The baseball season will hit the midway point during the next couple of weeks and it’s time to reassess the futures landscape and find the best value bets heading into the All Star break.
Teams that peek my interest have a few things in common: they are likely to make the playoffs; they have odds that should get shorter in the next six weeks; and they have the roster make-up of a potential World Series champ.
Outside of the Astros, who have been bet down to favorite status, the AL playoff picture is murky. No team is more than 5.5 games back of the final Wild Card (not even the Athletics, who just completed a four-game sweep of the Yankees). While the Yanks and Red Sox both look uber-strong, one of them will have to contend with the Wild Card game, which is always a coin flip.
That’s why I favor a few NL squads. Four teams (Nationals, Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks) have all but clinched playoff spots already. Aside from which NL West team takes the division and which are relegated to the Wild Card, the NL Central title is the only race still in question.
Here’s where my money is going at this point.
The defending champs have had a bit of a World Series hangover. The biggest issue has been in the starting rotation, where Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks have given up way too many home runs. They all have numbers significantly worse than their career averages, and when dealing with established players, numbers tend to return to the mean.
At the plate, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell have struggled. They are both young, so counting on them to progress back to their own means is a riskier proposition. But both have shown an ability to deliver before and they are two of the best prospects in baseball.
Even if some of Chicago’s roster continues to struggle, the team has plenty of resources (financial and in terms of prospects) to make a deal. If some of the disappointing starts reverse themselves and/or management brings in some help, the Cubs will be in great shape.
Currently, they’re just a couple games over .500 and half a game back of the Brewers in the Central. But the Brewers have an unsustainable road record (19-13) and could become sellers at the deadline if they fall off even marginally over the next couple weeks. The other three teams in the division (Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati) are all at least five games under .500. If the Cubs can top that motley crew, they’ll be back in the ALDS and avoid the Wild Card.
In sum, they are well positioned and have plenty of time to work out the details. Their odds are a lot longer now than they were at the start of the season, making now the time to pounce.
History tells us the Nats will come up small in the playoffs. They’ve reached the postseason in three of the last five years, but lost in the NLDS each time. Will 2017 be any different? While their roster is supremely talented, you could say the same about past teams. Plus, their bullpen is a train wreck.
However, the issues in the pen can be corrected with one or two moves, and all of the other ingredients are in place. Washington leads all of baseball in runs scored; is top-three in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage; and has more quality starts than any other team. The top end of the rotation — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez — has been the best starting trio in the majors this year. Despite a bullpen that has an ERA north of five, the Nats have a 10-game lead in the NL East and are a lock for another NLDS appearance, at the very least.
Count on them trading for a closer, and hopefully a setup man or two, putting the finishing touches on a roster as good as any in the MLB. Their current 9/1 odds are a juicy price.
Barring a monumental collapse or an epic run from a team like the Cardinals, the NL West is almost certainly going to have three playoff teams. The Diamondbacks currently have a 7.5-game lead over the Cubs for the final spot. That means two of the Dodgers, D-Backs, and Rockies will battle in the Wild Card game.
While the Dodgers are the favorites in the division, their odds to win the World Series are 15/2. The Rockies, who currently lead LA by half a game and Arizona by two, are 11/1. Arizona, just on price alone, is intriguing.
As for the roster, the Snakes have balance. They are sixth in MLB in runs scored, and second in team ERA. Paul Goldschmidt is the only true star on offense, but David Peralta, AJ Pollock, and Jake Lamb are three members of a pretty strong but not star studded lineup. The team has five qualified players batting .285 or better, and four with an OPS north of .830.
Zack Greinke is having a very good year on the mound, and Robbie Ray has been every bit his equal. Third starter Taijuan Walker has proven to be an excellent pick-up with an ERA under 3.40. Despite closer Fernando Rodney’s early-season blues, which have mostly been righted, Arizona has the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball.
The Diamondbacks aren’t sexy, but they are solid. Given their likelihood to make the playoffs and their ability to put Grienke on the mound in a potential Wild Card game, the offer value at 16/1.
Photo credit: MissChatter [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
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