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Our hottest hot takes one week into the 2021 MLB season

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The first week of baseball is only a small taste of the 162-game main course that is an MLB season. But we’re not about to let that stop us from having some fun in early April as the sport returns to a full schedule after last year’s shortened 60-game campaign.

We asked a group of our MLB experts to go all-in on the early returns by making one bold prediction based entirely on what they’ve seen so far. They were allowed to pick any topic of their choosing with the following conditions: It had to be bold, and it had to be something they believe could happen.

From a polarizing pitching staff to a pair of teammates who could be battling for 2021 MVP honors — and even raising a World Series trophy together come October — here is what they chose.


The New York Mets will finish with MLB’s best starting rotation ERA … and worst bullpen ERA

We’ve had only a very small taste of what this team has to offer so far due to the preemption of its first few games due to Washington’s COVID-19 issues, but it’s clear to me that the combo of Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman is going to lead a generally solid corps of arms with routine quality starts, if not outright dominant outings.

It’s also equally clear to me that “1 IP, 1 ER” is going to be the new normal for each and every Mets reliever — except of course, for Jeurys Familia, who will likely continue his career-long routine of “infield hit, weak ground ball resulting in a bang-bang force play (but only after video review), walk, strikeout, walk, hard-hit line drive that 50% of the time finds a glove, 50% percent of the time drives in two.” If he’s still on the roster in June, buy tons of stock in Tums. — AJ Mass


The defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays are in trouble

Hey, I’m the high man on the Rays. Called them the most exciting team in baseball in 2019 and they won 96 games and made the playoffs. Said they were going to make the World Series in 2020 and they did. So if I’m down on the Rays, pay attention.

The big issue here is the rotation behind Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough, and we still have to see if Glasnow can dominate over a full season. The Rays are counting on Michael Wacha, who hasn’t had a 2-WAR season since 2015. Rich Hill is 41. Chris Archer? Collin McHugh? These are rolls of the dice.

The Rays were able to ride their bullpen last season, but that was in a short season with expanded rosters. That will be a more difficult strategy in 2021, even more so without Nick Anderson, their best reliever, who will miss at least half the season. The offense, meanwhile, really needs Randy Arozarena to be a big star, and he hasn’t looked good so far. Including spring training, he has 18 strikeouts and two walks. I hate to say it, but he might be a case of a guy who just rode an all-time hot streak last October and settles in as a good — but not great — hitter. Wander Franco will help when he comes up, but you can’t count on a 20-year-old to carry the lineup. — David Schoenfield


The Chicago White Sox will go undefeated against lefties, but never win a game started by a righty

Too hot? Perhaps. But that trend has already taken form, as going into their home opener on Thursday, the Sox were 3-0 when a lefty starts against them and 0-4 with a righty on the mound. This, coming after a 2020 season that saw them 14-0 against southpaws but just 21-25 against righties. This isn’t random. Other than Jose Abreu, their righties don’t hit righties very well, but more importantly, the Sox have a deficiency of dangerous hitters from the left side of the batter’s box.

There are games where they’ll need slug from lefties, and they might simply not have enough. This doesn’t mean Adam Eaton, Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada aren’t good hitters, but they don’t bring the thunder — or threat of it — that other lefty sluggers around the league possess. It’s going to be a grind for them against righties all year. It has been so far. — Jesse Rogers


Corbin Burnes will finish in the top three in NL Cy Young voting

At the time I’m writing this he has made only one start this year — but it was a dominant outing. He throws the hardest cutter in the league (96.3 mph) — and threw it 47% of the time in that outing — and is tied for the third-hardest fastball among starters (behind Jacob deGrom and Shohei Ohtani) at 98.1. In his 14 career MLB starts, his strikeout rate would rank third and his xFIP (a better predictor of ERA than ERA itself; 2.81) would rank fifth in baseball among starters in the 2020 season, when no pitcher had more than 12 starts. An even bolder prediction would be that three Brewers will get top-five Cy Young votes among their four elite arms: Burns, Brandon Woodruff, Devin Williams and Josh Hader — Kiley McDaniel


Shohei Ohtani will get at least one MVP vote

A message to all the skeptics: This is happening. Ohtani will not only be a two-way player for the Angels this season; he will hit on the days that he starts and play without any restrictions he doesn’t voluntarily place on himself. And he will be good at it. Ohtani has already proved to be an elite hitter. He has the stuff to be an elite pitcher, but he also needs to ease into it given that he accumulated only 79 2/3 innings from 2017 to 2020.

