JN A new era is upon us in Flushing. After years of complaining about the Wilpons ownership, Mets fans have had their prayers answered thanks to Steve Cohen buying the team and adding multiple talented players, most notably the newly minted Francisco Lindor. TF MVP winners In the National League, Manny Machado feels like he s been around forever, yet he s only 28: this year his bat matures to an MVP level. In the American League, I have a theory: Mike Trout didn t want to play in 2020. He had his first child and was worn out. He hit .281, his worst batting average since his first full season in the bigs. Now that he s got the dad thing down he ll get back to bullying baseballs. DL In the AL, I m going with something old, Mike Trout, who has been the best player in baseball for a long time. In the NL, let s go with something new. Look for 22-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr to celebrates his 14-year, $340m contract with the San Diego Padres with a MVP season (and probably not his last). HF Mike Trout didn t win in 2020, which means he s due. There s no safer pick, but in the National League, I ll go out on a limb. Nolan Arenado is about to turn 30, he s never finished better than third in MVP voting, and he s facing the very real question of how much 82 games at Coors Field boosted his offensive stats. But he ll help the Cardinals secure the NL Central and put up big numbers in the process. JN Shohei Ohtani is set for a big season in Los Angeles. Dominant pitching and home runs should carry Ohtani to AL MVP, if he remains healthy. Fernando Tatis Jr may not pitch, but he is certainly the most exciting player in baseball. An electric arsenal of plays will elevate Tatis to the best player in the National League. TF Cy Young winners Jacob deGrom somehow appears to be getting better. Photograph: Mary Holt/USA Today Sports Yu Darvish finally bounced back in 2020, finishing second in the NL Cy Young race while pitching in Wrigley Field. Now in San Diego, something more of a pitcher s park, Darvish is more than capable of taking the trophy. The last time we saw Shane Bieber he was getting hammered by the Yankees in the AL wild card round. Such a stain has made it difficult to remember just how good he was in 2020: an ERA of 1.63, 122 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 77 innings. Bieber won t be that good again, but he won t need to be to earn back-to-back Cy Young wins. DL A New York sweep. In the AL, Gerrit Cole will rack up huge strikeout totals while benefitting from the Yankees offense behind him (which will help his case from the old-fashioned voters who still factor in pitcher wins). Meanwhile, the Mets Jacob deGrom will pitch his way towards his third NL Cy Young. HF If Jacob deGrom stays healthy, the NL Cy Young is his to lose. He keeps throwing harder every year, and though that s bound to level off, he still has the most overpowering arm in the game. In the American League, Lucas Giolito s changeup will keep flummoxing opponents. JN Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball and proves it year after year. DeGrom has even improved his fastball to 100mph to cause hitters even more headaches. Shane Bieber may not be the best pitcher in baseball, but he may be the best pitcher in the AL. Bieber had a historic 2020 season and similar numbers will elevate him to another Cy Young. TF AL East Less Gerrit Cole, what s so special about the Yankees starting pitching? Not a whole lot, and a rotation full of question marks in both performance and health brings forth just enough doubt. Instead, it s a wide open three-team race with the Jays and Rays. I like the Toronto Blue Jays to take a significant step in a surprising spring to the top. DL I spent a lot of time trying to pick someone else but the Yankees, but they have the combination of pitching and offense to make them the beast of the division and maybe the league. I m not happy about this either. HF The Yankees will win the division easily and make it to the World Series thanks in part to regression from the Rays. JN The AL East will be very competitive at the top due to big offseason moves by Toronto, and the Rays improving every year. However, the Yankees have too much fire power throughout their lineup and pitching rotation not to come out on top. TF AL Central In 1980, Tony La Russa managed Minnie Minoso, born 1925, for the Chicago White Sox. This season he will manage Luis Robert, born 1997, also for the Pale Hose. La Russa, now 76, has seen a lot of baseball. You won t find (m)any(one) who likes the hire, but he wins wherever he goes. DL What would be a better sign of a return to normal than the Minnesota Twins impressing during the regular season and then getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs? HF Between Giolito, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu and Luis Robert, the White Sox have one of the most fun teams in baseball. If Tony La Russa can still