MLB Postseason Futures Outlook
The MLB Playoffs have a new format this season and there may be some inefficiency in the futures market as four teams will have a bye in the first round for a dramatic change to the mechanics of the tournament. The eight teams playing immediately in the playoffs will play a best of three series to bring higher variance to the picture and potentially help the case for a possible series upset.
The division series games will start on October 11 as the four teams not playing in the wild card round will have six days off after the regular season, perhaps a less than ideal situation for lineups to maintain their peak form. The ALDS and NLDS pairings will remain best of five games before the standard seven-game series format goes in place for the League Championship Series.
With a week to go in the regular season the wild card teams are still jostling for positions. While Baltimore has not yet been eliminated in the AL, the three likely wild card teams Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Seattle are separated by only two games as the positions are still in flux. In the National League Milwaukee is just a half-game out of the final playoff position as they will compete with San Diego and Philadelphia in the final week with only two of those three teams making the field.
The NL East race is the most critical piece of the futures picture as the Mets lead Atlanta by one game in the standings with those teams entering the NL field as the #2 and #4 seeds. This distinction will be severe as the #4 seed will not only have to face a do-or-die three-game series in the wild card round, but they will also be paired with the Dodgers in the NLDS should they survive that round.
In the American League the case can be made that the #6 seed may be the preferable wild card position, drawing the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians, a team that might wind up with a lesser record than some of the wild card teams. The victor of the 3/6 pairing will be matched with a Yankees team that slumped in the final two months of the season rather than the AL leading Astros.
Likewise the case can be made that it may be preferable to be the #2 seed compared to being the #1 seed in this format as the top wild card team if often a stronger team than the #3 division winner, as would likely be the case in both leagues this season.
Worthy Long Shots:
Atlanta Braves: +950 to win the World Series (9/29 at FanDuel)
The Braves are catching nearly double the price that the Mets have while just one game out of the NL East lead heading into the final week of the regular season. Atlanta has the better scoring differential on the season and is on a 74-32 run since June 1. Atlanta will host New York for three games this week before finishing the season in Miami as the Braves have a great opportunity to win the series this week to move into at least a tie for the division lead. The Mets close the season hosting Washington, a team that has been playing well down the stretch as Atlanta has a realistic chance to climb to the #2 seed.
Even if the Braves do wind up in the wild card route, the Padres, Phillies, and Brewers don’t offer an overly intimidating draw in the 4/5 pairing. The Braves also are the biggest threat to the Dodgers as Atlanta is 36-16 vs. left-handed starters while posting some of MLB’s best offensive splits vs. left-handed pitching. All four starters in the Los Angeles rotation right now are left-handed until Tony Gonsolin comes off the IL and it is unlikely Gonsolin would get a start in the NLDS anyhow. Atlanta took the Dodgers to seven games in the 2020 NLCS and won the NLCS 4-2 against the Dodgers last season as the Braves are a serious NL threat in whatever path they wind up in.
Tampa Bay Rays: +1000 to win the American League (9/29 at DraftKings)
The Rays could wind up in any of the three wild card positions. The #6 spot opposite Cleveland is a favorable place to be but even if they match up with Toronto, the Rays won the season series with the Blue Jays and the pricing gap between those teams in this market is difficult to justify. Toronto’s offense has been streaky and the starting pitching for the Blue Jays is marginal. Shane McClanahan has been one of the top pitchers in MLB this season to give the Rays a true ace while Tyler Glasnow’s recent return provides a boost to the pitching staff even if he is only used in relief or as an opener as he works his way back to full strength. Corey Kluber and Drew Rasmussen have had fine seasons and the pitching staff for Tampa Bay can carry it to a series win, particularly in a three-game set where McClanahan can start Game 1.
The Rays play at Houston in the final week of the regular season to provide some familiarity and comfort level should they advance and match up with Houston in the ALDS. Tampa Bay went just 8-11 vs. the Yankees but with near-even scoring and the Rays went 5-4 vs. New York in the final three series between those teams. The Rays beat the Yankees in the 2020 ALDS and New York’s starting pitching has left plenty of question marks down the stretch as they could be a vulnerable group.
Seattle Mariners: +1400 to win the American League (9/29 at BetMGM)
The Mariners have not made the playoffs since their 116-win 2001 season and after narrowly missing the postseason last year Seattle is in a good position to not only get in but to emerge as a threat to win several games. Seattle closes the season on a long home stand to avoid hectic late season travel and this team is well-suited for a three-game series with Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray as elite starting pitchers from each side. Seattle has not played its best ball in September and the recent injury to star rookie Julio Rodriguez is a setback, but he is expected to be cleared to return in early October in time for the playoffs.
Cleveland has been a great story this season but right now the Mariners have a stronger scoring differential than Cleveland and own 15 more wins vs. winning teams than the Guardians. Seattle also went 6-1 head-to-head with Cleveland this season with a 29-11 edge in scoring. Seattle won four of six with the Yankees this season as the Mariners would be a threat to get in a position for a competitive ALDS series to provide profitable opportunities for those holding a piece of a long shot ticket with Seattle.
Milwaukee Brewers: +5000 to win the National League (9/29 at PointsBet)
The Brewers are not even in the playoffs right now as this is a serious long shot proposition. The closing schedule is dramatically favorable for Milwaukee compared to Philadelphia however, playing at home vs. Miami and Arizona for the final two series. A Phillies team with a 10-13 record in September while -16 in scoring will be on the road for the final two series, playing Washington and Houston. The Astros may not have anything to play for in that final series, but Washington is on pace to have its best month of the season in September even if the Nationals have played poorly head-to-head with the Phillies.
If Milwaukee finds a way into the playoffs as the #6 seed they would have a familiar draw in the Cardinals, who they went 9-10 against. Milwaukee’s starting pitching with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes would be formidable in a three-game series and while St. Louis added left-handers Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana mid-season in part to match up with Milwaukee, the Cardinals would almost certainly start right-hander Adam Wainwright in Game 1 for a possible advantage in the huge swing game for a Brewers team that excels vs. right-handers. Holding this ticket comes with no serious expectation that Milwaukee will make it to the World Series but even entering the playoffs or providing a Game 1 win in the wild card round would provide a profitable hedging situation.
If you are looking to play on one of the favorites in the postseason futures market, truthfully, you’re too late. At the current prices you are better off waiting to see how the bracket plays out to see if one of the top contenders would lose an opening game of the division series to provide a window to jump back in at a more favorable price. In the division series round last season, three of the four teams that advanced lost Game 1 in the ALDS or NLDS. The MLB playoffs rarely go according to seeding form and with the new format the advantage for the #1 seeds has been reduced with a case to be made the #2 seeds could have a more favorable position. Remember, playing the futures market is not about guessing who will win it all, it is about consistently adjusting your positions to ensure that you profit no matter what team wins.