Handicapping MLB Teams' Odds to Make the Playoffs

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 24, 2012

Handicapping MLB Teams' Odds to Make the Playoffs

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    We know that the Cincinnati Reds have won the NL Central, and we know that the San Francisco Giants have won the NL West. We also know that the Washington Nationals will be playing in October whether they win the NL East or have to settle for a wild-card berth.

    Aside from these three things, we don't know all that much in regards to MLB's postseason races. With just a week-and-a-half to go in the regular season, uncertainty is the name of the game in the last leg of the run to October.

    With so many contenders still technically in the mix and seven postseason spots still up for grabs, handicapping the mess in Major League Baseball is about as difficult as handicapping a marathon race for snails. 

    But what the heck, I figure I'll give it a shot anyway. Scroll ahead for a breakdown of each contender's odds to make the playoffs when all is said and done.

    Note: Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    With the Giants having won the NL West, the Diamondbacks' only hope of sneaking into October lies in the NL wild-card race.

    To this end, the Diamondbacks are in better shape than you probably think.

    Very quietly, Arizona has won six of its last seven games. The D-Backs have gotten hot mainly on the strength of their offense, which has produced 33 runs over the team's last three games and 107 runs so far in September. Their .290 team batting average this month ranks second in the league behind the Giants.

    The D-Backs still find themselves with a 4.5-game deficit to make up in the NL wild-card race, but that's not an insurmountable hurdle when you consider their remaining schedule. They have four games remaining against the hapless Rockies and another three remaining against the Cubs. Combined, these two teams are 13-31 in September.

    Yes, the D-Backs do have to play three games against the Giants in San Francisco starting on Tuesday, but they'll be playing a Giants team that has already punched its ticket to the postseason. There's no question that the Diamondbacks have more to play for than the Giants at this juncture.

    Arizona is going to need to stay hot while the Cardinals simultaneously crash and burn to lose their grip on the second wild-card spot, and that's not such a crazy notion. St. Louis' last six games are against Cincinnati and Washington.

    Arizona is still a long shot to make the playoffs, but its situation is far from hopeless.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 7/1

Atlanta Braves

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    A lot of people have already anointed the Nationals as kings of the NL East, but it would be foolish to count the Braves out entirely given how well they're playing these days.

    So far in September, the Braves have a 14-7 record and an NL-best team ERA of 2.70. The Nationals, by comparison, are 12-9 this month, and they entered Monday with losses in six of their last nine games.

    The Nats will be just fine if they take care of their own business, but they can't afford to rest easy knowing that the chips are stacked in Atlanta's favor down the stretch. While the Nats have to play two series against the Phillies and one against the Cardinals, the Braves get to finish against the Marlins, Mets and Pirates.

    Combined, those three teams have a 19-43 record in September.

    The Braves are in good shape either way, of course. They don't have a ton of time left to make up the five-game deficit they're facing in the NL East, but they have a significant edge over the Cardinals for the top wild-card spot. They lead St. Louis by six games, and the only way they're losing that lead is if they stumble against Miami, New York and Pittsburgh.

    And let's face it—that's not going to happen. The Braves are much stronger now than they were this time last year.

    Odds of Winning NL East: 6/1

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 3/2

Baltimore Orioles

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    Division races don't get much more interesting than the AL East race. The Yankees and Orioles have been separated by no more than a single game ever since September 3.

    If the Orioles are going to make a move, it needs to come in the next seven days. After going an impressive 6-3 on their recent nine-game road trip, they now return home to play a seven-game homestand against Toronto and Boston.

    Yes, these would be the same Blue Jays and Red Sox who are a combined 13-28 so far in September. Both clubs have team ERAs of at least 5.00 this month, which should have the O's chomping at the bit to get going this week. They rank third in MLB in both runs scored and home runs this month.

    The trouble for the O's is that the Yankees also have a favorable schedule down the stretch. They have to tackle a seven-game road trip this week, but it's not the toughest of road trips. The Yankees will take on the Twins for three games and then the Blue Jays for four.

    If the O's are unable to gain any ground on the Yankees, they can at least rest easy knowing that they're in good shape as far as the AL wild-card race is concerned. They have a one-game lead over the A's for the top spot, which puts them 3.5 games ahead of the Angels.