manage, this team can make a run. JN The White Sox have put together one of the better rosters in baseball. They have one of the top 1-2-3 rotations and their lineup should be able to survive missing Eloy Jimenez due to injury. TF AL West Shohei Ohtani is a rare threat with both bat and ball. Photograph: Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports If Shohei Ohtani pitches like an ace, and hits like a slugger, there s a bona fide chance that the Los Angeles Angels can do more than compete in a weakened AL West. This will be good news for Mike Trout, who would lose the playoff piano that s been on his back since his only postseason appearance, back in 2014. DL Houston Astros. It wouldn t be the postseason without the sport s biggest villains. I ll give the Angels a wildcard slot and a beatable opponent in the Tampa Bay Rays just so we get to see Trout in at least an ALDS. HF The Astros just keep winning, even without knowing anyone else s signs. That won t change in 2021, even without George Springer. JN Oakland may have the best defense in the league this year. This, combined with MLB again changing the ball in an attempt to create fewer home runs, should play to the A s strengths and allow them to overtake Houston as division champions. TF NL East How do you bet against the Atlanta Braves, who have occupied the top seat in the NL East for three straight seasons? You say that the Mets have a stacked lineup, something of an improved bullpen and a deeper rotation than last season. You note that Scherzer, Strasburg, Soto and Turner down in DC have a legitimate shot. And you point out that manager Don Mattingly has a full season to learn the names of his Marlins players. No matter. Braves win, again. DL Looking at this blindly, it feels like the New York Mets should be the favorite but, well, they are also the Mets. So, how about this compromise: the Mets win the division, the Braves go deeper into the playoffs as a wild card. HF The Braves have quietly won the NL East the past three seasons, and they came within a game of topping the Dodgers in the NLCS. They re well-rounded and will be just as good in 2021. JN New York and Atlanta will battle for the division all year, but even with Carlos Carrasco out injured for the start of the season, the Mets simply have too much pitching. The additions of Francisco Lindor and Brian McCann will be enough to ensure New York City has two division winners this season. TF NL Central The St Louis Cardinals added Nolan Arenado but the Milwaukee Brewers are probably the most well rounded team in the NL Central. The rotation is also solid - it s good enough in a so-so NL Central. DL The Cardinals, who could take advantage of a relatively weak division thanks to a rookie of the year campaign by outfielder Dylan Carlson. HF I said it earlier: Nolan Arenado will boost the Cardinals to the top of the Central, but they still won t have what it takes for a long postseason run. JN The Chicago Cubs have more star power in their lineup than any other team in the NL Central and come into this season with a revamped pitching rotation. Even if the new rotation struggles, Chicago should have enough firepower to win a relatively weak division. TF NL West This is the King Kong v Godzilla of divisional races. The Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off that elusive World Series title. The San Diego Padres added two huge pitching pieces to their stellar side while LA plussed a Cy Young winner in Trevor Bauer. A narrow edge goes to the incumbents in what should be a joy to watch. DL Unless they suffer a lot of injuries, the Dodgers are winning the division. It wouldn t be shocking if the Padres end up with a record that would make them the winner in practically any other division, but have to settle for a wildcard slot. HF As much as I want to pick the Padres here, the division still belongs to the Dodgers, at least for now. They ll take advantage of their deep stable of pitchers and the fact that Mookie Betts is locked up for years to edge San Diego. JN The Dodgers are still the best team in baseball and it s hard to argue otherwise. Forget having the most wins in the division, LA should easily have the most wins in baseball before making another deep playoff run. TF AL wild cards Yankees, A s. DL Angels, Rays. HF Twins, Rays. JN Twins, Rays. TF NL wild cards Mets, Padres. DL Padres, Braves. HF Mets, Padres. JN Padres, Braves. TF ALCS White Sox over A s, 4-2. DL Yankees over Astros, 4-3. HF Yankees over White Sox, 4-3. JN White Sox over Yankees 4-2. TF NLCS Dodgers over Mets, 4-2. DL Dodgers over Braves, 4-2. HF Dodgers over Padres, 4-2. JN Dodgers over Mets 4-3. TF World Series It s hard to see past another Dodgers celebration in October. