MLB Playoff Odds 2013: Handicapping Each Contender's World Series Chances
One of the great things about the MLB postseason, contrary to popular belief, is that there really are no overwhelming favorites in either league.
When you put two teams together in a short series, anything can happen. Even if there is a huge talent disparity on paper, all it takes is an error here or a home run there to turn a series on its head.
Just last year, the Detroit Tigers were heavy favorites going into the World Series, but then San Francisco's pitching picked that lineup apart. Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro had the best stretches of their respective careers, and they were celebrating a title by the bay.
You can't predict what will happen in the postseason with any certainty. All you can do is go with the information out there, then draw conclusions from that. This is why we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of the 10 playoff teams, then offer our odds based on that information.
I determined the odds by examining everything from first-round opponents to strengths and weaknesses on the roster. All of the percentages add up to 100 at the end.
You can watch all MLB Playoff games broadcast by TBS online by clicking this link.
Not taking anything away from Pittsburgh's performance over the weekend, but the Reds looked lifeless getting swept by the Pirates at home in a series that could have guaranteed them a game at Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Instead, after being outscored 16-6, the Reds have to go to PNC Park in front of what could be the best crowd we see all postseason. Those Pittsburgh fans have been waiting for playoff baseball since Barry Bonds left town.
On top of that, Mat Latos, Cincinnati's best starter, can't pitch in this game because of a bone chip in his pitching elbow. Who knows what that means for the rest of the postseason?
Johnny Cueto is making just his third start since June 28 in this game. He looked decent in those previous two starts with 12 innings, 10 strikeouts, eight hits, four walks and one home run. But that was against the Astros and Mets.
I am painting a bleak picture, but there are quite a few things to like about the Reds. First, they have the two best players by on-base percentage in the NL with Joey Votto (.435) and Shin-Soo Choo (.423).
If Votto and Choo are getting on base at that rate in the postseason with Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce around them, they can score a lot of runs.
The pitching staff does concern me because they are a group that gives up a lot of fly balls, especially Bronson Arroyo and Tony Cingrani. Even Cueto has given up seven homers in 60.2 innings.
Their bullpen is very good. Aroldis Chapman is as good as it gets in the ninth inning, with J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Sean Marshall and Manny Parra giving Dusty Baker plenty of options to work with late in games.
But they will need two starters to step up if they want to make a deep run.
World Series Odds: 6.5%
If you knew that the Indians finished one game behind the Tigers in the AL Central, you either paid close attention to Twitter on Monday or are a big fan of Midwestern baseball.
Now is where we will see how good this Cleveland squad really is. Terry Francona's bunch won their last 10 games of the year to finish as the No. 1 wild-card team in the AL, but that streak was against Houston, Chicago and Minnesota.
Yet there are reasons to trust the Indians. First, the starting pitching has the potential to be very good. Rookie Danny Salazar, who can throw as hard as any starter in baseball and has shown a good slider and changeup, will get the ball on Wednesday night.
Ubaldo Jimenez is averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings since the All-Star break and has an ERA under 2.00 since the end of July. They need a third starter, which could be Corey Kluber, who had success earlier this season but hasn't been the same since a finger injury kept him out for more than a month.
Justin Masterson, their best starter before an oblique injury in early September, gives more depth to a bullpen that desperately needed it with Chris Perez giving up homers like he is Joe Borowski.
The offense is a solid mix of players who can do a lot of things well but not one single thing great. They have 10 players with at least 10 home runs, but no one with more than 22. Four players had at least 17 stolen bases. Five players with at least 100 plate appearances had an on-base percentage of at least .341.
They are prone to strikeouts, with seven players having at least 110. Given what we know about postseason pitching, those strikeout totals can pile up in a hurry.
Ultimately, everything will come down to what kind of starting pitching the Indians get. They have the arms to cause some havoc, but are they up to the challenge against deeper lineups?
World Series Odds: 7%
There might not be a team that gets more love from fans across the country than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not even the most optimistic projections had them winning 94 games.
Yet here we are, with the Pirates getting a home game to kick off the postseason against division-rival Cincinnati and Francisco Liriano taking the mound. He's been fantastic at PNC Park this season with a 1.47 ERA and 72-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73.2 innings.
Former Yankees castoff A.J. Burnett has put together another strong year, posting a 3.30 ERA. He is locked in as the No. 2 starter.
Gerrit Cole has tremendous stuff and appears to be figuring things out now that he is over 100 MLB innings, but six of his last seven starts have come against Milwaukee, San Diego and Chicago. It's hard to determine how great he is against that schedule.
It is the offense that's scary, and not in a good way. Andrew McCutchen is a superstar and should be NL MVP, but beyond him there is a significant gap in talent. Pedro Alvarez can bash the ball, but he can't hit left-handed pitching (.604 career OPS) and has a .296 OBP this season.
Justin Morneau has gotten on base in his 25 games with the Pirates (.370 OBP), but he has a .312 slugging percentage. Starling Marte's second-half numbers took a hit (.254/.346/.387), and he's only started 21 games in the last two months.
