MLB Playoffs Preview: Find The Value, Young Man!

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MLB Playoffs Preview: Find The Value, Young Man!
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Baseball Playoffs start on Wednesday? I thought the season ended in August.

I guess that's what you get when you try to root for the Mets. The best news to come out of Queens in two months is that the organization has been gutted. A new era begins in 2011!

(2006 wasn't that long ago, was it?)

For the fortunate few, those emotionally invested in the fate of their franchises over the next few weeks, today is a day to reflect.

Remember how wonderful it was celebrating the playoff berth, perhaps clinching the division, and for a moment close your eyes and let your mind wander to a universe where you wake up in November wearing your "Team X World Series Champion 2010" shirt and hat. 

Of course, your significant other will be long gone by that time, having been scared away by your actions during Game 6 of the LCS. But who needs love when you have a World Series? Ahh, priorities.

Today is a day to reflect because tomorrow is a day when everything your team did in the regular season becomes a distant memory. 

162 games of glory could all be forgotten in three measly days. 

Not to go all stat geek on you (but I guess I am since I'm following that statement with some random statistics), but consider:

NFL teams play 16 games. A playoff team could lose in one additional game, meaning that the playoffs constitute 1/17th of a season, or 6.2%.

NBA Playoff qualifiers are guaranteed four extra games, meaning the postseason at the minimum constitutes 4 out of 86 possible games, or 4.6%.

Major League Baseball is a much different story. A team with by far the best record in its league through 162 games can be out in three more, making the postseason 1.8% of total games played.

Ouch. Baseball has by far the least meaningful regular season in terms of its importance for the playoffs; home field advantage is most often minimal in baseball, so winning a division or achieving the best record throughout the year means little, and for the World Series, a theoretical Game 7 will be hosted by the National League representative because its league won an exhibition game in July.

This makes the Baseball Playoffs quite fun for me - someone who has no emotional investment in any of these eight teams.

Probably not so much, however, for the fans of the final eight. It's more like a week or month-long test of survival. Best of luck to all those involved.

Speaking of luck (how's that for a segue?), let's go through the series prices and pennant odds to find the most value, not which team should necessarily win. Remember, anything can happen in three stinking games.

One note before we start. While it is a failed business plan to wager on regular season baseball games, I promise it's different in the playoffs. I'm not quite sure why, but years of...research...has proved to me that it is really quite lucrative and relatively easy to win action on playoff games. 

American League

Texas Rangers (+125) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (-155).

Sports history shows that we as fans rarely, if ever, get the dream match up. In the case of the American League in 2010, most are hoping for a Rays Yankees ALCS, which means either the Yankees or the Rays are likely to lose a first round series. The odds line up with my belief that the AL Playoffs are wide open, but I'll still take the Rays. This series price is probably a stay away, however. No real value on either side. Oh, and if Cliff Lee throws a two-hit shutout in Game 1, I claim the right to take back this pick.

New York Yankees (-190) vs. Minnesota Twins (+155).

More value here for the Twins, and some history is on Minnesota's side. More history is on the Yankees side, but my job is to twist that logic around in order to boost my point. The Yankees, in this newest era, do not win playoff series as the Wild Card. On the other hand, the Yankees have beaten the Twins consistently in the playoffs this decade. (Twisting logic alert!) However, I liken this series to the 2009 ALDS between the Angels and the Red Sox. Most believed that since the Red Sox always beat the Angels in the postseason, they would do it again. Result: 3-0 Angels. There's a good amount of value here in the Twins because of the new ballpark (meaning Minnesota has one of the few real home field advantages) and the karma from the Baseball Gods. The Twins finally spent some money this year, and they will be rewarded by beating the Yankees.

Odds to win the American League:

Minnesota Twins (+400). Nodding my head vigorously in the hope that someone will see how good this looks. If all these teams are relatively even, as the series lines tell us, why wouldn't you take the team with 4/1 odds to come out of the AL?

Tampa Bay Rays (+200)

New York Yankees (+170)

Texas Rangers (+450). Same as the Twins.

My advice? Take both of the underdogs before the games start. If either the Twins or the Rangers take down the AL East teams, you have a 50/50 shot at cashing in. If both underdogs win? Sit back and smoke a celebratory cigar.

National League

Atlanta Braves (+135) vs. San Francisco Giants (-165). 

This is the NL series to stay away from. I think the Giants win this one, but really why would you bet a -165 favorite when the teams are relatively even? And why would you bet such a small underdog? There's no value here, so don't even bother. 

Cincinnati Reds (+220) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (-300).

Look, I believe the Phillies will win this series, thereby providing us with a Giants vs. Phillies NLCS. But didn't I just make the case that we rarely get the dream match up in sports? And in a short series where we've seen that anything can happen, who wouldn't want to take the team that starts the series with better than 2/1 odds? The Reds have been a consistent, solid team all year long, and I'm alerting Phillies fans that the "Nobody Believed In Us" potential (Copyright, Bill Simmons) is quite high with Cincinnati. Remember, the Cardinals, with Wainwright and Carpenter, got swept by an inferior Dodgers team last year. Anything can happen, so take the fantastic odds and value.

Odds to win the National League:

Atlanta Braves (+550). More than 5/1 odds in the baseball playoffs to reach the World Series? Sign me up.

Cincinnati Reds (+500). Ditto.

San Francisco Giants (+300). Lincecum, Cain, and Sanchez are 3/1 to win seven total games? Wow.

Philadelphia Phillies (-140). They are the favorite with good reason. It is just silly to even contemplate wagering on them, given the amount you'll have to put up with minimal potential return on investment.

My advice? If you have the means and the riverboat gambler in you to do so, put money down on all three underdogs and increase your investment incrementally with the decreasing odds.

For example, let's say you put $5,000 on the Braves, $7,500 on the Reds, and $10,000 on the Giants (of course these amounts are absurd, but it's fun to dream, right?).

If Atlanta takes the pennant, you win a total of $10,000.

If the Reds win, you're up $22,500.

And if the Giants, the second best odds on the board, go to the World Series, you're up $17,500. Of course, if the favored Phillies win, you're $22,500 in the tank, but that's besides the point.

Enjoy the fun ride that is the MLB Playoffs, everyone. And if you can watch the games on mute to avoid the musings of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, the better off you'll be.

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