2018 World Series Odds for Each MLB Team at the Start of the Season

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMarch 30, 2018

2018 World Series Odds for Each MLB Team at the Start of the Season

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    Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve put the Astros in a great position to defend their World Series crown.
    Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve put the Astros in a great position to defend their World Series crown.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    All 30 MLB teams enter the 2018 season with a fighting chance of achieving glory. Yet an ongoing arms race among the top squads dwindle the number of legitimate World Series contenders.

    A handful of fans will not like their team's listed odds of winning the Fall Classic. When powerhouses like the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians loom as immovable obstacles, even a solid club with feasible playoff dreams becomes an overwhelming underdog.

    Supporters of top-tier squads will also desire a higher championship probability, but no one team could run away with favorable odds since any winner must survive a grueling and unpredictable postseason gauntlet.

    Also consider that these are not Las Vegas odds skewed against bettors. Everyone's chances look slimmer when the probabilities add up to 100 percent.

    Seven teams currently carry a feasible claim to the Commissioner's Trophy. Two other National League contenders have an outside shot, but everyone else is simply trying to slide into a wild-card spot with 85-90 wins. Even if successful, they must then conquer multiple superteams.

    Injuries, trades and unforeseen performances will modify the league's outlook by the summer. For now, let's examine each team's championship odds as the season commences.

Long Shots

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    The Braves could field a more competitive team if their young players give more support to star first baseman Freddie Freeman.
    The Braves could field a more competitive team if their young players give more support to star first baseman Freddie Freeman.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
    • Oakland Athletics (300-1)
    • Philadelphia Phillies (300-1)
    • Atlanta Braves (300-1)
    • Pittsburgh Pirates (350-1)
    • Baltimore Orioles (400-1)
    • Tampa Bay Rays (600-1)
    • Kansas City Royals (600-1)
    • San Diego Padres (750-1)
    • Cincinnati Reds (750-1)
    • Detroit Tigers (1,000-1)
    • Chicago White Sox (1,000-1)
    • Miami Marlins (1,250-1)

          

    Out of these 12 teams playing with 2019 in mind, a daring bettor would be best served taking a flier on the Phillies or Braves emerging a year or two early. Either rising NL East club would need every break to go their way while their top rookies contribute more than anybody could reasonably expect, but onlookers can at least envision a plausibly high ceiling.

    Since their foundation is comprised of veterans and/or players with a checkered health past, the Washington Nationals are the division winner most prone to a doomsday scenario. While Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are almost certainly not going to join Freddie Freeman on 2018 NL MVP ballots, it's way more feasible than C.J. Cron slugging Tampa Bay to an American League East title.

    As for the four teams buried at the bottom, the season is over before it begins when Clayton Richard, Homer Bailey, Jordan Zimmermann or James Shields starts on Opening Day.

Fringe Playoff Contenders

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    Buster Posey's Giants are in for another long season with Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija starting on the disabled list.
    Buster Posey's Giants are in for another long season with Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija starting on the disabled list.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    • Toronto Blue Jays (50-1)
    • Los Angeles Angels (55-1)
    • Milwaukee Brewers (55-1)
    • Colorado Rockies (65-1)
    • Minnesota Twins (65-1)
    • New York Mets (100-1)
    • Seattle Mariners (100-1)
    • San Francisco Giants (200-1)
    • Texas Rangers (200-1)

          

    One of these AL squads (or someone listed as a long shot) will sneak into the postseason. Although the playoffs welcome randomness, they're likely fighting for a winner-take-all Wild Card Game on the road against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

    Making it to the American League Division Series is too much of a challenge to award any of them high odds of walking away with the whole thing. The Junior Circuit favorites are simply too imposing to back a potential 86-win team like the Blue Jays, Angels or Twins as a credible World Series champion.

    The Giants may have at least topped this list with a healthy Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon, but pitching depth posed a concern before losing their top starters and closer. Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen could overcome those woes in 2013, but not 2018. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks back into the playoffs without star slugger J.D. Martinez.
    Zack Greinke will look to lead the Diamondbacks back into the playoffs without star slugger J.D. Martinez.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Odds: 33-1

    Despite playing second fiddle to the Dodgers all year, the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged as a legitimate title contender. They ascertained MLB's fifth-best run differential (plus-153) with the second-best ERA in the NL (3.66).

    In light of those results, a 2.94 percent probability of a World Series triumph is harsh. Yet losing J.D. Martinez will only widen the gap behind the Dodgers.

    How does a team go about replacing someone who towered 29 homers in 62 games following a wildly successful July trade? They obtained Steven Souza, who tallied a career-high 30 homers last year. Yet he's starting 2018 on the disabled list due to a right pectoral strain.

