After a 60-game season in 2020, the MLB begins Thursday with a 162-game schedule, starting with New York hosting the Blue Jays (1:05 ET, ESPN).

Can the Los Angeles Dodgers repeat the feat or will they be challenged by the San Diego Padres in their own division? Will the Yankees remain the class of the American League, or will the Chicago White Sox take the next step? Can the New York Mets keep pace with the Atlanta Braves in the National League East?

Is Mike Trout still the favorite to win the American League MVP award? Will Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. compete for the National League title?

Among our columnists, writers, researchers, editors and TV commentators, we interviewed 37 of ESPN’s top baseball experts to find out what they are looking forward to by asking them who will win their respective divisions, leagues and World Series and who will walk away with individual awards.

Switch to the forecast team for : National League AL and NL champions World Series champions.

Go to the reward predictions for : MVP Cy Young ROY

American competition

AL East

Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports

Our choice: Yankee (30 votes)

Who else got votes? Blue Jays (4), Rays (3).

Why did you choose the Yankees?



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Opening week is here! You can follow the start of the 2021 season on Thursday with ESPN’s Opening Night lineup, full of the biggest names and best teams in baseball.

13:00 AND : Blue Jays v Yankees
3 p.m. AND (ESPN+) : Braves v. Phillies
4:00 ET: Dodgers at Rocky Mountain
10pm ET: Astros to A.

The Yankees remain one of the strongest teams in baseball, but much of their success will once again depend on the health of players like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. I’m very curious to see how Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon will fit into the rotation, especially after the departure of Masahiro Tanaka. Kluber and Taillon are both very talented and could prove to be one of Brian Cashman’s most valuable acquisitions for the 2021 season. While the Yankees certainly have great competition from the Rays, the up-and-coming Blue Jays, and possibly the Red Sox, I think their talent will prevail at the highest level. -Jung Lee



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AL Central

Our choice: White Sox (28)

Who else got votes? Gemini (9)

Why did you decide to have twins?

The Twins have won the division the past two years and are one of the best teams in baseball. The White Sox have more potential and are more exciting, but I’m leaning towards track record, efficiency and more prospect capital for upgrades, although it should be very close. — Kylie McDaniel.



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AL-WEST

Our choice: Astros (18)

Who else got votes: Angels (10), A (9).

Why did you choose angels?

Look, I’m as surprised about this election as you are. I wasn’t really impressed with the measures the Angels took to bolster their pitching staff this season. But then I saw Shohei Ohtani play a two-act role and Justin Upton look like his old self again in the spring, and I started to think that the Angels deserved some of the happiness that had eluded them over the past five years. It’s simple: This is not a good division. I think the Angels will be in the thick of things in July. At that point, they will be aggressive enough to add some pieces and finally get Mike Trout back in the playoffs. — Alden Gonzalez



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AL-Wild cards

Vote: Twins (21), Blue Jays (16), Rays (9), A’s (8), Yankees (7), Angels (5), White Sox (5), Royals (2), Astros (1)

Why did you pick the Angels and White Sox for the AL Wild Card?

It’s hard to believe, but in Mike Trout’s nine full seasons with the Angels, they’ve only finished above .500 three times (most recently in 2015) and have only made the playoffs once (2014). There are legitimate concerns about the lack of a number one starter in the rotation and the bullpen depth. But they have two superstars in Trout and Anthony Rendon and maybe three if Ohtani competes on the pitching mound. The AL West seems weaker at the top, and the Angels just need to get a little lucky. As for the White Sox, many pick them to win the division even without Eloy Jimenez, and I still like the top of the lineup, the top three in the rotation, the depth of the bullpen, and I think the AL East is fighting between them, so two wild cards are coming from the softer West and Central divisions. -David Schoenfield.



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National League

EN East:

Our choice: Courageous (25)

Who else got votes? Mets (7), Nationals (3), Phillies (2).

play

2:12

Karl Raveh talks about what we can expect from a crowded NL East this season.

Why did you choose Brave?

With the possible exception of depth at the position players, there is no department where Atlanta lags behind any of the other very good teams in the division. This list of benefits includes traits that give them high gender, such as speed and defense, which should help them resist regression in the homer or bullpen if it occurs. They are just a very complete team that has always won at a high level. — Bradford Doolittle



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EN Central

Our advice: Cardinals (23)

Who else got votes? Brewers (12), Cubs (1), Reds (1).

Why did you choose the Cardinals?

I’m having trouble choosing between the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals in this division. Ultimately, this can lead to health. But I think Nolan Arenado is excellent offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. And I still think Jack Flaherty is capable of establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the game, let alone the best in the NL Central. These two can make a difference. — Gonzalez



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EN West

Our choice: Dodgers (34)

Who else got votes? Address (3)

Why did you choose the Padres over the Dodgers?

