Which MLB Longshots Can Make a Push in the Second Half?

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Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

  • Anyone betting MLB futures can use the All-Star break to recalibrate and try to find value.
  • Five of the six division-leaders currently have a lead of at least 5.5 games entering the All-Star Break.
  • Evan Abrams highlights four teams with long odds that could be worth an investment:

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

Entering the break, five of the six division leaders are ahead by at least 5.5 games. The one division that is set up for chaos is the National League Central. All five teams in that division are still alive.

The Dodgers currently hold the largest division lead, with a 13.5-game gap between them and second-place Arizona Diamondbacks. I think it is probably safe to say the Dodgers have the West locked up.

What about the rest of the league, though? Are there any live longshots worth thinking about?


What History Says

Between 1995 (when MLB re-aligned its divisions) and 2014, only three teams were able to come back from a deficit of at least 5.5 games at the All-Star break and win the division.

Since 2015 though, we have seen the 2015 Rangers (6 GB), 2016 Dodgers (6.5 GB) and 2017 Cubs (5.5 GB) overcome 5-plus game deficits to win their respective divisions. Not to mention, the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays came back from a 4.5-game barrier to win the AL East.

Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports Copyright © James Lang

The 2006 Minnesota Twins erased the largest All-Star break deficit. The Twinkies caught the Tigers from 11 games back to win the Central that season. The playoffs saw their fortunes reverse, though, as Minnesota was swept in the ALDS, while the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series.


How The Odds Have Moved

The market opened back in October with the Astros and Red Sox listed as the co-favorites to win the 2019 World Series at +600 and the Dodgers and Yankees right behind them at +700.

Over 90 games into the season, it’s the Dodgers who are the lone favorites at +300. At the break, only four teams are listed below 10-1 to win it all, with the surprising Minnesota Twins down to 8-1 after opening at 60-1 back in October.


American League Teams to Watch

Cleveland Indians

AL Central: +850 (FanDuel)
Pennant: 17-1 (FanDuel)
World Series: 40-1 (DraftKings)

Situation: Currently in final wild-card spot in American League and 5.5 games back of the Twins in the AL Central.

The Indians have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. Their bullpen ranks first in ERA and their staff as a whole boasts the fifth-best FIP and xFIP in baseball.

Cleveland Indians right fielder Jordan Luplow and first baseman Carlos Santana. Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The issue for Cleveland has been its offense. The Tribe ranks 17th in OBP and slugging. That is a recipe for mediocrity and explains why they rank 20th in runs per game.

Even without guys like Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, I will trust their rotation if they get in the tournament and I think they are worth a bet.

Of all the teams in the American League not in a division lead, FanGraphs gives the Indians the best chance to make the comeback to win the division crown at 12.3%, the only issue is they also have the Twins with the easiest remaining schedule in baseball which won’t help the process.

Oakland Athletics

AL West: 22-1 (DraftKings)
Pennant: 33-1 (DraftKings)
World Series: 60-1 (DraftKings)

Situation: 1.5 games back of the Indians for the final wild-card spot and 7.5 games back of the Astros in the AL West.

I’m not sure Oakland has what it takes to catch the high-powered Astros in the AL West, but the A’s rotation will receive some reinforcements soon and I think they are worth a bet to make it to the dance.

Sean Manaea is expected back in a few weeks, which should help their depth. In addition, Oakland backers have the possibility of seeing both A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo in the rotation at some point in 2019, which just adds to my intrigue. Jharel Cotton and Marco Estrada could also provide some back-of-the-rotation help, as well. If they can shore up their rotation, watch out, because their bullpen has been terrific this season.

Oakland’s relief corps owns the seventh-lowest ERA and has allowed just 36 homers — which is the best mark in the Majors.

On offense, Oakland is middle of the pack in average (20th) and slugging (13th), but what I love is they don’t strike out (fourth) and they are in the top-half in baseball in walks (13th).

National League Teams to Watch

Washington Nationals

NL East: +850 (DraftKings)
Pennant: 17-1 (FanDuel)
World Series: 32-1 (FanDuel)

Situation: 1 game up for the first wild-card spot and 6 games back of the Braves in the NL East.

The Nationals opened the season 19-31 through 50 games and had just been swept on the road in New York against the Mets. On June 1, the Nats were as high as 60-1 to win the 2019 World Series.

How things have changed.

Washington has won 28 of 39 since the Mets swept them and are now in the driver’s seat for the Wild Card.

I think the Nationals and/or the Phillies can potentially catch the Braves, but I like Washington’s chances more than Philidelphia’s.

The Nats’ rotation, headlined by Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, is fantastic and even though their bullpen has been a dumpster fire, I think they have a stronger pitching staff than Philadelphia and should be able to outlast them.

Arizona Diamondbacks

NL West: 66-1 (DraftKings)
Pennant: 50-1 (Westgate)
World Series: 100-1 (Westgate)

Situation: One and a half games back of the Phillies for the final wild-card spot and 13.5 games back of the Dodgers in the NL West.

I will start this by saying I am a HUGE fan of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, I think they will add assets in the second half. If I wanted to pick a horse in the five-team race for the Central, I’d back the Brew Crew.

But if you are looking for a longshot, you should probably turn your focus to the NL West where the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies are all still in the race for the Wild Card.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke

Colorado’s offense makes them an interesting candidate, but the fact that the Rockies are listed at 60-1 while the Padres and D-backs — both of whom have better rotations — are at 100-1 keeps me off Colorado.

When picking between San Diego and Arizona, there are a few reasons I landed on Arizona…

  • Easier strength of schedule the rest of the way. Padres have third-toughest remaining schedule in MLB when using FanGraphs projections and the toughest in the NL when looking at recently-weighted statistics heading into the break.
  • On offense, the Diamondbacks have the edge over the Padres in batting average, on-base pct, slugging pct, runs per game and extra base hits.
  • On defense, the Diamondbacks have been one of the best teams in 2019, with a 16.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) (second in MLB) and 64 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) (third in MLB).
  • An edge in the rotation against San Diego, with Arizona having more quality starts (40 to 28), fewer hits allowed per nine innings and a lower ERA and opponent batting average so far this season.
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