The 2021 season carries with it the hope of a fresh start and "what if" (unless you're the Pittsburgh Pirates...).

With Opening Day just a little over two weeks away, we’re at that point in spring training where the reality of major league baseball’s landscape is becoming a bit more clear. We already knew that teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Detroit Tigers were going to be non-factors heading into 2021 (especially the Orioles according to Fangraphs). Now, though, we’re beginning to really get a sense of what teams are set up for the long haul and those that perhaps lack the necessary depth to compete deep into October. Obviously, a lot can happen between now and the kickoff of postseason play, but now’s a fun time to start throwing out some predictions for the season. Here are my predictions for each National League division as we draw closer and closer to Opening Day.

NL East: The Philadelphia Phillies will be a legitimately good team, featuring a top-10 offense and a top-15 pitching staff…and will still miss the playoffs.

Ah…this one hurts. The Phillies are going to be a legitimately good team. I believe in this offense (Alec Bohm is going to hit between .280-.290, 25 homeruns, 80+ RBI, and end up garnering some down-ballot MVP votes) and I’m beginning to come around on this team’s pitching staff (their bullpen is going to flip from being one of the league’s worst to finishing in the top half of the NL). This is going to be a fun team to watch.

Unfortunately, the Phillies play in the NL East. And, unfortunately, the NL East is going to be an absolute beast of a division to compete in. Whoever walks away as divisional champ is going to do so with between 88-91 wins. I hate to say it, but I’m feeling the Phillies finishing at around 86-76. They’re going to be competing for the divisional crown up until the final weeks of the season, but I’m not sure they’re going to be able to get over the proverbial hump and dethrone the Atlanta Braves atop the East.

The most disappointing thing here is that despite being one of the major’s more talented teams, I don’t think 86 wins will be good enough to get the Phillies into the postseason. We’re going to see two teams coming out of the NL West (Los Angeles and San Diego) and we’ll see two out of the lowly NL Central (St. Louis and Milwaukee are going to feast on a punch-less Reds team, a rebuilding Cubs franchise, and what amounts to a AAAA team out in Pittsburgh). Honestly, I see St. Louis and Milwaukee both outpacing the Phillies in wins despite featuring weaker overall rosters. Without the expanded postseason that we saw in 2020, the Phillies are going to be on the outside looking in.

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I feel like I’ve disappointed the Phanatic by saying that… (courtesy of GIPHY).

NL Central: The Chicago Cubs will finish with their worst record since 2014.

As I said mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph, the Central will see both Milwaukee and St. Louis coast into the postseason after beating up on the bottom triumvirate of the division throughout the season. The biggest story out of the Central in 2021 will be the fall from grace by the Chicago Cubs.

Saying that the Cubs are going to suffer a sub-.500 season is a bold proclamation. They’ve won three of the last five NL Central crowns and still feature an offense with an explosive core in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez. Here’s the thing, though: their success over the past half-decade has come largely as a result of their pitching staff. Unfortunately, their crop of starters for the 2021 season is the weakest they’ve had since 2014, their last losing season. Kyle Hendricks is a fine starter, as is Zach Davies. Neither will necessarily shut down an opposing lineup, but they should, at the least, keep you competitive. However, the Cubs currently have Jake Arrieta tabbed as their #3 starter. Just ask the city of Philadelphia how that will work out for you.

Arrieta isn’t the pitcher he was when he left Chicago after the ’17 season. Honestly, I’m not sure what, if anything, he has left in the tank after sustaining some fairly serious injuries in back-to-back seasons. Needless to say, he represents a huge question mark at this point in his career. After Arrieta, the Cubs will be rolling out the likes of Trevor Williams (he of 15 homeruns allowed in just 55.1 innings last year), Alec Mills, and Shelby Miller. Yikes!

Sorry, North Siders. It’s going to be a rough one. 78 wins at most.

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No caption needed. (courtesy of GIPHY)

NL West: The Los Angeles Dodgers are going to make a run at 116 on their way to a World Series title in 2021.

This isn’t the boldest prediction out there, but let’s be honest: the Los Angeles Dodgers are really, really, really good. In all likelihood, they’re going to cruise to the best record in their franchise’s history (currently held by the 2019 team at 106-56). 116 will be tough to reach, but if anyone is going to make a run at it, it’s the Dodgers.

It isn’t just that the Dodgers have Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy in their lineup. Nor is it that they added Trevor Bauer to an already loaded rotation that featured Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías. It’s that the play in the NL West, essentially a two-team division akin to the NL Central. The San Francisco Giants are helmed by a clown in disguise (I’m talking about you, Gabe), the Arizona Diamondbacks lack the pitching depth to back a talented offense, and the Colorado Rockies are the most dysfunctional franchise in major league baseball.

There’s a lot of hype around the San Diego Padres going into 2021. Dodgers-Padres games are going to be a blast in the regular season. Make no mistake, though: this is the Dodgers’ division. Following Tommy Lasorda’s passing in January, I’ve got that feeling that we’re in for a storybook season with the Dodgers playing inspired baseball throughout the season (akin to the 2013 Red Sox or the New Orleans Saints back in ’09). Sometimes, the unbelievable comes to pass and I see that happening out in Chavez Ravine this season.

Dodgers will repeat as World Series champions in 2021 (insert barfing emoji).

Tommy Lasorda GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Live footage of the 2021 Dodgers at work (forgive me, Phanatic) (courtesy of GIPHY).