In A Crazy Year, Wild Card Team Is The Favorite To Win World Series

Who would have thought six months ago that the San Francisco Giants would be MLB’s winningest team while the San Diego Padres would miss the playoffs?

Who would have thought at the all-star break that two teams under .500 (Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals) would make the postseason?

Who would have thought on Sept. 10 that the Los Angeles Dodgers could win 18 of their last 21 games, post more wins than in any other regular season in the gloried franchise’s history, and end up a wild card team because they couldn’t catch the Giants?

And that’s the craziness of just the National League alone as the MLB postseason gets underway Tuesday night at Fenway Park with what else — another of the most pivotal games ever in the legendary rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees were underachievers this year, joining the Padres, New York Mets, and Minnesota Twins among teams thought to be strong during spring training that then failed to meet the season over-under win totals posted by the nation’s many legal online sportsbooks. But unlike those other teams, the Yanks at least made the wild card round and are favored as visitors to Fenway to beat the Bosox and advance to an AL Divisional Series against, appropriately enough, the divisional rival Tampa Bay Rays.

To show how MLB’s 2021 odds oddities continue, the Rays are not the oddsmakers’ choice to win the AL pennant despite claiming home field advantage throughout the playoffs — the Houston Astros instead are the favorite.

And the Giants are not favored to win the World Series despite their stunning 107-win season in which they also beat L.A. in head-to-head matchups. No, the Dodgers, even with the need to beat the St. Louis Cardinals — they of the 17-game September win streak — in a one-and-done game Wednesday night, somehow remain the favorite.

If you think that’s crazy, well, it’s been a crazy year, perhaps leading to some crazy postseason action. Looking to provide some sanity before any of that begins, US Bets examined the odds posted Tuesday morning by seven multi-state sportsbooks — BetMGM, BetRivers, FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, FOX Bet, and PointsBet — and obtained some analytical help from BetRivers sportsbook manager Zach Schlouch and BetMGM sports trader Darren Darby.

We use all that to provide some key betting background on the 10 remaining teams, including the best World Series payout you can get on them now if you have access to those seven sites.

Los Angeles Dodgers (+400)

BetMGM and FOX Bet make the Dodgers 4/1 to become the first back-to-back World Series champs in 21 years, after a year in which they somehow blew past their league-high over/under on wins to finish with 106 victories despite key losses of pitching studs Trevor Bauer (suspension) and Clayton Kershaw (injury).

First, Los Angeles must get past the miraculous Cardinals, and they are a heavy favorite to do so at Dodgers Stadium even though the Cards are hot and will be pitching revived 40-year-old ace Adam Wainwright. Caesars has L.A., behind Max Scherzer, favored at -220 for the game, and the other books return even less money than that to Dodgers bettors.

Among the things in the Dodgers’ favor, for this and the rest of the postseason (if they have a rest of the postseason) is having led MLB in run differential (+269) and ERA (3.01). And any baseball fan knows about their stacked lineup, even with the loss of slugger Max Muncy from an injury on the last day of the regular season. It may be the best ball club to ever finish a regular season out of first place.

“The Dodgers have been the betting favorite all season. The Dodgers do have a difficult path to the World Series, but Los Angeles is the most talented team in baseball,” Darby said.

With that in mind, Los Angeles is also the clear favorite to win the NL pennant – wild card or no wild card, Giants or no Giants (oh, but they will have to get by the Giants to do so). DraftKings offers the best return on this star-studded team at +210.

Houston Astros (+600)

PointsBet offers the best payout on the Astros, who finished 95-67 to fend off the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics in the competitive AL West.

And even though they won five fewer games than the Rays and finished the season on a mediocre 4-6 run, the Astros are the AL pennant favorite after continuing a strong stretch of seasons since their 2017 World Series run. The best pennant payout to be had on them is from FOX Bet, at +250.

Houston, which has home field advantage, is favored against the Chicago White Sox in an AL Divisional Series matchup of septuagenarian managers, with Dusty Baker a mere kid of 72 compared to 77-year-old Tony La Russa. BetMGM, FOX Bet, and Caesars are all offering the Astros at -125 to win the best-of-five.

