MLB September predictions: World Series matchup, MVPs, Cy Young and more


Just over a month since the 2020 MLB season began, the 60-game sprint to the finish has already raced past the halfway point and into the final month with tight races both in the standings and for awards. Now that we’ve all had a chance to see powerhouse teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays along with dominant starts from Fernando Tatis Jr., Shane Bieber and other stars across the league in action, we decided to ask our MLB experts to make another round of predictions for how the rest of the season will play out.

Remember, these are not first-half awards. We’ve covered those in our midseason All-Star picks and midway point season recap. This is all about what we think the landscape will look like when the dust settles at the end of the season.

Which team currently not in the playoff field is most likely to make it?

Our picks: Reds 7, Brewers 4, Mets, Nationals

Why are the Cincinnati Reds such a popular pick? Reds hitters are third in the National League in homers, second in walks, and right in the middle of the league in strikeouts — yet they’ve scored the second fewest runs per game. That’s because they’ve hit into horrifying luck, with the second-lowest batting average on balls in play in the past century — 20 points lower than any other team this year, 45 points lower than they themselves hit last year. Many a gambler has gone broke waiting for bad luck to even out, and the Reds might, too. But this is a strong lineup on paper, and the pitching staff — on pace to demolish the record for strikeouts per nine innings — is already doing its job. — Sam Miller

What they did before the trade deadline, in adding Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin, makes complete sense, and should improve a team that, to date, has underperformed. The Reds spent big in the offseason, with the additions of Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos, and added two new players now is like a card player throwing his or her’s last chips into the pile. If the offense gets better and the bullpen stabilizes, the Reds might become the team that nobody wants to face in the NL playoffs because of the potential dominance of Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer — and even with their struggles early in this season, they’re still a three-game win streak from being right in the playoff mix. — Buster Olney

I initially listed them as a team that should sell because their record presented an opportunity to extract some real value out of Trevor Bauer, a pending free agent. Clearly, they didn’t. Instead, they added closer Archie Bradley and outfielder Brian Goodwin to bolster their roster for the final month. That should be enough to make it. The Reds began September two games behind the Colorado Rockies for the eighth seed but also had a slightly better run differential. The top of their rotation is excellent and their lineup should be better. In a watered-down National League, the Reds are good enough. — Alden Gonzalez

Adding pitching depth is a good thing and this offense still has upside to it. Nobody wants to face Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and unlucky Luis Castillo (3.02 FIP) in October. — Eric Karabell

Nobody in baseball strikes out more hitters than Reds pitchers, and while strikeouts do not necessarily equal wins, they are the sort of thing that portend well for run prevention. But pitching hasn’t been the 15-19 Reds’ problem. (Well, except for Tuesday, when they lost 16-2.) Run-scoring is Cincinnati’s issue – and there’s a bright light there, too: The Reds’ batting average on balls in play is a staggeringly awful .243. The league average BABIP is .290. The worst full season this century is the 2010 Blue Jays’ .269. Batted balls are bound to fall for Cincinnati, and when the do, the Reds will be one of the eight NL playoff teams. — Jeff Passan

What about the Brewers? It’s always a good bet the Milwaukee Brewers will have a good September. Two years ago, they overtook the Cubs to win the NL Central; then last season, they made a run to the wild-card game even though all-world outfielder Christian Yelich was out because of an injury. Manager Craig Counsell has subtlety reminded his club that instead of thinking about a fast-moving, 60-game season, just picture what they’ve done the past couple of years. Rinse. Repeat. The Brewers make the postseason. — Jesse Rogers

It’s gotta be someone from the National League. I still find it hard to believe that the Nationals aren’t one of the eight best teams in the league but at some point, you’ve just lost too many games. I’ll go with Milwaukee. The Brewers haven’t gotten the best of Christian Yelich yet, have the game’s best manager and possibly the most vicious one-two bullpen punch around right now in Josh Hader and Devin Williams. — Bradford Doolittle

And why are you sticking with the Nationals? I’m a little concerned about their starting pitching, what with Stephen Strasburg sidelined for the rest of the regular season and Anibal Sanchez and Austin Voth struggling, but I think both are better pitchers than they’ve shown. Even without Anthony Rendon (who plays for the Angels) and now Strasburg, there’s too much talent on this roster for the Nationals not to make the cut, certainly not in a year when eight teams advance. Hey, last year they went on a late tear. Why not do it again? — Tristan Cockcroft

Which team currently in or very close to the playoff field is most likely to miss out?

