The Major League Baseball season is almost upon us. The 6pm-6am, multi-game marathons, the epic grind of 162 regular season games is so nearly here. It’s been an almighty wait for baseball fans worldwide. Game Seven of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium feels like a decade or so ago.
Iconic home run calls and physics-defying pitches are back in our lives. One team will be having an autumn to remember in a few months from now.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were a game away from that perfect fall. A pitching collapse deprived us of drama on that last night in the city of showbusiness, but it has not stopped Dave Roberts’ club being the favourites for the World Series crown in 2018.
Having possibly the greatest pitcher of all-time helps their cause. Clayton Kershaw’s postseason resume is patchy at best, though, and there are uncertainties behind him as mentioned in our National League preview. The 6/1 price is too short, regression from many of the Dodgers’ stars is probable.
The team that broke Dodger hearts, the Houston Astros, follow at 13/2 along with the New York Yankees. The Astros are a better team than the Yankees, and the brute power of the Yankees does not translate so well to playoff success.
Houston captured sports fans with their approach last year, littered with joy and individual brilliance. I tipped them at 3/1 to make the World Series in my American League preview, and I don’t see anyone stopping them if they get there. Sharing a price with the Yankees is surprising, even if the Yanks hit two million homers.
The 10/1 price on the Washington Nationals is good value. It’s now or never for the Nats, who will almost certainly lose former-MVP Bryce Harper in free agency this winter, but their playoff underachievement has forced their odds higher than I would have expected.
Sure, the repeated Division Series exits are a worry. The roster, though, is as good as any in baseball, with the exception of the Astros. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are the best front two of any rotation. Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton make up a line-up with that golden blend of depth and star power.
The Nationals have never appeared in a World Series in their 49 years. If they don’t do it this year, it might be a while before they are realistic contenders again. The 10/1 is the best value from any National League team.
At a shorter price than the Nationals, the 2016 American League pennant winners, the Cleveland Indians, could be worth a shot, too. The 8/1 is a little short, but it boils down to pitching again.
Cleveland have greater holes in their line-up than the majority of the other contenders. The thing is, they also have Andrew Miller and a rotation that was frankly absurd in 2017.
A similar return from their pitching staff in 2018 and the Indians will be serious contenders. If you doubt the threat the Indians pose, cast your mind back to their bullpen performances in their run to Game Seven in 2017. Displays of that ilk from Miller and Cody Allen again and Cleveland could win their first rings in 70 years.
We head back to the National League for my longshot pick. I spoke highly of the New York Mets’ chance last week, and I still can’t over their 33/1 price. This team has postseason experience. The odds are lengthened by their awful 2017, but that was thanks to a heavily-depleted roster.
If the Mets are strong enough (or more importantly, healthy enough) to make it to the playoffs this year, they are going to be a fierce prospect. Even the best line-ups in baseball will struggle to score runs against Noah Syndergaard and his supporting cast. Not to mention a line-up with plenty of guarantees.
Backing the reigning champions seems an easy way out, doesn’t it? The trouble is, these Astros are just so good. Cleveland, Washington and the Mets are the teams who have the best chance of stopping them, but should Houston keep healthy they will remain my favourites for a while yet.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*