Part four of our annual preview series. This year, we present for each team a 60-word-or-so takeaway from 2020, a 162-word-or-so preview for the 2021 season, a win prediction, and a song to represent the team. For more, visit our season preview index.

Standings by win total prediction

MIL88-74
STL88-74
CHC84-78
CIN80-82
PIT58-104

Chicago Cubs

By Ben Bailey

60-word Takeaway from 2020

Once again, the Cubs sputtered in the playoffs, overmatched by an overachieving Marlins team. They managed to score just one run in the series. Winning the division and not having any player contract COVID were both great achievements in a hard year, but the way the season ended raised questions about the Cubs that only the coming season can answer.

162-word 2021 Season Preview

The Cubs once again find themselves in a weird place. Early in the offseason, it looked like they were entering a rebuild. Had they not traded Yu Darvish under mandate to cut payroll, they would project around three wins better according to FanGraphs, enough to put them atop an admittedly weak division by a fraction of a win. Instead, ownership insisted on a payroll cut, and the easiest salary to move was that of the club’s best pitcher.

For the past several years the pitching has seemed like the issue entering the season, but the offense is what has sunk the Cubs down the stretch, despite boasting names like Bryant, Rizzo, and Báez. Although the team will have one of the softest-tossing rotations of the last decade, there’s potential for them to outperform projections due to the Cubs’ promising pitching infrastructure. For it to matter, though, the team’s stars have to perform. If they don’t, it will be an interesting trade deadline.

Win prediction: 84-78

Song to Represent the Team: Tentative Decisions by Talking Heads


Cincinnati Reds

By Marina Bostelman

60-word Takeaway from 2020

The Reds’ splurges in free agency last winter were rewarded with a pandemic that slashed the season to 60 games and prevented fans from enjoying the experience in person. The pitching, anchored by Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, was excellent, but the offense struggled and fell short of expectations. They snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed, but did not advance.

162-word 2021 Season Preview

The Reds want to contend, but they’re entering the season with major personnel losses after a cost-cutting offseason. There’s still lots to like about the pitching. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo can hang with any team’s top two starters, and the bullpen has plenty of hard-throwing arms–the 2020 Statcast pages of Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone are the definition of the eyeballs-looking emoji.

To get anywhere, though, the offense needs to perform. Nick Castellanos could be in line for a bounceback. Prospects Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson might provide a boost–if they adjust to the majors. Nick Senzel has to stay on the field. And speaking of injuries, the Reds have had a lot of them in Arizona.

The good news is that the NL Central doesn’t have a clear favorite, and they absolutely have enough talent that things could break their way. If they struggle out of the gate with key players on the IL and an ineffective patched-together defense, the team and its fans could be in for a long year.

Win prediction: 80-82

Song to Represent the Team: Everybody Hurts by REM


Milwaukee Brewers

By Dan Freedman

60-word Takeaway from 2020

The Brewers became the first National League team to make the playoffs with a losing record. It showed: they were swept in the Wild Card Series by the Dodgers.

Christian Yelich had his lowest OPS since 2015, down 314 points from 2019. Beyond Yelich, the only position players with an OPS+ above 100 (i.e., above average) who played more than half of the Brewers’ 60 games were Ryan Braun (101) and Jedd Gyorko (121) – neither is on the team for 2021.

162-word 2021 Season Preview

Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes anchor a pitching staff that should be among the best in the relatively weak NL Central. Josh Hader and Devin Williams are two of the best relievers in all of MLB. But the other starters and the rest of the pen are question marks.

The outfield is chock full – with three everyday regulars before they added Gold Glover Jackie Bradley, Jr. Second base was solidified with the addition of Kolten Wong. Orlando Arcia seems to have earned the everyday shortstop role. Keston Hiura will aim to bounce back to his 2019 form, when he had a .938 OPS and a 138 OPS+.

It looks to be a battle between the Brewers and the Cardinals for the NL Central crown, with the Cubs refusing to spend money, the Reds missing their window with Trevor Bauer, and the Pirates trying to get relegated to Triple-A.

Perhaps if they are in contention, Braun will come out of “retirement” to boost the team into the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Win prediction: 88-74

Song to Represent the Team: If I Had a Hammer by Trini Lopez


Pittsburgh Pirates

By Dan Freedman

60-word Takeaway from 2020

Sure, it was a shortened season. But a .317 winning percentage, the worst in nearly seventy years, is still embarrassing.

If you count pre-2021 in the 2020 analysis, the Pirates basically threw in the Terrible Towel. They traded Starling Marte (Arizona), Jarrod Dyson (White Sox), Josh Bell (Nationals), Joe Musgrove (San Diego), and Jameson Taillon (Yankees). Chris Archer and Trevor Williams left as free agents.

162-word 2021 Season Preview

Message to the fans: Check back in 2023.

PNC Park is reason enough to come watch the Pirates (it is in the Top-3 of all big league ballparks). But if you need another excuse, check out the hot corner. That is where Ke’Bryan Hayes hangs out, playing Nolan Arenado-like defense and flat-out raking. He is the future of the club.

Mitch Keller and Stephen Brault are potential bright spots in the rotation. Gregory Polanco can still swing it a bit in right field. But all eyes will be on the June draft, where the Buccos pick first. Kumar Rocker? Jack Leiter? Jaden Hill? Can one of these starters be a franchise-changer? Only time will tell.

The second-year team of Derek Shelton and Ben Cherington have their work cut out for them in what stands to be a relatively weak NL Central. But no one in Western Pennsylvania is making any plans to watch Pirates baseball in October. By then, they will be lamenting 39-year old Ben Roethlisberger.

Win prediction: 58-104

Song to Represent the Team: Headed for the Future by Neil Diamond


St. Louis Cardinals

By Alex Crisafulli

60-word Takeaway from 2020

Trying to analyze a 58-game season – which included a two-week work stoppage in the middle due to a COVID outbreak – isn’t easy. Still, it’s probably safe to say the St. Louis Cardinals were their perpetual “pretty decent” selves in 2020, but whether they did enough this winter to move the needle past that remains to be seen.

162-word 2021 Season Preview

The day I celebrated my 42nd birthday, the Cardinals did a swell thing and acquired Nolan Arenado. So first, thank you, favorite baseball team. It didn’t go unnoticed. But second, this was the kind of trade that felt so lopsided you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guys the Cardinals sent to Colorado. They did nothing wrong but will continue to be maligned because their names somehow made the Rockies inept brass say, “Fine.” It’s unfair.

Nevertheless, the addition of Arenado can’t be overstated. He’s the anchor to what might be the best infield defense in the National League, even after the departure of Kolten Wong, and he has a bat that will preferably push a player like Paul DeJong to a spot more fitting to his profile (90 percent of DeJong’s PA in 2020 were at the second, fourth, or fifth spot in the lineup).

Does adding Arenado make up for a starting rotation that looks shakier by the day? Seems unlikely. But the rest of the NL Central is staunchly mediocre so c’est la vie.

Win prediction: 88-74

Song to Represent the Team: Thick As Thieves by The Menzingers

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