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA Dodgers over White Sox, 4-1. It s a redux of the 1959 World Series with the Chicago White Sox facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. It also means Tony La Russa becomes the story and gets the last laugh by making the Fall Classic, even as the Dodgers take the series. DL Yankees over Dodgers, 4-3. If you replay this season 100 times you re going to get this World Series matchup at least 51 times. Let me throw a curveball here and say that New York manage to pull off the upset in a rousing, seven-game series. HF Dodgers over Yankees, 4-2. After breaking their 32-year drought last fall, the Dodgers will repeat. They re just too good. And this New York-LA matchup won t be a fun one, either. The Dodgers will win in six, and Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw will silence the Yankees bats. JN Dodgers over Yankees, 4-1. The Dodgers have depth across the board that no other team can match. Lastly, less physical and mental wear and tear due to last year s shortened season should eliminate any worries of a World Series hangover. TF
It's been nearly two full calendar years since we've had proper baseball in April, and Opening Day is truly cause for celebration given the uncertainty and absence of normalcy we've endured since last March.I've watched "Moneyball," "Fever Pitch," and "Field of Dreams" in the past 48 hours to get properly hyped.With all 30 teams in action on Opening Day, weather permitting, we have plenty to chose from on the betting front.Rangers (+140) @ Royals (-160)I know what you're thinking: "If I'm going to lay this much chalk, wouldn't I want to do it with a better team?" Sure, but the Royals are underrated coming into the 2021 season, while the Rangers will compete to be the worst team in MLB.How bad are the Rangers? Kyle Gibson is their Opening Day starter. He posted the third-worst FIP (5.39) among qualifying pitchers last season to go with the league's second-worst walk rate (4.01 BB/9) and a bottom-10 strikeout rate (7.75 K/9). Gibson's HR/9 rate was also the fifth highest in MLB. So he walks a lot of batters and gives up a lot of hard contact, which will have the Royals licking their chops.Kansas City has been raking all spring. While it's not a spectacular lineup, it's a deep one with very few weak spots. In spring training, Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, Carlos Santana, and Salvador Perez combined for 17 home runs and boasted impressive slash lines, while Whit Merrifield batted .372. The depth pieces also chipped in with strong numbers. Royals hitters should feast on the weakest pitcher taking the mound on Opening Day.That means plenty of run support for Brad Keller, who is built to frustrate weak lineups like the Rangers'. He doesn't miss many bats, but he has excellent command and induces a ton of soft contact, as evidenced by last season's terrific 52.8 GB% and 2.80 BB/9. It may seem like -160 is a lot to lay with the Royals, but they're going to surprise a lot of people this year.Pick: Royals (-160)White Sox (-120) @ Angels (+100)Everyone's favorite "sleeper" squad begins its season in Anaheim against an Angels team that believes it's finally well positioned to end its postseason drought. And what a pitching matchup we'll be treated to, with Lucas Giolito taking on Dylan Bundy.Giolito is a popular pick to win AL Cy Young this year, and while he's a phenomenal talent, I'm not fully sold on elevating him into that tier just yet. He finished last season with a 3.48 ERA while pitching one of the easiest schedules of any starter. All 12 of his games were against offenses ranked 19th or lower, and half of those were against teams in the bottom five. Bundy made six starts against lineups better than the toughest one Giolito faced all year and still ranked ninth among starters in FIP (2.95), five spots ahead of Giolito (3.19).Bundy was also better at both limiting walks and suppressing power, and while he didn't strike out as many batters, he was second only to Jacob deGrom in CSW% (34%), which supports his career-high 27% strikeout rate. Bundy isn't viewed as a legitimate ace because of how long he languished in Baltimore, but he's finally put it all together, and he deserves a lot more recognition for the pitcher he's become.Not only do the Angels measure up on the mound, they also hold a slight edge on offense. Their hitters have a collective WAR of 22.4, according to FanGraphs, compared to 19.1 for the White Sox. Chicago is also without Eloy Jimenez, leaving a gaping hole in an outfield that lacks depth. His injury puts a lot of pressure on youngster Luis Robert to pick up the slack, but Robert's struggles in the final third of last season carried into spring, where he slashed .214/.279/.339.Though the White Sox lineup is bursting with potential, there are some legitimate question marks. Meanwhile, the early returns for the Angels look promising. We know Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are going to rake, but a lot of this team's success will hinge on the supporting cast - especially the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton, who really struggled last season.Well, Ohtani slashed .548/.571/1.032 and Upton .364/.404/.727 in spring training. Things are shaping up nicely for the Angels, who look primed to get off to a quick start in what's a massive season for them.Pick: Angels (+100)Alex Moretto is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, loves a good highlights montage, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