    Last year, the Diamondbacks notched a .706 OPS on the road. That could become the troublesome norm with a humidor mitigating Chase Field's offensive advantage. They're not going to rank No. 8 in runs scored again, but pitching will keep them in the playoff picture.

    Adjusted park factors will conversely assist an already deep rotation led by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray. They will continue to optimize Archie Bradley's value as a high-leverage reliever outside of the ninth inning now that the job has been assigned to former Rays closer Brad Boxberger. The former starter can keep recording more than three outs when needed.

    With a healthy pitching staff, Arizona holds the inside track on snatching a wild-card spot again. This year, however, a diminished offense makes them less of a threat to the NL powerhouses who wield elite pitching and hitting.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Marcell Ozuna gives St. Louis' lineup a major power boost.
    Marcell Ozuna gives St. Louis' lineup a major power boost.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Odds: 25-1

    The St. Louis Cardinals haven't finished below .500 since 2007, but last year's 83-79 campaign represented their worst record of that stretch. They also haven't had a player tally more than 30 home runs in a season since Carlos Beltran in 2012. That should change after acquiring Marcell Ozuna.

    No team needed a star hitter more than the Cardinals, whose offense epitomized average with a 100 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). Although they brandished the highest on-base percentage (.334) of any team that missed the playoffs, they ranked No. 18 in home runs and No. 17 in slugging percentage.

    Ozuna likely won't match last year's .312, 37-homer breakout, but he'd help unlock a new dimension by batting .290 with 30 long balls. He should also have plenty of runners to drive home; Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler each notched walk rates above 12.5 percent in 2017.

    "The fans are really going to enjoy me," Ozuna said after the trade in December, per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. "I'm going to give them a reason to smile."

    They'll have another reason to smile if Jose Martinez approaches last season's 135 wRC+ with more playing time. If Pham and Paul DeJong avoid massive regression, their lineup will turn into a formidable unit.

    Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes will also bolster a pitching staff that posted MLB's 10th-best ERA last year, and they must think highly of Jordan Hicks to place him on the Opening Day roster with no past experience beyond High-A. 

    After already retooling their bullpen with Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone, they signed Greg Holland on Opening Day, as first reported by The Athletic's Mark Saxon. None of this means they will even win the division, but the Cardinals should return to the postseason, where they have a history of catching fire as an underdog.

Boston Red Sox

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    A bounce-back year from David Price is vital to the Red Sox making a World Series run.
    A bounce-back year from David Price is vital to the Red Sox making a World Series run.Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Odds: 13-1

    The Red Sox won the AL East last year. They now have Martinez and a full season of Rafael Devers' services. David Price is healthy, and Carson Smith will hope to settle into the setup role after two seasons ravaged by injuries.

    They're still pegged to finish behind the Yankees.

    Although Price appears to have turned the corner from last year's elbow injury, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez will both open 2018 on the disabled list. After they ranked No. 26 in slugging percentage (.407), Martinez alone does not give them more pop than New York's Murderers' Row reboot.

    Just don't write off Boston's chances of defending the division crown. It won last year despite injuries to Price, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Turnarounds from that trio—especially Price—could fend off the Bronx Bombers.

    Rick Porcello won't vie for another Cy Young Award, but perhaps he can split the difference between his respective 2016 and 2017 ERAs of 3.15 and 4.65. 

    MLB's highest Opening Day payroll makes Boston the first highlighted team to enter the season with a "World Series or bust" mentality. Although the Red Sox are currently the weakest of the seven major title contenders, that could change if Price and Porcello earn their keep while their lineup relives 2016 with Martinez playing the role of David Ortiz.

Washington Nationals

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    Including the playoffs, Stephen Strasburg allowed six earned runs over last year's final 12 starts.
    Including the playoffs, Stephen Strasburg allowed six earned runs over last year's final 12 starts.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Odds: 9-1

    As alluded to earlier, Washington's roster gives it a smaller margin of error than the other title favorites.

    Health hazards permeate the star-studded lineup. Adam Eaton is returning from a torn ACL, and Trea Turner has yet to play a full season in the majors. Ryan Zimmerman hit 36 home runs in 271 games from 2014 to 2016 before going deep as many times last year.

    Bryce Harper has yet to play 150 games outside of 2015's MVP campaign, and Daniel Murphy begins 2018 on the disabled list due to an offseason microfracture surgery on his right knee.

    Stephen Strasburg will try to make 30 starts for the first time since 2014. The rotation is lethal with him and Max Scherzer on top, but they have little depth to survive without either one for a prolonged stretch.

    On the flip side, they won the NL East by a 20-game margin despite Eaton, Turner and Harper all spending time on the shelf. Their bullpen hemorrhaged leads until landing Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler in midseason trades. All three relievers have returned.

