Playoff races, MVP and Cy Young awards, and a few surprises

Major League Baseball's 2021 regular-season will end exactly one month from now.
Which of the current contenders will make it to the playoffs when it happens? What teams will be looking in from the outside? Are the San Francisco Giants going to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in National League West? Or vice versa. Who are the favourites to win the Fall Classic? What will be the outcome of the MVP and Cy Young awards races? What will Shohei Ohtani’s pitching and batting lines look like after the historic year of the Los Angeles Angels' two-way star?

What other surprises are there?

We assembled a panel consisting of 17 ESPN experts to help us understand the end of the regular season. They answered some of the most pressing questions about September and beyond. We asked them to explain their answers, especially those that were against the grain.

Below are our picks for major awards, postseason and other notable events.

Which team is currently in the playoff field or very close?

Reds 8

Red Sox: 5

Padres 2


Yankees 1

We're still not sold on Reds. None of the other teams in the playoffs are currently in trouble. The Reds are likely the closest team to playing above its head, while Padres are the only team that is still within reach of reaching expectations. Cincinnati might hold on and the field gets more crowded every day, but San Diego is more talented than the Reds. Cardinals, Phillies, or Reds. -- Bradford Doolittle

Neither the Red Sox. Let me be clear: I believe the Red Sox will make it to the postseason. If there is anything that could completely ruin a team at this point, it's a COVID-19 epidemic that wipes out a third of its roster. That's what the Red Sox currently face. Although they have weathered it quite well, they still have series against the Rays, White Sox, and Toronto. The Red Sox have a lot of work ahead of them if they want Chris Sale to take the field in the AL wild-card game. -- Jeff Passan

Which team will finish the regular season winning more: the Giants, or the Dodgers? And how many W's each team has received?

Dodgers: 11

Giants: 6 (Highest: 105, Lowest: 98; Average : 101).

Why the Dodgers San Francisco is the surprise team of the majors, but it will be a disappointment if the Giants finish second. They'll have 102 or103 regular-season wins and then get stuck in the postseason with a wild-card. It will be those nine innings that determine the outcome of a great year of growth. Based on the momentum built since the trade for Trea Turner and Max Scherzer, the Dodgers will end the year with 105 wins. Although they may not be the greatest team of all time, as seemed possible in April; however, they have the best chance of any team since the 1996-2000 Yankees teams to go back-toback. -- Buster Olney

Why the Giants? The September schedule for the Giants is difficult. They'll be taking on the Dodgers and Padres in the division. However, almost half of their games are against Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Rockies. Giants aren’t volatile, with big swings at home and on the road against teams plus or minus.500. They are solid in all aspects. After playing so much great baseball, there's no reason for them to slow down in the last month. Although they may lose to the Dodgers, it will be because Los Angeles is so good. They will continue to prove they are the Giants. -- Jesse Rogers

Voted for a tiebreaker that would end the season. Let's see the picture. The thrilling NL race between star-laden Dodgers and Giants goes down to the wire. Both teams finish tied with 103 wins. After 1951 ("The Giants win The pennant!"), we now have the third Giants-Dodgers tiebreaker. The Giants also won the pennant in 1962 with four runs in Game 9. Walker Buehler wins the Cy Young Award for Dodgers. He snatches it with a 4-0 win that relegates the Giants to the wildcard. -- David Schoenfield

Who will be the No. Who will be the No.

Rays 14

Astros 2

White Sox 1

Why are the Rays so dominant in baseball? From rookie ball to the major leagues, the Rays are the most well-run baseball team. Their secret is that everyone plays and everyone contributes. Their 25th man is more valuable than any other 25th man. Their 20th to 25th men are more valuable than any other team's between 20th and 25th. The Yankees won 13 consecutive games in August and lost to the Rays. This makes them the fourth team to do this in any month since 1965 Giants. -- Tim Kurkjian

But you chose the Astros. Why? It's as easy as the schedule. The Astros' final slate is slightly easier than the Rays -- those being my top two choices -- and the Astros will host three games in Houston when they link up for the last week. Home field is likely on the line. The Astros are a healthier and better team than the one we saw over the past month, with Jose Urquidy and Alex Bregman both back. -- Tristan Cockcroft

You were the only person to choose the White Sox. Why Chicago? Chicago will host six of its nine last series against teams who don't have much to lose in the final month. Two against the Tigers and one against the Royals. The Rays are at the top in a highly competitive division and still have to face the Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Red Sox twice. This is a huge gap that needs to be filled, but the White Sox have all the ability to get hot whenever they want. -- Alden Gonzalez

The 2021 World Series matchup is...