That’s hard to repeat, especially as long as the Dodgers dominate the division and the Padres can keep up with the other champions with their solid lineup and pitching depth. No one is saying the Dodgers will struggle, but they know they could lose some weight in the half year if the Padres want to prove themselves in the regular season. -Eric Carabell



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EN Wild Cards

Vote: Padres (33), Mets (23), Braves (9), Nationals (3), Dodgers (3), Phillies (1), Giants (1), Cardinals (1), Brewers (1)

Why do you think the Padres are such a big favorite to win their spot in the Wild?

Well, that’s not entirely true – in fact, I predict 100 franchise wins for the Padres. Unfortunately, it would only be enough for second place behind the Dodgers. And the Padres’ reward for 100 wins could be deGrom, Max Scherzer or Aaron Nola in a wild-card game. Congratulations! (Note to MLB: Can we please eliminate the wild card at a game?) – Scoenfield.



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AL and NL champions

American competition

Our choice: Yankee (19)

Who else got votes: White Sox (10), Twins (4), Angels (2), Rays (1), Astros (1).

Why did you pick the Twins to be the AL champions?

Only the Dodgers have won more than the Twins in the last two regular seasons, so this pick is not surprising. The team is strong again, led by MVP Nelson Cruz, the defense is improved with the addition of Andrelton Simmons, and the rotation and bullpen are better than in previous years. This team is finally ready for the playoffs. — Carabell.

 

National League

Our choice: Dodgers (20)

Who else got votes? Braves (7), Padres (6), Mets (2), Cardinals (2).

Why did you pick the Cardinals to be the NL champions?

Baseball has been a little too chalky lately in October, so it’s time for a lower playoff team to get a little frustrated. The tough struggles of the regular season in North Los Angeles and the West will leave its mark on the teams coming out of those divisions, while the Cardinals – with newcomer Arenado – will quietly find their way back to the Fall Classic. — Jesse Rogers.



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World Series champion

Our choice: Dodgers (17)

Who else got votes? Padres (6), Braves (6), Yankees (5), Mets (2), Cardinals (1).

Why’d you pick the Dodgers?

Really, how can you prefer someone else? The question is not so much whether Los Angeles is the favorite to win it all again, but rather whether you take the Dodgers or the field. There is no certainty in baseball, but it is a dominant organization that manages to get better with each iteration. — Doolittle.

2 Connected

Not only will the Dodgers be the first team since the Yankees (1998-2000) to win back-to-back championships, but they also threaten the benchmarks of the Yankees (98), who have 114 regular season wins, and the Mariners (01), who have 116. The depth of the starting rotation is exceptional, and they will be celebrating in a very polarizing National League with many very bad teams after selling out mid-season. -Buster Olney

Yes. It’s boring. Chalky. It’s the same for me. The Dodgers are by far the best team, and the best team is the right choice for a World Series champion (for more on Jeff Passan’s choice, read his 20 preseason questions). — Jeff Passan

Why did you choose the Yankees?

Now it’s their turn. The Yankees have built an AL team, but various injuries and other factors have hurt their chances in recent years. Yes, the pesky Rays are one of those factors, but the loss of Blake Snell and the return of Corey Kluber to New York will be different this year. As for October, who is the best and most experienced in the AL? — Rogers

Why did you choose the Padre?

At a time when most teams seem to be trying to cut back on payroll, San Diego has added a lot of top talent this season, including Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. I think the Dodgers will beat the Padres in the division during the regular season, but the nature of the postseason often causes confusion. Although the Dodgers are more talented on paper, this young Padres team has an exciting mix of rising stars and veterans with tremendous playoff experience and could take another leap forward after reaching the postseason in 2020. — Lee…

Why did you pick the Mets?

Before I begin, let me remind you that last year I predicted that the Dodgers would play the Rays in six games in the spring, the Dodgers would play the Rays in six games in July, and the Dodgers would play the Rays in six games early in the postseason. So listen up my friends, the Mets are going to make it big. The main reason: This will be the year of Jacob DeGrom. He will dominate the regular season. He’s going to dominate the playoffs. He’s going to dominate the World Series. The Mets score points with this offense, they get Noah Syndergaard back in the second half, they have one of the best players in the game in Francisco Lindor, and they have the resources to add at the trade deadline. You pick the Dodgers? Boring. You bet on the Mets? Exciting. — Shoefield



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Player awards

Most Valuable Player

American League: Mike Trout (22 votes)

Got votes, too: Aaron Judge (4), Shohei Ohtani (4), Tim Anderson (2), Nelson Cruz (1), George Springer (1), Jose Ramirez (1), Matt Chapman (1), Gleyber Torres (1)

play

2:05

Jeff Passan reacts to the first four spots on the MLB Top 25 list for the 2021 season.

Why did you pick Trout?

I know it’s annoying, because he’s the best player in baseball and has been for a while, but it’s still true. I don’t like to question all my preseason predictions, but that’s fine as long as he’s not a top player, which he could very well be at the end of this season. Predicting when the Angels will make the playoffs again? I bet against it until it happens. — McDaniel.

