2021 MLB Season Preview For All 30 Teams
After the most unique season in Major League Baseball history, the game will be significantly more familiar in 2021.
Each team will play 162 games. There will be no DH in the National League. Teams will have to strategize not for just a two-month sprint, but for the full six-month grind of a major league season. Fans, at least partially, will be back in the stands.
This season, for all intents and purposes, marks a return to the traditional rhythms and routines of MLB. While there will certainly be challenges, particularly with the coronavirus pandemic still present across North America and the unknown effects of going from 60 games to 162 on player health, the uncertainties and difficulties of the 2020 season appear—hopefully—to be a thing of the past.
Here are team-by-team breakdowns ahead of the 2021 season, including the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every team. Teams are listed in order of predicted finish as voted on by Baseball America staff members. Capsules are written by Kyle Glaser.
All roster information is through March 28.
* signifies players returning after opting out of the 2020 season
National League West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Best Case Scenario: Armed with baseball’s top offense, best pitching staff and deepest roster, the Dodgers steamroll everyone and break the MLB record of 116 wins in a season. They meet the Astros in the World Series and sweep them, capped by LHP Clayton Kershaw throwing a shutout in the clincher.
Worst Case Scenario: Previous injuries to Kershaw (back), RHP Walker Buehler (blisters), LHP Julio Urias (shoulder), 1B Cody Bellinger (shoulder), SS Corey Seager (back/elbow/hip) and 3B Justin Turner (hamstring) flare up, knocking the Dodgers back just enough for the Padres to overtake them in the division. The Dodgers still win 90-plus games and get a wild card.
Next First-Time All-Star: C Will Smith
2. San Diego Padres
Best Case Scenario: The Padres’ offseason additions give them enough firepower to hang with the Dodgers all season in the NL West. They overtake the Dodgers for first place with a dramatic sweep in the season’s final week, beat the Dodgers again in the NLDS and go on to win their first World Series.
Worst Case Scenario: “Slam Diego” loses its punch as OF Wil Myers, 1B Eric Hosmer and others revert to their pre-2020 form while LHP Blake Snell, RHP Dinelson Lamet and RHP Joe Musgrove—all of whom have had arm injuries in the last two years—struggle to stay healthy. The Padres still post a winning record, but fall just short of the NL’s second wild card spot.
Next First-Time All-Star: SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
3. San Francisco Giants
Best Case Scenario: OFs Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson and 2B Donovan Solano sustain their breakouts over 162 games, giving the Giants enough offense to remain competitive and keep their young prospects from being rushed. They post their first winning season in five years and finish comfortably in third place.
Worst Case Scenario: RHPs Johnny Cueto, Aaron Sanchez and Anthony DeSclafani continue to struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness. With few pitching reinforcements behind them, the Giants finish in fourth place and make no discernible progress in their rebuild.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Mike Yastrzemski
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Best Case Scenario: LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Luke Weaver and 2B/OF Ketel Marte rediscover their 2019 form, giving the D-backs a sneaky good rotation and an improved offense. They stay in the race for the second NL wild card spot until the end and finish with a winning record for the fourth time in five years.
Worst Case Scenario: Bumgarner’s decline accelerates and Marte’s 2019 becomes solidified as a fluke. With the team stuck in neutral, OFs David Peralta and Kole Calhoun, 1B Christian Walker and RHP Merrill Kelly are traded at the deadline and the D-backs pivot into a long, multi-year rebuild.
Key Losses: RHP Junior Guerra
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Zac Gallen
5. Colorado Rockies
Best Case Scenario: LHP Kyle Freeland, RHP Jon Gray and RHP Antonio Senzatela find consistency and Colorado’s young infielders blossom with consistent playing time at one position. The Rockies don’t come close to the playoffs, but show enough promise that Trevor Story signs an extension.
