World Series Preview

World Series Preview

As we race around the final week of the regular season, the MLB playoff picture comes into focus. In the American League the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox have punched their tickets to the playoffs and are now hoping to see out the rest of the regular season injury free. The Houston Astros are basically American League West champions as their elimination number is now down to one (Astros win, Mariners lose) over the second place Seattle Mariners through the remaining regular season games. 

In the National League Central division, the Milwaukee Brewers are the only team sitting out the rest of the regular season comfortably as they await the winner of the tight race in the NL Eastern division between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. A 3-game series between the two teams starting Tuesday night in Atlanta is the proverbial six-pointer in soccer terms, as the Phillies realistically need to take two games if not all three to have any chance of overtaking the Braves. 

The two teams with the best records in MLB, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants play in the same division, the NL West. The Giants have a 2-game advantage going into the final week and with an easier schedule are expected to see out their first division title since 2012. That would leave the second-best record in baseball facing a one game elimination playoff against the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals who have secured the second National League wildcard spot. A matchup between the in-form Cardinals and the betting line favourites Dodgers is a mouth-watering prospect for the Wildcard elimination game. 

Wild Card Race

If the NL wildcard revolves around the Dodgers and Giants, then the AL wildcard is still open. Last weekends encounter between the Yankees and Red Sox is a possible preview, however a 3-game series starting Tuesday night in Toronto could see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Blue Jays act as spoilers to the storied rivalry. A sweep would ensure the Blue Jays are in control of their fate going into their final series against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. The Seattle Mariners are lurking in the background as they look to break their 20-year playoff drought… incredulously long for such a team. It would take something quite special if they were to sneak in, a Red Sox final week collapse would certainly help. 

The Yankees are the in-form team coming out the American League, the Bronx bombers are back, healthy, and crucially hitting… this is a line-up that can make a lot of noise come playoff time. Whoever emerges from the one game wild card playoff will most likely face last season’s American League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Repeat Champions

The Astros and Rays have faced off in the playoffs the last couple of years and they sit atop Oddschecker world series favourites out of the American League at 6/1 and 15/2 respectively. The Astros dynasty may have stacked hitters and solid starting pitching, but they still have a lot to prove out of the shadows of the sign stealing scandal that has placed an asterix over their 2017 World Series victory. I bet they would love to prove that they don’t need cameras and trash cans to beat their rivals…

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in the American League and made it to the last World Series, but can the Rays players keep their championship focus and go one better this year? This will be especially magnified with the curious decision by the Rays management to advertise their twin-city plan with Montreal in Canada during home playoff games at Tropicana Field in Tampa. 

In the way are the preseason and postseason favourites, the Los Angeles Dodgers at 17/5. The Dodgers will once again rely on MLB’s best starting pitcher staff if they intend to repeat as champions. With the returning health of staff ace Clayton Kershaw, the midseason acquisition of 2-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and the continued excellence of homegrown starters Walker Buehler and Julio Urias, the Dodgers have managed to weather the embarrassing loss of Trevor Bauer, suspended while he is mired in sexual assault allegations. If the Dodgers are to repeat as World Series champions, they will need to navigate the red-hot Cardinals followed by their inter-state rivals the San Francisco Giants. It is remarkable that the two teams with the most National League pennants in MLB history have never faced off in the playoff. The prospect of a Giants vs Dodgers matchup is a must watch for fans of baseball.

World Series Odds

If we look at two of the most popular sites for calculating World Series odds, Fangraphs and FiveThirtyEight, we see a wide-open race for the championship. The Dodgers at 19.8% and 25% respectively sit atop the simulations and calculations, reflected in their price as heavy betting favourites. It’s Dodgers time (again) to cement their legacy according to analytics and sports betting sites.

According to Fangraphs, which run simulations and analyse historical data in their odds calculator, only three other teams are currently above 10%, the Astros, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers with 15.5%, 12.6% and 10.3% respectively. We see a similar spread on FiveThirtyEight, its model has the Rays at 17%, and the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros at 12%. 

With the odds of navigating the pressure cooker of the playoffs evenly spread behind the Dodgers, opportunities emerge to support teams rounding into form and/or health at the correct moment. The New York Yankees at 14/1 look particularly interesting as they have the team and stars to compete with the league’s best, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Baseball in October is baseball at its most exciting. The 162-game grind is over and every game during the playoffs is magnified. Undoubtably new storylines will emerge, and greatness will be elevated and celebrated. With the return of fans to stadiums after the last couple years, it’s going to get loud.

 

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