The bullpen is filled with a lot of reclamation-project guys who put it all together this season, like Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez. One thing those three pitchers have in common that makes them so effective is their extreme ground-ball rates. They keep the ball in the park as well as any relievers in baseball and give the offense a chance to win games late.
But how well that offense performs is going to be the big question.
World Series Odds: 7%
Tampa Bay Rays
After a 5-2 victory against Texas to get in the postseason, the Tampa Bay Rays now get to travel to Cleveland for a matchup with the Indians Wednesday night.
David Price dominated even without his best command (complete-game seven-hitter), and Evan Longoria looked like the MVP candidate he was in the first half of the season (3-for-4, one home run, two RBI). However, the Rays will start the postseason at a disadvantage. Price won't be able to start a game until the ALDS if the Rays even get there.
That would be a bigger concern for most teams, but Tampa Bay's run of success the last six years has coincided with tremendous starting pitching depth.
There are also concerns about the Rays lineup that I can't shake. They are a good unit overall, showing tremendous patience and some thump in the middle with Longoria and Wil Myers. But there isn't a lot of depth that allows them to keep up with teams like Oakland, Detroit and Boston.
That's why starting pitching is so important for them. Price is the king of the castle, with Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Matt Moore all jockeying for second place. That is a good group, yet the latter two have had issues throwing strikes consistently.
The extra game was a blessing in some ways, because Price could now go in a potential ALDS against Boston in Games 2 and 5. Joe Maddon will just need to figure out what to do about Game 1, since Cobb will pitch the Wild Card Game against Cleveland.
I do think they are the better of the two AL Wild Card teams, but because they had to play 163 games and use their No. 1 starter just to make the playoffs, the Rays will have a difficult time stringing together enough wins to play deep in October.
World Series Odds: 7.5%
If last year was a novelty, this year proves that the Oakland Athletics are back to being a dominant force in the American League. They won the AL West for the second consecutive season and were one game behind Boston for the best record in the league.
What's different about the A's from 2012 to 2013 is a more potent offensive charge, led by MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. This team scored 54 more runs in 2013 and increased its OBP by 17 points (.310 to .327) and slugging by 15 points (.404 to .419).
That offense will help them against the Detroit Tigers. Remember, Oakland took the Tigers to five games in 2012 before Justin Verlander decided he was tired of messing around and threw a complete-game shutout in the decisive game.
However, you do have to wonder what will happen with Yoenis Cespedes' shoulder that kept him out this weekend and has left the team hopeful he will be ready for the playoffs.
One thing we often equate with the Oakland franchise that worries me this year is pitching. The A's don't have a shutdown guy in the rotation. Bartolo Colon throws a lot of strikes, but do you trust him in a big spot?
Jarrod Parker might be the most complete starter, yet he has home run issues, with 25 surrendered in 197 innings. A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone are extreme fly-ball pitchers just waiting to give up five home runs in four innings.
I would like to see Sonny Gray, whose 5'11'' stature can make his fastball hittable, get a start in Game 1 or 2 of the ALDS, but I don't know if Bob Melvin will trust him in that spot.
We could be talking about another early exit for the A's in the postseason because of that starting pitching.
World Series Odds: 9%
The Braves fascinate me, because even with 96 regular-season wins, you would be hard pressed to find a lot of people outside of Atlanta who think they will get by the Dodgers in the NLDS.
A big reason is that the Dodgers are a bad matchup for Atlanta. When you have two starters like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, both of whom average more than 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, with high-quality stuff and command, things can get ugly.
Factor in that Atlanta hitters struck out 1,384 times, more than any playoff team, and you have a recipe for disaster.
However, the Braves do get to open the NLDS at home, where they went 56-25. They have the deepest bullpen, led by Craig Kimbrel taking over the Mariano Rivera role of best closer in baseball.
Power is also a key to October success, which plays into Atlanta's strengths. The Braves hit 181 homers, second most of any playoff team after Oakland. Five players in their lineup hit at least 20 home runs.
One key hitter for the Braves all season who strikes me as a candidate to flame out in the postseason is Chris Johnson. He had one of the most fortunate seasons you will ever see, with a .321 average on a .394 batting average on balls in play and a 116-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While the Braves can't match L.A.'s pitching at the top, they probably have as much depth with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and a combination of Paul Maholm or Alex Wood in the No. 4 role.
Ultimately, I believe the Braves just found the wrong postseason matchup right out of the gate. But that doesn't mean they are doomed.
World Series Odds: 9.5%
Los Angeles Dodgers
After wondering whether Don Mattingly would make it through June with a job, the Dodgers might be the chic pick to come out of the National League.
There is a good reason for that: This group fits the model of what we think a good October team should look like. They have the dominant starters at the top of the rotation (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke), with strong depth behind them in Ricky Nolasco and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The lineup has gotten much better with the midseason call-up of Yasiel Puig and return to form of Hanley Ramirez. Even without Matt Kemp, whose ankle will keep him off the postseason roster, there is power and speed that can wear you down.
