MLB

MLB postseason odds: Five teams that have helped postseason chances; and five teams that have hurt them

The 2021 MLB season is now three weeks old and, gosh, a lot has happened, and not all of it has been good. The Nationals and Twins experienced separate COVID-19 outbreaks that forced a handful of games to be postponed. Even with the vaccine rollout underway, chances are there will be more pandemic-related postponements in the coming weeks.

MLB and the MLBPA were unable to agree to an expanded postseason format this year, so we are returning to the usual 10-team format. That means three division winners and two wild card teams that will play a one-and-done Wild Card Game per league. Enjoy the Wild Card Game while you can. In all likelihood it will be replaced by a best-of-three Wild Card Series next year.

The season does not end today, thankfully, but here’s what the 10-team postseason field would look like if it did:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Tiebreaker: Athletics vs. Mariners to decide AL West champion (loser is Wild Card team)
Wild Card Game: Angels vs. tiebreaker game loser
ALDS1: AL West champion vs. Wild Card Game winner
ALDS2: Royals vs. Red Sox

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Tiebreaker: Mets vs. Phillies to decide NL East champion (loser misses postseason)
Wild Card Game: Padres vs. Giants
NLDS1: Dodgers vs. Wild Card Game winner
NLDS2: Brewers vs. tiebreaker game winner

It’s still very early and there would be winner-take-all tiebreaker games to decide the NL East and AL West champions. We had two tiebreaker games as recently as 2018, when the Dodgers beat the Rockies to win the NL West and the Brewers beat the Cubs to win the NL Central. Colorado and Chicago then met in the Wild Card Game.

Three weeks is a drop in the bucket in baseball (272 of 2,430 games have been played, or 11 percent), though the old adage rings true: you can’t win a division in April, but you sure can lose one. We can expand that to include a wild card berth, especially since we’re back to the 10-team format last year. The 16-team format took some buzz out of the races last year.

Even with 89 percent of the schedule still to be played, the postseason outlook has changed quite a bit in the early going. Here, according to Sportsline, are the teams that have most helped (and hurt) their postseason odds this year.

Five biggest postseason odds gains

Red Sox (12-8)

17.8%

51.0%

+33.2%

Brewers (11-7)

29.0%

60.0%

+31.0%

Reds (9-9)

31.8%

46.9%

+15.1%

Rays (10-9)

64.8%

79.3%

+14.5%

White Sox (9-9)

41.2%

53.2%

+12.0%

The Angels are right behind the White Sox at plus-11.4 percentage points (17.6 percent to 29.0 percent). No other team as improved their postseason odds more than 7.8 percentage points, and no American League team has improved their postseason odds more than 5.5 percentage points. Here’s where the five teams that has most improved their postseason odds in the early going stand at the moment.

Red Sox: We’re still waiting for the true Red Sox to emerge. They lost their first three games of the season (to the Orioles at home, no less), then rattled off a nine-game winning streak, and are now only 3-5 since. At 5.30 runs per game, Boston is the highest scoring team in the American League, and their run prevention has been better than expected (4.15 runs allowed per game, ninth lowest in baseball). They’ll need Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards to straighten themselves out for that continue, and I’m sure manager Alex Cora would like to have more than four reliable relievers (Matt Andriese, Matt Barnes, Hirokazu Sawamura, Garrett Whitlock). The Red Sox will not play back-to-back series against teams projected to have winning records for another three weeks. The early season schedule gives them an opportunity to fatten up their record.

Brewers: In Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers have maybe the best 1-2 rotation punch in baseball. Their other starters (Brett Anderson, Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta) have been great too, pitching to a 2.77 ERA in 10 games. Milwaukee hasn’t gotten much from their outfield yet (Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich are currently on the injured list) and Keston Hiura looks lost at the plate. The rotation has carried them and they currently sit atop a very winnable NL Central. They don’t need to be perfect to win this division, though there are obvious areas that can be improved (first base, third base, middle of the bullpen).

Reds: If nothing else, the Reds play a lot of high-scoring games, and high-scoring games are fun. They’re averaged 6.17 runs per game on offense, by far the most in baseball, and they’ve allowed 5.22 runs per game, the third most in baseball. The bullpen has been very shaky and they really need Luis Castillo to straighten himself out. The Reds started 6-1 and are 3-8 since, and my worry is their offense has been built on a few too many outlier performances (Tucker Barnhart, Tyler Naquin, etc.) to continue at this pace. The pitching won’t be as bad as it’s been forever and the offense won’t be as good as it’s been forever. Cincinnati has only played six games against NL Central rivals (three vs. Cardinals and three vs. Pirates), so they still have plenty of chance to take care of business themselves in a winnable division.