Our picks: Marlins 8, Rockies 3, Cardinals, Giants

Why won’t the Marlins’ run last? The Rockies have been outscored by nearly 40 runs and have a pretty lousy offense. Still, you have to go with the Marlins. They are getting better, have a blossoming rotation with the arrival of Sixto Sanchez and Trevor Rogers, and just acquired Starling Marte. But the Miami balloon is already overinflated. This is a 95-loss team that had a good month with about 114 different players getting to play. That said, I hope they make it. — Doolittle

The massive Starling Marte acquisition aside, the Marlins still are not a particularly good team in relation to the Phillies, Rockies, Brewers and Reds, and a lack of depth should catch up to them. — Karabell

Here’s a twist on that question. A team no one really believes will stay in the playoff hunt but will is the Miami Marlins. When healthy — and they will be soon — they might have the best rotation in the NL East. That’s not a hot take. Pablo Lopez has been fabulous, as has Elieser Hernandez. When Sandy Alcantara returns, watch out. The Marlins also have a sneaky offense and bullpen that have kept them in games more often than not. They’re in the hunt now and will be to October. — Rogers

And the Rockies? Based on the odds at FanGraphs, it’s close between the Rockies and not the Marlins. That makes sense from a statistical standpoint: The NL East is weak, and the Marlins already have the lead over the Mets, Phillies and Nationals. The Rockies, meanwhile, have the toughest remaining projected schedule, including seven games against the Dodgers. The Rockies’ five games against the Giants could be the deciding factor in whether they or the Giants make it as a third team from the NL West and getting pounded 23-5 in its home ballpark isn’t a good sign for Colorado. — David Schoenfield

They got off to a nice start, but as always, you wonder about their ability to sustain their pitching, especially in a really competitive division. — Olney

Why did you choose the Giants? Only a fool says that a team isn’t going to make the playoffs the day after it wins a game 23-5. And yet here I stand, the wettest of blankets, to say: Sorry, San Francisco Giants, but you just don’t have the arms to do it. The Giants’ xFIP – expected fielding independent pitching – is the single worst in all of baseball. And while the 2020 season is full of weirdness and outliers and watered down like a bad drink, even a fool would agree pitching staffs that mediocre aren’t playoff-worthy. — Passan

What about the Cardinals? St. Louis definitely has the talent to make the playoffs, but that schedule — at least six more doubleheaders, all under the additional strain of pandemic protocols — is unprecedented, and there’s no way to say how they’ll hold up. Their lead in the standings is tiny, and the tier of teams just below them in the standings is a mile deep. A couple of those teams are likely to win 60% of their games from here. — Miller

How many wins will the Dodgers finish the regular season with?

Our picks: 41 (3), 43 (2), 42 (2), 40 (2), 38 (2) 45, 44

Could the Dodgers go 45-15? They began the second half on a 119-win pace, if the season were 162 games, which would top the 116-win 2001 Mariners for the record. It seems like an unsustainable pace, of course. But when you boil it down to only 60 games, it’s a lot more doable. The Dodgers won 22 of their first 30 games even though Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy struggled early, and Walker Buehler spent a decent chunk of that time working into his stuff. All three of them have looked better lately. So I’ll say 45 wins — 75% of their games. Yeah, they’re that good. — Gonzalez

I thought I was going to be the high man on the Dodgers when I had them at 44-16, but I guess Alden is just a little bit bolder than I am here. This is a historically good team dominating a 60-game sprint, but I do wonder if L.A. will let up a little once it wraps up the NL West race in a season when there really isn’t much incentive to home-field advantage in October — Dan Mullen

Why’d you go with 43? I don’t see any reason to project a slower win pace than we’re seeing now. They’re not playing over the heads. Maybe there is some bullpen regression in store, as we saw in an Aug. 25 loss to the Giants. But I actually think the offense will get better, with Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson all capable of better numbers over the final 30 games. — Schoenfield

Forty-one was the most popular choice. Why’d you pick it? It’s the equivalent of a 110-win team. And their run differential in a 60-game season has a chance to be something in the range of plus-150, which is ridiculous. — Olney

Who will earn the No. 1 playoff seed in the American League?

