5 Wild MLB Predictions
by Mike Fink
This season is already destined to be an odd one. After a pandemic and holdouts we are left with a 60 game season. Baseball is usually a 162 game marathon that slowly shreds the bad teams and gives us truly the best teams. This season is a quick 60 game dash. Expect many things to be different; expect rotations to be shorter, expect bullpens to be used differently, expect less off days for star players, expect the injury bug to affect some teams immensely and others not at all, expect pitchers to throw more pitches and more innings, expect more weight to be carried in each game. The bottom line is that we should expect the season to give us many surprises, and predictions are a pure shot in the dark this season. With the season being different than any other we have seen, I will make five bold predictions which aren’t even bold since the season is going to be an odd one.
1: Jack Flaraety wins the NL Cy Young
This one isn’t such a bold prediction. Jack Flareghty emerged as one of the best young pitchers in the game at the end of last season. Flaherty has incredible stuff and looks to be the best pitcher in the Cardinals rotation this season. Assuming he only improves on the great second half he had, Jack Flaherty will emerge as one of the best pitchers in the National League. Granted the favorites are Jacob Degrom and Max Scherzer and rightfully so, but if the Cardinals win the NL Central and Flaherty will have an already strong case assuming he has the season expected from many experts. The possible drop off is what is to fear with Flaherty if he continues to improve, it’s only a matter of time until Jack wins a Cy Young in his career, this year might be the year he goes from Ace in the Cardinals rotation to the best pitcher in the National League.
2: Astros and Dodgers both don’t make the playoffs
I honestly see the Astros as being realistic in this prediction. The Dodgers, however, will need a lot to go wrong to miss the playoffs. Let’s start with the newly hated team in baseball, the Houston Astros.
Do the Astros have the stars to compete? Yes. Are they poised for a drop-off? Possibly, especially considering they lost Gerrit Cole and have a core that might be slowly aging in a league that keeps getting younger. Are the Astros going to have a target on their back? Absolutely. When the cheating scandal broke out, it became clear who the new most hated team in baseball would be. In the earlier phases of spring training, many prominent Astros players were getting hit by pitches, expect that to continue into the season as many of the players and teams are going to vent their frustrations with the players who weren’t suspended despite being involved in cheating. Aside from the players getting hit by pitches, there will be extra motivation to beat the Astros this season. If you believe that players use extra motivation to win games, it can be assumed that teams will try to beat the Astros particularly to have justice be served.
The Dodgers are going to have to see everything go wrong to miss the playoffs. One can argue with the acquisition of MVP Mookie Betts that the Dodgers have the best player in six or even seven positions in the National League. Alongside the star power, the Dodgers also have one of the deepest rosters in baseball and one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Dodgers also have the longest Division winning streak in the Majors as they haven’t lost the division since 2012 and until that impressive streak is broken, it’s hard to see anyone knocking them off the NL West top.
With all this being said, we have to consider one major factor for why it’s still possible the Dodgers can fail to make the playoffs, this season isn’t going to be an ordinary season. As mentioned earlier, this season is a 60 game quick dash, any team can suddenly get hot or have a winning streak and just take the division. It might seem crazy but also keep in mind that in a given year, at least three or four teams win the division that failed to do so the previous season (last season half the division winners repeated winners while the other half weren’t), all the more so it is likely when the season is shortened and every loss and win matters more. The Dodgers failing to make the playoffs is also a likely possibility considering the rest of the teams in the division. While last season the NL West looked like a mess, this season has three teams that can be destined to overachieve this year. Aside from the San Francisco Giants who appear to still be rebuilding and shedding contracts, the Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are all built to win the division, if any of those three teams have a great season, the Dodgers may miss the playoffs.
Last year, both the Astros and Dodgers finished with the best records in the American and National League. They are both heavy favorites to make the playoffs and are expected to do so. It would be no surprise if either of the teams underachieves this season, it would be if both did though.
3: Mets play the Rays in the World Series (both have 20/1 odds to win it all)
Again playing off the idea that the season will be an odd one involves sleeper teams that can not only win their division but possibly win the World Series. Both the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays are built to win in a short 60 game dash of a season.
Tampa Bay overachieved last season and it appears that the Rays are destined to digress this season based on the trends of the MLB (good teams come and go). However, the Rays have one of the more underrated rosters that are suited for a run like this one that will require only 60 games instead of 162. The Rays were using the opener before it was a thing, they are the leaders of innovation for the analytical world of baseball. I mentioned numerous ideas that teams might implement including things like a four-starter rotation, expect the Rays to be one of the first to recognize that this season is different, and will play their roster as such.
