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Betting Big: Three Teams Poised to Make Waves Down the Stretch

Outside of the  Chicago Cubs, it’s not really clear who the best teams in baseball are this season, let alone what the early playoff picture might look like. In fact, except in the NL Central, no second-place team is more than four games out of first place.

A peek at the latest World Series and Pennant Futures Odds certainly highlights this chaos and there’s many a team within striking distance of winning at all, according to the Vegas masterminds.

As in betting, fantasy sports, and grocery shopping, life is so often about finding hidden value, whether it be drafting sleepers or finding 2- for-1 pizza coupons. Now, the odds posted are certainly not to be taken as gospel, however to me they can be useful when researching which teams may be the darkhorses to look out for down the stretch.

I’m not going to lazily talk to you about the great chances of teams like  Cubs (I could go on for pages though) and Giants (it is an even year), or the Rangers, Red Sox and Nationals, who round out the top five lowest odds. This post is all about finding those diamonds in the rough, so even if you’re not a gambling man or woman (Hello ladies) these might be the teams for you to keep an eye on.

  1. Cleveland Indians (32-25,1st Place AL Central)

Pros: Anytime I can sing loudly and off-key, Francisco Lindor vs. Tropicana Field

Cons: Outfielders’ questionable training regiments, God hates Cleveland

VEGAS BABY! 14 to 1 World Series, 6 to 1 Pennant

Even after snapping a six-game winning streak, the Cleveland Indians still have a hold of 1st place in the AL Central. With the announcement that Marlon Byrd would be serving an 162 game suspension, on top of Abraham Almonte’s 80 gamer that ends July 1st, questions persist about the early hitting success of the team as well as the outfield depth, as the team announced recently that they’re pretty worried about Michael Brantley‘s shoulder.

Rookie Tyler Naquin has filled in admirably, batting .338 in 32 games with a .545 slugging percentage. In fact, with decent BA and OPS (8th and 6th in the AL), the Tribe rank 4th in the league in runs scored. If Lonnie Chisenhall, Jose Ramirez, and some combination of Naquin, Rajai Davis and the soon to be reinstated Almonte can continue to hold down the fort in the outfield, and with the solid middle infield pairing of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, the offense looks like it can stay on track. A trade for a veteran outfielder could also still happen: Matt Holliday of the Cardinals and New York Yankee Carlos Beltran might be helpful pickups, or they could even take a flier on Carl Crawford. (Want more on where Crawford might land? We’ve go you covered.)

The high run support has been held up by a breakout performance by Danny Salazar, who sports an impressive 2.24 ERA while going 6-3 in 11 starts. The rotation should only be bolstered by the return of Carlos Carrasco who had a great start (2-0, 3.00 ERA) before hitting the DL with a strained hamstring. This is of course is all happening without their de facto ace, Corey Kluber, performing very well. Two years removed from going 18-9 and picking up the AL Cy Young award, the righty has started modestly with a 5-6 win/loss record and a 3.84 ERA. If Kluber can find his groove, the ability of the Cleveland starting rotation will keep this team in contention. Largely forgotten in the mix of the bigger names of the American League, if the Indians can keep up excellent batting and continue to improve throwing the ball, they could make waves moving forward and possibly in the playoffs.

  1. Kansas City Royals (30-28, T2nd Place AL Central)

Pros: Powder-blue uniforms, Paul Rudd, hating Joe Buck

Cons: Annoying ASG ballot stuffing, outfield collisions, throwing at Manny Machado

VEGAS BABY!: 25 to 1 World Series, 10 to 1 Pennant

This seems like I’m just cherry-picking good teams from the AL Central (I promise the Chicago White Sox and Detroit aren’t next), but the fact that the defending world champions are sitting at 25:1 odds is a steal. The Royals have hit a dip lately, but until recently they had overcome a somewhat sluggish start and have still put themselves in a position to continue to apply pressure to the Indians and the AL at-large moving forward.

Injuries to Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas are tough to overcome, particularly in the power department, the two have 11 of the team’s 47 home runs on the year sitting on the DL, and while the team ranks 3rd in the AL for both hits and batting average, they sit an abysmal 13th in runs scored.

Adding to this misery is the anemic start for DH Kendrys Morales who is slashing .191/.257/.320. There are bright spots as Lorenzo Cain continues to be one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball and constant threat to steal whenever on base.

Teams go as their best players go and right now Salvador Perez is arguably one of the best, if not the top, catcher in the majors. Pick your poison, he’s top-five league-wide in OPS, BA and offensive WAR and behind the dish he leads the AL in caught stealing, caught stealing % and is fielding 1.000. Yes, 1.000, as in perfect. The starters for the Royals have been okay and are led by a resurgent Ian Kennedy, though he might be in for regression as his FIP difference is -1.02. The rotation will get a boost with the return to form of the talented and versatile Danny Duffy and there’s, as always, Wade Davis anchoring a strong bullpen.

Davis has an ERA so low (0.86) that if were to be a GPA it would make the Animal House proud. Even with holes in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, Chris (Young) and Kris (Medlen) have not been good, I fully expect the Royals to use the same formula that has gotten them to the October Classic each of the last two years- situational hitting, terrorizing the basepaths, and pitching decently enough to hand the ball off to the stellar bullpen.

  1. Miami Marlins (30-28, 3rd NL East)

Pros: Mike Giancarlo Stanton destroying baseballs, Ichiro Suzuki (Wizard)

Cons: Abominable stadium architecture, owners reaching Mr. Burns-like levels of evil

VEGAS BABY! 40 to 1 World Series, 20 to 1 Pennant

I know, I know this is a ridiculous long shot, but it’s this type of ludicrous hot-take that’s why they pay me the big bucks (Editor’s Note: no we don’t). The Fish are just a game and half out the final NL Wild Card spot and though Stanton and Jose Fernandez (so hot right now) garner most of the headlines, the team has some surprisingly good performers to this point. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are names most haven’t heard of, but they’re both sitting in the top 10 offensive WAR for NL outfielders, with the former maintaining the fourth-best BA league-wide.

Ichiro’s battle with father time is a fascinating storyline and JT Realmuto is a well above-average hitting catcher too. The key here is that Stanton hasn’t even really gone full Stanton yet. He’s hit *only* 12 homers, but his batting average is grisly at .197.

Another big question is the pitching staff after Fernandez. The superstar is on fire again, leading the league in overall strikeouts and K/9 innings. Closer AJ Ramos is another standout, ranking 3rd in the majors with 19 saves. A lot has to go right in the pitching department for the Marlins to have a chance, but that’s why it’s fun to speculate. Second year lefty Adam Conley is posting respectable 3.76 ERA and maybe, just maybe, there’s an outside chance that Wei-Yin Chen can find the form that allowed him to be a 16 game winner, his FIP difference of 0.44 does suggest he’s being a tad unlucky.

With the Nats and Mets underachieving a bit, and the Pirates and Cardinals having to slug it out behind the Cubs, there could be a chance that Miami can sneak in the playoffs, where there’s a glimmer of hope that the return of a potent Stanton, an excellent offense (Dee Gordon’s return at the end of July will be nice) and decent pitching can lead them to success, perhaps a la the 2007 Pennant winning Colorado Rockies; and then you and me both will look like very smart people.

-Jess Hartman


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