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MLB postseason predictions: Sporting News experts make picks for pennant, World Series

There’s nothing quite like postseason baseball, and this year it’s back to normal.

After the COVID pandemic led to an expanded playoff field and centralized bubbles last season, things will feel more familiar with teams are back in their own ballparks — and, more importantly, in front of their own fans — as they vie to be the one hoisting the commissioner’s trophy when the World Series ends. But how will it all play out? That what we’ll discuss here.

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As always, we offer a standard caveat: Trying to predict anything in baseball is a silly endeavor, but it’s especially true in the postseason. There’s always a crapshoot nature to October hardball, and that’s sure to play out again in some form this season. Having said that, we’re gonna make bold predictions anyway, because why not. Here are Sporting News’ predictions for the 2021 MLB postseason.

2021 MLB postseason predictions

Ryan Fagan, lead MLB writer

ALCS: Rays over Astros
NLCS: Giants over Brewers
World Series: Rays over Giants
Breakout star: Wander Franco, Rays

Thoughts: 

— I want to believe in the White Sox. I really, really do. When they’re playing well, they’re so much fun to watch. I would not be stunned if they marched all the way to the World Series title. So much personality on that team and so many players who are easy to root for. It would be a great thing for MLB if those players — Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Lance Lynn and company — won the championship. I honestly hope I’m wrong. But I can’t pick them. I don’t trust the bullpen, and I don’t trust the starters other than Lynn (especially if Carlos Rodon is out). I don’t like that they went just 13-19 against the other teams in the playoff field, including a 2-5 mark against the Astros, their ALDS opponent. And I really don’t like the fact that they finished 26th in the bigs in Defensive Runs Saved, at minus-39 (the Astros, by the way, were third at plus-77). Can’t give away outs in October and beat baseball’s best teams.

— I have no idea what to do with the Giants/Dodgers/Cardinals section of the NL bracket. In doing these predictions, I had each of those teams in the NLCS in various versions. I mean, the Giants won 107 games in the least-flukey manner possible. They’re an excellent, relentless team that passes around the hero cape as well as any team I’ve ever seen. The Dodgers are likely without Max Muncy or Clayton Kershaw at least for two rounds, and that’s rough. There’s still a ton of talent on that roster. Having to use Walker Buehler in the final game of the regular season makes the one-game wild-card contest a bit scarier. The Cardinals have been playing better than just about everyone in September — 11 of their wins during the 17-game winning streak were on the road — once they slotted Tyler O’Neill into the lineup between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and now they add Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson to their postseason pitching staff. That could be huge. I do think if St. Louis survives the Giants/Dodgers combo, which absolutely could happen, the Cardinals will top the Brewers or Braves in the NLCS.

— It will be interesting to see how teams — especially on the NL side — adjust for recent injuries to key players. The Giants are without Brandon Belt, who led the club with 29 homers but is sidelined with a fractured thumb. If any group has shown the ability to seamlessly adjust for injuries, though, it’s this San Francisco team. The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season, but we already mentioned Muncy and Kershaw, two stalwarts who went down in the last week. The Brewers were built on pitching — three stud starters atop the rotation and two lights-out relievers at the back of the bullpen. Well, now setup man Devin Williams is out after breaking his hand with a wall punch after Milwaukee’s division celebration.

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Jason Foster, senior MLB editor

ALCS: Rays over White Sox
NLCS: Dodgers over Braves
World Series: Dodgers over Rays
Breakout star: Wander Franco, Rays

Thoughts:

— Though I don’t have the Yankees or the Red Sox advancing past the ALDS, I do wonder whether their wild-card matchup will be worthy of the rivalry or whether it’ll be a four-hour slog that doesn’t really entertain anyone outside those fan bases. The baseball fan in me wants a thrilling back-and-forth affair, but the realist is expecting something in between a classic and the aforementioned slog. In any case, it’s always possible the winner could stay hot, surprise everyone and ruin these predictions. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

— It’s not reflected in my picks, but I’m curious how much Cardinal Devil Magic we’ll see this postseason. It’s possible we won’t see any and the Cardinals will fall to the Dodgers in the wild-card game. But if St. Louis wins the wild-card game, the NL postseason could become downright Satanic. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. But seriously, the Cardinals do seem to find a new gear once the postseason arrives, no matter their regular-season record. Although, their recent 17-game winning streak could mean they found that new gear a little too early.

— The Braves won just 88 games this season in a very weak NL East, but the team that finished the season is not the same team that played so mediocre in the first half. Trade-deadline acquisitions Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario have transformed the Atlanta outfield and substantially lengthened the lineup in the absence of injured Ronald Acuña Jr. Not to mention that starters Charlie Morton and Max Fried are plenty capable of giving even the best lineup fits. The point is, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Atlanta makes a deep run. Don’t let the record fool you.

— Despite everything I’ve just said, look for a repeat of last year’s Fall Classic. Dodgers over Rays, despite the absence of Max Muncy and Clayton Kershaw. But at least Blake Snell can’t be removed too early this time.

MORE: Every MLB team’s worst postseason memory, revisited

Edward Sutelan, content producer

ALCS: Rays over White Sox
NLCS: Brewers over Dodgers
World Series: Rays over Brewers
Breakout star: Wander Franco, Rays

Thoughts: 

— The Dodgers have been the most talented team in baseball for the past several years, yet they have just one title to show for it. They’re the best team in the game yet again, but the Brewers look built for the postseason. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta give Milwaukee a one-two-three punch to counter the Dodgers deep rotation of Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias, while Josh Hader and Brad Boxberger will be weapons in the postseason, even without Devin Williams. Christian Yelich could be a sleeping giant primed to wake up and bolster a deep lineup in the playoffs. 

— For the second year in a row, the Rays will reach the World Series representing the American League. Tampa Bay has an absurd amount of pitching depth despite lacking a true ace and the lineup has perhaps the two AL Rookie of the Year front-runners in Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco. The White Sox have plenty of star power, but the Rays’ unconventional style of play makes them a particularly challenging team to prepare for, and Tony LaRussa is a very old-school manager. 

— The two postseason teams with the lowest payrolls make it to the World Series here, in what would certainly be a low-scoring Fall Classic. The Rays have the bullpen depth to hang with a team like the Brewers, and their lineup advantage over Milwaukee should help make up the difference in the rotation. That elusive title finally is brought south to Tampa Bay.

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