Houston returns a strong, balanced offensive lineup that features the longtime superlative middle infield tandem of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve.

“The market clearly has a lot of respect for the track record and playoff pedigree of the Astros, past transgressions notwithstanding,” BetRivers’ Schlouch noted, referring to a trash can-beating controversy of the past that seems unlikely to be repeated, even if long remembered.

San Francisco Giants (+700)

DraftKings is willing to go a lot higher on the Giants’ odds than competing sites, as they are as short as +475 at Caesars.

But what is there to say about this team that played .600-or-better ball in every month of the season, that won a franchise-record 107 games, that held off the Dodgers when nobody thought they would?

Despite a lack of superstars and an older lineup than opponents, they led the NL in homers and handsomely rewarded anyone who bet on them at odds of 40/1 to win the division before the season started. The Giants bested their preseason over/under on wins by more than 30, which no team had accomplished in two decades.

Even with all this, plus home field advantage in every potential matchup through the World Series, they get less respect than rival L.A. If San Francisco wins the NL pennant, DraftKings will pay out +300 to bettors.

The Giants will host the winner of the Dodgers-Cardinals game but will have to play whomever it is without their leading home run hitter (29), Brandon Belt, who suffered a late season injury. Fortunately, they had nine other players with double-digit homers and are better prepared than most would be to overcome the loss.

Even so, if the Dodgers beat the Cardinals, the Giants can count on returning to the role of underdog, despite edging L.A. 10-9 in regular season matchups.

“While the Giants are playing good baseball, the Dodgers are a public team and have more talent,” Darby said. “The sportsbook will receive plenty of action on the Dodgers as favorites against any team.”

Tampa Bay Rays (+750)

The no-name, small-market, low-budget Rays just keep winning against more glamorous opponents, and if they win the World Series after coming close last year, DraftKings is the one paying that +750 to their backers.

Tampa Bay won an AL-high 100 games, eight more than either the Yankees or Red Sox. They did it, even after losing starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery, because they have an incredible bullpen and some awesome youngsters, including rookies Randy Arozarena (still a rookie, yes, though a postseason star last year) and wondrous 20-year-old shortstop Wander Franco.

DraftKings also offers the best payout on the Rays to win the pennant, at +290. To do so, they would first play the winner between the Yankees and Red Sox, and the Rays beat both of those teams 11-8 head-to-head during the season.

With no apparent weakness to stop them from repeating – or even improving upon – their success of 2020, this team with the fifth-lowest payroll in baseball is the envy of every other small-market club in MLB.

Chicago White Sox (+750)

BetRivers and Caesars offer the best reward to bettors backing the White Sox to beat the Astros and two more teams and win their first championship since 2005, when they swept Houston in the Series back when the latter represented the NL.

BetRivers also has the best return for a White Sox league pennant at +325. In the five-game series with the Astros, FanDuel is offering Chicago as a +112 underdog, while the majority of sites list +105.

The Sox coasted through the relatively weak AL Central with a 93-69 record and posted only a 27-29 record against opponents that finished the year with winning records. They have a hard-throwing pitching staff, however, with Craig Kimbrel acquired at the trade deadline to support ace closer Liam Hendricks. Luis Robert and Tim Anderson are among batters anchoring a formidable lineup.

Milwaukee Brewers (+900)

FanDuel and FOX Bet provide the 9/1 return if the Brewers claim their first World Series title in the franchise’s history. BetRivers, however, offers the best price of +375 for them to win the NL.

The NL Central champs, who far surpassed expectations with their 95-67 record, start the postseason by hosting the Atlanta Braves and are a strong favorite in the divisional series. The best price offered to a Brewers backer for the series is the -140 from BetMGM.

The oddsmakers like Milwaukee even after the quirky and unfortunate September loss of stellar reliever Devin Williams, who broke his hand punching a wall. The bullpen has been a key Brewers asset for several years, and it still includes closer John Hader to consistently finish off their wins.

What’s been a different strength from past years is the Brewers’ starting rotation, anchored by Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes but followed closely by Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Milwaukee led MLB in shutouts, and its hitting will be stronger than in the regular season if Christian Yelich returns to his normal all-around potential after struggling with injuries during the year.