Worst Case Scenario: The bad versions of Freeland and Gray resurface and the Rockies young infielders continue to struggle, leaving them with an underperforming rotation and a bad lineup. They post the worst record in the NL and watch Story leave at the end of the year. Nolan Arenado, with his entire salary being paid by Colorado, wins NL MVP.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP German Marquez
National League Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
Best Case Scenario: 3B Nolan Arenado returns to his pre-2020 form and provides the offensive boost needed. With a resurgent lineup, elite defense and the deepest pitching staff in the division, the Cardinals cruise to the NL Central title as Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt receive MVP votes, RHP Jack Flaherty wins the Cy Young Award and OF Dylan Carlson wins Rookie of the Year.
Worst Case Scenario: With RHPs Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas and LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim already out, the Cardinals pitching injuries continue to pile up and their depth thins quickly. Arenado helps the offense, but not enough to overcome other holes in the lineup as St. Louis finishes second in the division behind the Brewers. Randy Arozarena and Luke Voit finish 1-2 in AL MVP voting.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Jack Flaherty
2. Milwaukee Brewers
Best Case Scenario: OF Christian Yelich and 1B Keston Hiura have bounceback years, giving the Brewers enough offense to support their pitching staff. With RHPs Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes continuing to pitch like aces, the Brewers climb past the Cardinals and win the division title.
Worst Case Scenario: The Brewers bullpen can’t maintain its same level of dominance over a 162-game season and tires out by mid-summer. With a shallow rotation and a mid-tier offense, the Brewers hover around .500 and never really figure into the playoff picture.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Corbin Burnes
3. Chicago Cubs
Best Case Scenario: 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez rediscover their MVP-caliber form with a return to normal, giving the Cubs enough offense to overcome any pitching difficulties and return to the postseason. Bolstered by the return of fans and postseason revenue, the Cubs re-sign Baez, Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo.
Worst Case Scenario: The starting rotation behind RHPs Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies collapses and the bullpen remains a persistent problem, preventing the Cubs from ever really competing. Out of the race by July, the Cubs trade Hendricks, Bryant, Baez, Rizzo and C Willson Contreras at the deadline and embark on a full rebuild.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Ian Happ
4. Cincinnati Reds
Best Case Scenario: Even after losing Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, the Reds rotation remains strong with RHPs Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo at the front. OF Nick Senzel and rookie 2B Jonathan India take the offensive jumps expected, giving the club enough thump to post a winning record and hang on the edge of wild card contention.
Worst Case Scenario: Gray, LHP Wade Miley and RHP Tejoy Antone continue to struggle with injuries and the defense proves ghastly with Eugenio Suarez at shortstop and Senzel in center field. With little depth to call upon, the Reds go into a tailspin and finish a distant fourth in the division.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Nick Senzel
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
Best Case Scenario: Ke’Bryan Hayes wins NL Rookie of the Year while OF Bryan Reynolds and RHP Mitch Keller assert themselves as players to build around. The Pirates finish in last place, but with the No. 1 overall pick and steps forward from many of their young players, a path back to competitiveness becomes visible.
Worst Case Scenario: 1B Josh Bell and RHP Joe Musgrove become the latest ex-Pirates to flourish after being traded away, while Hayes, Keller and Reynolds regress in the majors and Pittsburgh’s prospects underwhelm. The Pirates sell low on their few tradable players at the deadline and struggle to get to 50 wins, making no discernible progress in their rebuild.
Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes
National League East
1. Atlanta Braves
Best Case Scenario: RHP Mike Soroka, LHP Max Fried and RHP Ian Anderson do their best Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz impression and lead the Braves to the NLCS, where they overcome a 3-1 deficit to beat the Dodgers and advance to the World Series. Down 2-0 to the Yankees in the World Series, they reel off four straight wins to claim their first championship since 1995.
Worst Case Scenario: Soroka’s injury woes continue and Anderson regresses in his second season. The bullpen becomes a problem after losing key members in the offseason, blowing critical games that cost the Braves down the stretch as they finish in third place and out of the playoffs.
Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Max Fried
2. New York Mets
Best Case Scenario: Francisco Lindor electrifies New York as a loaded Mets offense scores more runs than any team in the NL but the Dodgers. RHPs Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard make successful returns to give the Mets an equally fearsome rotation, helping them win the NL East and go deep into the postseason. Lindor signs a long-term extension to remain a Met.