As an Angels source said recently: “Judge him in May.” Translation: Ohtani will only get better at this, not worse. By the end of the year, he will have had the type of impact we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth in 1919 — with an added element, given Ohtani’s ability to make an impact on the bases. — Alden Gonzalez


This will be the Year of Byron Buxton

I hate to curse a guy with my total inability to connect on hot takes, but here goes: Byron Buxton is going to win the AL MVP award. This is not an overreaction based on his three early homers. I just love where Buxton’s offensive approach is right now. He’s in that magical age-27 zone. With a modicum of newfound patience, he could hit 30 homers. With a career-first season of start-to-finish health — the biggest question mark in this scenario — he’s going to steal 50 bases. In that potent, balanced Twins offense, he’ll score 110 runs and drive in 100. And his work in center field is historic. This is the year that the version of Buxton we’ve always known was there is going to emerge. — Bradford Doolittle


Or make that the Year of Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz leads baseball in home runs and OPS and wins AL MVP honors and leads the Twins to a World Series championship. All-in. Lineup. Rotation. Bullpen. Manager. And the 40-year-old Boomstick. Does Cruz look old to you? It’s incredible to think about where he was in his career just a decade ago, but now he is seemingly at the top of his game, regularly churning out 40-homer seasons. Now comes 50. Homers. Not age. Not yet. — Eric Karabell

Or Jose Berrios will win the American League’s Cy Young Award, the World Series MVP award and record said Fall Classic’s final out

Most of the problems with Berrios’ 2020 were related to fastball command — a pitch in which he added velocity despite those issues — and since the exhibition season began, he certainly seems to have corrected them. He has added more spin and a hint more velocity to the pitch, giving him two bona fide swing-and-miss pitches, and he’s one of the few who should get a workload befitting an “ace” in today’s game. These Twins will go far in the playoffs, thanks in large part to his efforts. — Tristan Cockcroft

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New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole struggles with grip, tells MLB ‘just talk to us’

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BUFFALO — Gerrit Cole called out Major League Baseball in its attempt to regulate foreign substances after struggling to grip the baseball during his start against the Toronto Blue Jays on a cold, windy Wednesday night at Sahlen Field.

“It’s so hard to grip the ball,” a frustrated Cole said after the New York Yankees‘ 3-2 win. “For Pete’s sake, it’s part of the reason why almost every player on the field has had something, regardless if they’re a pitcher or not, to help them control the ball.”

Cole added: “We are aligned in a lot of areas with the commissioner’s office on this. … Please, just talk to us, please just work with us. I know you have the hammer here. But we’ve been living in a gray area for so long. I would just hate to see players get hurt. I would hate to see balls start flying in people’s head. I had a really tough time gripping the baseball tonight, especially early when it was windy. I don’t really care to be inflammatory here, so I am just going to leave it at that.”

This was Cole’s first start since Major League Baseball sent a memorandum detailing enhanced enforcement of Official Baseball Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c) and (d), which prohibit applying foreign substances to baseballs. Those foreign substances are frequently used to doctor baseballs for increased spin rates.

MLB’s research concluded that “foreign substances significantly increase the spin rate and movement of the baseball, providing pitchers who use these substances with an unfair competitive advantage over hitters and pitchers who do not use foreign substances, and results in less action on the field.”

