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Oct 5, 2017
Oct 5, 2017

MLB playoff betting: Who will make it to the World Series?

Team-by-team preview of the MLB postseason

Who has hit form at the right time?

Which team can cause an upset and make it to the World Series?

MLB playoff betting: Who will make it to the World Series?

Credit: Getty Images

The MLB regular season is over and the division winners have been decided. While four teams contest the Wild Card spots, others have some vital rest before the start of the postseason. Below, we take a look at what bettors can expect and highlight data points that could give you an edge when betting on the MLB playoffs.

MLB has undergone major changes over the last quarter-century. Gone are the front offices composed of veterans of the game whose opinion reigned supreme. In their place sit Ivy League graduates who come armed with mathematical models, statistics and data that has changed how we both watch the game, and bet on it.

This new approach means that teams manage expectations and no longer think they’ll be competing for the World Series every year. Most clubs go through competitive peaks and valleys with an eye for competitive window and an adherence to that reality.

Cleveland may boast the best top-to-bottom pitching staff in the history of the game. Indians pitchers have accumulated 15.9 WAR in the second half, some 40% more than any other team.

This year has seen the peaks and valleys approach manifest in a select group of elite teams. Houston, Washington and the LA Dodgers had their respective divisions won by the all-star break, the Indians and Cubs inevitably separated themselves from their respective months that followed and the Red Sox and Yankees had only one another to blame for not joining in that pattern.

Now, those seven teams and the Arizona Diamondbacks (contesting the National League Wild Card game) are the only teams to win as many as 54% of their games in a season in which 18/30 teams have won less than half the time. 2017 is the year of the elite playoffs.

Bettors are now set for a run of playoff games that in previous years would be reserved for the World Series alone. Below, we look at the teams that will feature in those series and a few points to keep in mind when betting on them.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers were vying to become one of a handful of teams in MLB history to boast a .700 win percentage before stumbling in late August. Since that skid, they’re 9-5 and seemingly returned to form. Boasting the highest payroll in baseball, all eyes will be on the Dodgers, operated like a small-budget club, to see if their 2017 saga ends in the glory so many felt they were destined to achieve before the tumble.

Regular season record: 104-58

The Dodgers were on pace to challenge the best records of all-time before hitting an inexplicable skid in which they lost 16 of 17.

Factors to consider:

  • Alex Wood’s brand skyrocketed when he finished the first half of the season without a loss. His overall numbers (K/9 8.92, K-BB% 18.4, FIP 3.32) are strong, but bettors need to be wary; he hasn’t been the same pitcher in the second half (K/9 6.78, k-BB% 12.7, FIP 4.76).
  • Yu Darvish has had a (for him) mediocre year, but after a rough start in LA he’s found himself, giving up just nine hits and a walk while striking out 21 in 19.1 innings. The Dodgers may have found the man they traded for in the nick of time.
  • A year ago, the Dodgers’ known weakness was hitting against lefthanders. In 2017, that problem has been erased, with the offence registering a top five performance versus southpaws.

Cleveland Indians

After a disappointing loss in the extra innings of game 7 to lose last year’s World Series, Cleveland enters the tournament as the hottest team in the game. The primary cast members are back and this time they’re healthy and boast reinforcements.

Regular season record: 102-60

It took Cleveland a while to get going; they were just 47-40 at the All-Star break. The additions of Jay Bruce and Joe Smith have proven key.

Factors to consider:

  • Cleveland may boast the best top-to-bottom pitching staff in the history of the game. Indians pitchers have accumulated 15.9 WAR in the second half, some 40% more than any other team.
  • Manager Terry Francona pioneered a bullpen-reliant pitching strategy for last year’s playoffs; while it was hugely successful in the first two rounds (where Cleveland won despite being underdogs), his primary arms ran out of steam in the World Series. This year, the added depth could allow Francona to rely a little less on Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to avoid a similar burnout situation.

Houston Astros

Baseball’s hottest team in the first half, Houston encountered injury issues in the second half, but are 19-9 in the last month and seem primed for a deep run.

Regular season record: 101-61

Houston had its division locked up early in the season and have been playing for relatively little. Injuries to major stars derailed them for a bit in the second half, but they’re back. Additionally, Houston made the biggest single addition during the season, adding Justin Verlander, a number one ace who seems primed for a dominant October run after an incredibly strong September.

Factors to consider:

  • Throw whoever you want against them: Houston ranks top in MLB in offence against both lefties and righties.
  • Brad Peacock (10.42 k/9, 21.5 K-BB%, 3.34 xFIP) and Charlie Morton (10.55 k/9, 20.4% K-BB%, 3.49 xFIP) have quietly been amongst the league’s best starters in the second half. Of course, Justin Verlander striking out 1/3 of all batters he’s faced since coming to Houston doesn’t hurt either.

