Every year when people make MLB predictions, some teams are seen as clear favorites. Currently, most baseball fans expect the Dodgers to win the World Series again, while many expect the Pirates to have the worst record. In each division though, there are teams that are slept on. Here is each division’s dark horse to win the division. These teams may not be the favorites on paper, but they have pieces that can make them dangerous.
MLB Predictions: Dark Horse Teams
AL East: Boston Red Sox
Most MLB predictions for the AL East favor the Yankees and Rays. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my years of being a baseball fan though, it’s to never sleep on the Boston Red Sox. In 2013, the Red Sox went from last place to winning the World Series, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if that happened again.
This offseason, the Red Sox have picked up utility men Kiké Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, as well as starting pitcher Garrett Richards. While these aren’t the flashiest signings, each player has value to them. Hernandez and Gonzalez have both shown the ability to hit well even in part-time roles, and they both can play almost everywhere on the diamond. Richards meanwhile saw an uptick in his fastball velocity and developed a wicked curveball and slider. Richards’ vertical movement on those pitches of 10.6 and 5.7 inches respectively rank near the top of the Statcast leaderboards.
The Red Sox also return a lineup that scored the fifth-most runs in the AL in 2020. They did this despite an awful year from J.D. Martinez, who also suffered from an anemic .259 BABiP. The Red Sox have a relatively young lineup led by Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Alex Verdugo. They also have Bobby Dalbec, who was impressed in his audition in 2020. Their pitching staff will get Eduardo Rodriguez back and they expect to get Chris Sale back this summer. Those two will be joined by Nathan Eovaldi and youngster Tanner Houck, who dazzled in his brief debut in 2020. While the AL East absolutely stacked, it’s not too hard to envision the Red Sox making it back to October in 2021.
AL Central: Kansas City Royals
Most MLB predictions have the White Sox or Twins winning the AL Central. The Royals have quietly had a very good offseason. They signed Carlos Santana, Michael A. Taylor, and Mike Minor, and they brought Wade Davis, Brad Brach, and Jarrod Dyson in on minor-league deals. The Royals also traded for Andrew Benintendi and brought back Greg Holland to be their closer.
The Royals’ lineup will once again be led by Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Salvador Perez. Other exciting bats include Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi, both of whom have shown flashes of greatness. The Royals also have a mostly young and promising pitching rotation that will consist of Minor, Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Danny Duffy. The team has a bunch of intriguing arms in the bullpen too, including Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer, Jake Newberry, Jesse Hahn, and Scott Barlow. The Royals may not seem like a powerhouse on paper, but they have the potential to make some noise in the AL Central.
AL West: Seattle Mariners
This right here might be one of the boldest MLB predictions we see all year. The Seattle Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 and they’ve had very few winning seasons in recent memory.
Seattle has a very young squad led by 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and franchise cornerstone Kyle Seager. The team saw infielders Ty France and Dylan Moore take huge steps forward in 2020, with both posting an OPS over .800. While Evan White struggled with the bat, the young first baseman took home a Gold Glove. With top outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez waiting in the wings, there are definitely reasons for Mariners fans to be excited.
This offseason, the Mariners brought back an old friend in James Paxton. He will look to rebound from an injury-plagued season. Paxton will join a promising pitching rotation led by Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn. Seattle also signed Chris Flexen, who is coming off a strong year in the KBO. The biggest concern for Seattle is the bullpen, which will likely be anchored by Rafael Montero. While some probably don’t expect the Mariners to contend until at least 2022, there’s a chance that in a relatively weak division, Seattle could sneak up to the top.
NL East: Washington Nationals
Most people making MLB predictions expecting the NL East to be a race between the Mets and Braves. While those are reasonable expectations, don’t count out the 2019 world champions. The Nationals had a solid offseason. They made a couple of low-risk moves by trading for Josh Bell and signing Kyle Schwarber. Those guys will join a lineup led by the very dangerous bats of Juan Soto and Trea Turner.
The Nationals also shored up their weak bullpen by signing three-time All-Star Brad Hand. While their pitching rotation is aging, the Nationals can still expect good numbers from Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg. On paper, the Nationals are on the outside looking in due to their tough division, but they definitely have a chance of moving up.
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
It’s no secret the Brewers’ roster is pretty top-heavy. Most of their offense relies on Christian Yelich, who is coming off a rough season, but there’s reason to be optimistic that Yelich can turn it around. In 2020, Yelich was still near the top of MLB in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, barrel rate, walk rate, xwOBA, and xwOBACON. Yelich also suffered from a very weak .259 BABiP. He will be surrounded in the lineup by power-hitting second baseman Keston Hiura and recent free-agent signing Jackie Bradley Jr. The Brewers will also get Lorenzo Cain back after he opted out of the 2020 season.
The Brewers’ pitching staff will be led by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Both players are coming off fantastic seasons and will need to replicate their performances if the team wants to have a shot at the postseason. Their bullpen will be anchored by lefty flamethrower Josh Hader and 2020 NL Rookie of the Year winner Devin Williams. While the Brewers may not have as much depth as other teams in the league, they have the star power to make noise.
NL West: San Diego Padres
Almost all MLB predictions have the Padres making the playoffs, but they’re dark horses in the NL West because they happen to be in the Dodgers’ division. As of now, it seems that the Padres will be the bridesmaids to the Dodgers, but the Padres have the potential to take the division. San Diego had a strong 37-23 record last season and they retain their exciting young core led by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The team saw the emergence of Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth, while veterans Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer had significant bounce-back years. The Padres also had a crazy offseason, bringing in Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Ha-Seong Kim.
In any other division, these moves would make the Padres the clear favorites. The only way right now that the Padres can knock off the Dodgers is if the Dodgers falter, but they have so much depth that even if a couple of injuries happen, they will be just fine. The Friars certainly have their work cut out for them, but if there’s any team that can take down the reigning world champs, it’s the Padres.
Follow me on Twitter at @Mathias_A_K for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images