David Butler II, USA Today Sports
- At the All-Star Break, there are two divisional races I have my eye on.
- The Yankees bullpen should give them an edge over the Red Sox down the stretch.
- The same can be said for the Diamondbacks against the Dodgers and I think the Snakes have value at +373 to win the NL West.
The All-Star Game is tonight, and while it’s a good distraction from the grind of the MLB season — for both players and bettors alike — it is also a good opportunity to look back and size up the stretch run.
The AL East
Who would have thought that the Red Sox would be the best team in baseball at the break? Not me. At the beginning of the season the Astros, Indians and Yankees had shorter World Series odds than Boston, but Alex Cora’s charges are in the catbird seat at the break.
One of the big reasons for the Red Sox run to the top is the play of J.D. Martinez. The 30-year-old outfielder is tied with Jose Ramirez for the most homers in the MLB (29) but more importantly, his addition to the lineup has helped Mookie Betts find MVP form once again.
The key for the Red Sox will be whether or not Rick Porcello and David Price can hold up. Right now, the Sox rank fifth in the MLB with a 3.59 ERA. Their FIP (fielding independent pitching) is also 3.59, which suggests their numbers are a true representation of how they’re performing. Porcello has been pretty good this year thanks to an uptick in strikeouts and ground balls. Price, on the other hand, has been hit or miss. And if he can’t find his game, the Red Sox could be in trouble down the stretch.
The one thing that the Yankees have over the Red Sox is the bullpen. The Yankees’ pen ranks first in ERA (2.69) and K/9 (11.54). Their offense will give them leads a lot, and that bullpen won’t blow many of them. That’s a good combination to have heading into autumn.
It goes without saying, but winning the division is absolutely key for the Yankees and Red Sox. The winner will take on the AL Central champ while the loser will play a do-or-die wild card game. And the winner of that matchup will play the Astros. That’s some way to treat a 100-plus win team.
The Red Sox lead the Yankees by 4.5 games in the division, but the Yanks have three games in hand on their rivals. The two teams will also play 10 more times this season, including a three-game series in Beantown to close out the season. There’s a good chance that the winner of that series will take the division. I give a slight edge to the Yankees in that series because of Aroldis Chapman. The Sox hit righties so well, but with Chapman throwing bullets from the left side, he could be the difference between a divisional crown and a one-game playoff.
Right now the Red Sox are odds-on to win the division at -161 with the Yankees at +122. It’s a tough one to call, but it would not be wise to lay that kind of juice in what figures to be a crazy race to the finish.
The NL West
The Dodgers have a half-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the West, but the Rockies and Giants are both within a shout of first.
You have to give Arizona credit for sticking with LA after a 2-15 stretch in May. One thing that surprised me about the Snakes is their bullpen ranks third in MLB with a 2.85 ERA. They may not have any big name relievers, but they have a lot of live arms such as Archie Bradley and then guys with some funk such as Yoshihisa Hirano. I think Arizona (+373) is a decent bet to win the NL West.
One of the reasons I like the Snakes is that the Dodgers have been kept afloat by Matt Kemp and Max Muncy. Those two unexpectedly kept the Dodgers in the mix despite injuries to Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw. Will Kemp and Muncy keep producing? That’s a great unknown, and if they don’t stay hot, Los Angeles will be in trouble.
I still think the Dodgers are going to be tough, but I like these two teams to separate from the pack over the next couple of months. The Rockies don’t have enough starting pitching, and the Giants are lacking on both sides of the ball.
Of course this could all change if Manny Machado ends up in Los Angeles …