We are inching closer and closer towards the 2019 MLB All-Star break, and the boys of summer are looking at the winding road ahead to October Glory. You can kind of already picture the MLB playoffs for 2019, although it’s unclear where some pieces may lay (Rays and Yankees neck and neck in the AL East). Which 6 teams do I think stand the best chance?
The Houston Astros
The Astros are coming off a stretch where they didn’t have their firepower in the lineup of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. However, players such as Yordan Alvarez came up to the Major League level and showed just how much depth the Houston system has. The 21-year old prospect has hit to a magnificent 1.211 OPS with 4 homeruns and a .333 batting average in a small sample size. George Springer is rightfully about to start the All-Star game again (.308 BA, 17 HR, 2.5 WAR) and Michael Brantley not that far behind him in terms of production (.315 BA, 10 HR, 2.2 WAR). Alex Bregman is posting another MVP caliber season and the offense is firing on all cylinders without its MVP cornerstone. How about the pitching? Once again led by future Hall of Famer and former AL MVP, Justin Verlander has posted a stellar 2.59 ERA to go along with a 9-3 record and 133 Ks in the first half. They are second in team ERA at 3.60, trailing on Tampa Bay (3.07). The team is all around very strong as they look to win their second championship in 3 years.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
Led by the dynamic Cody Bellinger (.355 BA, 23 homeruns, 6.0 WAR), the L.A. Dodgers look to end the trend and not get the distinction of baseball’s Buffalo Bills. The Dodgers pitching is incredible. Hyun-Jin Ryu has broken out in an unfathomable way, posting a 9-1 record with a 1.26(!) ERA in 93 innings. The groundball magician is backed up by a great defense, who can also do a lot offensively. They’ve hit 115 HRs overall as a team so far, with an .808 OPS. They steal bases, they strike you out. The fear is the bullpen, with Kenley Jansen continually getting shellacked every other outing. If they acquire a closer at the deadline, there may be no stopping the Dodgers.
The Minnesota Twins
One of the more exciting surprises of the season is the Minnesota Twins. Flourishing by beating up on 4 of the weakest teams in baseball, the Twins look absolutely unstoppable. They lead the league in homeruns and are on pace for the most in a single season in MLB history. They’ve gotten fantastic pitching from unexpected sources, such as Jake Odorizzi in the rotation (10-2, 2.24 ERA) and Taylor Rogers in the bullpen (2.03 ERA, 40 Ks). With flashy signings like Nelly Boomstick and Marwin Gonzalez; combined with the savvy under-the-radar signings such as CJ Cron, mixed with the talent they extended (Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco), the Twins can thank a very active winter for where they’re at. It’s looking like it’ll payoff. Will the be tested come the Fall, though?
The Tampa Bay Rays
Next up, a team that’s surprised many who shouldn’t be surprised. Following a 90-win season, the Rays lost none of their major players while adding players such as Charlie Morton, who’s been one of the ALs most reliable arms this season and Avisail Garcia who offers speed, pop and fantastic defense. He has a knack for infectious contact. Full seasons of Austin Meadows, who’s arguably been the AL MVP in the first half and natural born leader Tommy Pham who might be TBs best overall weapon. It only makes since that they got better. This is yet another year of Kevin Cash‘s savvy, innovative use of pitching, named the “opener.” It’s given the Rays a 3.07 ERA as a team. That’s first in baseball. The Rays are a scrappy team that will fluster their opposition. Neck and neck with our next team, it should be a very fun race.
Having just swept the Rays in a big series that has serious playoff repercussions, the vaunted Bronx Bombers look to ease into #28, and in the final year of the decade, keep the streak alive. They have won a World Series in every decade since 1920, but have yet to do so in this decade. So, why can they do it now? What assets do they have? Well, for starters, they possess the most dominant bullpen in the league. Zach Britton, Dellin Betances and Adam Ottavino are a three-headed monster with absolutely unfair sweeping breaking balls that hitters are way too eager to not lay-off of. Who closes out the games? A guy who throws 105 in Aroldis Chapman. They can slug with the best of them, with power throughout the lineup such as Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Giancarlo Stanton and the AL Homerun leader Edwin Encarnacion. They’ve found themselves in first place playing the majority of the season without their best player Aaron Judge and they have scrappy hitters who work the count and get basehits while abusing the Yankee Stadium porch (Gardner, LeMehaiu, and Torres). The starting pitching, however, is bleak following ace Masahiro Tanaka. This may not matter if NY continues at the marvelous scoring pace they’re at, but I’d like to see the starting pitching addressed. If they can get a major arm at the deadline, they may be the odds on favorite.
The Atlanta Braves
Since coming up with the Braves, Austin Riley has been a breath of fresh-air in left field. The Braves have gone a surge unlocking the potential we knew that they were missing, going from 3 games back to 3 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. In the month of June, all 8 non-pitcher spots in the Atlanta lineup has an OPS over .800 and $23M man Josh Donaldson is just now truly starting to Bring the Rain at Suntrust Park. Led by sparkplug Ronald Acuna at the top of the order, with the superstar Freddie Freeman in the middle, and solid veterans such as Brian McCann who know how to win spread throughout, the Braves lineup is a nail-biting one. They’re fourth in the NL in bullpen ERA. Their starting pitching outside of rookie Mike Soroka and de-facta ace Julio Teheran has been quite poor, but they’re currently gauging the starting pitching market and recently inked 2015 AL Cy Young Winner Dallas Keuchel. The Braves are going to do everything in their power to go “All-In” Cody Rhodes style.
Which is most likely?
The Dodgers and Astros are tied for the best World Series odds at +340, followed by the Yankees (+500) and the surprise team of the year, the Minnesota Twins (+685). The common thread among those teams, aside from an inside track on winning their divisions, is an elite run differential, which is a prescient indicator of team strength and future success. The Dodgers (+119), Twins (+115) and Astros (+100) have the three-best differentials in baseball, while the Yankees (+78) are fifth, despite getting just 24 combined games from Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and ace Luis Severino so far. Need a hand in creating a multiples bet? Here is some basic info on the moneyline for all your World Series bets and how to craft a multiple bet.
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(all photos credit to MLB and their affiliates)