    Strasburg, who recorded a 0.86 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 10 second-half starts before throwing 14 shutout postseason frames, could be Scherzer's biggest obstacle to winning a third straight NL Cy Young Award. And it's still possible nobody else in the NL East finishes with a winning record again.

    A lot could go wrong, but that's true for any team. While Washington's lack of depth is troublesome, at least Howie Kendrick gives them a sufficient replacement for Murphy with versatility to fill another hole later in the season.

    As they're probably sick of hearing about by now, the Nationals have never won a playoff series since leaving Montreal. They have lost Game 5 of the National League Division Series by one run in back-to-back years, so their luck can easily improve if they're healthy in October. 

New York Yankees

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    The Yankees added 2017 NL Giancarlo Stanton to an already potent lineup.
    The Yankees added 2017 NL Giancarlo Stanton to an already potent lineup.B51/Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Odds: 9-1

    In a normal year, a 91-win team adding an MVP would compel everyone else to waive the white flag.

    The Yankees should have compiled even more victories in what was initially considered a transition year. Per Baseball Reference, their plus-198 run differential—higher than the 101-win Astros and 104-win Dodgers—yields a 100-62 expected record.

    Now they have Giancarlo Stanton, who pummeled 38 of his MLB-leading 59 homers from July to October. Although the blockbuster trade cost them Starlin Castro, they lucked out by signing Neil Walker for $4 million, an incredible bargain for a second baseman who accrued over 2.0 WAR in each of the last seven seasons.

    Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery and July acquisition Sonny Gray transformed the rotation from a liability into a strength. Only Cleveland's stellar starting staff posted a lower ERA in the AL.

    It's also not hyperbole to say the Yankees have assembled the best bullpen ever. Four of their relievers recorded a strikeout percentage higher than 37.0 in 2017. Not included among them is Aroldis Chapman, who holds the highest career strikeout per nine rate (14.85) of all time.

    Listing the Yankees fifth speaks to the sheer awesomeness of MLB's elite teams. The Evil Empire is loaded, but so are the other squads.

    It also hurts that New York must contend with the Red Sox to avoid a return to the AL Wild Card Game. Cleveland and Houston, on the other hand, enjoy much higher odds of defending their division titles and skipping the volatile play-in game.

Chicago Cubs

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    A slimmer Kyle Schwarber looks poised to have a breakout year for the Cubs.
    A slimmer Kyle Schwarber looks poised to have a breakout year for the Cubs.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Odds: 8-1

    It's a scary thought, but the Chicago Cubs' young core has not yet peaked.

    Kris Bryant is already an MVP winner at 26, and he couldn't ask for a better partner in crime than Anthony Rizzo. Yet the surrounding young hitters did not develop as rapidly as expected, leading them to an eighth-ranked 101 wRC+

    Kyle Schwarber showed up to spring looking more like Peter Quill than Andy Dwyer. His 30-pound weight loss led to a .340/.419/.660 spring slash line with three doubles and four home runs. The 25-year-old even legged out a triple and matched his career tally of four stolen bases.

    In addition to improving his woeful outfield defense, the body transformation can help the career .222 hitter develop a more well-rounded approach. Per ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers, Cubs manager Joe Maddon commended Schwarber's improvements at the plate.

    "The one thing I'm seeing is he's not swinging as hard," Maddon said. "It's more under control. More hands, less arms. And with that, it looks easier. He's doing it easier. He's eased up a bit. And better adjustments with two strikes."

    Following an impressive rookie campaign, Ian Happ also slimmed down and altered his swing, per the Athletic's Sahadev Sharma. The adjustments paid major dividends: seven spring training long balls and an Opening Day blast on the season's first pitch.

    Schwarber and Happ can turn the Cubs into an offensive force while stabilizing an otherwise proficient defense's sore spots.

    The Cubs also completed a rotation revamp by adding Tyler Chatwood—who owns a career 3.31 ERA away from the Rockies' Coors Field—and replacing the declining Jake Arrieta with Yu Darvish.

    If Brandon Morrow stays healthy and matches last year's dominance, the Cubs will finish closer to 2016's 103 wins than 2017's 92. The bullpen is their biggest weakness, but it's also the easiest area to fix during the season.

Cleveland Indians

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    Mike Clevinger gives Cleveland's elite rotation another high-strikeout starter.
    Mike Clevinger gives Cleveland's elite rotation another high-strikeout starter.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Odds: 7-1

    Before suffering a swift postseason exit at the Yankees' hands, Cleveland had the look of an unstoppable dynamo.

    A 22-game winning streak fueled them to a 55-20 second half with a plus-180 run differential. Their overall plus-254 scoring margin exceeded their eventual eliminators by 56 runs. 

    Late surges from Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger gave the AL Central champs an MLB-best 3.30 ERA with the most strikeouts (1,614) ever compiled. Aside from losing trustworthy reliever Bryan Shaw, they kept the pitching unit in place. Led by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the bullpen remains in good hands.