You're here for predictions, not pleasantries. Actually, most of you are here to Ctrl+F your favorite team and slander us in the comments for not picking them to win the pennant.Either way, let's jump right in.AL East Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty Writer Best Bet C Jackson Cowart Blue Jays (+350) Alex Kolodziej Yankees (-200) Alex Moretto Rays (+400) Cowart: I can't say I buy all of the hype on this Blue Jays squad, which is markedly improved with George Springer, Marcus Semien, and a host of upside arms joining the fray. But I can't buy the Yankees at this price - they've rewarded bettors once in eight years despite often coming at a cost - and the Rays sold off too much talent to grab my attention.Kolodziej: Everyone's going to hit in the AL East, but the overall talent of the Yankees' pitching staff sets them apart. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are gone, and the Blue Jays will give 'em up faster than they can score. I don't like laying juice in the futures market, but I still think the price is short.Moretto: I'm avoiding the AL East altogether, but if I had to pick, give me the division's deepest pitching staff at 4-1 in a season where pitching depth could prove king.AL Central Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart White Sox (-140) Kolodziej Twins (+140) Moretto Royals (+4500) Cowart: I love everything about this White Sox team. Chicago's lineup is overflowing with MVP candidates, its rotation is the AL's best, and the bullpen is downright nasty with Liam Hendriks in tow. Only youth or injuries can derail a club this talented.Moretto: The Royals probably aren't going to win the AL Central, but pricing them alongside the Tigers is downright disrespectful. They're building a good team in Kansas City - the rotation is budding with potential and the lineup is deep, if not spectacular. With a ton of top prospects pushing their way through the system, the Royals' future could very well be now.AL West John McCoy / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Astros (+125) Kolodziej Athletics (+120) Moretto Astros (+125) Cowart: The baseball world has decided the Astros are about 20% worse than they actually are, which is reflected in nearly every market. Don't conflate 60-game slumps with post-cheating hangovers for Houston's lineup, which is still among the AL's best.Kolodziej: I'll admit it: The Athletics' lineup lost a bit of luster from last year and the pitching staff could turn out to be pretty volatile. However, the Astros lost pieces and the Angels, by the law of the baseball gods, aren't allowed to go over their win total.Find me at the doorstep of the PECOTA offices when Oakland goes 77-85.NL East Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Mets (+150) Kolodziej Nationals (+800) Moretto Braves (+120) Kolodziej: I'd be terrified every fourth or fifth day given the lack of depth in the Nationals' rotation, but the trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin is terrifying. Plus, Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell are welcome additions to a lineup that includes MVP favorite Juan Soto. 8-1 is criminal.Moretto: Another offseason, another healthy serving of blue and orange Kool-Aid for the public. I'll believe Steve Cohen can buy an NL East title when I see it.NL Central Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Brewers (+350) Kolodziej Reds (+350) Moretto Brewers (+350) Kolodziej: I hate picking the Cardinals to win the division more with each passing day. I'm going way out of left field and taking the Reds, who can't possibly be worse offensively than they were a season ago.Moretto: The Brewers have a pair of legitimate Cy Young contenders in the rotation, MLB's best bullpen, an elite defense, and a perennial MVP candidate anchoring a sneakily dangerous lineup. Is that good?NL West Ronald Martinez / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Padres (+200) Kolodziej Padres (+200) Moretto Padres (+200) Cowart: The Dodgers are a juggernaut, sure, but it isn't worth paying such a short price (-250) on any team to win its division with how injuries and luck can swing these races. San Diego can (almost) go toe-to-toe with L.A. at a much better price.AL pennant Jim McIsaac / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Indians (+1600) Kolodziej Yankees (+220) Moretto Astros (+750) Cowart: Elite pitching wins in the postseason, and few teams can boast the upside of an Indians rotation led by reigning Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and potential breakout