White Sox 7

Astros 5

Rays 4

Yankees 1


Dodgers 12

Giants 3

Brewers 2

Our most-picked matchup was Dodgers-White Sox. These two teams will meet in October. The Dodgers are the most successful team in baseball. Although the White Sox may not be the best team within their league and are six games behind the best record in baseball, here's what they have. Luis Robert, healthy. Yasmani Grandeal is healthy and amazing. The league's deepest roster. Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito are joined by Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, and Lance Lynn. A formidable bullpen. Although it was quite rough in the second half, it is now calibrated to be a playoff powerhouse. It's like explaining why cookies are good for you to explain why the Dodgers exist. It's okay to just say that. While the White Sox might not be the best in the end, they still look like the real deal. -- Passan

The Astros and Giants were runners-up for each league. Both were your choices. Why do you think they are the best? The Giants have been consistent excellent. Their offense is still a threat for long balls, but their pitching keeps it in the park. They score quickly, but make their opponents work hard for every run. With a high-powered offense and Alex Bregman's return, the Astros have outscored their opponents. The Astros have been successful in their pitching with a mixture of young pitchers, great defense and strong additions to the bullpen at trade deadline. These two teams are undoubtedly the best in baseball and they have no clear favorites in their respective leagues. The Astros have proven they are capable of getting hot, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to do the same in postseason. -- Doug Glanville

You cast the only vote for the Yankees, and one for the Brewers. Please tell us why. It is not a good time to give up on your preseason pick, even if it isn't perfect. The Yankees have a highly effective starting lineup and they fixed their lineup before the deadline. Watch out for Aroldis Chapman, who may have one more good month. The men in pinstripes could pull off an upset or two to still be in contention for the Fall Classic. The Brewers are a great team. The Brewers have everything that a team needs: a strong offense, three top starters, and a great bullpen under lefty Josh Hader. They have dominated the NL West powerhouse all season with a 23-9 record against it, including a 12-6 record against the Dodgers and Giants. Milwaukee should be a favorite in the NL. Rogers

The 2021 AL MVPs and NL MVPs will...


Shohei Ohtani 17


Fernando Tatis Jr. 13

Bryce Harper 2

Freddie Freeman 1

Trea Turner 1

The State of Baseball Are baseball games too long? How can the new generation of baseball stars be maximized? We explore the issues that will impact the game beyond this season. The State of Baseball

Ohtani has been amazing! It is impossible to define Shohei Ohtani’s season. Because there are no reputable comparisons, it is impossible to make any comparisons. Stat-facts like "ShoheiOhtani became the first player to achieve something in 103 years," are now parodies. Although they are true, adjectives such as "astonishing, unbelievable, and unprecedented" are not helpful. He is more than a pitcher who hits or a hitter that pitches. He is one of the most skilled hitters and pitchers in the world. He consistently throws the ball faster than anyone in baseball, while hitting the ball harder than anyone in baseball. It is inexplicable. -- Tim Keown

Why vote for Harper and not Tatis? Tatis seems to be lacking his usual infectious energy since his temporary move to outfield. This could lead to another shoulder subluxation that could cause his season to end abruptly. Harper does not have these concerns. Harper has been soaring hot at the plate since July's start, batting.332/.448/.668. This is a great sign that he will continue to be an important player for the Phillies in September. -- Gonzalez

The Cy Youngs will also go to...


Gerrit Cole 12

Lance Lynn 3

Robbie Ray 2


Walker Buehler 12

Corbin Burnes 2

Zack Wheeler 2

Josh Hader 1

By a mile, it's Cole and Buehler. Why is this so important? It's a matter of both pitchers being consistent and expecting the unexpected. Jacob deGrom and Cole were the consensus best pitchers to start the season. Cole was like a house on fire at the beginning, but he fell off some when sticky-stuff enforcement took effect, and has since regained his position at the top of the pecking list. According to perception, Buehler was more like the fourth or fifth-best NL pitcher heading into the season. DeGrom was hurt, Clayton Kershaw was hurt, and so on. Buehler was the elite NL hurler who has exceeded expectations throughout the entire season. There's no reason for us to believe that Cole and Buehler won't do what they were meant to, as it is evident that both are continuing to perform to the end. They are now clear Cy Young picks in each league. Doolittle

Buehler? Buehler? Sorry friends, you missed the NL Cy Young voting. Imagine if I told y'all that there is a pitcher who ranks first among qualified starters in strikeouts per 9 innings, third in walks per 9 innings, and tops the list in homers/9 with a record nearly twice as high as the next guy. You know he is the Cy Young winner. He is. That is why Walker Buehler of the Dodgers was chosen over Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes. The AL isn’t cut-and–dried either with Lance Lynn and Robbie Ray at least in Gerrit Col's area. It is foolish to overlook Burnes. It is undeniable that Buehler was a great player. He had a 2.05 ERA in the MLB, 176 innings pitched (ranking second overall), and great peripherals. It is easy to vote for Buehler. This is a poor choice considering Burnes's performance: He walks 1.68, hits 12.24 per nine and allows only five home runs in his 139 innings. It is almost certain that the winner of NL Cy Young will be a player whose last name begins with B-U. -- Passan

Why Josh Hader? I find it increasingly difficult to award this award to a "starter". It is more dependent on the matchups in bullpen that a player can win a game. Even the most talented starters can't complete games, let alone get into the seventh or ninth innings. It might not be their fault. Lance Lynn, who has had an amazing year, averages six innings per start. Craig Kimbrel would have a great year, but he had been playing in the American League for the entire season. Ryan Pressly would also be worthy of votes. We all know that there's still a lot of baseball and relievers can have a bad season. -- Glanville

This is the Year of Shohei Ahtani. How will he pitch and bat in his final innings?