    That doesn't look like a ton of wiggle room at first glance to be sure, but you have to remember that the Orioles are about to play seven straight games against maybe the two worst teams in the American League right now. They're not about to let their amazing season slip away.

    Odds of Winning AL East: 7/2

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 3/1

Chicago White Sox

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    You get the sense that no team from the AL Central really wants to go the playoffs. It's been the ugliest division in the American League all season long, and it's not getting any prettier.

    The White Sox have spent over 100 days in first place this season, but they're not doing a very good job of putting the division away. Their recent five-game win streak has since been rendered a moot point by a five-game losing streak in which they've averaged 1.6 runs per game.

    Offense has definitely been a problem for the White Sox this month; they're only hitting .246 as a team, and they've scored fewer runs than the Cleveland Indians (yikes).

    On the bright side, six of Chicago's remaining 10 games are against those very same Indians. The White Sox have handled them to the tune of an 8-4 record this season, and their bats should be able to get going against an Indians pitching staff that has a 4.65 ERA this month and a 5.20 ERA since the All-Star break.

    Don't be surprised if the White Sox get a new win streak going right away. They now host the Indians for three games, and the series will see them run both Chris Sale and Jake Peavy out to the mound. 

    The White Sox will need as much momentum as they can get, as after the Indians will come the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have won five games in a row, and they're slated to throw James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and David Price at the White Sox in a four-game series that kicks off on Thursday.

    The Tigers, meanwhile, have seven games left against Kansas City and three games left against Minnesota. Those don't look like tough matchups on paper, but the Royals and Twins are tied for the best record in the AL Central this month.

    In the event that the White Sox lose their lead in the AL Central, they can't look to the wild card as a Plan B. For the AL Central, that ship has sailed.

    Odds of Winning AL Central: 5/2

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 20/1

Cincinnati Reds

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    The Reds have already clinched the NL Central, so...why exactly are we talking about them here?

    Because they're still in the running for the No. 1 seed in the National League. And because they have an NL-best 48-30 record at home this season, I'd say it's very much in their interest to do everything in their power to wrap up the top seed.

    The Reds don't have the easiest finish lined up, but they decided to make things a little easier for themselves by shuffling their rotation for their three-game series against Milwaukee that gets underway on Tuesday.

    According to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, Mike Leake's turn will be skipped, meaning the Reds will throw Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos against the Brewers.

    The Reds are thus going to show the Brewers their three best starting pitchers. Couple that with the fact that the Brewers are just 1-5 in Cincinnati this season, and I'd say the Reds will have the edge when Milwaukee comes calling. 

    They'll also have the edge when they head to Pittsburgh for a three-game series starting on Friday. I'm pretty sure no further argument is needed there.

    Cincinnati will wrap up the season with a three-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis that could go either way, but by then, I doubt it will matter. If they take care of business against Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, they should be able to steal the No. 1 seed from the Nationals. The Nats have a one-game edge over the Reds for the No. 1 seed at present, but their remaining schedule could easily kill that one-game edge.

    Odds of Earning NL's Top Seed: 3/1

Detroit Tigers

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    Just when you think the Tigers are about to get going, they go and do something that will have you head-desking for hours on end.

    Case in point, the Tigers couldn't have looked any better in taking two straight games from the Oakland A's to kick things off last week. They outscored the A's 18-4, in no small part thanks to Miguel Cabrera's three homers and seven RBI.

    But then the Tigers lost three of their next four games because...well, they're the Tigers.

    It's absolutely imperative that the Tigers bounce back with a strong effort in their four-game series against the Royals this week before they hit the road for a season-sending six-game road trip. The bright side is that things are lined up in their favor, as they'll be throwing Justin Verlander and Doug Fister at the Royals. Anibal Sanchez will look to duplicate his last outing against the Royals in which he allowed one earned run in seven innings. 

    The Tigers are also slated to start their six-game road trip off on a positive note, as the first two pitchers out of the gate when the Tigers get to Minnesota will be Max Scherzer and Verlander.

    Still, it must be kept in mind that the Royals and Twins are playing decent baseball right now. The Tigers are going to have to get the better of them while knowing that the White Sox get to play six games against the woeful Indians down the stretch.

    Detroit's deficit in the AL Central is only one game. But knowing the team's tendency to disappoint, its deficit feels a lot larger.

