Who to Bet and Who to Forget — 2015 MLB playoff edition

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Just prior to the season’s start Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen wrote a Bet It or Forget It column—a capsule of every MLB team’s odds to win the World Series. Like a drunken Tinder spree, we placed faith in some sleepers, missed on some keepers and mostly were skeptical of the obvious winners.

Here then, the follow up as we see pre-season odds (in paren) have changed dramatically. If you’re looking to keep your mind off the predictable Sleepaway Camp-style massacre that is the verbal stylings of Joe Buck, Tom Verducci, Erin Andrews and Ken Rosenthal—yes Harold Reynolds, that doesn’t leave you much to work with—gambling is the only way to go.

Refrain from wagering—ushering a month of no-stakes baseball—at your own risk.

Kansas City Royals 9/2 (30/1)

AJ: Forget it. I like what the Royals did in the offseason—shedding Shields and Country Breakfast and letting Aoki flit away to the Giants. And they’ve done nothing but improve during the regular season—notably reanimating Johnny Cueto. But, the team is DOA in the LCS. Ned Yost’s Royals certainly dominated a sort of stripped-down AL Central. The Tigers demo’d the kitchen and bathrooms in July and the Twins and Cleveland are simply both happy to not be 12 games below .500 at this point in the season. Baseball Prospectus gives the Royals a 92.7 percent chance to win the division and a 97.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, but doesn’t say much about how deep they’ll go. Yost (like Mattingly) is about as good between the lines as the Crayon streaks on a children’s menu and therefore I’ll pass on the odds-on favorites to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.

KM: Forget it. Ned Yost remains a conundrum for this team. He’s obviously one helluva player development man–probably one of the best in the business from the manager’s step in the dugout–as evidenced by the maturation of guys like Lorenzo Cain (an off-brand MVP candidate, he’ll get votes), Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas. Yost appears to keep it loose and his guys respond. That’s great for the regular season, but the postseason is the province of tinkerers and chess-players in the cut of a Joe Girardi or Bruce Bochy. Men who can play the matchups and respond tactically to everything the other team has to offer. With the Royals’ pitching staff looking shaky headed into October, you need a gamesman, not a statesman.

New York Mets 5/1 (25/1)

AJ: Forget it. I was high on the Mets at 25/1 prior to the start of the season saying that Cuddyer, Murphy and Wright are the closest Queens has had to a murderers’ row since Mookie, Daryl, Ray and Gary. Um, I was a little wrong about how they’d get there but right about the fact that they would. Young arms define the Mets who, if not for the Pirates and Cubs, would be the most intriguing squad in the NL, maybe baseball. I’m still brushing up on Noah Syndergaard’s fastball as well as the stuff of Jacob deGrom and closer Jeurys Familia. The lack of scouting on these guys may have Mr. Met dancing all the way to the NLCS. However, it’s there a run-in with the aforementioned NL Central wild card or the Cards/Dodgers that ends this turnaround season.

KM: Forget it. Iron sharpens iron, and for most of the season the Mets have been slicing through the NL Least like a hot knife through butter. The team absolutely fell apart this weekend against Washington, their only real competition in the East, after the suddenly innings-limited Matt Harvey left an 8K shutout only to watch it get blown wide open. It would require a miracle to get past Zack Grienke and Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers and then one of the battle-tested Central teams in the LCS round. The Amazins’ don’t have it in them this year.

Toronto Blue Jays 5/1 (30/1)

AJ: Bet it. Kyle, I didn’t take our neighbors to the north in the pre-season but I’m, again, shuffling over with the masses even at no-so-great 5/1 odds. They’ve got the pitching. They’ve got the hitting. They’ve got the infield. They’ve got the home-field advantage. And they’ve got the would-be MVP. This year, because the AL is offering mostly Jell-o and iceburg, I gotta go with the only team with flavor. I just can’t believe it’s from, *gulp* the home of Anne Murray.