However, if there is one concern, it's that there isn't much depth to the lineup. Puig, Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez are terrific, but who comes after that? Andre Ethier (.613 OPS vs. lefties in 2013) and Carl Crawford (.551 OPS vs. lefties) are glorified platoon players.
Juan Uribe is probably the fourth-best hitter on this team, which isn't a knock on him. It's just scary that the Dodgers will have to rely so heavily on three players to score enough runs to win in the playoffs.
The bullpen is solid. Kenley Jansen has stabilized the end of games, with Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell giving Mattingly late-inning options. As long as Brandon League doesn't get anywhere near a close game, he can be effective.
But this Dodgers team is going to live or die by the performances of Kershaw and Greinke. That's a lot more than almost any other team in baseball can say.
World Series Odds: 11.5%
I have got four fantastic reasons why the Tigers could be the favorites to come out of the American League: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Even if you dismiss wins above replacement as a silly stat, it is hard to deny how impressive it is that Detroit's top four starters all finished in the top 12 of FanGraphs' WAR this season among starting pitchers in both leagues.
Scherzer is going to win the Cy Young Award, is one of only two starting pitchers to strike out at least 10 per nine innings (Yu Darvish) and allowed 208 baserunners in 214.1 innings.
Even in a down year, Verlander still threw 218.1 innings with 217 strikeouts. Sanchez led the AL in ERA and fielding-independent ERA and was third in expected fielding-independent ERA. Fister quietly goes about his business as a ground-ball artist who doesn't put up huge strikeout numbers like his fellow starters.
I can also give you two reasons why the Tigers could flame out in the ALDS against Oakland. One, that bullpen is scary, and not in a good way. Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly might have to pitch every game the starters aren't able to go all nine; that's how bare the cupboard is for Jim Leyland.
Two, how healthy is Miguel Cabrera? Contrary to popular belief, the Tigers are not a great offensive team. They have great individual pieces, and when firing on all cylinders, they can put up huge run totals. That's why they ranked second behind Boston in runs scored.
But the Tigers were also shut out 11 times this season. They have no speed outside of Austin Jackson, so they are very much a station-to-station group, which means they have to hit home runs to score.
Cabrera hasn't been right since August. He had a disastrous September (by his standards), hitting .278/.395/.333. If that's what he brings to the table in the postseason, the Tigers aren't going to score a lot of runs.
It's hard not to love that rotation in a short series, though.
World Series Odds: 12.5%
St. Louis Cardinals
If you want to find the most complete team in baseball, you would be forgiven if your journey started and ended in St. Louis. It might be boring for some and aggravating for others, because the Cardinals are always in the playoffs and have received constant praise for their farm system, but that's because they are incredible.
Just look at the prospects who made the big leagues full-time this season and played a major role on this team: Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams and Carlos Martinez.
Matt Carpenter went from a platoon third baseman to an MVP candidate at second base. Yadier Molina remains the best all-around catcher in baseball. Adam Wainwright is the No. 2 Cy Young contender in the NL.
The Cardinals don't have a traditional superstar, though Molina certainly comes close. But they have built more quality depth in the lineup and starting rotation than any franchise in baseball.
Not having Allen Craig would crush a lot of teams, but Matt Adams stepped in and slugged .503 in 108 games. They have six everyday players hitting at least .276. There isn't a lot of power in the lineup, but they make as much contact as any team and force defenses to make plays.
The bullpen isn't rock-solid, but let's say the Cardinals decide to put Wacha in there as a late-inning guy or long man, like Tim Lincecum last year. Suddenly that group looks a lot more formidable.
Everything in the National League starts in St. Louis, but can the Cardinals bring home championship No. 12?
World Series Odds: 14.5%
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox came back from the disaster of 2012 to win 97 games and get back all of the goodwill from fans and media after the chicken-and-beer scandal that led to the team firing Terry Francona and hiring Bobby Valentine.
Of course, what the Valentine haters won't talk about his how virtually all of the key players to this year's team stayed healthy. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Jacoby Ellsbury all played at least 130 games. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Ryan Dempster all made at least 29 starts.
That's not to take away from the job general manager Ben Cherington and new manager John Farrell did in getting all of the pieces to work and getting the most out of Daniel Nava, Koji Uehara and Jonny Gomes. Not to mention acquiring Jake Peavy for no one who will be missed.
The lineup is a matchup nightmare for pitchers. The Red Sox are as patient as any team in baseball, willing and able to wait on their pitch. That can lead to some strikeouts, especially from players like Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew, but they are such a strong unit overall that the punchouts don't hurt that much.
Lester has been fantastic in the second half, with a 2.57 ERA and 74-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 87.2 innings. Clay Buchholz is still working on finding his command after returning from injury, but he might have the best pure stuff in the rotation.
Then there is the bullpen, with Uehara putting together one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory with a 101-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 42 baserunners allowed in 74.1 innings. Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have been stellar, though the latter's inability to miss bats is concerning in a big spot.
The Red Sox have the deepest team in the AL, as they proved throughout the year in winning the AL East. Whether that is enough to get them past a team like Detroit in a short series remains to be seen.
World Series Odds: 15%
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