    Odds of Winning AL Central: 5/1

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 20/1

Los Angeles Angels

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    A lot of people figured that the Angels had a September run in them. Sure enough, that run has taken shape.

    The Angels have the best record in the AL West this month at 14-7, and what's really encouraging is that they've done it all primarily thanks to good pitching. The Angels have a team ERA of 2.40 in September, by far the best such mark in baseball.

    Their offense, on the other hand, hasn't been so great. The Angels rank 13th in MLB in runs scored this month, and that's largely thanks to the fact that Albert Pujols and Mike Trout have been mediocre and Mark Trumbo has continued to be downright bad. The Angels' big bats aren't coming up so big these days.

    Fortunately for them, the Angels won't need their big bats to be at their best for the most part down the stretch. Six of the Angels' nine remaining games are against Seattle, which has scored a grand total of 55 runs this month.

    The real challenge for the Angels will be a three-game series at Texas that kicks off on Friday night. The Angels have handled themselves well against the Rangers this year, but they lost two of three to Texas the last time the two hooked up in Anaheim.

    It could be worse for the Angels. They could be the A's, who have to play seven of their final 10 games against the Rangers. Texas isn't going to take it easy on them, and thus it won't be easy for the A's to fend off the Angels in the AL wild-card race.

    The Angels still have a lot of work to do, but don't think for a second that they're out of this thing.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 13/2

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Things could be a lot worse for the Dodgers. They've underachieved in a big way since their big trade with Boston in late August, but they somehow find themselves just three games behind the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race.

    Better yet, the Dodgers have a little momentum going after taking two of three from the Reds in Cincinnati. It helps that they got a gutsy performance from Clayton Kershaw and two home runs from Adrian Gonzalez on Sunday night, two very nice sights for very sore eyes.

    The Dodgers are set up to put these good vibes to good use down the stretch, as their next six games are against beatable teams in San Diego and Colorado. The Dodgers are 9-6 against the Padres this season, and they'll be playing a Colorado team that's just 5-17 in the month of September.

    The big question will be whether the Dodgers bats can stay warm, as they've squandered a solid 3.13 team ERA on the month by scoring only 56 runs. Only the Mariners have scored fewer runs this month, which pretty well sums up how badly the Dodgers' new-look offense has underachieved.

    Another big question is how Kershaw is going to fit into the team's plans for its final nine games. He could start against Colorado on regular rest on Saturday, or the Dodgers could choose to hold him back for when the Giants come calling at Dodger Stadium to wrap up the season.

    Either way, it's going to take an excellent showing in LA's last nine games for it to make the postseason. With the Brewers right there with them in the wild-card race and the Cardinals sitting on a semi-comfortable three-game lead, we're talking about a 7-2 or 8-1 showing from now until season's end.

    That's a lot to ask of this Dodgers team.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 10/1

New York Yankees

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    The Orioles are not going away anytime soon, but at least the Yankees know that they control their own destiny in the AL East. All they have to do is hold on to the lead they already have.

    They did well to go 7-2 in their recent nine-game homestand, but now they're off to Minnesota and Toronto for seven games away from home. The Yankees went 5-4 on their last roadie and are just 40-34 on the road for the season, so it suffices to say that a road trip right now is hardly ideal.

    Fortunately for them, the competition could be worse. The Yankees get to play a Twins team that has been condemned to reside in New York's pocket for eternity and a Blue Jays team that they just swept in rather convincing fashion. The Yankee bats should be just fine against the Twins and Jays, who both have ERAs in the high 4.00s since the All-Star break.

    Things won't get any tougher for the Yankees when they return home to finish off the season. The Red Sox will be there waiting for them, and they'll be looking to improve on their 5-10 record against the Yankees this season.

    Try as they will, they will fail. The Red Sox are little more than a minor league team at this point, and their pitching staff is ill-suited to the task of keeping the Yankees in the yard. 

    The AL East could very well come down to the last three days of the season. If it does, the Yankees will have the edge because they'll be hosting Boston, while Baltimore is taking on the Rays down in Tampa Bay.

    Further helping the Yankees' cause is the fact that Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are all set to make two more starts apiece before the season is over. In the event that the Yankees miss out on the AL East title, it won't be because they got screwed over by some replacement scrubs.

    Odds of Winning AL East: 3/1

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 3/2

Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Brewers got manhandled by the Nationals on Monday, thus dropping three full games behind the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race.

