Taking shots at the MLB bargains

Taking shots at the MLB bargains

March 20, 2018 3:01 AM
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With Major League Baseball set to start playing for real March 29, it’s a good time to take a stab a picking some long shots to win pennants and/or the World Series before your favorite underdog starts off fast and the odds plummet.

It’s usually smart to pass on making wagers too early in the offseason because numbers often skyrocket for many of the unheralded teams by the time spring training commences. For instance, the White Sox and Braves opened as mere 50-1 World Series choices in late October, but now are 200-1 apiece. Miami and KC, which started at 80-1, now are 500-1.

The two wild-card system, which was invented in 2012, has made the season even more exciting than in the past with many dreg teams staying semi-relevant well into September. As an example, last season’s Oakland A’s, whose Series odds were 9999-1 in early August and off the board by Labor Day, weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until Sept. 22.

Now for a look at this year’s under-the-radar postseason possibilities for the American League, with NL choices coming next week. Odds listed were posted at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook on March 17.

EAST

Boston and the NY Yankees have had a virtual stranglehold on the division during the wild-card era that dates to 1995, with at least one of the teams gaining a postseason berth in all but one of the past 23 seasons. 

That occurred in 2014 when Baltimore won the division by 12 games after opening as a 35-1 pick to win the World Series.

This year the Yankees (5-6 to win the East) and Red Sox (13-10) again are overwhelming choices to run 1-2 in this loop, just like in 2017 when the wild-card Yanks reached Game 7 of the ALCS before falling. This season, neither New York nor Boston seem worth a pennant/Series wager, with NYY at 3-1/6-1 and the Sox 5-1/10-1.

That leaves Toronto (15/30) and then both Baltimore and Tampa Bay (100/200). As for the Blue Jays, forget it at these odds. Their championship window has all but closed after they reached the ALCS in 2015 and 2016 before nose diving to 76-86 last year without departed slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, isn’t worth a sniff after its Jeter-like winter fire sale.

Thus, it’s a less-than-enthusiastic tip of the cap to the O’s, especially after expected closer Zach Britton suffered an Achilles injury this week.

But they’ve still got slugger Manny Machado and OF Adam Jones (but for how long?), and one of the league’s premier skippers in Buck Showalter.

After all, heavy favorites have prevailed before. It was only 10 years ago Tampa Bay came out of nowhere to rule the division and ultimately win the pennant as a 125-1 pick.

CENTRAL

Cleveland, which ran away with the division the past two years, including by 17 games in 2017, is the heaviest favorite to make the postseason at 1-6. But there obviously are no guarantees.

Washington was a 1-5 choice to take the NL East three seasons ago a year after winning the division by 17 games and didn’t even make the playoffs.

Anyway, there isn’t much value taking the Indians at 3-1/6-1 for the pennant or World Series. If they creep out of the gate like last year when they stood last two weeks into the season, maybe the odds will rise to more a palatable level.

Minnesota, which earned the second wild card last year at 85-77 thanks to an MLB-best jump of 26 wins over 2016, is at 12/25. But no thanks. The Twins’ pitching staff had the highest ERA among the 10 playoff teams last year. That leaves three bottom feeders looking to the future – the ChiSox at 100/200 and Detroit and KC both at 250/500.

The elderly Tigers might not have finished cratering after dominating the Central from 2011-14, and the decomposing 2015 world champion Royals have taken too much of a hit with losses in free agency.

Therefore, it’s the White Sox. They have an up-and-coming team that has cashed in with some nice prospects thanks to recent trades of star pitchers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale in addition to outfielder Adam Eaton. Seeing what the NHL Golden Knights have done, nothing seems impossible.

WEST

World Series champ Houston is expected to be the division’s kingpin again (1-5) and with good reason after winning the loop by 21 games last year. Again there are no guarantees. In 1999, Cleveland failed to make the playoffs a year after winning the Central by 21.5 games.

As for the pennant, Houston is the AL favorite at 5-2 and for the Series is a co-favorite with the LA Dodgers at 5-1. The two teams that should put up the best fight in the division are the LA Angels (12/25) and Seattle (25/50). Bringing up the rear is expected to be Texas and Oakland, both at 100/200.

It’s tempting to select Seattle with ace pitchers Felix Hernandez and lefty John Paxton, but King Felix hasn’t been his dominating self in recent years and Paxton is too injury prone. As for LA, it’s going to need more than just Mike Trout. Import Shohei Ohtani hasn’t shown he’s ready to be a savior.

That leaves mighty long shots to pick from. The choice here is the A’s, who like the White Sox, have some nice young talent, including sluggers Matt Olson and Khris Davis. Considering an AL wild card was won last year with 85 wins and two years earlier with only 86, the postseason isn’t out of sight for field boss Bob Melvin’s men.