Opening Day is upon us, and the beginning of the season means we must try to predict how it’s going to end. Here are our staff’s predictions for who will win the 2021 World Series.
Randy Holt: Padres
I am drinking the San Diego Kool-Aid and am absolutely all in on this Padres team for 2021. Will I end up regretting it? Probably! But what a ride it’ll be in the meantime. This team is extremely good and extremely fun and a team like this winning a title would be good for the sport. And I think we deserve something good at this stage.
Regardless, the lineup is wildly good. And it’s deep. Fernando Tatís Jr, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and whatever combination of Jake Cronenworth, Ha-seong Kim, and Jurickson Profar gets rolled out at second has to be in the conversation for best infield in baseball. Trent Grisham won’t be healthy to start the year, but is primed for a genuine breakout in a full season. Tommy Pham and Wil Myers flanking him on either side in the outfield just adds another layer to it all. They’re going to score a ton of runs and piss a lot of people off doing it. What more could you ask for?
There are some questions about the health and volatility of some of their pitching. But Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Joe Musgrove, and whatever we get from Chris Paddack this year? With MacKenzie Gore waiting to make the jump? I have some questions about the quality of their bullpen, but that could be easily rectified as the season wears on. Most teams figure it out on the fly anyway.
They don’t give out trophies for the offseason champion. So the Padres will just have to do it the old fashioned way.
Kenny Kelly: Yankees
I originally wanted to pick the White Sox, but the injury to Eloy Jiménez shot that to hell. As much as I still believe Michael Kopech will be fantastic and Luis Robert will take a step forward, the Sox need everything to go right and a key part of their engine is missing. The White Sox are a Rube Goldberg machine, if one part breaks down, it all stops.
Instead, I’m going with a boring pick: the Yankees. My confidence in New York is fueled less by their roster, which is excellent, and more by the competition in the American League, which is lousy. In the AL East, the Rays have to surmount the self-imposed obstacles of trading away their best players, and the Blue Jays have to follow a path to success that’s as treacherous as the White Sox’.
The only other teams that can stop the Yankees from winning the pennant are the Twins and the Astros. There’s no reason for the Yankees to continue pounding the Twins into the dirt whenever they meet in the playoffs, but I’m not about to predict that it’s going to stop. The Astros aren’t withered husks of their former selves, but they’re getting there.
To the degree that a team can, the Yankees can coast into the World Series, but that’s where things get difficult. At least that’s assuming the Dodgers and Padres don’t annihilate each other and the Brewers squeak in.
The Yankees might be the best team in the AL, but the Dodgers are a tier above them, and I still believe the Padres edge them out. However, “Which is the better team?” is a different question than “Which team would win a seven-game series?” In answering the latter question, one must consider myriad things including starting pitching depth and strategic acumen, but also just dumb luck.
New York lacks the starting pitching that San Diego and LA possess even if you’re a believer in Corey Kluber’s resurrection. The Yankees can’t outsmart their opponents; MLB is a copycat league that more or less operates at Nash equilibrium, and it appears Dave Roberts learned his lesson about using Clayton Kershaw on short rest. If the Yankees don’t match up on paper, they just need to get a little bit lucky.
Steven Martano: Dodgers
Look, I hate to be ‘that guy’, but when the obvious best-team-in-baseball is staring you in the face, you pick them to win the World Series. In addition to winning the 2020 World Series*, the Dodgers have consistently knocked at the World Series door for years, and they continue to improve.
LA has a great rotation, a powerful star-studded lineup, a strong middle-relief corps, and good depth, meaning they can withstand injuries more than most team. In addition to adding Trevor Bauer to the rotation, LA also is probably the only team in baseball with a legitimately good fifth starter, with Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and David Price all healthy and looking to eat innings.
On the offensive side of the ball, they have multiple perennial MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and Corey Seager. Add to it all the fact that the Dodgers still have more to prove thanks to winning their first World Series in 30+ years in a weird, COVID-shortened season. This team is talented, hungry, and better than they were last year, which was probably more of a crap-shoot than a typical 162-game season.
Brian Menéndez: Rays
The Rays may have gotten a little worse in 2021 than they were in 2020, but this is still the most complete and deep team in an American League that is a little more diluted than in years past. As far as the division goes, I am high on the Blue Jays as the next person, but the pitching depth just isn’t there for me. The Yankees are a sexier team on paper, but the depth that made them great a few years ago is now just become the team. Further, it’s hard for me to buy into a team where three fifths of their starting rotation combined for one singular inning in ‘20.
As far as the rest of the league goes, I think the Astros are probably the next best team. As much as I want to believe in the Angels and see Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the playoffs, I just don’t think the supporting cast is good enough. The White Sox seem to be another trendy pick, and while they may have one of the higher ceilings in the league even sans Eloy Jiménez, this team just has too many regression candidates for me to believe in them with any degree of confidence.
The National League is... fun? That feels strange to say. I am bullish on the Braves and Brewers, and we know the Dodgers are historically great. I really want to like the Mets for a Wild Card spot but this team is just too top heavy, and I am not confident in their ability to be able to navigate injuries the way the Brewers, Braves and Dodgers can. Past that, two interesting Wild Card dark horses for me are the Reds and Giants.
Ultimately, the team that in my mind challenges the Rays in the World Series will be the Padres. While they will need health to be great, they won’t need as much health as say, the Yankees will. Over a 162 game season, the Dodgers are clearly better, but over a five-to-seven game series? The Padres are as good a team as any.