Our picks: Athletics 6, Rays 5, Indians, Twins

Why were the A’s such a popular pick here? As one general manager says, they’re the most prohibitive favorite among the division winners. — Olney

They get to play a lot of games against teams that are really bad right now. — Peter Lawrence-Riddell

With the injuries once again mounting in New York, the A’s look like the most complete team in the league to me, followed by the Twins. Oakland has a better bullpen than Minnesota and a better mix of power and athleticism. — Doolittle

What’s the case for the Rays? Tampa started off a bit sluggish, but combined with the plethora of injury issues hitting the New York Yankees, the Rays climbed back up the AL East standings. Despite a talented trio at the top of the rotation underperforming to begin the season, Tampa Bay continues to boast one of the best bullpens, and an offense led by second baseman Brandon Lowe, who has been one of the best players in baseball through the first half. — Joon Lee

Already the best team in the AL, the Rays have put in their best work with an unfair 11 pitchers injured. Somehow, with 23 pitchers (and utilityman Mike Brosseau) having thrown a pitch, they’ve still managed a 3.75 ERA. With Charlie Morton back today, Nick Anderson soon, Tyler Glasnow shoving like a Cy Young candidate and Blake Snell on the verge of looking like his Cy Young-winning 2018 self, the Rays’ pitching is literally and figuratively aces. And with a lineup led by MVP candidate Brandon Lowe, they’ve got the offense to back up their pitching. — Passan

After what you’ve seen so far, the 2020 World Series matchup will be …?

Our picks: All of our voters picked the Dodgers to win the National League

And in the AL: Rays 6, Athletics 4, Indians 2, White Sox

Why did you pick a Dodgers-Rays matchup? Los Angeles is just too much in a short or long series. The Dodgers have talent, experience and depth. The Rays have recovered from a slow start and won’t look back in a division with only one other contender. They have a well-rounded team, which also will bode well in a short playoff series and then a long one. — Rogers

Why could we see the Indians make it? The Dodgers against … Cleveland. At the moment, Cleveland has an ERA+ of 161, which is better than Clayton Kershaw‘s career. And they have an OPS+ of 81, the third worst in baseball. With that combination, the club has won 60% of its games. Both halves will regress toward the mean, but I believe (even without Mike Clevinger) that Bieber & Co. really are the AL’s best pitching staff, while Francisco Lindor and the offense really are much, much better than this. — Sam Miller

And the White Sox? I really wanted to make the case for the Padres in the National League but just couldn’t bring myself to do it when I looked at that Dodgers’ roster one more time. So I’m going to have some fun with this AL prediction instead. The White Sox might seem more like a young, up-and-coming team than a true World Series threat for this season, but they actually lead the AL in run differential. They have a nice one-two punch at the top of the rotation with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel and also feature a bullpen loaded with strikeout artists and that should play well in October. But let’s be real: The reason I’m making this pick is that offense. Power up and down the lineup is the No. 1 thing I look for come playoff time, and the White Sox have one full of guys who can take you deep at any moment. — Mullen

After what you’ve seen so far, the 2020 AL and NL MVPs will be …?

Our picks: AL: Shane Bieber 7, Jose Abreu 3, Matt Chapman, Luke Voit, Nelson Cruz

NL: Fernando Tatis Jr. 9, Mookie Betts 3, Bryce Harper

What makes Bieber the rare pitcher who could win MVP? I’m not normally inclined to award pitchers the MVP award, but it’s hard to deny the greatness of Shane Bieber through the first half of this season. Bieber is running away with the Cy Young Award in the American League so far this season, leading all of MLB in strikeouts, K/BB ratio and FIP, and he puts the Indians in a position to win every single time he hits the mound. In a season where we’ve seen so many pitchers go down with injuries, Bieber’s excellence truly shines through. — Lee

Bieber has been ridiculous and feels like a pretty easy choice. Nelson Cruz has been the best hitter, but it’s hard to give an MVP to a DH. — Schoenfield

It takes an incredible effort for a pitcher to win MVP in a normal year. For one to do it in this shortened season, with but a dozen starts, necessitates an otherworldly performance. Shane Bieber has been incredibly, otherworldly – outright galactic. Nobody ever has struck out more than 14 batters per nine innings, and Bieber is at 14.35. Even after a relatively wild last start, he’s still walking one for every 6½ punchouts. Yes, his 1.20 ERA is being helped by a low BABIP and high strand rate, but when you induce as weak contact and strike out as many hitters as Bieber does, those are natural consequences. — Passan

In the NL, is Tatis an easy call? As much as everyone is acting like Fernando Tatis Jr. is the runaway leader in the NL, Mookie Betts and Mike Yastrzemski are there with him on the WAR leaderboard. But if feels as if Tatis’ season and that storyline will hold. He becomes the youngest MVP winner in MLB history at 21. (Vida Blue is the previous youngest, having turned 22 during his 1971 MVP season, but Tatis will play the entire year at 21.) — Schoenfield