stars in Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, and Triston McKenzie - who's my favorite dark horse to win the Cy Young. Cleveland's lineup is due for positive regression, too, which would turn this team from a long shot to a legitimate contender.NL pennant Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Brewers (+2200) Kolodziej Padres (+350) Moretto Brewers (+2200) Moretto: I don't want to get too chalky here, and the Brewers have the pitching to match up against anyone in a best-of-seven series.World Series Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Brewers (+5000) Kolodziej Yankees (+500) Moretto Astros (+2000) Cowart: Notice a trend here? Moretto and I are both high on the Brewers, who have everything you'd want from a potential World Series contender with the price of an also-ran. If Christian Yelich is even 90% as good as he should be and the rotation is firing on all cylinders - watch out.Kolodziej: The Yankees have been paper tigers for years, but the AL is theirs for the taking. All nine players in the order can top 20 homers, Gerrit Cole is the Cy Young favorite, and the bullpen, while strong, doesn't need to be perfect. It wouldn't be a huge payout, but I'll take the Bronx Bombers, who have an easy path through the pennant.Moretto: If you haven't caught on yet, I'm all-in on Houston this season. Mired by the drama of the cheating scandal, everything that could go wrong for the Astros last year did, and they were still a game away from the World Series. The lineup is lethal - welcome back, Yordan Alvarez - and the rotation is stacked with analytical darlings. You won't find a better team anywhere close to this price.AL MVP Jason Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Jose Ramirez (+1300) Kolodziej Matt Chapman (+1800) Moretto Jose Ramirez (+1300) Cowart: What if I told you someone who finished third in MVP voting in 2017 and 2018 before finishing second in 2020 - after leading the majors in fWAR (3.4), no less - was priced at 13-1 to win it this year? Ramirez continues to rake as he enters his prime. If he's the catalyst for a resurgent Indians offense, he'll be among the top finishers once again.NL MVP Joe Robbins / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Christian Yelich (+1300) Kolodziej Fernando Tatis Jr. (+900) Moretto Christian Yelich (+1300) Moretto: Yelich worked extensively over the winter with hitting coach Andy Haines, who said the slugger is back to looking like he did in 2018 and 2019 when he finished first and second in MVP voting. Sure, 2020 was bleak, but look at Yelich's three seasons in Milwaukee and tell me which one is the anomaly.AL Cy Young Daniel Shirey / Major League Baseball / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Kenta Maeda (+2000) Kolodziej Lucas Giolito (+500) Moretto Gerrit Cole (+300) Cowart: I explained my excitement for Maeda in greater detail in my Cy Young best bets piece, but here are the cliff notes: Maeda was a top-five pitcher in 2020 and dispelled the workload concerns that followed him from Los Angeles to Minnesota. He's an ace, and he deserves to be priced like one.Kolodziej: Giolito's finished in the top seven in Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons, and his team wasn't contending. With the Sox projected for close to 90 wins, he's a great look at 5-1.Moretto: It's a chalky price for such a volatile market, but Cole's biggest challengers - Bieber and Giolito - no longer have the luxury of pitching only against the AL and NL Central.NL Cy Young Adam Hunger / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Jack Flaherty (+1300) Kolodziej Jacob deGrom (+400) Moretto Jacob deGrom (+400) Cowart: Flaherty looked like the future face of baseball with his scintillating run to end the 2019 season before everything went wrong in 2020. I'm willing to chalk up his struggles to the Cardinals' long layoff and his inability to loosen up for his starts. Besides, his underlying stats were fine. He's legit.Kolodziej: This is a chalky pick, but nobody's been able to touch deGrom's stuff. Could you imagine what would happen if his team scored runs for him?Most home runs Tim Warner / Getty Images Sport / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Luis Robert (+4000) Kolodziej Eugenio Suarez (+2200) Moretto Yordan Alvarez (+2800) Cowart: How in the world is Robert priced this far down the board? He's got one of baseball's purest swings and he hit nine home runs in a 20-day stretch as a rookie before slumping to end the year. He's talented enough to sort through those issues and get back to mashing taters, especially at this price.Kolodziej: Suarez nearly bashed 50 homers a year ago and his home park ranked No. 1 in adjusted home runs. He's been in the 90th percentile in barrel rate each of the last two years, so let's take a flier on the Reds slugger.Most pitcher wins Rob Leiter / Major League Baseball / Getty Writer Best Bet Cowart Lucas Giolito (+1800) Kolodziej Jack Flaherty (+2200) Moretto Brandon Woodruff (+5500) Cowart: I love the White Sox and I love Giolito. This is like betting a poor man's deGrom with a better team at a better price. Sign me up.Kolodziej: If I started 10 games against the NL Central, I think I'd pick up a minimum of six wins.Moretto: Woodruff won 11 contests in 2019 despite barely pitching 120 innings, and he continued his dominance in the shortened 2020 season. His 3.12 FIP since 2018 is the eighth-best in baseball during that span, and he's backed by a strong supporting cast while pitching in a weak division. At 55-1, I'm sprinting to the window.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
