With the passing of the non-waiver trade deadline, Major League Baseball’s collective focus will turn to the playoff races across the league. Two months remain in the regular season, and there are still a dozen or so teams that think they can win the World Series. Some, like the Tigers and the Cardinals, are favorites to win it all, while others are sleepers. Let’s take a minute to focus on the sleepers with reasonable MLB odds as the playoffs draw near.
The Washington Nationals opened the year with good MLB odds and picks and were a favorite preseason World Series pick by many. Now, they find themselves 11 back of the Braves, and 7.5 games out of the Wild Card. That is some serious ground to make up. Though the term, “Wild Card” seems to indicate an aura of unpredictability, 7.5 games may prove to be too unpredictable a comeback with just two months remaining.
There is, however, good news for Washington. Now that we have two Wild Card slots, making up this much ground is much more feasible. The other reason for Washington to have hope is that there are only 3 teams in front of them for those 2 spots. Washington only needs to overcome 2 teams in order to make the playoffs. While they may be quite the dark horse at this point in the season, Washington has more than enough talent to make a run at the playoffs.
Their pitching staff is still phenomenal. Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Gonzalez are all front line starters. Clippard and Soriano can hold down the back of a bullpen as well as any duo in the league. That said, their pitching, even though Drew Storen and Dan Haren have been disappointing, hasn’t been the problem. The lack of hitting has been unexpectedly problematic for Washington. The Nationals need Rendon and Ramos to step in, while they need Span and LaRoche to step up. Werth and Harper have continued to hit as expected, but two bats is not enough. If the Nationals can make it to the playoffs, the World Series is legitimately in reach, but they’ll need to start playing to their abilities.
The Cincinnati Reds may be in 3rd place in their division, but they still currently hold the 2nd Wild Card slot. If the Reds can manage to hang on to be the 2nd or 3rd NL Central team in the playoffs, they have the firepower to mow through the rest of the league, on their way to the trophy.
Cincinnati has an MVP candidate (Votto), the most intimidating closer in the league (Chapman), and a great mixture of veterans and youth in the lineup and the rotation. Homer Bailey has really figured it out, and Tony Cingrani hasn’t missed a beat transitioning to the Major League level. Sometimes the Reds can be forgotten, but they have one of the best all-around lineups in baseball.
Now, if Dusty could only figure out how to fill the 2nd spot in the lineup…
The Baltimore Orioles are back. The AL East’s offseason focus was mostly centered on the Toronto Blue Jays, of all teams, but they’ve since deflected the attention to the Red Sox, Rays, Alex Rodriguez, and the Orioles. Baltimore may not have a dominant starting rotation like the Rays, but the Orioles hit home runs. They hit lots and lots of home runs. No single pitch has as big an impact on a game than one that gets put in the seats, and the Orioles put a lot of balls in the seats. With Davis, Jones, Hardy, Weiters, and Machado, the Orioles are rarely out of a game until it’s over. Like the Nationals, the tough task will be getting into the playoffs, but if they’re in, the Orioles won’t go down easily.