Lo Duca: Every MLB Playoff Team’s Biggest Strength, Weakness
Erik Williams, USA Today Sports. Alex Bregman
- The Red Sox are the favorites to win the World Series at +300.
- The Dodgers have the shortest odds (+500) of any team in the National League.
- The Yankees are flying a bit under the radar at 10-1 to win the World Series.
There are 10 teams still left standing in the MLB. That number will get down to eight after Wednesday night, but for now all 10 of the remaining teams will believe they have a chance to go on a run and win the World Series.
I’ve broken down each team’s strengths and weaknesses and provided a future play I like heading into the postseason.
World Series Odds: 20-1
The A’s were a trendy sleeper coming into the year but they are still the surprise of this bunch. They posted an MLB-best 42-23 record in the second half and have the most underrated manager in the league, Bob Melvin.
Somehow the Athletics made it this far with a rotation full of journeymen like Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Edwin Jackson and Mike Fiers.
While those guys won’t strike fear into any lineup, they have a fabulous bullpen led by Blake Treinen. Treinen was the game’s best reliever this season and is backed up by Jeurys Familia, Lou Trivino and Fernando Rodney.
Melvin has plenty of weapons and he knows how to use them.
The bullpen is the A’s biggest edge, but their offense is a strength. They finished with the third most home runs this season and their .329 wOBA was the fifth-best mark in the league.
The A’s will be underdogs against the Yankees and if they get through that game, face an uphill battle in a highly competitive American League. They just don’t have a good enough rotation to win a series against elite offenses.
World Series odds: 20-1
Like the A’s, the Rockies will be underdogs in the Wild Card Game, hence the long odds.
Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon headline the offense but the emergence of David Dahl in September has given Bud Black’s lineup even more length.
Colorado always has a good offense, but this year they actually got good starting pitching. Kyle Freeland — who will start in the Wild Card Game — posted a 2.85 ERA in 33 starts, German Marquez has electric stuff and was brilliant in the second half and Jon Gray, when he’s on, can shut down any lineup.
There are some decent arms in the bullpen, too, with Adam Ottavino, Wade Davis and Brad Shaw, so this team has some tools.
I think the Rockies are a dangerous team if they get through Wrigley, but just aren’t there yet.
World Series odds: 10-1
Interestingly, the Braves were the only playoff team in the NL that didn’t have to play in a divisional tiebreaker.
The Braves will likely roll with Mike Foltynewicz, Anibal Sanchez and Kevin Gausman to start the NLDS, but the fourth spot is up for grabs between Sean Newcomb, Julio Teheran and Touki Toussaint.
Toussaint could be the X-Factor for Atlanta. He’s a bit wild, but he’s got electric stuff and, if used right, could prove to be a weapon.
The top of the Braves’ lineup is impressive. Ronald Acuna is a phenom, Freddie Freeman is as consistent as they come and Nick Markakis will bring in runs.
The problem is that the Braves lack the depth needed to make a run. They have a lot of exciting pieces, but the bullpen doesn’t blow you away and the lineup and rotation are just a shade too thin.
New York Yankees
World Series odds: 10-1
We all know the Yankees can rake, but the question will be can they pitch?
The Bronx Bombers set an MLB record with 267 home runs in 2018 and their 5.25 runs per game trailed only Boston.
Luke Voit’s emergence at first base has been a godsend for Aaron Boone and means there’s no dead bat in this lineup. Everybody on Boone’s card can hit a home run at any time and that’s something very few teams can say about their lineup.
After the offense, the Yankees’ biggest strength is their bullpen. No ‘pen had a better fWAR (9.7) or K/9 (11.4) in 2018 and only the Astros’ pen had a better xFIP.
The Yankees will go as far as their starting pitching takes them. A rotation that boasts J.A. Happ, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia has the potential to go deep into the postseason, but they haven’t put up the same numbers as Cleveland, Houston or Boston this season.
The Yankees are kind of flying under the radar because of how good the Red Sox were this season. Backing the Yankees at this number isn’t a bad idea at all.
World Series odds: 10-1
Outside of the lineup, there are just too many question marks with the Cubbies.