KM: Bet it. Tales of Jays’ fans ability to travel and sell the living hell out of the Rogers Center (they were middle of the pack before the Troy Tulowitzki/David Price acquisitions) are starting to circulate far and wide. 47k screaming Canadians are not what you want to face come October, when the Maple Leafs have yet to really break their hearts and the whole damn country’s sporting world will revolve around Front Street and Blue Jay Way. When you’re not worried about the fan base, you’d better get worried about a recovering Tulo, a dominating Josh Donaldson and David Price putting 10Ks on you every game.

Los Angeles Dodgers 6/1 (13/2)

AJ: Forget it. $307 million payroll. The most famous Cuban ballplayer since Castro? The two best arms in baseball? How can they miss? 1) Chicago. 2) St. Louis. 3) Pittsburgh.

KM: Bet it. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke are the stuff of nightmares. Brett Anderson and Alex Wood are pitching like guys who can end a series, though. Anderson is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his last four starts and is looking every bit the Billy Beane performer the A’s originally signed him to be. Wood, if he can stay healthy, just went 8 innings with one hit allowed in his last start, where he threw a measly 78 pitches. This is a rotation even Mattingly (maybe, probably) can’t fuck up.

St. Louis Cardinals 7/1 (12/1)

AJ: Bet it. Folks are starting to sour on the Cardinals because of injuries and their propensity (see: Kyle’s comments below) to fade down the stretch. However, the Matheny Cardinals are a team built for playoff success and it always seems the years they’re most underestimated or most seen as spoilers (see: 2006 vs. Detroit and 2011 vs. Texas) are the years they shine. Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.02 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) has flushed away the memory of injured Adam Wainwright like last night’s Panda Express. In injured Matt Holliday’s (.303/.417/.421) place, Bay Area product Stephen Piscotty has stepped up with the some of the truest hitting and most fun last name to say all year. Throw in a healthy Tommy Pham, Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds, the latter pair filled in for Matt Adams while he was out, and you’ve got the deepest bench in both leagues. The red birds will play past Halloween.

KM: Bet it, but bet it light. The thing about St. Louis is that either of their potential LDS opponents (assuming it’s the Cubs or Pirates) have seen them a ton this season and are improving in their head-to-head matchups, with Chicago winning 4 of their last 6 heading into the playoffs and the Pirates at 2-1 in their last series with one more to come next week. Both Central squads have the book on the Cards, and with Yadier Molina hobbled with a hand injury, St. Louis has a less-loaded deck to deal from. That said, Mike Matheny is in every way Don Mattingly’s superior if the two match up in the NLCS.

Texas Rangers 8/1 (40/1)

AJ: Forget it. I didn’t like them at 40/1 and I surely won’t like them at 8/1. I will give it to Texas though, they’re the Annie Wilkes of baseball teams. They should’ve been done after 2011. They should’ve been done after 2010. Hell, they should’ve been done after George W. traded Sosa to the Cubs in 1991. But they manage to never go away. Prince Fielder and Shin-soo Choo have made respectable mid-/late-career runs this year and Adrian Beltre has made a mini-comeback of his own in the second half. Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland on the back end of the order give the Rangers depth, but the team’s rotation isn’t playoff-ready. Cole Hamels can still throw like an ace, but after that there’s a bigger drop-off than when Van Halen hired Gary Cherone. Yovani Gallardo in game two and Derek Holland taking the mound game three and…need I continue?

KM: Forget it. The push required from the Rangers to catch and pass the Astros and then hold them off for two weeks is going to be exhausting. Don’t forget that the Angels are only 4 games behind in the division and just 2.5 behind the Astros for the last wild card spot and are headed to Arlington for a four game series to finish the regular season. This team has to keep its foot on the pedal for 14 straight days just to earn a shot at potentially playing Toronto, if not a one-game wildcard matchup for the right to face Kansas City. Tall order.

