With MLB play beginning for keeps Thursday with a full slate of games, it’s your last opportunity to jump on some preseason long-shot futures before the odds have a chance to tumble on under-the-radar teams.
Take Arizona for example. Last year the Diamondbacks opened at 100-1 to win the World Series, but got off to a 6-1 start and by the Fourth of July the number was down to 14-1. They eventually won 93 games and captured the first wild card before advancing to the divisional round. It was a fun ride for early Arizona backers.
Last week the American League races were examined and three obscene long shots got a thumbs up: Baltimore in the East, the ChiSox in the Central and the A’s in the West. This week it’s the NL, where the choices won’t be so extreme but still should offer a season’s worth of thrills.
Here’s a division-by-division look at the circuit. Odds are provided by Westgate Las Vegas.
In the six years since a second wild card was implemented into the playoff mix, this division has produced only two WC teams, the fewest for any MLB division. And that’s puzzling since the group has had more than its share of dreadful teams and thus created a favorable schedule in September for any East club on the playoff bubble.
Washington is the 1-4 choice to take the division after winning the loop by 20 games in 2017. And at 7-2 for the pennant and 8-1 for the Series, the Nationals are just too good to play here. (FYI: Washington was an even heavier choice to win the division in 2015 at 1-5 but didn’t reach the postseason.)
The NY Mets are next in line (12-1 pennant, 25-1 WS), but their pitchers have been injury-prone and can’t be trusted. Another team to disregard is severely depleted Miami. The Marlins’ projected win total is a league-low 63.5, an incredible 11 games worse than Tampa Bay.
So, like last year, that leaves Philadelphia (40/80) or Atlanta (50/100). The vote is for the Phillies, 66-96 last year, who are deeper into their rebuild and just added ex-Cubs standout pitcher Jake Arrieta and ex-Indians slugger Carlos Santana to provide a championship pedigree. And then there’s last year’s rookie sensation, Rhys Hoskins, who had 18 home runs in limited action.
After all, if Minnesota can go from 59 wins to 85 last year, maybe the Phils can do much the same thing.
Last year’s choice: Philadelphia (50/100) finished fifth.
Yet again, the Cubs are the heavy choice to win the race at 5-12, with pennant/Series numbers at 3-1/7-1. As usual, as long as they are any good, their odds will be seriously depressed.
St. Louis, which was spurned by Giancarlo Stanton during the offseason, is the second choice at 8-1/18-1. It seems the Cardinals’ odds are based more on tradition than their true current value.
The clear choice of the remaining three is Milwaukee (15-1/30-1), which led the division by 5.5 games at the All-Star break last year before fading and finishing one game out in the wild-card race. Cincinnati (150/300), meanwhile, has a gopher-ball pitching staff and Pittsburgh (100/200) unloaded the heart of its team (OF Andrew McCutchen, RHP Gerrit Cole).
Making the Brewers’ particularly potent are the additions of outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. (Last year’s pick: Milwaukee)
Los Angeles, which was a loser in Game 7 of the World Series last year, is the 1-3 choice for the division, which should be the most competitive in the NL.
The Dodgers are league favorites to win the pennant at 9-4 and co-choice with Houston at 5-1 to take the Series.
The Dodgers figure to be chased by last year’s two wild cards, Arizona (15/30) and Colorado (25/50), in addition to San Francisco (15/30), which has a habit of winning the Series in even years (2010, ‘12, ‘14). The Giants even added veteran offensive weapons McCutchen and Evan Longoria from Tampa. Only San Diego (150/300) seems to be an afterthought, but the generous odds are tempting.
The Giants were the long-shot choice until lefty Madison Bumgarner just had surgery to repair a broken left pinkie. He’s likely to be out at least two months. Thus, no thanks.
The new choice is Colorado, which won 87 games last year and has an unheralded rotation, led by Jon Gray, in addition to plenty of offense led by veteran sluggers Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.
Last year’s pick: Arizona (50/100), reached the divisional round.