    The lineup lost Carlos Santana, an unheralded contributor who has generated baseball's second-highest walk percentage (15.1) behind Joey Votto since the start of 2013. On the bright side, replacement Yonder Alonso collected a higher on-base percentage (.365) and wRC+ (132) during a resurgent 2017. 

    Constant meetings with the Royals, White Sox and Tigers augment the Indians' chances of again reaching triple-digit wins and running away with the AL Central. Yet they're well aware of the the unpredictability in a best-of-five series, especially versus an elite squad like the Yankees, Red Sox or even the Astros if the AL East victor claims the league's best record.

    Corey Kluber imploded in the ALDS, but Cleveland will still like its chances with the Cy Young Award winner and 2016 postseason hero on the mound. Clevinger and Bauer, who respectively recorded ERAs of 2.23 and 2.57 ERA after July 31, are the X-factors to snapping the franchise's 69-year title drought.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Clayton Kershaw's Dodgers will look to extend their MLB-high streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.
    Clayton Kershaw's Dodgers will look to extend their MLB-high streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Odds: 7-1

    For all their depth, the Dodgers must rely heavily on their studs.

    Back injuries limited Clayton Kershaw to 175 innings, but only Alex Wood reached 150 among the team's other starting pitchers. If Wood's second-half decline (3.89 ERA, 6.79 K/9) continues, it must restart its quest for a legitimate No. 2 starter. 

    The Dodgers added ground-ball specialist Scott Alexander, but Morrow parlayed his overworked postseason into a closer's gig with their primary NL competitor. Until they find another bullpen breakout, the NL champs will spend the early months mixing and matching before handing the ball to Kenley Jansen.

    Justin Turner's broken wrist was an early hit for the lineup, putting more pressure on Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig to shoulder the offensive burden. Against all odds, Matt Kemp could play a pivotal role in their lineup to start 2018.

    So why are the Dodgers still pegged as the NL favorite? Possessing the game's best starter and reliever is a nice start. While they surround those stars with no reliable workhorses, they can throw multiple options to the wall until some stick like Wood and Morrow did last season.

    Whether he winds up in the rotation or bullpen, top prospect Walker Buehler could help this summer. The 23-year-old righty tallied 125 strikeouts over 88.2 minor league innings last year.

    Their offense will miss Turner in April, but the deep lineup has no room for Kemp, Joc Pederson and Austin Barnes to lock down a regular role. Outfielder Alex Verdugo will bide his time in Triple-A, where he batted .314 last season.

    Fielding is also a major strength for the Dodgers, who delivered an NL-high 66 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last season. The Cardinals ranked second with 32. 

    They're the 2017 division winner most likely to post a worse record this season, but that won't deter them from retaining the NL West title with hopes of ending their sixth straight postseason appearance as champions.

Houston Astros

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    The Astros will mount a World Series title defense with an upgraded pitching staff and the same stacked lineup.
    The Astros will mount a World Series title defense with an upgraded pitching staff and the same stacked lineup.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Odds: 21-4

    The defending champs undeniably enter 2018 as the team to beat.

    After trouncing the competition in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wRC+ by sizable margins, they will bring back the entire offense aside from the retired Beltran, their only regular who recorded a wRC+ below 100

    They clobbered the field with 109 games from Carlos Correa, who could challenge Jose Altuve's MVP defense if provided a full season of health. Alex Bregman, who batted .315/.367/.536 after the All-Star break, is on the cusp of joining Correa, Altuve and George Springer in superstardom.

    These aren't all-or-nothing sluggers either. In 2016, Houston amassed MLB's fourth-highest strikeout percentage. No team struck out less often than its 17.3 percent last year.

    How does one improve such a stacked squad? Get Justin Verlander right before the 2017 calendar turns to September. After he leads the championship charge, add Gerrit Cole for fun. Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh could headline some weaker rotations or even serve as No. 3 starters for a fringe contender, but they're both confined to relief roles.

    Even if the bullpen that nearly derailed Houston's championship hopes represents the team's weakest link, it's not particularly weak. Brandishing a 2.43 ERA and 336 strikeouts over 244 career regular-season innings, Ken Giles deserves the benefit of the doubt to bounce back from a disastrous postseason. Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Peacock and McHugh have the potential to form an elite unit.

    If this were the NBA, the Astros might boast 2-1 odds of repeating. The best MLB team, however, often does not win a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. They hardly skipped to the finish line last year, instead surviving a seven-game ALCS against the Yankees before beating the Dodgers in seven by winning two extra-innings classics.

    The Astros are the favorites, and it would take a catastrophic series of events to keep their loaded squad out of the playoffs. Once they get there, anything can happen.

                          

    Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.