Baseball is approximately at its midway point, and while there's the entire second half of the season to be played, there's a fairly clear picture as to who the legitimately great teams are -- or, at the least, there's a picture of who has the potential to be great. It's safe to say that every team in baseball has shown its warts, and that there's not one single team that can be pointed to and consider them the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series.
It's July 3, and there's a lot that can change between now and October -- there's a lot that can and will change before even July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline. Superstar players like David Price could switch teams over the next four weeks, which could dramatically change the playoff landscape.
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Still, enough time has elapsed to know who has a chance to win the World Series. Here's a look at the top World Series contenders -- and the odds I believe they have to win the World Series -- as of July 3.
Los Angeles Dodgers (5/1) -- I don't love the Dodgers. I don't really like the bottom half of the lineup, and Hanley Ramirez is fragile. There's no denying how great Los Angeles' rotation is, though. There's not many teams that can match Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett. The rotation is that good. Yasiel Puig is a legitimate superstar, but Los Angeles' lineup lacks the extra punch. It's feasible Matt Kemp will return to form, but injuries seem to have derailed his career.
Still, despite trailing the San Francisco Giants in the NL West, the Dodgers look like the team to beat in the NL West -- and the National League.
Detroit Tigers (6/1) -- The Tigers haven't played like the best team in the American League this season, but the talent is there -- and they've shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season. The Tigers are the American League team most likely to go to the World Series for a few reasons. First, Detroit is up six games in the loss column on the Royals as of July 3, and are simply a better team than Kansas City. While anything can happen in baseball, it would be an absolute shock if the Tigers didn't win the AL Central. The AL East and AL West are still very much up for grabs with talented teams in those divisions, but the Tigers are the only leigitimate AL Central team. Making the playoffs is half the battle -- and the Tigers should do that.
Detroit also has Miguel Cabrera anchoring its lineup still and Mad Max Scherzer atop its rotation. No other team boasts two superstars to that degree in the American League. This is a very, very good Tigers team.
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Washington Nationals (8/1) -- Remember when the Nationals were the team to beat in 2012 before the tag team duo of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma ruined #Natitude? I do. That ruled. But anyway, the Nationals took a major step back in 2013, and were perhaps the biggest disappointment in baseball last season. Not so much this season. Despite having played most of the season without Bryce Harper, the Nationals are tied in the loss column with the Braves, and have a run differential 10-times better than Atlanta (+50, +5).
With a strong rotation anchored by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, look for the Nationals to eventually run away with the NL East. If the Nats can avoid the dreaded coin-flip Wild Card game, they're going to be extremely tough to beat in a short series -- and match up well against the Dodgers.
Oakland A's (8/1) -- Yeah, I know. Oakland has the best record in baseball and by far the best run differential in baseball at +125. But Oakland was just swept by the Tigers, cutting the AL West leaders' lead down to just three games in the loss column over a talented Angels team. Oakland is good -- but is there a legitimate ace on the staff? And is there really anybody besides Yoenis Cespedes that truly scares you in the lineup?
The answers are no, and who knows if and when Scott Kazmir will revert to being a pumpkin. I don't think this team is without faults, and now just three games up in the loss column, I don't believe the A's are a shoe-in to win the AL West for a third straight year -- which is why I've given the Tigers and Dodgers better odds to win it all.
San Francisco Giants (10/1) -- If the Giants lose the NL West, it'll be a borderline historic collapse. The Giants held a commanding 9.5 game lead on June 7, and have since seen the lead dissipate to just half a game over the Dodgers. The Giants are a perfectly fine baseball team -- but they're just that. A fine baseball team. There's nothing particularly special about the Giants. Michael Morse has cooled off considerably from his hot start, and hit just .233/.275/.337 in June. If the Giants aren't going to hit -- they're not going to win, simple as that. While that sounds obvious, the Giants were able to win the World Series in 2010 and 2012 because of a strong pitching staff.
Yeah, the Giants pitching staff is still good, but Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are no longer great. Madison Bumgarner is very good, but, on a whole, San Francisco's staff isn't what it used to be.
Still, the Giants are good -- and they could stave off the Dodgers and win the NL West. I just don't think they will, and will be relegated to playing the Wild Card game, which greatly reduces their odds to win the World Series.
Toronto Blue Jays (11/1) -- It's difficult for me to put any of the AL East teams this high, but the Blue Jays have been a very good team so far this year. Toronto currently holds a one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East, and are tied for the second-most runs scored.
