Our Staff’s World Series Picks, MVP Bets, Exact Outcome Props for Rays vs. Dodgers
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Zunino
Three weeks of an expanded 16-team postseason later, and we’re left with the same two teams that would be playing for a World Series if it were 1920. You know, if the Rays existed in 1920.
But just because it’s a matchup of the American and National League’s best respective teams, doesn’t mean this is an even matchup according to the betting market.
In fact, the Dodgers -200 consensus odds imply a two-in-three chance that LA will lift the Commissioner’s Trophy this year. Does that make them a worthy bet, though?
Our experts seem to have a pretty clear answer.
Advanced Stats Glossary
FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league-average defense and luck. xFIP is a regressed version of FIP that adjusts or “normalizes’ the home run component based on park factors.
wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for critical external factors — like ballpark or era. It’s adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.
wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average is a catch-all hitting metric with more predictive value than on-base percentage. An average MLB hitter can be expected to post a .320 wOBA. xwOBA is a regressed version of wOBA that accounts for variables like park factors.
Sean Zerillo: Rays (+165), Rays +1.5 Games (-110), Rays in 4 (+2700), Rays in 5 (+1200)
I project the Rays as a 41% underdog in their second trip to the World Series, but their implied chances to defeat the Dodgers — who are searching for their first title since 1988 — in the betting market are much lower.
I’m comfortable betting Tampa Bay down to +163 (implied 38%) to win the series — a 3% edge relative to my projection — even though I have a preseason future on the Rays. Make sure to shop around for the best price.
The Rays also show actionable value in Game 1 (projected 46.5%, listed around 40% implied), but even after a loss I would give them a 27% chance (implied odds of +270) to win four of the final six games. I suspect that you might be able to bet them around +350 (implied 22.2%) down 0-1, and I’ll certainly add to my position in such a scenario.
There are some more fun, though slightly less valuable ways to play Tampa Bay in this series, too. Here is how the Rays’ series win distribution breaks down:
- Win 4-0: 4% (implied odds of +2400)
- Win 4-1: 10% (implied +900)
- Win 4-2: 13% (implied +669)
- Win 4-3: 14% (implied +614)
- Lose 4-3: 17% (implied +488)
I played some small dart throws on Rays in 4 (+2500 or better) and Rays in 5 (+1000 or better).
I also like their series spread of +1.5 games (up to -120). As you can see above, I give the Rays a 58% chance (implied odds of -138) of either winning the series, or losing in seven games, so a +1.5 games bet at -120 (implied 54.5%) reflects a 3.5% edge relative to that projection.
Stuckey: Rays (+165)
My fair odds for this series are Tampa +145 after giving the Dodgers a few cents for park familiarly with a diminishing effect after playing here for the past seven games, so I gladly jumped on +170 and like anything at +160 or above.
The Dodgers are the superior team but the Rays aren’t getting enough respect in the market. They have the better bullpen and defense — arguably the best bullpen and defense in MLB, in fact. And you can win championships with that formula if you get a hot staff.
The Rays certainly have that with three frontline starters who are all lined up ready to go on full rest. The Rays also have an underrated lineup that has good depth and flexibility to match up against both righties and lefties.
You’ll also know you’re putting your money behind the smartest team in all of baseball. They won’t lose this with dumb decisions like keeping Kershaw in too long, as Dave Roberts did last series.
BJ Cunningham: Rays (+165)
The Rays have gotten to this point with fantastic starting pitching and a lights-out bullpen, and they have an edge over the Dodgers in this series with a better xFIP for both starters and relievers.
Tyler Glasnow is likely going to get the ball in Game 1, with Blake Snell or Charlie Morton getting the ball in Game 2. The Dodgers are going to counter with Kershaw in Game 1, which gives the Rays an edge because they crush left-handed pitching (.343 wOBA) and Walker Buehler in Game 2, who has had some control issues this season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Rays could be up 2-0 in this series.
Outside of Buehler and Kershaw, the Dodgers do not have a consistent starter that they can hand the ball to get 5+ innings. That means their bullpen could be taxed as this series progresses and give the Rays a rest advantage. Sure they have Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias who could start Games 3 through 5, but all three of those guys have shown throughout the playoffs that they are not consistent starting pitchers and are better in bullpen roles.
The Dodgers will have an advantage offensively, but getting +165 on a team that will likely have an advantage on the mound is too good to pass up.
Danny Donahue: Rays in 5 (+1200)
Were I not sitting on a preseason Rays future, I’d probably echoing BJ’s sentiments and arguing for what I think is a valuable plus-money series price. But instead I’ll be spending a lunch money’s worth of closing line value on this more specific longshot prop.
Given the staggered scheduling structure of the two League Championship Series, the Dodgers’ edge in this series should be slightly smaller in the early going. In other words, of the Rays’ various paths to a World Series championship, I think a quick series is closer to the top of the likelihood chart than people realize.
In Game 1, Tyler Glasnow gets the ball on full rest, while Clayton Kershaw goes on one day short of it — assuming that’s the matchup. Blake Snell then gets to pitch on his full 5-day routine against Walker Buehler Game 2, and Charlie Morton gets an extra sixth day heading into Game 3 — one in which the Dodgers’ plan is even more up in the air.
As the series progresses and pitchers get used in more unusual, World Series-only styles, I could see this scheduling edge start to dwindle a bit. So I’ll try to take advantage of it with this quick-series bet on the underdog.
Travis Reed: Mike Zunino to Win MVP (+4400)
With managers going to the bullpens more often, I think it is less likely than ever that a starting pitcher wins the MVP award. Gone are the days of a starting pitcher going deep into a game three times in a series to stifle the opposing team.
So my focus is on position players, particularly for the Rays. I want to avoid players that are being platooned based on left/right matchups and that are getting consistent playing time. Given that the World Series is going back to using off days, I am not concerned about Tampa Bay giving its starting catcher a day off.
Mike Zunino is further down in the lineup than most of the MVP favorites but has plenty of home run power to make this worth a small play. If the home runs come at the right time and give Zunino a good narrative, he could walk away as the MVP.
Michael Arinze: Series to Go 7 (+220)
Despite a shortened 60-game schedule and a unique playoff format which featured the Division and League Championship Series being played at neutral sites, Major League Baseball still ended up with the two best regular-season teams in the World Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will make their third World Series appearance in four years as they hope to finally get over the hump with a win, while the Rays make just their second World Series appearance in search of their first Commissioner’s Trophy.
The saying that styles make fights couldn’t be any truer than when these two teams collide. In the postseason, the Dodgers had a .355 OBP compared to .295 for the Rays, while the Rays hit 25 home runs compared to the Dodgers’ 18. On the pitching front, while both teams have posted identical 3.36 ERAs, the Rays seem to have gotten more out of their starting rotation with 62 innings pitched vs. 51 for the Dodgers.
Whatever Tampa Bay lacks in financial resources, it’s been able to make up for through its analytics department. Rays players seem to constantly be in the right place at the right time as they lead all teams in the postseason with 15 double plays turned — the Dodgers have just four.
I give Tampa Bay the edge in pitching and situational hitting but the Dodgers have the better overall lineup.
These teams are much closer than the series price suggests and much like a good heavyweight fight, I expect this matchup to go the distance in seven.