A lower fastball spin rate did not affect Cole’s execution against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. Despite setting a season high for hits allowed in the first inning with three, Cole allowed only two earned runs, both on solo homers, over eight solid frames.

Cole, who struck out a season-low four batters, threw 104 pitches, 47 of them fastballs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Cole’s fastballs averaged a spin rate 2,303 revolutions per minute (RPM), down 210 RPM from his season average coming into the game. In his start in Minnesota last Wednesday, Cole’s fastballs averaged a spin rate of 2,515 revolutions per minute.

“We’re all just trying to trying to play by the rules, play by what the commissioner’s handed out going forward,” Cole said. “Spin rate is not everything. You can still pitch well if you don’t have a high spin rate.”

When asked whether he had a chance to discuss the report with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who was at Sahlen Field for the Blue Jays-Yankees game Wednesday night, cracking a smile, Cole quipped: “Probably not the not the right time to have a discussion with Rob before I’m gonna go pitch.”

Abiding by the new rules, Cole struggled with his grip in a windy night by Lake Erie, with temperatures hovering in the high 40’s with the wind chill.

“I was messing with [my grip] all night,” he said. “To make a drastic change in the middle of the season is going to be challenging for a lot of people. I am a little concerned of injuries, especially after talking to Tyler [Glasnow]. I hope that we can apply some feel to the situation. I would encourage the commissioner’s office to continue to talk with us, please, because we’re the ones that throw the ball. They don’t. And we’re the experts in this situation.”

Cole said that he spoke to Glasnow, the Tampa Bay Rays ace who sounded off on MLB’s crackdown of foreign substances after he was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor tendon strain.

“I talked to him privately and I’ll keep most of the details of that private,” he said. “I feel for the guy in that situation. We’re all out there trying to compete, and he’s working his tail off trying to compete for his team and it’s just … yeah, man, that’s a bummer.”

Cole agreed with Glasnow’s assessment of understanding MLB’s policing of sticky substances, but both have an issue with it happening midseason because they believe eliminating something that helps pitchers’ grip could lead to an increase in injuries. Cole added that he would like MLB to come up with a substance to help with the grip, besides rosin.

“We’ve heard about a universal substance. I certainly think that’s something to be discussed,” he said. “I read a statement from the commissioner’s office that this isn’t about blaming anybody. I hope that we can remember that as an industry and just keep the lines of communication open in regards to this, between all three parties, umpires, players, and the league, and move in the right direction going forward.”

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Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman leaves with strained quadriceps vs. Texas Rangers

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HOUSTON — Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman left Wednesday night’s game against the Texas Rangers with a strained left quadriceps.

Bregman was injured in the first inning while running to first base when he grounded into a double play. He pulled up a few steps before first base and hobbled off the field after the play before heading to the clubhouse.

He was replaced by Robel García to start the second inning.

Bregman is hitting .275 with seven homers and 34 RBIs this season.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Jean Segura (groin) out at least 3 weeks; Bryce Harper (back) day-to-day

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LOS ANGELES — The Philadelphia Phillies will be without second baseman Jean Segura for at least three weeks with a Grade 1 left groin strain, while slugger Bryce Harper is day-to-day with lower back tightness after both were injured Tuesday.

Segura was added to the 10-day injured list Wednesday before a game at Dodger Stadium, and infielder Nick Maton was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Segura and Harper were hurt during a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Harper left in the fourth inning after he struck out swinging, and Segura appeared to injure himself crossing first base on a ground ball in the ninth.

Harper was not in the lineup in Wednesday’s series finale against the Dodgers but is considered probable to return Friday in the opener of a three-game series at San Francisco.

Segura is batting .332 with three home runs and 20 RBIs and had been particularly hot of late with three consecutive three-hit games before the Phillies started a three-game series at Los Angeles on Monday.

Harper is hitting .274 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs, with a three-hit game Saturday at home against the New York Yankees, while collecting two hits and the Phillies’ only RBI in Monday’s 3-1 defeat to the Dodgers.

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