Washington Nationals

Thanks to the flashier narratives of the teams around them in this list, the Nats seem poised to offer excellent value in our betting markets. Bryce Harper is back from injury, the team’s bullpen problems of the first half are a memory and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg stand poised at the head of the rotation as perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the game.

Regular season record: 97-65

The July additions of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson bolstered an effort that took the Nats’ pen from worst in MLB in the first half to the fourth most productive (by WAR) in the second half. This is a more complete team now. 

Factors to consider:

  • Despite a lineup that boasts Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals have just a 99 wRC+ against both lefties and righties. In other words, the offence is just average. 
  • Max Scherzer, unquestionably excellent, hasn’t quite been himself in the second half. His k-BB% has dropped from 30.0% before the all-star break to 22.4% in the second, his xFIP from 3.08 to 3.67.

Boston Red Sox

The favourite in the betting markets heading into the season, Boston hasn’t quite been the dominant club pundits expected. It enters October with more questions than answers, with Chris Sale looking mortal, David Price in the bullpen and Drew Pomeranz recently ineffective.

Regular season record: 93-69

Factors to consider:

  • Chris Sale lost the Cy Young in the last two months of the season, especially September when he allowed a .366 wOBA. That’s not a coincidence; the late fade has become a habit for Sale and doesn’t bode well for him in the playoffs.
  • The best in the game a year ago, the Red Sox offence has been below average this year, with its 92 wRC+ ranking Boston 23rd in the game. The Red Sox have certainly missed David Ortiz since he retired.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Facing the uphill climb that’s inevitable for any team facing a single-game playoff, Arizona will be dangerous should they advance. They’ve decimated the Dodgers in the late season and stand poised to face their divisional foes should they defeat the Rockies.

Regular season record: 93-69

Arizona were 69-93 a year ago but the Diamondbacks have been the biggest surprise in MLB this year. Still, if anything, the record would likely have a couple of extra wins to it if they’d played the entire season with JD Martinez, the hottest hitter in MLB.

Factors to consider:

  • Despite the addition of Martinez (28 HR in 243 Abs since joining Arizona) and the presence of MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, the offence has been below average. 
  • Arizona’s pitching has been elite, rivalling that of the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers for second-best in the game.
  • Arizona has been particularly effective at pitching to lefties, leading MLB in wOBA against, SLG against, OBP against, FIP and ERA, most of them by sizable margins.

Chicago Cubs 

It’s been a tough stretch for Cubs fans, who’ve had to endure the last eleven months since the team last won a championship. That said, many expected 2016 to be the start of an era of dominance, but the team hasn’t provided quite that level of performance in 2017.

Regular season record: 92-70

Perhaps suffering from World Series hangover, the Cubs were just 43-45 at the all-star break; since then, they’ve played up to pre-season expectations, going 45-24. This is more like a 95-98 win team.

Factors to consider:

  • An elite pitching team a year ago, Chicago’s staff fell to middle of the pack this year, with both starters and relievers faltering by comparison to a year ago.
  • While not as productive its record-setting performance, the Cubs defence is still the best in baseball. Be sure to consider it when judging Cubbies starters.

New York Yankees

The Yankees’ rebuild was supposed to come to fruition in 2018, but their young players arrived early. Like the Diamondbacks, New York must deal with the lottery aspects of the wildcard game, but this is a team built with postseason baseball in mind and will be a legitimate contender if it wins its first game on Tuesday.

Regular season record: 91-71

Why that record is deceptive: No team added more at the trade deadline than the Yankees. Sonny Grey, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson have all been substantial additions, adding depth to the core that made contention possible in the first place. 

Factors to consider:

  • Regardless of who’s starting, expect the Yankees to lean heavily on the bullpen, which has accumulated more WAR in the second half (8.8) than any team in MLB.
  • Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, traditionally the Yankees’ 8th and 9th inning men, have actually been New York’s fifth and fourth best relievers in the second half. The depth of this bullpen is incredible. 
  • Aaron Judge in September: .308 BA, 13 home runs. He’s back.

Minnesota Twins

One of these things is not like the other. When looking at the Twins, one is reminded of 5’3” Mugsy Bogues playing in the NBA with men routinely 20 inches taller than him. Minnesota, 59-103 a year ago, faded badly enough in July to sell at the trade deadline, only to see surges from Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer reignite the team to outlast the mediocre AL field for the second wildcard spot. Minnesota appears seriously outgunned against the Yankees, but it’s only one game…

Regular season record: 85-77

Beyond their 59-win season a year ago, Minnesota is just 11-24 against the other AL playoff teams this year. They’ve feasted on the league’s weaker teams.

Factors to consider:

  • Minnesota has had the fifth best offence in MLB overall, but have struggled against lefties (95 wRC+). Betting them vs righties isn’t the worst idea.
  • The Twins lineup has accumulated the second-most in MLB in the second half. 

Now that you've got all the insight you need, it's time to take advantage of the best MLB odds online!

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