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Original Issue

Quick Pitch

Baseball is back! Is your team tanking or trying? Spending or scrimping? Here’s how the 2021 season will play out, all 162 games of it (we hope)
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MVP Predictions

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MIKE TROUT | ANGELS | As chalk as chalk gets. In his “worst” season last year, Trout posted an OPS+ of 168, giving him nine straight qualified seasons at 168 or better. Only Ty Cobb has had a run like that.

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RONALD ACUÑA JR. | BRAVES | Before his 23rd birthday last December, Acuña already had 81 homers, 61 stolen bases and two Silver Sluggers. Trout is the only other player to reach those marks.

Cy Young Predictions

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WALKER BUEHLER | DODGERS | At 26, he is built for a huge year, though L.A. will watch his workload closely. When the Dodgers score more than two runs when he starts, they win 80% of the time (45-11).

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GERRIT COLE | YANKEES | Over the past six years Cole ranks third in wins, fourth in strikeouts and fifth in innings–with no Cy Young Awards. After four top-five finishes, Cole, at 30, is due.

Rookie of the Year Predictions

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KE’BRYAN HAYES | PIRATES | The son of former big leaguer Charlie Hayes is an old-school line drive hitter who is growing into power at age 24. In his 24-game debut last year he slugged .682.

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RANDY AROZARENA | RAYS | His .377/.442/.831 slash line last October was no fluke. Elite pitching staffs game-planned around him, and he still mashed a record-breaking 10 postseason home runs.

American League

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JUNIOR ELDER STATESMAN Just 28, shortstop Xander Bogaerts (11 HR, .867 OPS) is the longest-tenured Sox player and the only remaining member of the 2013 champs. He leads a decent offense that will get better with a full season from rookie Bobby Dalbec (eight HR in 80 AB).

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CATCH HIM WHILE YOU CAN It could be the last season in Kansas City for free-agent-to-be Salvador Pérez, the potential end of a decade-long era behind the plate.

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RAY OF HOPE After trading starter Blake Snell, much of Tampa Bay’s fortunes hinge on Tyler Glasnow, who faltered in 2020 (4.08 ERA) after a standout ’19.

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HERE’S THE PITCH To shore up their pitching depth–and get Mike Trout to October for only the second time–the Angels acquired starters José Quintana and Alex Cobb and traded for hard-throwing Reds closer Raisel Iglesias to bolster the ’pen.

East

1 NEW YORK YANKEES
Order, restored: The Yankees should match the AL’s highest payroll with the league’s best record.

2 TORONTO BLUE JAYS
A batch of new faces—George Springer, Marcus Semien, Steven Matz—definitely signals a new era for the Jays.

3 TAMPA BAY RAYS
It hurts to trade away Blake Snell, but if any team can succeed when it looks like it shouldn’t, it’s the Rays.

4 BOSTON RED SOX
They may not have actively torn down any more this winter—but they sure didn’t start building back up.

5 BALTIMORE ORIOLES
It should be yet another looong summer. At least Trey Mancini is back after recovering from colon cancer.

Central

1 CHICAGO WHITE SOX
A talented young core will make Tony La Russa’s return season a fun one. He’s back with the Sox after 35 years.

2 MINNESOTA TWINS
They weren’t particularly aggressive this winter (Nelson Cruz is back!), but they’re still a good bet to reach the postseason.

3 CLEVELAND
This pitching staff is still a force—but a league-low payroll did no favors this winter for a paltry offense.

4 KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Despite a few notable acquisitions (outfielder Andrew Benintendi, for one), their outlook is bleak.

5 DETROIT TIGERS
The bright spot here? At least they’re better than the Orioles. AJ Hinch also came aboard as manager.

West

1 LOS ANGELES ANGELS
In spring training’s first week, Shohei Ohtani threw 100 mph and hit a 468-foot homer. Can he do it all year?

2 HOUSTON ASTROS
Losing center fielder George Springer will sting, but the Astros are still, well, the Astros.

3 OAKLAND ATHLETICS
They did their best to replace key players who departed, but it still won’t be enough to catch Houston or L.A.

4 SEATTLE MARINERS
Fans have the call-up of top prospect Jarred Kelenic to look forward to and . . . not a whole lot else.

5 TEXAS RANGERS
This is officially a rebuild, and it might be rough for a while. Enjoy the (new) new stadium.

National League

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PHILLING OUT New boss Dave Dombrowski pumped a lot of money into a squad featuring Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto (baseball’s best catcher) and an improved pitching staff. But it will still struggle to reach October.

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JUST THE PITTS Pittsburgh is in full-on tear-down mode, as were the 2019 Tigers (114 losses), 2018 Orioles (115) and 2013 Astros (111). The Bucs are low on high-ceiling players, depth and mascot morale. This is going to be ugly, even in baseball’s weakest division.

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BREWTAL LUCK Coming off two MVP-level seasons, Christian Yelich endured a career-“worst” year (111 OPS+). His outlook on 2021 should be positive, though: His average exit velocity remained steady and his hard-hit rate actually improved in ’20.

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AIR FRIARS San Diego already had a top-tier pitching staff (3.86 ERA, third best in NL) led by Dinelson Lamet. Then it raised the stakes by acquiring Yu Darvish (2.01), Joe Musgrove (3.86) and Blake Snell (3.24).

East

1 ATLANTA BRAVES
They came agonizingly close to beating the Dodgers last year to win the pennant. This year they’ll do it.

2 NEW YORK METS
Steve Cohen’s cash can’t buy championships, but it can keep Francisco Lindor around for years to come.

3 WASHINGTON NATIONALS
The NL East is loaded, but any team anchored by Max Scherzer and Juan Soto can’t be overlooked.

4 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
The bullpen (7.06 ERA in ’20) won’t be historically bad, but the NL’s longest playoff drought should continue.

5 MIAMI MARLINS
Phenom righthander Sixto Sánchez makes this team worth watching once every five days.

Central

1 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
How do you fix one of baseball’s worst offenses? Easy. Trade for Nolan Arenado.

2 MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Relievers Josh Hader and Devin Williams are already giving hitters late-inning nightmares.

3 CHICAGO CUBS
Yu Darvish and Jon Lester have exited. Will Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo go next?

4 CINCINNATI REDS
Losing Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to the Dodgers in free agency squashes their chances of an October return.

5 PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Baseball’s worst team deteriorated even further after trading Josh Bell and Joe Musgrove over the winter.

West

1 LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The champs got better (welcome, Trevor Bauer), but so did several of the teams chasing them.

2 SAN DIEGO PADRES
After winning the winter and revamping their pitching staff, the Padres are still second best in the West.

3 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The sun is setting on the championship tenure of Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey.

4 ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
They better hope Year 2 of Madison Bumgarner’s stay in the desert goes better than Year 1 (6.48 ERA).

5 COLORADO ROCKIES
At least Coors Field is beautiful and star shortstop Trevor Story hasn’t been traded . . . yet.