Worst Case Scenario: The Mets suffer their annual pitching injuries as Stroman and RHPs Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker struggle to stay healthy and Syndergaard suffers a setback in his rehab. RHP Edwin Diaz regresses to his 2019 form, leaving the Mets so pitching-deficient they finish under .500 and in fourth place despite a high-scoring offense.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Dominic Smith
3. Washington Nationals
Best Case Scenario: A busy offseason pays dividends as the Nationals emerge deeper and more well-rounded than last year’s club. A healthy return from RHP Stephen Strasburg again gives the Nationals a fearsome rotation trio and elevates them over the Braves and Mets for the division title. OF Juan Soto wins the Triple Crown and NL MVP.
Worst Case Scenario: Injuries continue to afflict Strasburg while the rest of the Nats’ veterans show their best days are behind them. OF Victor Robles, 3B Carter Kieboom and 2B Luis Garcia fail to make any progress offensively, giving the Nationals few players to support Soto. Following a fourth-place finish, SS Trea Turner leaves as a free agent after the season.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Victor Robles
4. Philadelphia Phillies
Best Case Scenario: The additions of RHP Archie Bradley, LHP Jose Alvarado, and RHP Brandon Kintzler fix the bullpen, allowing strong performances from the Phillies lineup and starting rotation to hold up. The Phillies post their first winning record since 2011 and claim the NL’s second wild card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: The Phillies score plenty of runs, but the back of the rotation proves problematic and the bullpen, while improved, still blows too many games. The Phillies stay respectable, but in a tough NL East, they fail to post a winning record for a 10th consecutive season.
Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Alec Bohm
5. Miami Marlins
Best Case Scenario: Led by RHPs Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez, the Marlins hold down opposing offenses and become a persistent headache for opponents. Even with a middle-of-the-pack offense, they win enough one-run games to finish with a winning record for the second straight year.
Worst Case Scenario: An unproven bullpen blows games en masse to ruin any thought of short-term success, while OFs Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison and SS Jazz Chisholm make no progress on their contact issues and dampen the franchise’s dreams of long-term success. The Marlins finish in last place and trade Alcantara for another toolsy prospect with swing-and-miss issues.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Sixto Sanchez
Yankees, Mariners DSL Teams Combine For One Of The Wildest Box Scores You'll See
The two teams combined for 43 runs in a game that took more than six hours.
American League West
1. Houston Astros
Best Case Scenario: The return of DH Yordan Alvarez and a breakout season from OF Kyle Tucker help the Astros withstand the loss of George Springer and cruise to the AL West title. The Astros beat the Yankees in the ALCS and the Dodgers in the World Series, showing they can win without illicit help and giving Dusty Baker his first championship.
Worst Case Scenario: 2B Jose Altuve, 3B Alex Bregman and SS Carlos Correa fail to bounce back from their poor 2020s and the young pitchers in the rotation can’t maintain their excellence over a full 162-game season. The Astros finish under .500 for the second straight year and Correa leaves as a free agent after the season.
Next First-Time All-Star: DH Yordan Alvarez
2. Oakland Athletics
Best Case Scenario: The A’s work their magic again and remain competitive despite their free agent losses. With a strong pitching staff and just enough offense, they beat the Astros for the division title on the final day of the season and beat them again in the playoffs to advance to the ALCS. After the season, the A’s finally break ground on a new ballpark.
Worst Case Scenario: Just as after the 2014 season, the A’s offseason losses prove too much to bear as they tumble down the standings. After their first losing season in four years, the A’s trade 3B Matt Chapman and 1B Matt Olson and start yet another rebuild. Meanwhile, the latest stadium proposals go nowhere.
Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Jesus Luzardo
3. Los Angeles Angels
Best Case Scenario: RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani and the rest of the Angels rotation finally stays healthy, giving the high-scoring offense enough support for the Angels to snag a wild card spot. Mike Trout hits .400 in his postseason return as the Angels advance to the ALCS.