Average batting line: 49 HR, 107 RBIs, .262 BA

Average pitching line: 10, 2, 159 SO, 3.07 ERA

We have Ohtani just shy of 50 homers as a group. At 51, you were the highest vote. Why? To reach 51, Ohtani would need to hit nine homers in September. This is something he did in only two of the five months this season -- June when he had 13 and July when he had nine. Ohtani had a terrible August at the plate, slashing just.202/.345/.404. But the Angels will not be making the playoffs this season, September and the first few days in October are his best months. Joon Lee

Mike Trout is right. Ohtani will end the season with 50 homers and 10 wins -- this means Trout's prediction of Ohtani scoring 30-plus homers or winning 10-plus games for Ohtani was correct. Although it was a difficult, injury-plagued year for Trout, he knew before anyone how amazing Ohtani's season would turn out to be. -- Olney

Ohtani... for Cy Young Ohtani will win MVP votes and Cy Young votes. He should continue to run at his current pace, I believe. His many roles have made him remarkably consistent. This alone is remarkable. In September, my first season as an everyday starter, was a complete disaster. It's hard enough being an everyday starter, let alone in multiple roles. -- Glanville

One bold prediction for the last stretch

The American League is a...

The AL East will be won by the Yankees. -- Marly Rivera

The Red Sox have been in serious trouble several times this season, but mainly due to Alex Cora, they always pull through and win again. After winning 13 consecutive games, the Yankees seemed set to win the first wild-card spot. The team then lost three straight after appearing to be on the verge of winning it all. The tie will take place at the end the regular season between these teams for the first wild card spot. In a winner-takes-all match, Gerrit Cole will face Chris Sale. This is the best possible scenario. -- Kurkjian

The National League is...

Atlanta is making me believe. The Braves will increase their lead in the division by at least two games and win the league by eight games or more, something impossible a month ago. Rogers

MLB on ESPN Watch the 2021 MLB season live on ESPN and the ESPN App. All times Eastern Sunday, Sept. 5.

Dodgers-Giants, 7:05 p.m. ESPN Monday, Sept. 6

Rays-Red Sox, 1:05 p.m. ESPN

Giants-Rockies, at 4 p.m. ESPN

The final month of the playoffs will be a difficult one for the Padres. Given the expectations for this season, this is the first major hurdle the Tatis-era Padres will face. Although they have the potential to be one the most important teams in this era's history, talent is only so much, especially in a sport that has so many games. The Padres will rise to the occasion and gain valuable experience in order to be a serious force in the postseason. -- Lee

The Brewers will tie Giants with 100 wins, and win the No. 1 spot in the NL. The Brewers will be the No. 1 seed. The exciting NL West race is all the talk, but the Brewers have three legitimate aces, a best one-two bullpen tandem, and an emerging offense. Christian Yelich's August.313 was a big plus. His power could return soon. This team is dangerous, has a great September schedule and is definitely a contender for the World Series. Eric Karabell

Even worse is the Mets' dismal discourse. That prediction was made before the Zack Scott DWI. It marked the "thumbs-down" spot as the place where I believed things would get worse. The Mets have a 1-in-10 chance of reaching the playoffs, and there is widespread concern about every part of the team. Two Mets first-round draft picks are available next summer. However, this group has just witnessed the worst draft-related disaster in recent history. If they don't make drastic and successful changes, I don't think the Mets will be able to compete next year. While the changes are becoming more likely, the success part remains a question. Kiley McDaniel

Both leagues offer...

The Phillies defeat the Braves to win NL East. They also end the longest playoff drought. In an even more unlikely fashion, the Mariners beat the Red Sox and A's to win the second wildcard and end the longest playoff drought (since 2001). The Reds will make the playoffs. This will mark the end of the longest playoff drought. Angels and Tigers have been making it since 2014. Schoenfield

For individual players,...

Logan Webb will be well-known all over the world. Webb has allowed only two runs or less in 14 consecutive starts. Webb is a shining example of a sinker-slider man who doesn't rely solely on spin rate or the high fastball to dominate major league hitters. Curt Casali, Giants catcher, says that he throws a "heavy" ball -- "Like catching shot put," he said -- and his wiping slider is quickly becoming one of the most valuable pitches in the game. The Giants are the best baseball team. Second-half Webb was first-half Kevin Gausman. He is currently the man to start a wild card game or the first of a series. You will soon if you don't already know him. Hitters already know him. -- Keown

Salvador Perez of the Royals will not only surpass Johnny Bench's homers by primary catchers in a season but also Jorge Soler's Royals record (48) and become the first backstop who has gone deep 50 times. Doolittle

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won the Triple Crown of the American League. Perhaps that's not so crazy after Vlad Jr. was the AL's leader in OPS+, runs, hits and on-base percentage as of August. Jose Abreu's lead will make it difficult for him to lead the AL in RBIs. Remember that Vlad Jr. still has some games against the Orioles. Tony La Russa, White Sox manager, will tailor Abreu's work schedule to make October a smoother experience. -- Olney