- At the midway point of the season, the AL standings are as expected, with the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox dominating.
- The NL, however, is in turmoil as none of the Dodgers, Cubs, or Nationals currently lead their divisions.
- Find out how the 2018 World Series futures look just before the All-Star Break and which team is offering the best value.
Halfway through the 2018 MLB season, the American League has played out as expected: the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox are in a tier by themselves; the Indians are running away with a deplorable Central division; and at least seven of the 15 teams have no realistic shot of making the playoffs (Blue Jays, Twins, Tigers, Rangers, White Sox, Royals, Orioles).
The National League is a much different story. Not one of the teams projected to win their divisions — Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals — currently sits in first. Instead, the Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Braves lead the West, Central, and East, respectively.
While there is still months of baseball to play, their status as contenders is legitimate if you ascribe to run-differential as a predictive metric:
- Atlanta Braves: +70 run differential (2nd, NL)
- Arizona Diamondbacks: +61 run differential (3rd, NL)
- Milwaukee Brewers: +54 run differential (5th, NL)
Bovada.lv has updated its 2018 World Series futures based on the first 80 games of the year.
*Note: the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals are off the board.
Back in early April, I advised that bettors jump on the Boston Red Sox at +1200 and fade the San Francisco Giants at +2500. Hopefully you did because the Sox are nearly twice as short now (+650), while you can get the Giants at almost twice as long (+4000).
Using those same powers of prognostication, let’s look at a few of the teams that are currently being overvalued or undervalued.
Bet On Now: Los Angeles Dodgers (+900)
Don’t look now, but the Dodgers are the hottest team in the National League. They weathered an early storm of injuries and stayed within striking distance of the Diamondbacks in the West. Finally getting healthy — sort of — they now sit just 2.5 games back in the division, hold down the second Wild Card spot, and are an MLB-best 21-9 in their last 30 games.
There is still cause for concern, especially among the starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw is working his way back from multiple injuries (biceps strain; back tightness), and first-year phenom Walker Buehler landed on the 10-day DL in early June with a microfracture to his ribs and hasn’t pitched since. It’s not clear how productive either will be over the remainder of the year.
The depth and resilience the rest of the rotation has showed has been incredible, though. Ross Stripling, who started the year as a bullpen afterthought, is pitching like an ace (1.98 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 89 Ks in 77.1 IP) and showing no signs of slowing down; Alex Wood has a 2.89 ERA in his last three starts; and, at the back-end, Kenley Jansen is back to being a lock-down closer after a rough start (5.10 ERA in April, 0.60 ERA in May, 2.03 ERA in June).
The lineup, even without Corey Seager, is showing it can carry the team when the pitching takes a dip, scoring 373 runs on the year, third-best in the NL.
FanGraphs’ projections are far from perfect, but it’s still somewhat telling that the site predicts the Dodgers to win the NL West by four games at the end of the year. If and when the Dodgers catch the Diamondbacks, their odds are going to be slashed, especially the way the Cubs (and their subpar starting rotation) and Nationals (who can hardly score a run) are struggling.
LA remains the class of the National League and is decent value at +900.
Stay Away: Seattle Mariners (+2200)
Mariners fans have fallen head over heels for their scrappy 2018 team. Even after losing Robinson Cano to an 80-game PED suspension (which will render him ineligible to play in the postseason), they have continued to find ways to win. But that may not last; they are more games over .500 (19) than in the black in terms of run differential (+14).
They’re the only team in the majors which can say that, and they have a league-best (and completely unsustainable) 25-11 record in one-run games to thank, as well as an out-of-nowhere career year from starter Wade Leblanc (3.38 ERA in 2018 vs 4.19 career ERA).
Having built up a seven-game lead in the race for the second Wild Card spot, the M’s should be able to end the franchise’s 17-year playoff drought which dates back to Ichiro’s rookie season in 2001. Come playoff time, they are going to be completely overmatched, and they have little ability to load up at the deadline. Their minor league system is devoid of blue-chip prospects who could be parlayed into a bullpen arm (like Brad Hand) or a no. 2 starter (like J.A. Happ).
And while Jean Segura (.338 BA, 44 RBI), Mitch Haniger (.847 OPS, 16 HR, 59 RBI), and Nelson Cruz (.924 OPS, 20 HR, 48 RBI) will keep the Seattle offense at least average, this team won’t be belting its way to an AL pennant.
The 2018 Mariners are a fun watch but not a serious World Series threat. When the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox load up at the deadline, it’s only going to widen the gap between that trio and the M’s. Save your money for a serious contender.