The Brewers weren’t expected to be much above .500 before the season began, prompting Schlouch to observe that if not for the Giants, “the Brewers comfortably winning the NL Central after being projected as a slightly above average team would stand out as a major surprise in any other year.”

Atlanta Braves (+1200)

Most of the sportsbooks list the Braves’ chances at the price above after a strong second half boosted them to the NL East lead, though they are the only postseason contender to win fewer than 90 games (88-73).

Most of the sites would also pay +500 for Atlanta to win the pennant by beating the Brewers and another opponent to whom the Braves would likely be an underdog. For them to prevail over Milwaukee, Caesars offers the best betting option at +135.

The Braves are indeed a surprise to get this far, even though they were the divisional favorite before the season started. But within several months, they lost their two best outfielders, superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. to injury and Marcell Ozuna to suspension. Atlanta sat at 44-45 at the all-star break but made a plethora of trade deadline acquisitions who helped it pass the Mets and fend off the Philadelphia Phillies down the stretch.

Now one thing the Braves have in their favor is an experienced and successful postseason starter in Charlie Morton, who won three playoff games for the Rays last year and previously won clinching ALCS and World Series games for the Astros.

New York Yankees (+1300)

PointsBet is the site offering a bit better return than competitors for the first New York World Series title since 2009, which won’t come easy given the Yanks’ wild card status. If they win the AL pennant, most sportsbooks would pay off at +550.

Just getting to the divisional round will be challenging, even if they’re favored to do so. The Red Sox won 10 of 19 games between them this year. Yet New York is a consistent favorite, with Caesars offering the most modest moneyline at -122.

The Yankees have that big base of public backing, after all, to go along with an ace starter in Gerrit Cole and the slugging combo of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge that harkens to days of Ruth/Gehrig and Mantle/Maris.

Still, the Yankees were an inconsistent team during the season despite winning 92 games, and the oddsmakers give them nothing near the kind of love showered upon another wild card team in the Dodgers.

Schlouch explained that the Dodgers, unlike the Yanks, maintained a high level of play throughout the season. By comparison, New York “underperformed expectations, while mainstay AL powers like the Rays and Astros did not regress as the market had anticipated. And from a pure oddsmaking perspective, having to win an elimination game at Fenway Park merely for the right to advance to the division series is a tall order.”

Boston Red Sox (+1800)

As with the Yankees, PointsBet is the choice offering the best return for a miracle run by the other AL wild card team. Most of the sites would pay +700 for a Red Sox pennant. And for them to simply beat the Yankees, Caesars is offering +112.

Boston finished with the same 92-70 record as New York, but was just 5-5 in the final 10 games with everything on the line. The Red Sox pitching staff is more of a concern than is the case for most teams, though Nathan Eovaldi, who starts Tuesday night, has been solid throughout and the team has Chris Sale back from injury if it can advance to challenge the Rays.

As is the case many years, it’s a potent offense that gives the Red Sox their best chance — one that was only aided by the trade-deadline acquisition of slugging Kyle Schwarber.

St. Louis Cardinals (+2500)

It’s not many years that a team that won every game for more than two weeks in September would end up as the longshot to win the World Series, but such is the fate of the Cards in having to play the Dodgers in L.A.

FOX Bet offers the favorable 25/1 return if the St. Louis magic continues into October. It also pays off best at +1100 for the Cardinals merely achieving their 20th NL pennant.

To beat the Dodgers with Wainwright on the hill, their underdog status is as high as +200 at Caesars. St. Louis has veteran stars like Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Yadier Molina to match the stature of the Dodgers and some fun-to-watch outfielders like Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, but there’s not quite the depth of the Dodgers, nor the public backing.

“The Dodgers have the better starting pitcher and lineup,” Darby said. “Plus, Los Angeles has more options in the bullpen and off the bench offensively, which gives them an edge and makes them a clear betting favorite.”

But then again, strange things have already happened in baseball this year. Who can say that won’t continue this week and all the rest of October?

Photo: Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY

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