On paper, the Rays have one of the more underrated rosters in the game (whenever the Rays are mentioned, underrated is usually followed). Their rotation consists of three possible Cy Young candidates and their batting order is not only one that is interchangeable within hitters (Austin Meadows can lead off and can also bat 6th on a given night) but also has many “positionless players” which can be vital in a season like this one (baseball as a whole is trending towards positionless defense but the Rays have many players that can play three or more positions). Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays look to still be in rebuild mode (although Toronto can also be a sleeper team) and Boston just traded away many of their stars, signaling that they won’t be competing this year. If the New York Yankees have a down year, the Rays can take the division and be one of the top teams in the American League.
The Mets are a team that is harder to see having the same success. One of their best starters in Noah Syndergaard had Tommy John Surgery a few months ago and looks to be out for the season. Even without Syndergaard, the Mets look to have a team that is set up to win a 60 game dash. Their roster is not a deep one but when you look at the individual players, they might have one of the best rosters in baseball.
For starters, the Robinson Cano acquisition has not lived up to the billing in its first season. Many experts always saw Robinson Cano as having an easygoing attitude when it comes to the game and his work ethic. While possible one of the things I think can be hindering Cano is the length of the season. Cano is built to have great games, games where he goes 3-3 with a two-run home run, but the 162 games will catch up to him and particularly on teams that aren’t good. This season can be one that a vet like Cano reminds everyone why he received a ten-year contract with the Mariners a few years back, to begin with. While I mentioned a lot about the New York Mets second baseman, this idea can apply to a lot of the veterans on the roster, Yoenis Cespedes, Dellin Betances, Marcus Stroman. A shortened season can most notably help a team like the Mets that have a mix of proven but over the hill players and young, almost ready talent that is destined to break through (this Excludes Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil who both have already proven they are ready for the Majors). Along with the veterans that were already on the roster, the Mets made a significant amount of moves this off-season that shows that they are going to compete this season. They signed Jake Marisnick, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha and others that are likely to be past their prime but can still give the Mets a run at not only winning the division but winning the World Series.
What should put the Mets over the top is their star power at the top of their roster. If back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob Degrom continues his incredible stretch (he might have an ERA below 2 from the past two seasons) and Pete Alonso continues to mash, the Mets should be competitive.
Both teams are 20/1 odds to win the World Series and both teams are built to win. A World Series between the two teams would be pretty anticlimactic but on the bright side, there won’t be fans at the games anyway.
4: The Minnesota Twins fail to hit the projected over/under (34.5) by at least ten wins
This is a real stretch as the Twins losing ten games below their betting projection wouldn’t just mean that they underachieve, it would mean that the season would be a complete failure. If the Minnesota twins win 24 games or fewer, they would likely finish in third or fourth in their division.
The Twins have been one of the more inconsistent teams in the Majors in recent years, winning the division last season and making the Wild Card Game in 2017 but having .500 or worse records in the “even” years. This is an even year, this means that fate will have them having a down year right? Aside from the every other year thing, the Twins had everything go right last season. Aside from the record-shattering homerun lineup, the Twins had an easy schedule last year with an extremely weak AL Central. The Twins weren’t even a great team for the season they had, to prove it, they lost in a three-game sweep to the Yankees and were uncompetitive for most of those games in the process.
The Twins not only can have a bad year considering how much went right for the team last year, but a lot can also go wrong in an odd season like this one. The underlying theme of most of these predictions is that the season is significantly shorter than usual, this should have us see many unexpected results and the Twins falling flat on their face can be one of them. We should also consider that the AL Central is going to be better this year, it has to be since it can’t get any worse (besides, the White Sox look to be better this year).
5: Fernando Tatis (20/1 odds) wins NL MVP
I think that Fernando Tatis is one of the best young players in the league. This is only his second year in the Majors but he could make the leap and be the best player in the National League. Three things need to happen for Tatis to win the MVP, aside from mind-boggling numbers and being the best on his team. 1; the Padres need to have a great season and at least make the playoffs. 2; The Dodgers need to fall apart, the Dodgers have two or three more qualified MVP’s on their roster and if they win the division, one of them will immediately have a better argument for the award. 3; Tatis needs to defy the ballpark he is playing in, Petco Park is one of the worst hitting ballparks and is known for killing great hitting careers. If Tatis can have great numbers despite the home stadium, he will have a legitimate argument for the MVP.
Fernando Tatis currently has 20/1 odds to win the award. While the MVP is generally won by those that are favored before the season (Bellinger, Harper) someone like Tatis can surprise everyone and steal the award in a shortened season like this one.
In terms of divisional and World Series predictions
This season is guaranteed to be different than any other and with that difference comes an unpredictable season. With that in mind, I see the Yankees, Cleveland, and Texas Rangers winning their divisions with the Rays and Astros being Wild Cards*. In the National League, I see the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers winning their divisions with the Reds and Braves being Wild Cards*. The Cardinals beat the Rays in the World Series in five games, that seems random enough, I’ll probably get one of these predictions right at best.
*The official playoff format is still being finalized. One of the proposals would allow 16 teams to make the playoffs, something like this would give us a March Madness for baseball, something no real baseball fan wants to see.