Toronto has power up and down its lineup, highlighted by Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Health could be a problem for the Jays -- Bautista just missed a week, and who knows if and when Jose Reyes will go down with injury. Toronto lost Brett Lawrie to injury last week, and are still waiting for Brandon Morrow to return from a finger injury.
The Jays will still need to add a pitcher if they're going to make a serious run at a World Series title, but as of today, they're the favorites to win the AL East -- and they're a dangerous team. It wouldn't shock me, however, if Toronto was left on the outside looking in come October, either.
St. Louis Cardinals (12/1) -- It pains me to put St. Louis this low, but this is where the Cardinals go. St. Louis hasn't hit at all this year, and that's sort of a major problem. The Cardinals have a talented team, and there's plenty of time for them to turn it around -- I do think St. Louis will win the division.
But the fact is that the Cardinals are struggling, and they're not even a lock to make the playoffs. Luckily for St. Louis, help came two days ago, when the club called up top prospect Oscar Taveras. Taveras will play everywhere in the outfield for the Cards, and he instantly becomes their best hitter.
If the Cardinals win the division, they'll be a major threat -- but that's a major if at this point.
Atlanta Braves (15/1) -- You have to feel for the Braves a little bit. Atlanta was riddled by injuries before the season even began -- Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were both lost to Tommy John surgery. B.J. Upton's contract will go down as one of the worst in league history, and Justin Upton has underperformed since coming to Atlanta -- though he is putting together a solid 2014.
Still, the Braves find themselves right there with the Nats atop the NL East. Atlanta's problem, however, is that they're just not as good as Washington. The Braves have the ammo to go out and trade for a player like David Price, but unless they do, it'll be tough sledding for the Braves, and they could once against find themselves in the Wild Card game -- as they did two years ago.
Milwaukee Brewers (15/1) -- No, I don't believe in the Brewers, but there's no denying that they put together one of the two strongest first halves in baseball this season. If the Brewers can avoid regression, they should contend for the NL Central title and at the worst, one of the Wild Card spots.
The Brew Crew just aren't a scary playoff team -- even if they do manage to hold off the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds to win the NL Central title. The pitching staff isn't fearsome, and I don't believe Jonathan Lucroy and Scooter Gennett will put together second halves as strong as their first half.
Los Angeles Angels (20/1) -- Los Angeles is about three years late to the party on this one. Following the 2011 season, the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract worth over $250 million. The Halos didn't make the playoffs. After the 2012 season, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a long-term deal. They didn't make the playoffs.
Now in 2014, and led by the best player on the planet Mike Trout, the Angels trail the A's by just three games, and are a legitimate playoff contender. The Angels have major bullpen problems, and I'm not sure the starting pitching will hold up all season. But if Pujols can even be 2/3rds of his former self -- ok, 1/2 of his former self -- and Hamilton can stay healthy, the Angels will score plenty of runs. We'll see if they can catch a pretty complete A's team and win the AL West, and avoid the one-game Wild Card playoff.
Baltimore Orioles (25/1) -- Once again, I don't believe in the pitching staff. The Orioles need to add a pitcher atop the rotation if they're going to make a serious run in October -- and they need to add one to even get there. Baltimore has a very solid lineup, and the Orioles are likely to get a major contribution from Manny Machado, who should be ready to rock and roll after getting back into the swing of things following a major ACL injury.
New York Yankees (25/1) -- The Bronx Bombers aren't what they used to be. The Yankees saw the rival Red Sox win the World Series last year, and decided to spend top dollar on Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka. So far, only Tanaka has paid off, as the Japanese pitcher has evolved into one of the best pitchers in baseball -- but we'll see if the league adjusts to him in the second half of the season.
Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann have disappointed, while Derek Jeter continues to flounder. New York's infield is pretty atrocious, and the pitching staff has major question marks. When will Michael Pineda return, and how effective will he be? The same questions can be asked for C.C. Sabathia. The Yankees are a team with more questions than answers, but they do have talent -- and could make a run.
Seattle Mariners (25/1) -- Seattle made the biggest splash of the offseason, signing Robinson Cano away from the Yankees. Though Cano hasn't hit for power, he is hitting .323/.382/.447 -- excellent numbers for a second baseman.
With King Felix atop the rotation, the Mariners would be dangerous if they could get into the playoffs. Hernandez is the best pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw, and he could single handidly win Seattle a five-game series. Getting there and generating enough offense -- and pitching from the rest of the staff -- could prove to be difficult for the M's.
Houston Astros (10,000/1) -- Nope. Check back in 2016.
All odds and opinions belong to JP Starkey. Odds are not to be construed as gambling advice, but rather unscientifically looking at baseball's playoff picture.
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