Worst Case Scenario: Ohtani, RHP Griffin Canning and LHP Andrew Heaney get hurt again while RHP Alex Cobb and LHP Jose Quintana prove to be the club’s latest ineffective rotation additions. Paired with a horrendous showing from the bullpen, the Angels once again have nowhere near enough pitching and suffer their sixth straight losing season.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani
4. Seattle Mariners
Best Case Scenario: The Mariners never sniff a winning record, but a standout sophomore season from OF Kyle Lewis, progress at the plate from SS J.P. Crawford and 1B Evan White and a strong rookie campaign from OFs Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic push them in the right direction toward ending the longest playoff drought in North American sports.
Worst Case Scenario: Lewis’ performance aligns more closely with the second month of 2020 than the first, while Crawford, White and Trammell fail to answer questions about how much offense they can realistically provide. Not only do the Mariners finish in last place, but their future outlook becomes muddled as their young hitters underperform and their young pitchers continue to be volatile.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Kyle Lewis
5. Texas Rangers
Best Case Scenario: The offseason additions of OF David Dahl, 1B Nate Lowe and RHP Dane Dunning pan out, giving the Rangers an improved core of young big leaguers to work with. They finish in fourth place and well below .500, but with a rebound season from OF Joey Gallo and the rise of 3B Josh Jung and C Sam Huff, the outline of a productive lineup starts to take shape.
Worst Case Scenario: The Rangers rotation posts the worst ERA in the American League while Gallo, 2B Rougned Odor and OF Leody Taveras fail to hit .220. With too many strikeouts on offense and nowhere near enough pitching, the Rangers post the worst record in the AL for the second consecutive season.
Editor's Note: The Rangers designated Odor for assignment shortly after publication of this story.
Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Josh Jung
American League Central
1. Chicago White Sox
Best Case Scenario: SS Tim Anderson and 3B Yoan Moncada deliver MVP-type seasons and RHP Lucas Giolito wins the AL Cy Young Award, propelling the White Sox to the AL Central crown. OF Eloy Jimenez returns in time for the postseason and pushes the White Sox over the top and into the World Series, where they beat SS Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres in six games.
Worst Case Scenario: DH Andrew Vaughn proves not quite ready while OF Luis Robert and 2B Nick Madrigal experience sophomore slumps, leaving the White Sox’s offense more good than great when coupled with the loss of Jimenez. The White Sox finish second behind the Twins in the division, but still snag a wild card spot.
Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Yoan Moncada
2. Minnesota Twins
Best Case Scenario: The Bomba Squad continues to pummel opponents into submission as the Twins cruise to their third straight division title. They overcome their postseason demons by beating the Yankees in the ALDS and take down the division-rival White Sox in the ALCS, reaching the World Series for the first time since 1991.
Worst Case Scenario: Veterans RHP Michael Pineda, LHP J.A. Happ and RHP Matt Shoemaker struggle to stay healthy, hollowing out the back of the rotation and giving the White Sox enough room to overtake the Twins in the division title race. The Twins still make the playoffs as a wild card, but fall in the one-game playoff as their postseason losing streak continues.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Alex Kirilloff
3. Cleveland Indians
Best Case Scenario: The Indians’ pitching development machine ensures they still have one of baseball’s best rotations. Even with a middling offense, the rotation and bullpen are strong enough to lift the Indians to their ninth straight winning season and the AL’s second wild card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: OF Josh Naylor, 1B Jake Bauers and SS Andres Gimenez fail to take the offensive jumps hoped for, leaving the Indians with one of baseball’s worst offenses and dropping them into fourth place in the AL Central. Francisco Lindor wins NL MVP and Carlos Carrasco gets Cy Young Award votes as they lead the Mets to the World Series.
Next First-Time All-Star: DH Franmil Reyes
4. Kansas City Royals
Best Case Scenario: The Royals’ offseason additions and bounceback campaigns from OF Jorge Soler and 3B Hunter Dozier make for a vastly improved offense. Combined with solid showings from a sneaky-good pitching staff, the Royals post their first winning record since 2015 and slide past the Indians for third place.
