As the long and winding road of the Major League Baseball season draws to its later stages, the question of ‘who do you like to win the World Series’ is becoming more and more prevalent. And while it is an inquiry that is asked often throughout the year and is discussed in Las Vegas well before the first pitch of spring training is thrown, it is often a drastically premature question to yield in a sport so defined by the longevity of its regular season.
Personally, it always seemed like one of the most bizarre sports rituals we have is trying to pick favorites before halfway through a regular season that actually requires six entire months to sort out who even will participate in the league’s playoffs. Discussion in April is speculative at best, and would require one to either have Brandon Stark-like premonition abilities or be spectacularly efficient at swinging in the dark to make a connection with an eventual champion, and base it on exact outcomes occurring. Even based on what is happening at the halfway point of the year is still hedging those bets a bit early, as where the standings sit in July could be a far cry from where things may end up leading into the final month of the year.
A look around the current status of the MLB standings as September prepares make its debut offers a wide range of teams who could qualify for the postseason. Many of them trend in a plethora of different directions, seemingly on a weekly basis. Using a cutoff point of being within four games of a postseason slot, 18 of 30 teams still find themselves within shouting range of a playoff berth (which we will define as within five games of either a division or wild card spot). And while the odds for a few are far greater than that of the whole, it is a clear justification of why it could be argued that of all the ‘big four’ North American professional leagues, none is currently enjoying more parity across the board than the MLB has.
To further the point, it has been 17 years since the league has seen a team win consecutive World Series, when the New York Yankees were dynastic in the late 1990s into 2000. Many have made it to the peak, but repeating and remaining there is a much tougher scenario. And while that create some slightly ominous odds for both the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, who are looking to convert their respective division-leading statuses into repeating as champions of their respective leagues for the World Series, it does hold plenty of weight in understanding why waiting to see where a team is in the twilight of the summer-long pennant chase is the best time to take inventory of true postseason odds.
The time after the rubble of roster reformation via the trade deadline has settled, with a more appropriate look at the health, trends and conditions of each contender is the best vantage point of assessing playoff chances. Simply put –more often than not— they are who they are going to be by now.
So to that extent, let’s have a look at the odds of the remaining combatants fighting for seats at the postseason table before it fills up.
19. Tampa Bay Rays: Tampa lost their grip on things badly over the last month, despite making a plethora of moves to fortify their roster at the trade deadline. They have not played a month above .500 since May, and are spiraling through their worst month of the year in August currently, playing two games worst than every other AL East team.
18. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs failed to cash in on a surge at towards the end of July, and have been outscored by nearly 20 runs in August. Their only way in would be through winning the NL Central, the most generous division in either league, and a division they are now seven games back of.
17. Baltimore Orioles: After jumping out to an early season lead in the AL East, the O’s have spent the better part of the summer losing grip on the division due an MLB-worst pitching staff. And although they have come alive again recently, it is too little too late.
16. Seattle Mariners: It would have been interesting to see what the Mariners could have been if they had stayed healthy. But a pitching staff ravished by injuries throughout the entire year has put an too much emphasis on the offense to carry them, and now they seem to be falling behind the pace of the surging Angels and Rangers within their own division for a wild card spot.
15. Texas Rangers: The returns of Adrian Beltre and Cole Hamels have provided a jolt of electricity into the Rangers, who spent much of the summer squandering away in the mediocrity of middle class of the AL West. But they have become one of the fastest rising clubs in the AL at this current pivotal juncture in the season, and have the looks of potential party crashers. Keep an eye on them.
14. St. Louis Cardinals: An eight-game, ‘Rally Cat’ inspired turnaround gave life to a Cardinals team that had been one of the more surprisingly inconsistent performers throughout much of the year. They are now a part of three-way race in the NL Central, albeit one they will find themselves quickly on the outside of again if they cannot have the elusive consistency in the season’s sixth month.
13. Milwaukee Brewers: Holding the controls of the NL Central postseason invite for most of June and July, they lost that razor thin grasp in late July, and are now chasing the Cubs and fending off the Cardinals as well. They have been better of late however and look to at the very least be in the divisional picture for the remainder of the season.
12. Kansas City Royals: It took quite the surge for Royals to pick themselves up after a torturous start to the year, but here they are hanging in the heart of a wide open AL Wild Card race. While chances of catching up to the Indians are becoming slimmer and slimmer, the Royals remain one of the most dangerous teams in the AL playoff picture, capable of putting on a push to make up lost ground in a hurry. Yet at the same time, their streaky nature could be their undoing as each game carries more and more weight over the next month.