Rays: The Rays have allowed the fourth most runs per game in baseball (5.16) and that is certainly unusual. They typically rank among the game’s best run prevention teams. Their veteran free agent pitching additions have been duds to date, and they’ve relied on their offense (4.95 runs per game) to get by. Also, the Rays have really beat up on the Yankees. They’re 5-1 with a plus-16 run differential against New York and 5-8 with a minus-20 run differential against everyone else. Willy Adames, Randy Arozarena, and Brandon Lowe haven’t gotten going yet, and it may not be long before Tampa turns to Luis Patiño (or Brent Honeywell Jr. on a more permanent basis) to get the run prevention under control.

White Sox: Depth was the biggest concern coming into the season and it has been tested early with the injuries to Eloy Jiménez and Lance Lynn. Yermín Mercedes has been a godsend, though Jake Lamb played left field last weekend, and that’s not something that should continue. With Andrew Vaughn coming out of the gate slowly, the White Sox could be in the market for an outfielder sooner rather than later. The bullpen has not been quite as dominant as expected and they’ve let a few winnable games slip away. I don’t think that will last all year. Chicago’s postseason odds have improved despite a .500 record because the rest of the AL Central isn’t great, and their biggest competitor (Minnesota) has started slowly. 

Five biggest postseason odds declines

Twins (6-11)

71.8%

43.8%

-28.0%

Cubs (9-9)

45.6%

17.8%

-27.8%

Yankees (7-11)

61.7%

34.0%

-27.7%

Braves (8-10)

83.1%

57.4%

-25.7%

Nationals (7-9)

24.6%

11.0%

-13.6%

Thursday’s win over the Angels likely kept the Astros out of the top (or bottom, really) five. Their postseason odds have dipped 12.5 percentage points in the early going (60.5 percent o 48.0 percent). No other team has seen their postseason odds dip more than 9.2 percentage points. Now here’s where the five teams that have seen their postseason odds drop the most currently stand.

Twins: It’s been a rough few weeks for the Twins, who have gone 1-9 since their 5-2 start, and were kept out of action because of a COVID-19 outbreak last weekend. Wednesday’s loss to the A’s really drove home that Minnesota is a Murphy’s Law team right now. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton, and Nelson Cruz are carrying an offense that will get help Friday when top prospect Alex Kirilloff joins the team, possibly for good this time. The rotation has been hit or miss, and offseason bullpen additions Alex Colomé and Hansel Robles have combined to allow 17 runs (10 earned) in 15 innings. It’s not impossible the AL Central could come down to the Twins signing Colomé away from the White Sox while Chicago upgraded with Liam Hendriks.

Cubs: Sweeping three games from the Mets this week preventing the Cubs from having the largest decline in postseason odds to date. The offense has been dreadful overall and very hot and cold lately (they’re scored 14, 4, 3, 16, and 4 runs in their last five games), and three of their five starters have an ERA north of 6.00. Even the great Kyle Hendricks has gotten hit around in the early going (10 runs in 13 innings). The NL Central is very winnable, so despite the big drop in postseason odds, the Cubs are far from out of it. Going only 3-3 in six games against the Pirates hurts though. Gotta bank those wins against rebuilding teams.

Yankees: The offensive numbers are staggering. The Yankees have the lowest slugging percentage in baseball this year (.338), and they’ve hit only 18 home runs in 18 games. For reference, they swatted 31 home runs in their first 18 games last year. Literally everyone in the lineup 1-9 is performing below expectations. The pitching has been sneaky great (4.00 runs allowed per game, seventh fewest in baseball), though the offense has been punchless. Given the names on the roster, I can’t imagine that’ll last much longer. In addition to their postseason odds dropping 27.7 percentage points, New York has also seen their AL East title odds drop 25.4 percentage points (37.5 percent to 12.1 percent). The inability to beat the Rays may decide the division race.

Braves: The various projection systems were down on Atlanta coming into the season because there is injury risk in the rotation (Max Fried and Drew Smyly are currently on the injured list and Mike Soroka has not yet returned) and several hitters looked poised to come back to Earth following tremendous 60-game seasons a year ago. Ronald Acuña Jr. has been marvelous, but the Braves are still waiting on Ozzie Albies, Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna, and Dansby Swanson to get going. The Braves lost four in a row, won four in a row, lost four in a row again, and are now 4-2 in their last six games. A very up and down year, this has been.

Nationals: Not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty good about my last place Nationals prediction. Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto are on the injured list, Patrick Corbin looks diminished, the team defense is shaky at best, and there’s not much depth behind the regulars. Also, they had a COVID-19 outbreak during the season’s first weekend and are still waiting for Jon Lester to return. The Nationals are 4-2 in one-run games and 3-7 in all other games. That is not a recipe for long-term success. How long until the Max Scherzer trade rumors begin? Flags fly forever and this group won a World Series in 2019. Right now, they don’t look all that close to contending in the NL East, or even for a wild card spot.



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