Pittsburgh Pirates 10/1 (25/1)

AJ: Bet it. First off, the positives if you’re a Bucs fan: Three (potential) playoff appearances in as many years is a huge, huge accomplishment and shows that it’s smart spending and smarter play that keep baseball’s small cap franchises relevant. A ridiculously good bullpen: During a one-month stretch just after the All Star Break, the Pirates’ pen was a cumulative sub-1.40 ERA thanks to Detroit cast-off Joakim Soria, southpaw Antonio Bastardo and flame thrower Arquimedes Caminero—not to mention Mark Melancon (98 percent save conversion rate), Tony Watson and Jared Hughes have all shown they learned a thing or two from last year’s playoff dream-killer and eventual WS champion Giants. Hell, I know things aren’t looking as good on the offensive front, especially with recent notable injuries (see: Kyle’s take below) but if Pittsburgh gets the opportunity to wave the yellow towels and fire up the Sister Sledge as the bullpen gets going, magic can happen.

KM: Forget it. The Pirates were finished when Jung-Ho Kang went down last week with a broken leg. The do-everything infielder from Korea has been one of the true treats to watch this season–the KBO’s first export to hold down an every-day job as a position player in the big leagues. As much as McCutcheon was the straw that stirred the drink, Jung-Ho made that infield defense sing from three different positions and was providing a lot of the pop the Bucs no longer get from Aramis Ramirez and Josh Harrison. The Pirates are all but assured of a playoff spot but don’t really have the luxury to rest because catching the Cards is still a possibility. I have a really bad feeling that their season will end one night into the playoffs.

Chicago Cubs 12/1 (16/1)

AJ: Bet it, but don’t let sentiment get the best of you. I like the Cubs (especially at 12/1) as much as any Old Style swiller to go deep in the playoffs. And, besides the Pirates, I think they’re the most likable team in baseball right now—so much that I’m going to start selling bootleg Cubs Care Bears on etsy to subsidize these picks. Also, I don’t buy into the hype that a young team can be intimidated. If there’s anything I learned from obsessing over the 2010 Giants, it’s that youth and ignorance actually can go a lot further when the bunting and Joe Buck descend upon your home field. And the Cubs have the world’s best infield, probably ever. BUT, it’s playoffs and playoffs mean pitching dammit. Pitching, pitching, pitching—especially relief (see: Pittsburgh). Joe Maddon’s Cubs don’t have the starting five to make this a strong, big-money play. Do Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and a questionable Dan Haren scare anyone save for maybe the one guy who is still playing head-to-head fantasy baseball? No. Arrieta and Lester are the only innings eaters in the rotation so that leaves Neil Ramirez, Trevor Cahill and Fernando Rodney to hold it together from the pen. Fortunately for the ivy dwellers, that threesome, plus closer Hector Rondon, seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Should the Cubs make it past the WC round, those arms will be up right away with the Cards. To me, if this last weekend’s series did portend anything, it’s the Cards know there’s a difference between September and October baseball.

KM: Bet it. I watched the Cubs all weekend, and my biggest takeaways were as follows: 1) Their bullpen can be electric. Fernando Rodney has been around the block in the postseason and Pedro Strop is nearly unhittable at his best. 2) Addison Russell is the baddest man on the planet wearing a glove right now. At a time of year when runs come at a premium, nothing gets past the Cubs shortstop. Two plays stick out–a Saturday dive to his backhand side and toss in a one-second motion to end the Cardinals’ comeback bid and a Sunday play where he rocketed himself over second base to handle a throw from catcher David Ross, then reached between his legs to tag out a runner. He’s so far into the zone defensively that it’s intimidating. 3) Starlin Castro is finding his groove. At the ripe old age of 25, the Cubs and Chicago fans appeared ready to close the book on the once-phenom. He lost his starting shortstop job to Russell, was benched for a week and moved over to second on his way towards the exit. Thing is, the switch worked and he’s collected 32 hits, 7 home runs and a litany of doubles and RBI since mid-August. He’s on the come, and adds to a Cubs arsenal that already includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber.

