Over the course of a 162-game season, the cream naturally rises to the top. Using run differential to determine who the real contenders are, you can pretty easily narrow the legitimate World Series candidates down to five. Run differential is a great variable because whether you have a high-scoring attack or dominant pitching, it identifies relative strength.
Let’s look at the five teams most likely to win it all.
2016 World Series Favorites
Chicago Cubs (13/5)
Their run differential is over 200, a staggering number, and more than 60 runs better than any other team. The Cubs are doing it with pitching and hitting: their team ERA is number one in the sport while they score the third-most runs on offense. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester give them great top-line starters for a playoff series, and the team’s ability to get on base consistently means pressure is always on their opponent’s pitching. Add in Joe Maddon, one of the top skippers in baseball, and the Cubs have everything going for them; except, you know, history.
Washington Nationals (11/2)
With the Giants fading and Clayton Kershaw injured, Washington is only other legitimate National League contender. The Nats don’t have the bats that Chicago does, but they do have the top-end starters (Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer) and the second-best team ERA in baseball. Plus, they’re still in the top quarter for runs scored.
Unlike the Cubs, who are average defensively, Washington has committed the fewest errors in baseball and boasts the top fielding percentage in the sport. Manager Dusty Baker has been a playoff regular over the years but is just 19-26 in the postseason and has never won the World Series.
Cleveland Indians (10/1)
The Tribe are hot and it is easy to understand why. They are near the top of baseball in runs scored, seventh in team ERA, and among the top quarter of the league in defense. Corey Kluber leads an underrated rotation that includes Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. They are very tough to beat at Progressive Field, especially good news since the American League has home-field advantage in the World Series.
Young talent abounds in the Indians lineup with Tyler Naquin, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor all hitting over .300. Like the Royals the last few seasons, the Indians can really run and use speed to their advantage. Few skippers have experienced more recent success than Terry Francona.
Toronto Blue Jays (11/1)
The AL East has been among the few competitive divisions this year and that means the Jays have played more pressure-packed games than most teams. Thanks to a lineup featuring Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista, there is a perception that all Toronto does is mash. But that’s not the case this year; sure, the Jays are number six in runs scored, but did you realize that they have given up fewer runs than every other team in the American League? Aaron Sanchez has an ERA well south of 3.00; J.A. Happ is 17-3; and Marco Estrada’s WHIP is a minuscule 1.04. Skipper John Gibbons is just 5-6 in postseason games, however.
Boston Red Sox (15/1)
After back-to-back fifth-places finishes following a 2013 World Series crown, Boston is back in the mix in the aforementioned AL East. Their pitching is very average and they’re just inside the top-third of the league in defense, but their lineup is the best in the bigs; they lead baseball in runs scored and have tallied 50 more runs than any other AL squad.
They don’t rely on one or two guys for offense, either. David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia are all hitting over .300, have at least a dozen homers, and have scored over 325 runs, combined. The big questions come on the hill. Steven Wright and Rick Porcello have had good years, but can they be trusted in the playoffs? David Price has had a mediocre year and has long struggled in the postseason. Does Boston have the pitching to win in the fall? Skipper John Farrell has a World Series victory on his resume and is 11-5 in the playoffs.
The Cubs are the deserving favorite and Washington has a lot of talent. One of those two is extremely likely to represent the NL, but neither offer a ton of value. The AL choice is more difficult. I love that the AL champ has home-field advantage, and that is especially good for the Indians, who are so good in front of friendly fans.
None of the American League pitching blows you away. That said, I trust the Jays offense the most, and will put my money on Toronto’s pitching to be good enough to win at a price.