Houston were the eventual American League winners in 2017. Notching 101 regular season wins, the Astros were not strong favourites when they faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. It took seven games – just as their ALCS series with the Yankees did – but the Astros eventually secured the title.
It is of little surprise to see Houston as joint-favourites to reach the Fall Classic again. Their 3/1 price is shared with the New York Yankees.
The Astros retained all of their major pieces from last year, but also added further depth to an already strong rotation with the trade for Pirates ace Gerrit Cole. Cole slots in as a number four starter, such is the depth of Houston’s starting pitching.
While we may see some regression from Marwin Gonzalez and a couple of others, we can expect the line-up to still be one of the best in the American League.
The price is not one to be jumping at, but it’s not the worst value we’ll ever see. What I think is slightly curious is how the Yankees are given the same chance of progression into the World Series as the Astros.
Sure, they were just one game away last year and have added the National league MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, but I still don’t think the 27-time champions are as good as this Astros roster.
It’s the rotation matchup that is key for me. The Yankees have starting pitching depth, it’s just not as good as Houston’s or arguably even Cleveland’s. Money will have been put on the Yankees when they signed Stanton, which will have forced the price down.
I just don’t see any value in backing them at 3/1. These Yankees are built around home runs, something that is not as reliable when facing the best pitchers in the game in the playoffs.
The Indians are at 4/1 to return to the World Series after their own, less successful, trip to Game Seven in 2016. Cleveland allowed the fewest runs in all of baseball in 2017.
Their season included that record-breaking 22-game winning streak, which featured superb starting pitching from a rotation almost as strong as Houston’s.
Jose Ramirez is the key for Cleveland. We will soon find out whether his third-place in the MVP voting was a career year or a breakout. The Indians’ line-up is not as formidable as the aforementioned pair. They really need another star hitter to accompany Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion, hopefully Ramirez can be that guy again.
The second-half of the sport’s biggest rivalry checks in at 6/1. The Boston Red Sox actually pipped the Yankees to the American League East crown in 2017 and have gone under the radar somewhat to sit that far out.
JD Martinez’s power complements the rest of their line-up well. Boston have good contact hitters, elite defence and one of the top closers in the game.
While Chris Sale might just be the best starter around at the moment after striking out over 300 in 2017, the concern is what they get from the guys behind him. David Price and Rick Porcello could be elite, but that would take a huge leap from last year.
With Houston heavy favourites to win the West, Cleveland nailed on for the Central and the Red Sox and Yankees expected to battle for the East, there’s a significant drop-off in odds to make the World Series after that quartet.
Mike Trout’s Los Angeles Angels are at 11/1 but will likely need to negotiate a wildcard game. Again, it’s the starting pitching that’s the concern. The line-up has the potential to be as good as any in the league.
Pitching, though, depends a lot on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who has struggled in Spring Training. Even with the best player in the game on their roster, those odds are on the short side.
The Minnesota Twins at 14/1 are a more interesting option. Their line-up is strong, despite the lack of big names, and scored just three runs fewer than the Indians last year. Minnesota benefit, too, from a weak Central division at the moment that gives them an advantage in pursuit of the wildcard.
Having given up more runs than all but six American League teams in 2017, the Twins have bolstered their rotation with Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn. Their rotation is unlikely to do anything remarkable, but they have depth and reliability that the Angels are lacking.
Predicting the playoffs is a challenge in September, in March it’s virtually impossible. Houston at 3/1 is the value of the four main contenders, however, while the Twins at 14/1 to make a run from the wildcard game is worth considering.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*