Why Anderson and not someone else?



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Are you ready for MLB opening day? Here you will find everything you need for the new diamond season.

MLB Preview: Rankings, bold predictions

Who can miss Trout? | Guide to Excitement

Statistical predictions: 118 wins for LA?



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Tim Anderson. I expect the White Sox to be this year’s version of the Padres, an incredibly young and exciting team that will make the leap to become a serious World Series contender. With all the talent on this team, including Lucas Giolito and Luis Robert, Anderson represents the heart and soul of an enjoyable South Side team. The 27-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is slowly climbing the ranks of the sport’s best players, batting .322/.357/.529 with 10 homers in 49 games in 2020, and I think his rise continues in 2021. New White Sox captain Tony La Russa recently compared Anderson’s composure on the field to that of beloved baseball player Stan Musial. — Lee…



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National competition: Juan Soto (14)

Got votes, too: Ronald Acuna Jr. (10 votes), Mookie Betts (4), Jacob deGrom (3), Corey Seeger (2), Francisco Lindor (1), Bryce Harper (1), Fernando Tatis Jr. (1), Pete Alonso (1)

Why did Akuna Jr. win the NL MVP?

Ronald Acuna Jr, Fernando Tatis Jr and Juan Soto will be the designated TV players for the entire year. And in the end, Akuna – a 23-year-old senior – will be the one who stands out, if only slightly. In the last three years, only seven National League players have accumulated more fan time than when they were replaced. Last year, only five of them generated a best run plus. Acuna will take another big step forward this year on a Braves team that could be the best in the sport outside of the Dodgers. — Gonzalez

Why DeGrom as MVP?

Not that Jerritt Cole, Shane Bieber and a few others disagree, but he’s the best pitcher in the game – an accomplished modern starter who combines high speed (he hit 102 in spring training) with excellent four-throw command. Over the past three seasons, hitters hit .200/.249/.303, and his slugging percentage was the highest it has ever been in 2020. The Mets will finally give him the run support he lacked the last few seasons, so I see 20 wins with an ERA around 2.00. Over the past decade, voters have shown they would vote for an MVP pitcher (Justin Verlander in 2011, Clayton Kershaw in 2014). If the Mets win the division, it will help his cause. — Shoefield



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Cy Young Award

American League: Gerrit Cole (22)

Got votes, too: Lucas Jolito (11), Shane Bieber (2), Tyler Glasnow (2).

Why Jolito for Al Say?

Why not Giolito? He’s so comfortable in his skin, he has an offense that allows him to relax and just throw, and he has a dominant personality. Remember that bum from last year? It was Jolito. He’s at a point in his career where almost nothing bothers him. You need this quality to stay excellent for 32 starts. — Rogers



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National competition: Jacob deGrom (21)

Got votes, too: Walker Buehler (6), Aaron Nola (3), Yu Darvish (1), Trevor Bauer (1), Blake Snell (1), Max Fried (1), Max Scherzer (1), Jack Flaherty (1), Brandon Woodruff (1)

Why Darvish for the Dutch title?

Darvish was the Cy Young runner-up behind new Dodger Trevor Bauer and ahead of deGrom last season, but the vote could have gone his way. Darvish had a ridiculous transformation of his control after the 2019 All-Star break, walking just 21 (in 25 starts!) against 211 strikeouts, and you know the Padres are going to score a lot of runs. — Carabell.



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Rookie of the Year

American League: Randy Arozarena (18)

Got votes, too: Andrew Vaughn (6), Jarred Kelenish (3), Davey Garcia (2), Vander Franco (2), Ryan Mountcastle (2), Bobby Dalbec (1), Bobby Witt Jr. (1), Casey Mize (1), Nick Madrigal (1).

Why Arozarena for Rookie of the Year?

Competing for Rookie of the Year is always a challenge because you have to balance the player’s ability with his preparation. Just because a player has so much potential that he is at the top of the list of aspiring players, doesn’t mean he is ready to succeed immediately. Arozarena is the rarest of rookies, as we’ve seen him play at the highest level when the stakes were highest. — Doolittle.



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National competition: Key’Brian Hayes (15)

Got votes, too: Ian Anderson (7), Sixto Sanchez (6), Dylan Carlson (5), Hasong Kim (2), Christian Pace (2).

Why Hayes for Rookie of the Year?

Playing time is always a big factor in predicting ROY, and we know Hayes will be a starter from day one. Plus, he can play. He has come through the minors with a good record at the glove, and scouts are already praising his defense. His September 2020 numbers (.376/.442/.682) were due to an erratic BABIP, but the power was a big surprise (five home runs and 14 extra-hits in just 85 at-bats). A combination of high exit velocity and contact power means he has a chance to hit .300. — Shoefield

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