AL West AL East NL West NL East NL CentralThe AL Central is quietly shaping up to be one of the more fascinating divisions in baseball this season. Two of the best teams in the Junior Circuit - the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins - will most likely be battling for divisional domination in what should be a fun and heated rivalry. But don't overlook the young Cleveland Indians or plucky Kansas City Royals, who both have their sights set on surprising the baseball world.Here's everything you need to know about the AL Central.Chicago White Sox Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty2020 record: 35-25 (T-2nd in AL Central)Payroll: $167MO/U win total: 83World Series odds: +12003-year trend: 2018 (4th); 2019 (3rd); 2020 (2nd)Highest projected WAR: Yasmani Grandal (4.5)X-factor: Nick MadrigalKey Injuries: Adam Engel, Eloy JimenezProspect to watch: Andrew Vaughn (MLB.com: No. 14)Winter report card: A-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Tim Anderson SS 2.2 2 Yasmani Grandal (S) C 4.5 3 Jose Abreu 1B 1.6 4 Yoan Moncada (S) 3B 3.0 5 Luis Robert CF 3.1 6 Adam Eaton (L) RF 1.3 7 Andrew Vaughn DH -1.1 8 Leury Garcia (S) LF 0.0 9 Nick Madrigal 2B 2.4 Bench PLAYER POS PROJ. WAR Jonathan Lucroy C 0.1 Danny Mendick IF 0.1 Zack Collins (L) C/1B 0.2 Nick Williams (L) OF 0.0 The White Sox offense's explosive core returns mostly intact. Anderson - a former batting champion - and Abreu - the reigning AL MVP - continue to serve as the anchors of this unit, while youngsters Moncada and Robert should continue to grow into even more powerful impact bats. But Chicago will be missing one major piece for most, if not all, of the year in Jimenez, who ruptured his pectoral muscle trying to steal a homer late in camp. Jimenez's bat will be replaced by that of Vaughn, who drew rave reviews with his spring performance. But that's a lot to put on the shoulders of a rookie first baseman who hasn't played above High-A and might have to learn to play left field on the fly.This White Sox lineup is talented enough to withstand Jimenez's injury, especially if Vaughn lives up to the hype, but the absence of their young slugger will significantly test the team's depth. Chicago still has a great group of hitters, but the margin for error just got thinner.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Lucas Giolito 172 4.05 Dallas Keuchel (L) 185 4.57 Lance Lynn 191 4.21 Dylan Cease 133 4.67 Carlos Rodon (L) 116 4.78 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Liam Hendriks 68 3.34 Aaron Bummer (L) 62 3.30 Evan Marshall 60 4.12 Garrett Crochet (L) 53 2.76 Codi Heuer 58 3.99 Matt Foster 56 4.52 Nik Turley (L) 23 4.48 Michael Kopech 109 4.30 The White Sox added Lynn via trade to complete a very talented trio atop the rotation, alongside Giolito and Keuchel. Giolito came into his own last year and should continue to grow into the ace of this staff. Both Lynn and Keuchel help as steady innings-eaters, and that's important considering the club's No. 4 and 5 starters are a bit weaker.Hendriks, the reigning AL Reliever of the Year, was Chicago's biggest free-agent acquisition and will be a huge boost as the anchor of the bullpen. Crochet, the 11th overall pick in last June's draft, will be the unit's most important left-hander. Keeping Kopech in the bullpen is wise for now, seeing as he hasn't pitched since 2018.Cleveland Indians Jason Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 35-25 (T-2nd)Payroll: $62.7MO/U win total: 86World Series odds: +35003-year trend: 2018 (1st); 2019 (2nd); 2020 (2nd)Highest projected WAR: Shane Bieber (5.3)X-factor: Zach PlesacKey Injuries: Cam HillProspect to watch: Triston McKenzie (MLB.com: No. 51)Winter report card: C-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Cesar Hernandez (S) 2B 1.7 2 Eddie Rosario (L) LF 1.6 3 Jose Ramirez (S) 3B 5.1 4 Franmil Reyes DH 1.4 5 Josh Naylor (L) RF 1.0 6 Jake Bauers (L) 1B 0.3 7 Roberto Perez C 1.6 8 Andres Gimenez (L) SS 1.3 9 Ben Gamel (L) CF 0.1 Bench PLAYER POS PROJ. WAR Austin Hedges C 0.9 Amed Rosario SS/OF 1.2 Jordan Luplow OF 0.6 Yu Chang IF 0.0 Even with Ramirez still holding steady at third base, this lineup took a monumental hit when the team traded Francisco Lindor. Still, there are some potential bright spots here beyond