The NL race wavers between Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mookie Betts on any given day. But at this current moment, you have to give the nod to the San Diego Padres‘ shortstop, who is not only an enormous jolt of energy for the sport at large, sparking conversations about the unwritten rules, but is providing an offensive spark plug on a night-to-night basis while manning a premium defensive position. Betts is known to go on some torch-like hot streaks, and I could easily envision him taking home the crown by the time the season wraps up. But for now, I’m leaning toward Tatis. — Lee

Tatis has been the best player in baseball this year. He hits for average and power, is among the game’s best baserunners and has turned into the sort of shortstop who does both the unbelievable and routine. Washington’s Juan Soto is making a furious charge, and if he keeps up his current pace it may be difficult to deny him, but whether it’s him or Tatis, one of the 21-year-olds is primed to become the youngest MVP in MLB history. — Passan

And the Cy Youngs will go to …?

Our picks: AL: Shane Bieber 11, Zack Greinke, Lance Lynn

NL: Yu Darvish 6, Max Fried 2, Trevor Bauer 2, Jacob deGrom 2, Sonny Gray

Bieber was a popular pick for MVP and a runaway choice for Cy Young, why? Bieber has a pretty good chance of finishing the season undefeated with an ERA we haven’t seen in half a century. He has the AL’s WAR lead, and he has 30% more strikeouts than any other pitcher. Doubling up on MVP to go with Cy Young might come down to whether he starts the final game of the season, as he is currently on track to. If he does — against the lowly Pirates — he might well strike out 21 batters. — Miller

Why did you go with Lynn? He’s in a tough spot to win on a team that won’t provide a lot of run support, but Lance Lynn deserves way more credit in this race than he’ll probably get. With a solid five-start finish, I think he has a real shot — so let’s go with it! — Cockcroft

And what about the NL race? Hey, is that Yu Darvish who is 6-1 with a 1.47 ERA and 52 strikeouts with only eight walks in 43 innings? Yes. Yes, it is. He has carried over his great control from the second half of 2019 and is pitching the best baseball of his career. — Schoenfield

It’s close between Darvish and Fried. Fried gets the slight edge. — Rogers

As much as I’d like to say Max Fried, I think Sonny Gray is going to ultimately emerge because of the greater strikeout total. — Cockcroft

Who else could win it? Yu Darvish is the NL Cy Young to date, but these are predictions for the entire year and in this shortened season every starter is one bad outing from falling way off the pace. You know who doesn’t have really bad outings? Jacob deGrom. By the end of September, I expect Darvish, Bauer, Gray and Fried will all have ERAs beginning with 2, while deGrom’s continues to start with a 1.

Fernando Tatis Jr. has been the talk of baseball so far. Give us his final 2020 stat line.

Our picks: This was an open-ended question, but the consensus is our experts don’t see the young Padres star slowing down anytime soon.

Here’s a sampling of what our experts pegged for his final 2020 numbers:

.300 AVG/.380 OBP/.630 SLG, 24 HR, 58 runs & 58 RBIs, 12 SB, 4.5 WAR — Doolittle

.291 AVG, 19 HR, 43 RBIs, 11 SB and tops on the ESPN Player Rater — not that it is a bold statement, being that he is currently in that spot. — Cockcroft

.289/.374/.632, 21 home runs, 52 RBIs, 57 runs, 14 SB. — Schoenfield

.307/.388/.644 with 21 home runs, 57 RBIs, 64 runs and 13 SB — Passan

.295/.390/.670, 20 HR, 50 RBIs, 10 SB. — Gonzalez

.297/.387/.670 with 23 HR and 64 RBIs — Lee

.336/.400/19 HR and 14 SB — Miller

.305 AVG, 20 HR, 53 RBIs, 11 SB and 3.5 WAR — Lawrence-Riddell

How many home runs will lead MLB for the season and which player will do it?