The bullpen, even without Brandon Morrow for most of the year, somehow finished with the second-best ERA (3.34) in the MLB. That is not a good representation of how they’ve performed, though. The Cubs’ relievers own the 21st-best xFIP (4.30) and walk 4.2 batters per 9 innings. There’s no true shutdown arm in this pen and that’s a huge problem.
Without a bullpen to lean on, the Cubs will need to get the best out of Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks. Hamels has struggled over his past couple of starts, Lester’s due for regression, Quintana has been mediocre and Hendricks, well, he’s fine.
This rotation won’t scare anyone and neither will the bullpen. I can’t back the Cubs at this number.
World Series odds: 10-1
The Indians are pretty straightforward.
Cleveland set an MLB record by becoming the first team in history to have four pitchers reach the 200-strikeout mark in the same season (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger).
Those four will give the Indians a chance in every game and their offense — led by Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and the newly acquired Josh Donaldson — should provide run support.
The problem with Cleveland is that their bullpen stumbled in 2018. Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Brad Hand and Adam Cimber should be good enough to help Cleveland contend, but the unit has been up and down this season.
With this rotation, you can’t count the Indians out but I don’t have enough faith in the bullpen to back the Indians here.
World Series odds: 7-1
The Brewers are on a tear heading into October. They erased a five-game deficit in the NL Central and won Game 163 to take the division over the Cubs.
They have a deep offense led by the likely MVP Christian Yelich, table-setter Lorenzo Cain and break-out slugger Jesus Aguilar. That’s not to mention Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas or Jonathan Schoop.
The Brewers’ flaw is their starting rotation. There is no true ace and Craig Counsell will need his ragtag bunch to punch abover their weight. Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez will be the likely rotation and that’s not exactly murderers’ row.
Fortunately, they are supported by a terrific defense and an awesome bullpen.
Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel can hang with the back of any bullpen while Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff can chew up innings and help out if one of the starters stumbles early.
The value on the Brewers is obviously gone by now but if you’re looking to follow a team in the postseason and want to have a little skin in the game, this team is built for postseason success.
Los Angeles Dodgers
World Series odds: 5-1
The Dodgers got off to a bad start and dealt with some serious injuries, but here they are, favorites to win the NL Pennant for the second year on the bounce.
Los Angeles’ starting rotation will be what drives them and their offense should click, but there is a red flag in the bullpen.
Kenley Jansen was almost automatic over the past two seasons but he’s been inconsistent this season. His strikeout numbers dipped, his walk-rate rose and his xFIP is almost double what it was in 2017.
Los Angeles can definitely put it together, but the bullpen scares me.
World Series odds: 7-2
The Astros are, once again, a complete team.
Not only did the starting rotation put up the best numbers in the league, but the bullpen led the Majors in ERA (3.03) and xFIP (3.33).
Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel make up the best rotation in the playoffs and with Lance McCullers shifting to the bullpen if one of them missteps, they are still in good hands.
The back-end of the bullpen is dynamic with Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly, too.
And then there’s the offense. Jose Altuve leads the charge, but George Springer, Alex Bregman and the struggling Carlos Correa all can wreck games in the blink of an eye.
The Astros are a powerhouse, but the odds are too short to have a go.
Boston Red Sox
World Series Odds: 3-1
The Boston Red Sox set a franchise record with 108 wins this season thanks to their league-leading offense.
Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez formed the league’s best 1-2 punch and paced the Sox to a relatively sweat-free divisional crown.
The Sox absolutely smashed right-handed pitching this season (something to note given how righty-heavy bullpens are) but didn’t fare as well against lefties.
Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and either Nathan Eovaldi or Eduardo Rodriguez will make up the rotation but with this offense they won’t need to dominate. That’s a huge plus for a pitcher knowing he can make a mistake here or there and not worry about it ruining the game.
The middle of the bullpen is a concern but Ryan Braiser has stepped up to help bridge the gap to Craig Kimbrel.
Alex Cora has been sensational in his first year as a manager and I have no concerns that he will struggle in the spotlight. He was the Astros’ bench coach when they won the World Series in 2017 and you can bet he was taking notes.
The Red Sox certainly have the best team in the league, but the market reflects that and there’s no value to be had at this number.