Ramirez. Naylor - part of the return for Mike Clevinger last summer - is the young outfielder Cleveland's been seeking for several years and is looking to build on his brief but outstanding performance in the wild-card series. The powerful Reyes brings some huge punch to the middle of the order, while Eddie Rosario - a free-agent signing - owns stellar career numbers at Progressive Field.Center field is a glaring weak spot for this lineup. Gamel - a veteran left-handed bat - and Rosario - a shortstop by trade - are likely to share the position. Both players have defensive issues in center, and Rosario's been learning the outfield on the fly. Youngsters Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer were candidates for the center-field job, but both struggled in spring training.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Shane Bieber 195 3.27 Zach Plesac 158 4.73 Aaron Civale 144 4.70 Triston McKenzie 127 4.66 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA James Karinchak 64 3.37 Nick Wittgren 66 4.50 Emmanuel Clase 60 3.58 Bryan Shaw 52 4.96 Phil Maton 58 4.09 Oliver Perez (L) 46 4.51 Cal Quantrill 131 4.76 Trevor Stephan 32 4.55 Logan Allen (L) 115 4.74 Bieber alone makes this a rotation to watch, but this campaign also marks the beginning of a new era for Cleveland pitching after Carlos Carrasco's departure in the Lindor trade. Plesac made great strides last year (when he wasn't running afoul of COVID-19 protocols), making him a solid sidekick for Bieber. Youngsters McKenzie, Allen, and Cal Quantrill are the wild cards. McKenzie impressed in his brief debut stretch last year. Quantrill - also part of the Clevinger trade - was thought of as the favorite to win the fifth starter job. However, his spring struggles opened the door for Allen, who had a stellar Cactus League run.The bullpen is a bit of a mixed bag, but one bright spot is Karinchak, who struck out 53 batters in 27 innings last year. Karinchak's officially the ace of this unit. Clase, the key return for Corey Kluber, returns after serving a season-long suspension for PEDs, and he will also likely play a big role in Cleveland's bullpen. Stephan, a Rule 5 Draft pick, secured his spot with a solid spring performance.Detroit Tigers Quinn Harris / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 23-35 (5th)Payroll: $96.145MO/U win total: 67World Series odds: +125003-year trend: 2018 (3rd); 2019 (5th); 2020 (5th)Highest projected WAR: Matthew Boyd (2.4)X-factor: Casey MizeKey Injuries: Spencer TurnbullProspect to watch: Mize (MLB.com: No. 11)Winter report card: B-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Robbie Grossman (S) LF 1.1 2 Jeimer Candelario (S) 3B 1.9 3 Willi Castro (S) SS 1.6 4 Miguel Cabrera DH 0.5 5 Jonathan Schoop 2B 1.2 6 Nomar Mazara (L) RF 0.5 7 Wilson Ramos C 1.3 8 Niko Goodrum (S) 1B 0.1 9 JaCoby Jones CF 0.1 Bench PLAYER POS PROJ. WAR Grayson Greiner C 0.0 Akil Baddoo (L) OF -0.6 Victor Reyes (S) OF 0.5 Harold Castro (L) IF/OF -0.1 The Tigers are still rebuilding - and it shows. Veterans Ramos, Grossman, Nunez, and Mazara are the exact kind of low-cost free-agent pickups a team in Detroit's position should make, and they'll end up being critical to the club's offensive success. Willi Castro and Candelario will ideally build on their successful 2020 campaigns and continue to develop into key pieces of the Tigers' future.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Matthew Boyd (L) 172 4.49 Julio Teheran 102 5.97 Tarik Skubal (L) 127 4.37 Jose Urena 127 5.22 Casey Mize 97 5.05 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Gregory Soto (L) 63 4.21 Bryan Garcia 64 4.89 Buck Farmer 61 4.74 Jose Cisnero 56 4.37 Daniel Norris (L) 78 4.21 Derek Holland (L) 53 4.45 Michael Fulmer 116 4.89 Tyler Alexander (L) 36 4.25 A lot of these pitchers are simply keeping spots on the staff warm for the youngsters on the way. Boyd - one of the last vestiges from the David Price trade - remains atop the rotation, while Detroit could deal the likes of Fulmer, Urena, and Teheran to contenders if they perform. The bullpen is an assortment of names befitting from a rebuild.The real fun will be watching the Tigers' prized young arms progress over the course of 2021. Mize, one of baseball's top pitching prospects, and Skubal both struggled in their first tastes of the majors last summer. The pair made the rotation out of spring and will get every opportunity to continue their progress at the highest level. Another top prospect in Matt Manning is also on the way, but he might need more time in the minors after not pitching in 2020. The future of Detroit's rotation is very bright, even if the short-term growing pains are difficult.Kansas City Royals Jamie Squire / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 26-34 (4th)Payroll: $104MO/U win total: 71World Series odds: +110003-year trend: 2018 (5th); 2019 (4th); 2020 (4th)Highest projected WAR: Adalberto Mondesi (2.5)X-factor: Andrew BenintendiKey