Which MLB Longshots Can Make a Second-Half Playoff Push?

Which MLB Longshots Can Make a Second-Half Playoff Push? article feature image

Athletics right fielder Stephen Piscotty (25) and center fielder Mark Canha (20) and left fielder Chad Pinder (18) celebrate after the end of the game.
Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

  • Anyone betting MLB futures can use the All-Star break to recalibrate and try to find value.
  • The American League playoff picture is pretty clear, but the National League is wide open.
  • Here are five longshots that could make a second-half playoff push.

The All-Star break has arrived and that means MLB bettors, fans and teams get their first real opportunity to take a deep breath and reassess the first half of the season.

In the American League, it is going to take a collapse from either the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees, or Astros to shake up the playoff race (sorry, Mariners). But do any of the AL teams have a shot? We will get to that below.

The National League is the complete opposite. All three teams in second place in their respective divisions are within 2.5 games of the leader, and five teams are currently within five games of the final wild-card spot.

What History Says

Between 1995 (when MLB realigned its divisions) and 2014, only three teams overcame larger than a five-game deficit to win the division crown at the All-Star break — most recently the 2015 Rangers and 2017 Cubs. Over this span, the largest deficit overcome at the break to win the division goes to the 2006 Minnesota Twins, who were 11 games back of the Tigers (who had the best record in baseball at the break).

The new wild-card format jumbles things a bit, but since 2012, when baseball expanded to two wild-card teams, it is those same 2015 Rangers and 2017 Cubs that set the bar with a 5.5-game climb to either win the division or snag a wild-card berth.

Here are some teams currently out of the playoff race that have a shot to make a run down the stretch based on their odds.

American League Teams to Watch

Oakland Athletics

AL West: 100-1
Pennant: 38-1
World Series: 80-1

Situation: 3.5 games back of the Mariners for the final wild-card spot and eight games back of the Astros in the AL West.

Oakland enters the All-Star break 26-14 since June 1, the most profitable MLB team  to bet on during that span (+14.9 units). The issue for the Athletics? They have made up only two games in the wild-card race despite that record. It’s going to take some Mariner losses to start making this interesting.

Minnesota Twins

AL Central: 40-1
Pennant: 165-1 (was 475-1)
World Series: 500-1 (was 1000-1)

Situation: 13 games back of the Mariners for the final wild-card spot and 7.5 games back of the Indians in the AL Central.

Minnesota is close to dead in the water when it comes to the division, but a second-half run could definitely put the Twins in the wild-card race. And with odds of 500-1, it could definitely be worth a flier — especially because they entered the season at 27-1 to win it all.

The Twins went 1-8 on a nine-game road trip over June and July and have the fifth-worst road record in baseball. After the atrocious road trip, Minnesota entered the All-Star break on a 9-2 home stand. If the Twins are going to make a run, they need to improve their road record (15-28), but what helps is the fact that two of the four teams with a worse road winning percentage this season are in their division (Royals, .327 and White Sox, .298).

National League Teams to Watch

Washington Nationals

NL East: 5-2
Pennant: 10-1
World Series: 25-1

Situation: 5 games back of the Braves for the final wild-card spot and 5.5 games back of the Phillies in the NL East.

Of the top seven teams in terms of odds to win the World Series before the season, the Nationals are the only team not in the playoff picture entering the All-Star break. In the National League, only the Mets (-15.5 units) have been less profitable for bettors than the Nationals (-14.7 units) this season — which shows how bad Washington has been, since they have an eight-game lead on New York in the standings and have been favored in 11 more games than the Mets have.

The odds do not offer much value here, considering Washington has to overcome a five-game deficit to make the playoffs, but still has the ninth-best odds to win the World Series. The Nationals can make a run, and the odds reflect that.

Colorado Rockies

NL West: 11-1
Pennant: 33-1
World Series: 85-1

Situation: Two games back of the Braves for the final wild-card spot and two games back of the Dodgers in the NL West.

This was a toss-up between the Rockies and Diamondbacks, honestly. Both teams trail the Dodgers in the NL West and the final wild-card spot by two games or fewer, and both teams made the playoffs last year under first-year managers.

Where I see differences is in the odds: Colorado has longer odds to win the division (+360 to +1100), Pennant (+750 to +3300) and World Series (+2000 to +8500) than the D-backs — and the margin is what makes them interesting. The Rockies entered the break on a five-game winning streak, winning eight of their last 10, and may be worth a look in the second half.

Pittsburgh Pirates

NL Central: 95-1 (was 500-1)
Pennant: 150-1 (was 275-1)
World Series: 500-1 (was 1000-1)

Situation: 5.5 games back of the Braves for the final wild-card spot and nine games back of the Cubs in the NL Central.

Similar to the NL West, this is a longshot decision between the Pirates and the Cardinals, with the Brewers and Cubs currently sitting firmly in playoff spots. I think both the Cardinals and Pirates have a shot to make a run in the second half, but based on the odds for St. Louis — +5000 to win World Series, +2050 to win NL Pennant and +2500 to win NL Central — Pittsburgh is worth the flier.

The Cardinals and Pirates are a combined 49-34 against NL Central opponents (Pittsburgh is 23-16), while the Cubs and Brewers have struggled intra-division (40-44). The Pirates enter the break on a six-game winning streak, including a five-game sweep of the Brewers during which they averaged 5.6 runs per game. They are 16-12 in 1-run games (they were 20-24 in 1-run games last year) and have the fewest strikeouts at the plate in MLB (732). To me, they could be equipped to make a run.