And just like that, we’ve reached the end of the MLB regular season and the pool of World Series hopefuls is down to ten. Throughout most of the season, the National League looked like it would belong to the Los Angeles Dodgers while the American League would seemingly go through the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Here at the start of October those three teams are the favorites, but there are certainly paths forward for some of the other teams.
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Teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals have been playing playoff style baseball for awhile now just trying to get into the postseason picture and secure a division title. That could offer them some momentum—though how much can that help overcome a talent disadvantage?
In any case, we are down to the ten best teams in baseball including four teams that won 100-games and three more with at least 95 victories. Now, each team will try to win the 11 more—12 in the case of the Wild Card clubs—needed to be crowned World Series champion.
With the Boston Red Sox sitting it out this October, we will have a new winner. Will it finally be the Dodgers’ year after back-to-back losses in the World Series? Can the Astros or Yankees get back to the top or will it be a team like the Brewers or Tampa Bay Rays getting their franchises’ first title?
- Houston Astros +210
- Los Angeles Dodgers +300
- New York Yankees +450
- Atlanta Braves +750
- Minnesota Twins +1300
- Washington Nationals +1500
- St. Louis Cardinals +1800
- Oakland Athletics +1800
- Tampa Bay Rays +2000
- Milwaukee Brewers +2200
The top three World Series contenders have been consistent throughout the season. The Dodgers looked the part of the NL’s best team throughout the year while the Astros and Yankees seem destined to meet in the ALCS, but is it really that simple to come down to those three clubs? The answer: no.
The Astros, Yankees and Dodgers are the top three teams for a reason. They’re stacked, they’ve won the most games in the regular season and they seem well positioned to at least make it to their respective Championship Series.
For Houston, they’ve got as good a trio atop their rotation as it gets. In October, teams need their aces to step up, but in Houston’s case, they’ve got three and some wiggle room as a result.
Zack Greinke nearly had a no-hitter in his last start of the regular season and is the team’s No.3 starter despite an 8-1 record and 3.02 ERA in 10 starts since coming over from the Diamondbacks. That’s because the top two arms are also the top two AL Cy Young Award contenders in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole who are both 20-game winners and each have an ERA below 2.60 and WHIP south of 0.900. They’ve also combined for 626 strikeouts. That’s quite an advantage, particularly when the bullpen is nearly as deep as the rotation and the offense has seven guys with a 125 OPS+ and four with at least 30 home runs.
The Dodgers are, perhaps, the next most complete team next to the Astros. Hyun-Jin Ryu has regressed some down the stretch, but still has a 2.32 ERA. The NL All-Star starter is joined by Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw in the rotation giving them their own version of Astros’ elite three. They also have the rotation depth to send to the bullpen and beef up the back-end which is a bit of a question mark after a down year by Kenley Jansen. Still, there are plenty of quality arms at Dave Roberts’ disposal. On top of that, this is a deep offensive club. Cody Bellinger brings the .305/.406/.629 slash line along with his 47 home runs, but this lineup is more than one player.
In addition to Bellinger, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Will Smith, David Freese and so many others are also strong players in their respective roles.
New York doesn’t have the starting pitching to compete with the Astros or Dodgers, but they have an even deeper bullpen and a lineup that’s just as scary. The Yankees have also shown their insane depth and the ability for a variety of guys to step up throughout an injury-plagued season. There’s enough on the mound and more than enough at the plate to tell a story of how the Yankees go all the way.
Once we get past those top-three teams, there’s a bit of a drop off in the odds, but this is where savvy bettors can find value. The baseball postseason is unpredictable. In a Wild Card game, five-game division series or even a seven-game set, anything can happen. One key bat getting hot—or going cold—can make a difference. One starter—or even elite reliever—taking his team on his back could certainly change the narrative.
With that in mind, teams in the next tier in these odds certainly pose a threat. The Minnesota Twins, after all, were just a few wins behind the Yankees and one of the four 100-win teams this season. They’ve got some pitching questions—but so do the Yankees. They do have Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi who will need to pitch well to give the team a chance, but it’s certainly possible.
Minnesota also has a strong enough offense to keep up with the likes of Houston and New York in a series. From Nelson Cruz to Miguel Sano, this team can mash.
In the NL, the Cardinals and Braves are going head-to-head in the NLDS with one guaranteed a spot in the NLCS. The Braves would seemingly have the edge, but the Cardinals have played well down the stretch and have—arguably—the best pitcher in baseball, at least in the second-half, in Jack Flaherty who has been lights out. If he continues to pitch well and the bullpen comes together, this team could surprise.
As for the Braves, they’ve got Josh Donaldson, Ronald Acuna Jr., and Freddie Freeman leading the offense. That’s three guys with at least 37 homers, each more-than capable of changing the game with a single swing. The Braves also have a strong rotation and bullpen that has really come together.
The longest odds of the postseason teams belong to the Wild Card contenders. That makes sense as all four must go through a one-game win-or-go-home showdown to get to a division series. Baseball is a marathon sport and, in a win-or-go-home scenario, anything can happen making it a lot less predictable that a team will even get a chance in a postseason series. And, for the teams that do win, they’ll have to go against either the Houston Astros or the Los Angeles Dodgers having already burned one of their best pitchers.
Of course, the Wild Card game does provide a bit of momentum boast. We’ve seen that benefit teams in the past whether the Kansas City Royals in an epic battle against the Oakland Athletics years ago of the San Francisco Giants who rode a Wild Card win to a World Series title.
As for the teams individually, the Washington Nationals are a dangerous team given their strong starting rotation and pesky offense, but the bullpen is likely to be exposed should they get past the first game. The Brewers have been playing great baseball, but they’re without Christian Yelich, their best player.
On the AL side, the Athletics won 97 games and the Rays won 96. These are very good teams, but they’re both scrappy small-market teams that piece things together and ride the hot hand. If the right player gets hot, even they have a chance.