The marathon that is baseball’s regular season comes to an end Sunday and 20 of MLB’s 30 teams will be disappointed at having missed the playoffs.
Entering play Tuesday, only five of the 10 playoff teams are known. Atlanta, Houston, the Dodgers and the Yankees have clinched division titles and St. Louis has clinched at least a Wild Card. Minnesota has a two-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central with each having six games to play.
The Wild Card games will be played next Tuesday and Wednesday. The matchups are not yet known but my preference for the winners would be, in order, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Cleveland in the AL and Washington, Milwaukee in the NL.
With one week remaining the American League Wild Card contenders each have at least 93 wins while the National League contenders might attain 90 wins (through Monday the two leaders had just 86 each).
This suggests that the American League pennant winner will likely have faced a tougher road to the World Series than will their NL counterpart.
Of the Wild Card teams, I would give Oakland in the AL and Washington in the NL the best chances of pulling upsets in the League Divisional Series.
Oakland has MLB’s fifth best runs differential (+165) and is 12-1 to win the AL pennant. The A’s do not excel in any specific category but also do not have any glaring deficiencies.
Washington is 10-1 to win the NL pennant and boasts one of baseball’s top three starting pitcher rotations. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each average more than six innings per start.
The three clear-cut favorites to win the World Series remain Houston at +225, the Dodgers at +250 and the Yankees at +350. No other team is less than 10-1 (Atlanta).
The Dodgers will be the top seed in the NL but are vulnerable in their quest to make it to a third straight World Series. Ace Clayton Kershaw has not had the same degree of success in the post season as he’s had prior to October and Hyun-Jin Ryu has not been sharp over his last half dozen starts after being the clear cut Cy Young Award favorite well into August. Walker Buehler has been their most consistent starter all season. And the Dodgers have had bullpen concerns all season.
Both Atlanta and St. Louis are legitimate choices to upset the Dodgers with pennant odds of 4-1 and 5-1 respectively. Both have also had shaky bullpens but their recent performances have improved as their starting pitchers have been more effective over the past six weeks. The Braves and Cardinals are all but certain to meet in one NLDS with the Dodgers facing the Wild Card winner in the other.
Minnesota’s most vulnerable in the AL. The likely AL Central winners will face either Houston or New York. The Twins have not fared well against winning teams, going just 32-37 against teams with winning records but 64-23 vs. teams at or below .500. Division rivals Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit are 19, 43 and 63 games below .500.
About a month ago I played the prop that the Dodgers and Astros would meet in the World Series. The Yes was priced at +200 and is currently +190. I’ll stand by that prediction and will have more thoughts next week.
One series is likely to involve two teams still playing to make the playoffs over the final weekend.
Indians at Nationals: Entering Tuesday Cleveland was a half-game behind Tampa Bay for the second AL Wild Card but also just two games behind Oakland for the top spot and right to host the Wild Card game. Washington had a half-game lead over Milwaukee for the top NL Wild Card and there was a four-game gap to the Cubs with the Mets a game further back. That makes it likely that the Brewers and Nationals will play for the right to face the Dodgers in one NLDS.
The Nats hosted the Phillies in their midweek series while the Indians were at the White Sox. It is quite likely that neither team will have clinched or been eliminated when this series starts Friday. Both teams have solid pitching with the Nats having the better starting rotation but the weaker bullpen. Cleveland’s rotation is nicely above average with a solid bullpen.
Washington has the better offense, averaging about half a run per game more than Cleveland. The Indians allow slightly more than a half run per game less than the Nats. This should be a competitively priced series throughout as long as both teams remain in playoff contention.
My preferred play will be the First Five innings Under the Total, expecting such games to be micro managed given their importance to both teams.
If either team has been mathematically eliminated I will look to play on the team still in contention although that team is likely to be a solid favorite under those circumstances. I would be willing to lay -150 or less.
If either has clinched its Wild Card berth prior to Sunday and the other still needs to win I’d look to play on the team with need as the team that clinched is likely to rest players on Saturday or Sunday (or both if the clinching occurs Friday). Again, no more than -150.