The 2019 Major League Baseball season is 40 percent complete. 40.1 percent, to be more exact. The 1,000th game of the 2,430-game regular season will be played later this week. We’re deep enough into the season that we can no longer claim “it’s still early,” but there’s still plenty of time for everything to change, including postseason races.
Of course, the postseason races have changed quite a bit already this season. Wins and losses are in the bank, and, as always, there are several surprise contenders this year. There are also several surprisingly disappointing teams. With an assist from our SportsLine projections, here are the teams that have most increased (or decreased) their postseason odds so far this season.
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American League: Biggest increases
The top two increases in postseason odds should not be a surprise. At 10 1/2 games, the Twins have the largest division lead in the American League, and their plus-112 run differential is the best in baseball. Minnesota also leads baseball in batting average (.274), slugging percentage (.515), OPS (.856), and OPS+ (127). I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins add another arm or two at the trade deadline, but their big division lead allows them to be patient and find the right match. This team is for real, folks.
As for the Rays, they currently lead baseball with a 2.93 ERA and a 149 ERA+, and they’re doing it despite playing in the DH league and in a division with four hitters parks. They have been almost exactly league average offensively (4.75 runs per game), and with that pitching, league average offense is all you need. I’m curious to see how Tampa Bay approaches the deadline. They have obvious payroll limitations, but there might not be a better time to go for it than right now.
The Astros have the third largest postseason odds increase in the so-called Junior Circuit this year, though that is not especially meaningful. It’s a relatively small increase and it tells us that, aside from the Twins and Rays being this good, SportsLine doesn’t see any surprise contenders in the American League. (Sorry, Rangers fans, but SportsLine sees your team as having increased their postseason odds from 1.4 percent to only 7.6 percent. Don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger.)
National League: Biggest increases
In the National League, two of the largest increases in postseason odds belong to expected NL Central contenders that have strengthened their positions. The various projection systems — FanGraphs and PECOTA as well as SportsLine– did not see either the Brewers or Cubs as slam dunk, no doubt about it contenders preseason. Now they are essentially tied atop the division (Milwaukee is percentage points ahead) with a 5 1/2-game lead. October baseball awaits.
The D-Backs are an interesting story. They lost a lot of talent over the winter (Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, etc.) and were considered a rebuilding team, yet here they are over .500 and chasing a wild-card spot. They have the seventh-best run differential in baseball (plus-56) and they do it with a balanced attack. Arizona is seventh in runs scored per game (5.18) and ninth in runs allowed per game (4.22). The D-Backs are 2 1/2 games back of the second wild-card spot and could make for some interesting trade deadline decisions.
It should be noted the Phillies, who are 37-28 and one game up in the NL East, have the fourth largest postseason odds increase in the National League at +12.4 percent. That increase is not too far behind the Cubs. Given their offseason activity and deep wallets, there is little doubt Philadelphia will be active at the trade deadline. They want to create separation in the NL East and win their first division title since 2011.
American League: Biggest decreases
Even after taking two of the three from the Twins last week and two of three from the Yankees over the weekend, things are not going well for the Indians this year. They’ve lost two members of their vaunted rotation to injury (Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger) plus a third to a non-baseball medical condition (Carlos Carrasco). Also, Jose Ramirez stopped hitting last August, and Trevor Bauer has underwhelmed. Add it all together and you get a .500-ish record with a run differential to match (minus-6), and the largest postseason odds decrease in baseball. Cleveland is 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot.
The Red Sox have had some injury issues themselves, most notably Nathan Eovaldi’s elbow surgery, though most of their struggles can be tied to poor execution. Their numbers with runners in scoring position (.261/.357/.421) are down considerably from last year (.289/.379/.493), and the bullpen that was expected to be a problem coming into the season has indeed become a problem lately. I don’t think anyone realistically expected Boston to win another 108 games. But flirting with .500 in June?
Among American League contenders, I think it’s fair to say the Athletics came into the season as the top candidate to take a step back from last year, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Rotation woes and Blake Treinen going from otherworldly to merely very good — Treinen has allowed one more run than last year in 48 fewer innings — are partly to blame. Injuries and some generally sluggish play account for the rest. Through 66 games last year, the A’s were 34-32. They went on to win 63 of their next 96 games. Can they do it again? Sure. But there’s a reason last year’s run was so remarkable: It doesn’t happen often.
Right behind Oakland with a postseason odds decrease of 16.4 percent is … the Yankees? The Yankees. The team tied with the Rays for first place in the AL East. New York’s postseason odds have dipped from 95.4 percent preseason to 79.0 percent now. Blame their injuries for that. SportsLine bakes roster construction and playing time into the cake to generate projections. The Yankees are still without Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and several others, and the postseason odds reflect those absences.
National League: Biggest decreases
Probably not a good thing for GM Mike Rizzo that the Nationals are vying for the “most disappointing team in baseball” title two years in a row. Rizzo is a good general manager and I don’t expect Washington to make a change anytime soon, but woof. It has been another rough year for the Nationals. It’s the bullpen’s fault. The Nationals are scoring enough runs (4.77 per game) and their starters have a 3.71 ERA, seventh best in baseball. The bullpen? It has an MLB worst 6.53 ERA. They’ve blown far too many late leads, enough to take them right out of the postseason mix.
For a while there it seemed the NL Central race would be a three-team race with the Cardinals joining the Cubs and Brewers. Instead, the Cardinals have lost 22 of their last 33 games to slip under .500. This weekend’s sweep at Wrigley Field was especially damaging. According to SportsLine, St. Louis saw their postseason odds decrease from 30.4 percent before the series to 12.1 percent after. Brutal. Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter combining for 21 homers and a .419 slugging percentage through 63 games is not what anyone had in mind.
Pitching injuries (Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, etc.) have done a number on the Pirates, who didn’t have great postseason odds to begin with, and now pretty much afterthoughts. The Mets have seen their postseason odds dip from 22.3 percent before the season to 14.2 percent now, the fourth-largest decrease in the National League. They’ve had some injuries, for sure. Largely though, it’s been a general case of Metsitis. Imagine where they’d be without Pete Alonso.