We’re past the All-Star Break and have a clear view of who is in contention for the World Series. A number of teams have faded out of the picture and the oddsmakers have highlighted who they believe has the best shot: the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals in the National League, and the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays in the American League.
The majority of the favorites are in the National League. The Cubs (+400) and Giants (+525) lead the way before the Nationals (+800) and Indians (+800) come in next.
The Cubs have been the World Series favorite for most of the season, which might surprise some people if you’re looking at the standings right now. The Giants and Nationals have more wins and the Cubs have dropped 17 of their last 24 games. But most people attest that to them taking their foot off the gas a little bit. Even with this recent decline, they still hold an eight-game lead in the Central Division, lead the National League in runs scored and lead the majors in opponent batting average.
As for the Giants, they’ve won World Series the last three even-numbered years and they’re a clear contender in 2016. They’re a bit of an oddity as they have the most wins in baseball, but their leading home run hitter Buster Posey only has 11 dingers. If they can acquire a power bat at the trade deadline – say, someone like Carlos Gonzalez – they could become a very dangerous team. At any rate, simply getting players back from injury will help. Pitcher Matt Cain and fielders Joe Panik and Hunter Pence have all missed chunks of the season.
In the American League, the Indians (+800) and Rangers (+800) are at the top of the list. The Rangers have been up-and-down this season. They’ve had stretches where they look fantastic and then had stretches where they look horrible. The latter is the case these days as they’ve lost 11 of their last 15. Their hitting and pitching is in the middle of the pack, which explains a lot. Opponents are batting .264 against them (20th in MLB) and they’re just 12th in OPS. When it all clicks, they can compete with anyone in the American League. When it doesn’t, they’re just a mediocre bunch.
As for the Indians, they too have some flaws as their bullpen can be leaky and they could probably use a big bat, but their starting pitching (3.57 team ERA) leads the American League. A starting rotation with four pitchers that have an ERA of 3.61 or lower makes them a scary proposition in the playoffs.
But the American League feels like it’s wide open, which is why the Toronto Blue Jays (+1000) – who had a sluggish start – are still considered contenders. Their +75 run differential is second-best in the American League and their batting lineup is as dangerous as anyone. They’re 33-19 over their last 52 games as they’ve shot up the standings.
If you’re looking for some value outside of the frontrunners, consider the Houston Astros. Remember that this was a stellar, young team last season that stumbled out of the gates this year. They started 20-29 but they’ve picked up the pace. They’ve won 18 of their last 24 games and are one game out of a playoff spot. If they can roll with that momentum, they could make a run.