    The Brewers are basically going to be in a must-win situation every day for the rest of the season. What doesn't bode well for them is that they immediately have to head to Cincinnati now that they're done in Washington. 

    As hot as the Brewers are right now, a three-game series at Cincinnati still promises to be very tough. The Brewers are just 1-5 at Great American Ballpark this season. Their pitchers have done reasonably well there, but the nine home runs they've surrendered at GABP are the most they've given up at any ballpark this season outside of Miller Park. 

    Things will lighten up for the Brewers after they take on Cincinnati, as they'll head home to finish with six games against Houston and San Diego. The Brew Crew should be able to handle the Astros just fine, and they should be able to beat up on a Padres pitching staff that has an ERA near 5.00 this month. 

    But it will all be for naught unless the Cardinals crash and burn. And while Milwaukee has to like the fact that the Cards have to finish with six games against the Nationals and Reds, between now and then is a three-game series against an Astros team that the Cards just swept.

    The Brewers need to finish very strong while hoping that the Cardinals suddenly start playing awful baseball. That's not something St. Louis tends to do this time of year.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 7/1

Oakland A's

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    The 10-game road trip the A's are on always did look like it was going to be a problem.

    Sure enough, it's proving to be a problem. A rather big one too.

    The A's are 2-4 so far on their tour through Detroit, New York and Texas, and they've already lost one starting pitcher. Thanks to an oblique strain, Brett Anderson has joined Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy on the list of A's pitchers out of commission for the rest of the regular season.

    Anderson's injury leaves the A's no choice but to tackle their 10 remaining games with a patchwork starting rotation, one consisting of four rookies and a true journeyman in Travis Blackley.

    This is not the kind of rotation a team wants to be dealing with at any point, much less at a time when seven games against the Rangers are looming. To make matters worse for the A's, they're about to play four of those seven games in Texas, and they'll have to face Derek Holland, Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. Oakland's chances of winning the AL West could die for good over the next few days.

    It's back home for a three-game series against Seattle after that, and the bright side is that the A's aren't slated to face Felix Hernandez. They'll need to use that series to establish some momentum, as odds are that their wild-card hopes will be resting on their three-game finale against the Rangers.

    The A's don't have a ton of wiggle room. They're already slipping, and it may not be long before they find themselves face-to-face with the Angels if they continue to play well.

    Odds of Winning AL West: 9/1

    Odds of At Least Earning Wild-Card Berth: 4/1 

Philadelphia Phillies

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    It wasn't that long ago that the Phillies looked like they were going to sneak in and steal a wild-card spot, but they've since come back to earth by dropping three out of four against the Astros and two out of three against the Braves.

    The Phillies now find themselves with absolutely no margin for error. They're five games out in the NL wild-card race, which basically means they either have to win out or at least go 8-1 in the final nine games in order to sneak into the playoffs.

    And the odds of this happening are not good. The Phillies have to play three games at home against the Nationals before hitting the road for six games against Miami and Washington.

    The good news for the Phillies is that they won't see either Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann in their three-game series against the Nats this week. For their part, the Phillies will be starting Cole Hamels, Tyler Cloyd and Kyle Kendrick. They should be able to earn a series victory.

    They'll then have to go on to sweep the Marlins, which shouldn't be too much trouble seeing as how they'll be throwing Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hamels at them. 

    Thus, it could all come down to Philly's season-ending three-game series at Washington next week. In that series, Philly's chances will be largely contingent on what the Nats have left to play for. If they're still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed, they won't lie down for the Phillies. 

    The Phillies can't be counted out just yet, but they'll need a lot of things to go right for them over the next 10 days.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 11/1

San Francisco Giants

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    The Giants are in the same boat as the Reds. They've already won their division, so from here on out, the question is whether they can lock up the NL's top seed.

    It's doubtful that the Giants will be able to. They're four games behind the Nationals in the race for No. 1, and the Giants are going to be playing some tough customers down the stretch. In the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, two of the Giants' last three opponents will have something to play for when the Giants meet up with them.

    Granted, the Giants shouldn't be counted out entirely in the race for the NL's top seed given how well they've played in September. But since they have a lot of ground to make up to catch up to two very good teams in the Reds and Nationals, the odds of them getting it done just aren't very good.