11. Los Angeles Angels: They endured the midseason loss of Mike Trout and actually came out playing better on the other end of it. And now they are in control of one of the AL Wild Card positions as the final month of the season dawns. They look to have the ability to stay in the picture, especially with Trout as leading a better-than-expected supporting cast over solely carrying the weight this year.
10. Minnesota Twins: The Twins seemingly fell off the ladder after the All-Star break, playing five games under .500 after being the most surprisingly strong team in either league to start the year. However, they have rallied of late, currently riding a seven-game win streak back towards the head of the wild card picture, and towards the heels of the Yankees.
9. Colorado Rockies: Led by a pair of MVP-contenders in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, as well as revamped pitching staff, the Rockies have remained firmly in control of a postseason position throughout the entire year. The only question that remains is are they built to win in a series format, with their starting pitching still looking to find its identity at this late juncture in the season. It is a struggle that has them checking in slightly behind their tightest competition (Arizona) for hosting the Wild Card play-in game.
8. Chicago Cubs: Everybody’s favorite sleeping giant finally got back into gear late in July, as the defending champs played their way back into control of the NL Central. And while it is clear they are not the dominant force they were a year ago, they are still an awfully dangerous –and experienced— collective that will be no fun to face off against in any length of series. They are the most uniquely positioned spoiler team in recent memory and could shake things up in October –if they can fend off both Milwaukee and St. Louis to get there.
7. Houston Astros: Okay, I understand that the team that has had the wire-to-wire top record in the American League and is in the lead for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by five games would not seem to have the seventh best odds of winning the World Series. But who the Astros are now is not who they were thanks in part to the second-worst August record in the American League. Whether it is due to having to weather some substantial injuries (Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers to name a few) or failing to make a significant addition via trade, the Astros are currently exhibiting all the signs of a team ready to give up the ghost far too early.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks: The only thing stopping a bigger buy-in on the D’Backs is the fact they have to survive the sudden death nature of the NL Wild Card game made a necessity by the undo fate of sharing a division with the Dodgers. But armed with a dangerous offense and a frontline arm in Zach Greinke that makes all the difference late in the year, the D’Backs could be a frustrating team to cross paths with.
5. New York Yankees: The Yankees built on the back of a faster-than-forseen reemergence at the trade deadline to fortify their roster for the long-haul, and have retained control of the AL Wild Card lead since. And while the picture behind them is an ever-changing scene, it does appear that the Bronx Bombers will get a chance continue to rake their way into a postseason run.
4. Washington Nationals: Once again, the reigning on-paper champs of the National League are looking the part of a team that should make a strong push for a World Series appearance, or least to finally win their first postseason series. But after a dominant run in the NL East that has seen them build out a 13.5-game lead, the bad luck of an aggressive run to first base by Bryce Harper further clouds a picture that was already made bad by injuries to Trea Turner and Adam Eaton plus a leaky bullpen. The Nationals' potential is once more promising, but for from certain.
3. Cleveland Indians: There is so much to like about the Indians, as they are a deep team with a handful of frontline talents that has performed better than any other team in the AL over the last month. The only thing left to concern about them is a handful of substantial injuries which could swell to become bigger issues when the postseason comes around, led by the knee woes of last year’s postseason hero Andrew Miller. They have everything required to make a return to the World Series though, and should not be overlooked under any circumstances as they close in on repeating as AL Central champs.
2. Boston Red Sox: Winners of 14 of their last 18, the Red Sox have been on a steady incline as the season has matured and are on a trajectory that could see them eclipse the Astros’ hold on best record in the AL by the end of the month if Houston doesn’t right its path soon. And with Chris Sale leading the way on the mound and Craig Kimbrel available as a weapon down the stretch, the Red Sox could be the AL’s most dangerous team entering the postseason.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: There is not a lot of need to complicate things here: the Dodgers are not only the best team in baseball, they are historically good. They have opened a 21 game lead in the NL West and have already eliminated the last-place Giants from the postseason, despite their being a full month left in the year. And what is more being the fact they are getting better along the way, as Clayton Kershaw is set to rejoin the team soon. They are going into to the postseason as the most talented team to approach October since the Yankee dynasty of the late 90s, and could be destined to begin a run reminiscent of theirs this season.
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