New York Yankees 15/1 (25/1)

AJ: Forget it. Especially now that it’s cool to root for the Mets. You know, it’s been so long since the Yankees have been post-season relevant, it’s almost worth considering at 15/1 for old times’ sake. But then there’s what’s actually happening on the field. Still-injured Masahiro Tanaka is supposed to take the ball game 1 in the playoffs and Joe Girardi’s woeful (but not hapless) Yanks wilt from there. Nathan Eovaldi is out and Adam Warren is on a non-Scott Boras-enforced pitch count. It’s only a matter of time before the Bronx flatlines and re-loads with free-agent starters for a run in 2016.

KM: Forget it. You just can’t paper over the team’s starting pitching once every opponent is playoff-quality. Plus, do you really want to bet on the Yankees when their probable wildcard matchup could be Dallas Keuchel, Cole Hamels or Jared Weaver?

Houston Astros 20/1 (60/1)

AJ: Bet it. This is a pride bet for me. The Astros are a year, maybe two away, but I want to see them go deep into the playoffs and with four AL teams (Texas, Houston, NYY and KC) all sort of just OK, I have to think if they slip in. The Stros are just young and plucky (<–that’s right!) enough to advance a round or two. Should they find themselves in The Show, who knows? This is a $5 to win $100 bet, max though as all recent signs point to the Astros’ dream season coming to an end with nary a wild card berth to show for all the orange H hats they moved over the last three months. The Astros starting hitters strike out a quarter of the time (not surprisingly, the same amount as the baby Cubs)…those Ks plus jitters are prohibitive from moving much past the LDS.

KM: Forget it. Look, this team just lost 4 straight to the Rangers and has spent the last month getting drubbed by pretty much every playoff-bound team they’ve faced. This week will tell us a lot with series against both Texas and Anaheim, but I think the Process is still a year away from providing results.

Los Angeles Angels 50/1 (10/1)

AJ: Forget it. Although I’m tempted to give the streaky Angels the nod for the fact that their odds have so desperately slid since pre-season, there’s no Rally Monkey in the hinterlands of Yorba Linda this year and definitely no bullpen to get them past the WC. Anyone know Scott Spiezio’s (and his playoffs-grown flavor saver) number?

KM: Forget it. Like the Rangers, the balls-out sprint required to make the playoffs by the Angels is going to be consuming and exhausting. I like Mike Scioscia a lot–I think he’ll get them into the postseason with Mike Trout, some spit n’ glue and a whole lot of black magic. Once they’re there, though, the wild card game could mash their bullpen and a potential showdown with Kansas City’s speed-based offense just doesn’t pencil out for them, pace-wise.

Minnesota Twins 50/1 (100/1)

AJ: Forget it. The Twins have to win at least 8 of their remaining 13 to have a chance for a wild card berth. The last time the Twinkies won 8 of their final 13, Kirby Puckett was climbing fences and Frank Viola was baffling Paul Molitor with filthy 82-mph breaking stuff. The Twins stayed relevant all year which is more than I can say for fellow L’Etoile du nord(er) Michelle Bachmann. If you do take ‘em at 50/1, hedge that a little with Cleveland at 100/1.

KM: Forget it. The Twinks have been assigned a closing schedule that will end someone: seven with the Indians, three with Kansas City to end the season and a three game shot of the Tigers in there for good measure. The Indians (more on them presently) play like Dale Earnhart and even with KC’s foot off the gas you’re likely not going to get more than one gimmee from the defending league champs. Check back in 2016.

Cleveland Indians 100/1 (25/1)

AJ: Bet it. The teams are taking it down to the dinner bell with a genre-defining showdown at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins thus far lead the season series by a pair of games despite being outscored. The Tribe has an eight percent chance of getting a wild card berth with the Twins’ odds slipping below six percent. Both teams trail the Astros in the wild card by at least four games, though Houston is showing signs of fading as well. All that said, I don’t need to go deep into Cleveland’s lineup other than the fact that I know Tom Berenger is showing Charlie Sheen it’s not just about throwing fast and living fast…it’s about embracing the moment. At 100/1, I’m embracing that moment.

KM: Editor’s Note: Kyle decided to abstain. Once the Major League references start, there’s really nothing more to say.

 

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