    Odds of Earning NL's Top Seed: 12/1

St. Louis Cardinals

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    The Cardinals are in control of their own destiny in the NL wild-card race, but they're going to be put to the test down the stretch.

    Eventually, anyway. The first order of business for the Cardinals this week is sweeping the Astros for the second time in a week. If they can do that—and they should—they'll be in a nice position to avoid total disaster heading into their last six games.

    Now, those last six games will come against two very tough teams in the Nationals and Reds, but it works in St. Louis' favor that all six games will be at home. The Cards are under .500 when they play on the road, but the only NL team with a better home record than them is the Reds.

    The not-so-good news for the Cardinals is that Kyle Lohse is only going to make one more start the rest of the way. Chris Carpenter, meanwhile, is slated to make two more starts, one of which will come against Cincinnati. The Cardinals are going to find out then and there exactly how much he's recovered from his neck woes.

    Still, the Cards could be in much worse shape heading into their final nine games. They should be able to get in even if they go 5-4 or 4-5, giving them a rather enviable margin for error.

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 3/1

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Don't mind the Rays—they're just doing that thing that they usually do this time of year.

    Just when it looked like the Rays were about to fall out of the AL wild-card race, they've reeled off five wins in a row to close to within 3.5 games of the A's for the second spot. That's not a small deficit, but it's the kind of deficit that could be overcome if the Rays keep stringing wins together.

    The bad news is that stringing wins together is about to get more difficult. They should be able to keep the good times rolling in their brief two-game series against the Red Sox this week, but after that, the competition will get much stiffer.

    After they take on Boston at Fenway Park, the Rays will head to Chicago for a four-game showdown against the White Sox. It bodes well for them that they'll have three of their best starting pitchers going in that series, but it's also worth noting that the White Sox swept them in the one and only series the two teams have played this year. 

    After the Rays are finished in Chicago, they'll head home to take on an Orioles team that has a 9-6 record against the Rays in head-to-head meetings. These, of course, would also be the same Orioles who have the best road record in the American League.

    The Rays may look like a tough match for these teams because they've won five games in a row, but you have to take this five-game win streak of theirs for what it's worth. The five wins in question have all come against Boston and Toronto, two of the AL's most beatable teams.

    Also, keep in mind that the big difference between 2012 and 2011 is that the Rays aren't chasing a dying team this year. 

    Odds of Earning Wild-Card Berth: 8/1

Texas Rangers

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    It feels like the Rangers have a huge lead in the AL West, but in reality, they're sitting on a mere four-game lead over the A's.

    The odds are good that the Rangers will at least be able to hold their lead over the next few days. All they have to do is at least manage to break even against the A's in a four-game series in Texas, and they have the right pitchers lined up to tackle the task. Derek Holland and Yu Darvish have both been filthy lately, and Matt Harrison has been Texas' best pitcher all season long. All three will toe the rubber against Oakland over the next four days.

    Things won't get any easier for the Rangers after the A's leave town, as the Angels will be coming in for a three-game set. However, the Rangers took care of the Angels the last time they played them, winning two out of three. They also have their pitching set up pretty well for the Angels, as the Halos will have to face Ryan Dempster, Holland and Darvish.

    If the Rangers show well in their next seven games, their season-ending three-game series in Oakland could be a moot point. If it isn't, the Rangers will probably only need to avoid getting swept in order to clinch the AL West.

    It's been their division to lose virtually all season long. All they have to do now is hold on.

    Odds of Winning AL West: 3/2

Washington Nationals

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    Right now, the Nationals are in the hunt for two things: the NL East title and the No. 1 seed in the National League.

    Barring an unforeseen disaster in their final nine games, the Nats winning the division is little more than a formality at this point. The Braves aren't that far behind, but they basically need to win out while the Nats stumble to a horrid finish in order to win the NL East. The Nats are too strong to suffer a fate like that.

    As for the No. 1 seed, the Nats have an edge in that department because they won their season series with the Reds. In the event that both clubs finish with identical records, the Nats will get the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker.

    The trouble is that Washington's remaining schedule is more difficult than Cincinnati's. The Phillies aren't going to show them any quarter, nor will the Cardinals. The Reds are also in for a rough finish, but at least they get to play the Pirates first.

    It will be a close call either way, of course, but Cincinnati's odds of landing the top seed are looking slightly better than Washington's.

    Odds of Earning NL's Top Seed: 5/2


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