Our picks: Nelson Cruz 7 (ranging from 21 to 26 home runs), Mike Trout 3 (ranging from 22 to 25 HRs), Fernando Tatis Jr. (26 HRs), Jose Abreu (25 HRs), Juan Soto (23 HRs)

Why did you pick Cruz? No player 40 or older — or even one who turned 40 during a season — has ever led MLB (or even their respective league) in home runs. But this is bizzarro baseball, after all, so why not Nelson Cruz? Cruz turned 40 on July 1, before this 60-game campaign began. And while I chose 25 home runs a bit arbitrarily, it just so happens that last year, Cruz played 58 games in the second half — and hit exactly 25 home runs in that span. — Matt Marrone

Someone is hitting 21. Let’s say it’s Nelson Cruz, who is amazing even at 40 years old. Though I look at Matt Olson‘s remaining schedule and could easily see it being him with 21 and Cruz 20. — Cockcroft

What about Trout? With Anthony Rendon hitting behind him, Trout is seeing a lot more strikes than usual. And because Trout is still working through some timing issues, he isn’t punishing them anywhere near as often as he normally does. He will soon. “We’ll see if they keep throwing strikes,” Trout said last week. — Gonzalez

And Abreu? This is Abreu’s time to shine, and his occasional overaggressiveness plays well in a lineup so deep with good power hitter that he can’t be pitched around most of the time. — Doolittle

And Soto? He’s slugging .800! The only reason Soto doesn’t lead the majors in home runs right now is that he has played nine fewer games than anyone with 11 or more home runs. He hits the ball to the moon. He admires his home runs when he does. And then he comes up and hits it to the moon again. That seems like a pretty good formula to lead the majors in home runs. — Mullen

With top prospects getting called up seemingly every day, which rookie will be the biggest difference-maker the rest of the way?

Our picks: Luis Robert 7, Triston McKenzie 2, Jake Cronenworth, Jesus Luzardo, MacKenzie Gore, Gavin Lux, Pablo Lopez/Sixto Sanchez

What makes Robert the overwhelming choice here? Luis Robert has been the guy all along, and with the White Sox in contention, that’s not likely to change. At times, it seems as if his lack of plate discipline is about to catch up with him, as in his four-strikeout game against the Cubs on Sunday. But every time you think he might be entering an adjustment period, he has a big game. The best thing about Robert is that he can beat you in just about every way there is to beat a team. — Doolittle

Robert is the boring answer, but I also think he is the right answer. The young stars of the South Side are putting things together this year, and Robert is a big reason the team finds itself in the middle of postseason contention halfway through the year. Robert has faced a share of struggles this season, typical for a rookie during his first taste of the big leagues. But the tools he brings to the table, from his speed and power, could provide an X factor for the White Sox to make a surprise run through the postseason, should Robert take his game to the next level over the course of the next few months. — Lee

Robert absolutely looks like the real deal, so it’s gotta be him. Just to dig up the Statcast data for a supporting argument, entering Wednesday’s play, he was tied for 12th with 12 barrels and was 11th in sprint speed with 29.1 feet per second, which underscores his unusual combination of power and speed potential. — Cockcroft

What’s the case for Cronenworth? Jake Cronenworth is raking for the Padres and taken over as their regular second baseman. His advanced metrics are also excellent: 75th percentile in hard-hit rate, 100th percentile in expected batting average, 99th percentile in expected slugging percentage and 84th percentile in strikeout rate. So he hits the ball and he puts the ball in play. The Padres got him from the Rays and he looks like the steal of the offseason. — Schoenfield

How about McKenzie? Good lord, that debut was impressive. — Olney

Why did you pick Gore? The Padres adding Mike Clevinger might seem as if it pushes aside MacKenzie Gore speculation, but if the team is truly going for it, Gore is truly one of the their top 10 available arms. — Karabell

What about the Marlins duo? “The Marlins,” one evaluator from a probable NL playoff team said this week, “scare the (expletive) out of me. Pablo and Sixto in a short series is a hard pass.” Pablo is Pablo Lopez, who has emerged in his third year. Sixto is Sixto Sanchez, who in two starts has illustrated why some saw him as the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. With a fastball that sits 98 mph, a changeup that already might be among the game’s five best and a hard, sharp slider, Sanchez might as well have been made to fill the Pitching Ninja feed for the next decade. (See: this.) There are a lot of great rookies this year. But as Miami tries to hold onto its playoff spot and scare the (expletive) out of contenders, Sanchez will go a long way to determining whether it happens. — Passan

And Lux? This is strictly an October prediction since the Dodgers don’t have much to worry about the rest of the regular season. We’re all predicting L.A. to go to the World Series and Lux was a very popular Rookie of the Year pick before starting the season at the Dodgers’ alternate site. When Justin Turner hit the IL on Tuesday night, having Lux is a big part of why we all know the Dodgers will still keep on rolling along and I expect the rookie to play a big part in the Dodgers’ World Series run. — Mullen

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