Injuries: NoneProspect to watch: Bobby Witt Jr. (MLB.com: No. 7)Winter report card: A-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Whit Merrifield 2B 1.5 2 Andrew Benintendi (L) LF 1.4 3 Adalberto Mondesi (S) SS 2.5 4 Carlos Santana (S) 1B 1.6 5 Salvador Perez C 2.4 6 Jorge Soler DH 1.3 7 Hunter Dozier 3B 1.1 8 Kyle Isbel (L) RF 0.0 9 Michael A. Taylor CF 0.1 Bench PLAYER POS PROJ. WAR Cam Gallagher C 0.3 Ryan McBroom 1B/OF -0.1 Hanser Alberto 2B/3B 0.4 Jarrod Dyson (L) OF 0.1 If the Royals live up to the billing as a pesky, surprising team in 2021, it will largely be thanks to a revamped offense. Veteran first baseman Santana was a shrewd signing whose on-base skills will fit nicely in the middle of the lineup. Benintendi, who was picked up in a trade, might be in the perfect spot to try and revitalize his career after a couple of tough seasons in Boston. The 26-year-old has never been a natural power hitter, so he'll likely enjoy Kauffman Stadium's inviting gaps. Longtime Royals contributors Merrifield, Perez, and Dozier round out what might be this division's most fascinating offensive unit.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Brad Keller 166 4.73 Mike Minor (L) 178 4.55 Brady Singer 137 4.40 Danny Duffy (L) 157 4.73 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Greg Holland 58 4.57 Josh Staumont 63 4.09 Scott Barlow 65 3.96 Jesse Hahn 56 4.12 Kyle Zimmer 55 4.58 Wade Davis 53 5.10 Richard Lovelady (L) 40 4.29 Jake Newberry 40 4.95 Jakob Junis 108 4.77 A lot of the Royals' potential success hinges on their pitching staff's performance. Veteran starters Duffy and Minor will only give you so much, and they'll need help from some youngsters. Singer is a core piece of this staff long term and showed flashes of brilliance last summer. Left-hander Kris Bubic will start in the minors after a rough spring but should be back before long, but Kansas City will go with a four-man rotation in the interim. Zimmer, a former first-round pick, is now in the bullpen but could still impress enough to jump back into the rotation. The Royals are also hoping Holland and Davis - who formed a commanding duo for the franchise during their playoff runs from 2014-15 - can find some of that old magic in 2021.Minnesota Twins Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty2020 record: 36-24 (1st)Payroll: $145MO/U win total: 91World Series odds: +18003-year trend: 2018 (2nd); 2019 (1st); 2020 (1st)Highest projected WAR: Josh Donaldson (3.2)X-factor: Byron BuxtonKey Injuries: None Prospect to watch: Alex Kiriloff (MLB.com: No. 26)Winter report card: B-Projected Lineup ORDER PLAYER POS. PROJ. WAR 1 Max Kepler (L) RF 3.0 2 Josh Donaldson 3B 3.2 3 Nelson Cruz DH 1.4 4 Miguel Sano 1B 1.3 5 Jorge Polanco (S) 2B 2.2 6 Byron Buxton CF 3.1 7 Jake Cave (L) LF 0.2 8 Mitch Garver C 1.3 9 Andrelton Simmons SS 2.9 Bench PLAYER POS PROJ. WAR Ryan Jeffers C 1.6 Luis Arraez (L) IF/OF 2.3 Willians Astudillo C/IF/OF 0.1 Kyle Garlick OF -0.1 This much we know: The Twins are going to hit home runs. The Bomba Squad pretty much returns its entire powerful offense for 2021. Alex Kiriloff - Minnesota's top prospect who made his big-league debut in the wild-card series last September - was presumably Eddie Rosario's replacement in left field until being optioned to the minors following a dreadful spring. The club will likely recall Kiriloff at some point this season, but until then it'll be mix-and-match in left with some combination of Cave, Garlick, Brent Rooker, and maybe Astudillo. Garver struggled last year, but it's hard to know what to make of that result in the shortened campaign. Even if Garver finds his stroke again, he'll likely split time behind the plate with Jeffers. Donaldson is another important cog, despite a wonky calf limiting him in 2020. As he goes, so might the Twins.Projected Rotation PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Kenta Maeda 172.0 4.28 Jose Berrios 178.0 4.24 Michael Pineda 159.0 4.65 J.A. Happ (L) 135.0 4.72 Matt Shoemaker 108.0 4.76 Bullpen PITCHER PROJ. IP PROJ. ERA Alex Colome 65.0 4.51 Taylor Rogers (L) 64.0 3.56 Tyler Duffey 62.0 4.00 Cody Stashak 58.0 4.48 Caleb Thielbar (L) 56.0 4.48 Hansel Robles 54.0 4.70 Jorge Alcala 45.0 4.46 Randy Dobnak 115.0 4.69 Maeda proved to be everything Minnesota hoped for and then some in 2020. While he did prove that he can start full time, he still hasn't done that during a 162-game season. The rotation behind him is solid enough to keep this outfit in contention. Shoemaker was very good in Toronto when healthy and could give the Twins great value if he pitches to his abilities and stays off the injured list.Minnesota also added some big arms to the bullpen in Colome and Robles. Both right-handers have experience closing. Combined with lefty Taylor Rogers, the duo gives manager Rocco Baldelli multiple weapons in the late innings. This is not a unit to take lightly.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.