Worst Case Scenario: OF Andrew Benintendi and 1B Carlos Santana continue moving in the wrong direction while no progress is made from SS Adalberto Mondesi. With little offensive improvement and the team well below .500, the Royals trade 2B/OF Whit Merrifield at the trade deadline as part of a fire sale.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Brad Keller
5. Detroit Tigers
Best Case Scenario: RHP Casey Mize and LHP Tarik Skubal flourish in their second go-rounds in the majors, giving the Tigers the makings of a standout rotation to build around. The team reaches 70 wins for the first time in five years to show it’s moving in the right direction.
Worst Case Scenario: Mize and Skubal continue to struggle, becoming a cautionary tale on the volatility of young pitching and sidetracking the Tigers rebuild. With poor production from the assorted veterans brought in on short-term contracts, the Tigers again lose 100-plus games and have little to offer at the trade deadline.
Key Losses: C Austin Romine, 1B C.J. Cron
Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Tarik Skubal
American League East
1. New York Yankees
Best Case Scenario: With full health in the rotation and lineup, the Yankees separate themselves early as the best team in the division and post the American League’s best record. They dispatch the Rays in the ALDS, thump the Astros in the ALCS and return to the World Series for the first time since 2009, where they beat the Dodgers to win the franchise’s 28th World Series.
Worst Case Scenario: Injuries hit early and often as OFs Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge go down and offseason additions RHPs Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber can’t stay healthy, leaving the Yankees with a suspect rotation and good but not great offense. They still make the playoffs as a wild card, but fail to get past the ALDS.
Next First-Time All-Star: 1B Luke Voit
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Best Case Scenario: The Rays work their magic again as RHP Chris Archer, LHP Rich Hill and RHP Michael Wacha stay healthy and effective to fill out their rotation. With a full season from OF Randy Arozarena and a bounceback year from OF Austin Meadows, the Rays generate enough offense to win the AL East for a second straight year.
Worst Case Scenario: Relying on a mix of injury-prone veterans and inexperienced youngsters, the Rays never get a handle on their rotation behind RHP Tyler Glasnow and LHP Ryan Yarbrough and spend the year cycling through ineffective options. The bullpen gets exhausted early with the heavy workload, robbing the Rays of their greatest strength and dropping them to third place in the division.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Randy Arozarena
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Best Case Scenario: With one of the American League’s best offenses, the Blue Jays outscore anybody and everybody in becoming one of baseball’s most exciting teams. LHP Robbie Ray, RHP Tanner Roark, LHP Steven Matz and RHP Ross Stripling all have bounceback seasons in a more normal year, giving the Jays enough pitching to finish in second place and win a wild card.
Worst Case Scenario: The Blue Jays get little from the rotation behind LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, while an infield defense that features two players at unfamiliar positions creates more run prevention problems. The Blue Jays score plenty, but lose a lot of high-scoring games and finish well outside the playoff picture.
Next First-Time All-Star: SS Bo Bichette
4. Boston Red Sox
Best Case Scenario: Bolstered by the healthy return of LHP Eduardo Rodriguez and the midseason return of LHP Chris Sale, the Red Sox pitch well enough to stay competitive after last season’s disastrous showing on the mound. They finish in third place and don’t come close to playoff contention, but at least return to a winning record.
Worst Case Scenario: Relying on RHPs Garrett Richards, Nate Eovaldi and other starters with checkered injury histories works out poorly as the Red Sox tumble down the standings and finish in fourth place. Declaring a need for financial flexibility, the Red Sox trade SS Xander Bogaerts after the season.
Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Rafael Devers
5. Baltimore Orioles
Best Case Scenario: The progress of OF Anthony Santander, OF Austin Hays and OF/1B Ryan Mountcastle carries over from 2020, marking a step forward for the Orioles even as they finish in last place. OF/1B Trey Mancini hits .280 with 30 home runs and wins AL Comeback Player of the Year.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation behind LHP John Means collapses and the bullpen is the worst in baseball, leaving the Orioles with a team ERA well above 5.00 as they struggle to reach 50 wins. They trade Means and Mancini at the deadline and unwittingly push their timeline to contention even further back.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF/1B Ryan Mountcastle