While the National League may have come clear-cut contenders, there is a lot more depth here than we see in the American League. Everyone knows about the Dodgers, Padres, and Braves. Those teams aren’t sneaking up on anybody. It should come as zero surprise that LA (-1400), San Diego (-600), and Atlanta (-270) have the best odds of any teams to qualify for the NL playoffs this fall.
Last year’s NL playoff race was a wild one. Teams like the Marlins and Brewers snuck into the postseason in the final days of the season, with others on the outside looking in. MLB is going back to the traditional 10-team postseason format this year, though, which likely lessens the possibility for chaos.
Still, there should be plenty of drama. Online sports betting sites have posted playoff odds for each of the NL’s 15 clubs as spring training shifts into high gear. Which five teams are good value bets to get in at season’s end?
New York Mets (+140 to Win NL East)
Of course, I agree that the Dodgers and Padres are near-locks to make the playoffs. Those are basically All-Star teams. However, I’m not as bullish on the Braves as oddsmakers seem to be. Atlanta should still rank among the better teams in the league, but I don’t think they’ll have an easy go of things in the NL East.
This division is stacked. The Marlins have the worst odds of any team to win it, yet this team did make the playoffs last year. The Mets, Phillies, and Nationals are all certainly playoff-caliber, as well.
I think the Mets are primed to lap the Braves at the top of the standings. The Mets have been aggressive under new ownership this winter, and I think those bets will pay off. Adding Francisco Lindor gives New York some much-needed star power at the top of the lineup. New York already had one of the more underrated lineups in the majors, but adding Lindor to a group featuring Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Dom Smith, and JD Davis is downright scary.
Best double play duo in baseball.@Lindor12BC @JeffMcNeil805 pic.twitter.com/UHTjI7iOFa
— SNY (@SNYtv) February 24, 2021
The pitching should be here, too. Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher on the planet. Behind him, the Mets have fortified the staff with additions like Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Trevor May, and Aaron Loup. Noah Syndergaard should also return at some point this season, while Marcus Stroman is back.
At first glance, there are no glaring weaknesses here. The Braves are leaning on a lot more young pieces than the Mets are, and we know that young players are far from known commodities from year-to-year. The Mets aren’t a great value at -240 to make the postseason, but you can get more attractive +140 odds on this team to win the division.
Milwaukee Brewers (+160)
The Brewers came to within a game of a World Series appearance a couple of years ago, so this team has been relevant for a while. The trade for Christian Yelich back in 2018 changed the trajectory of this franchise in a huge way. Yelich was absolutely awful in 2020 (.205, 12 homers), but I’d be surprised if the former MVP didn’t bounce back nicely in 2021.
Milwaukee backed into a Wild Card berth last season despite finishing two games under .500. There are some holes here, particularly on offense, but there are still plenty of bright spots. The rotation duo of Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes may be the most under-appreciated in baseball. Assuming both stay healthy, they’re good enough to keep the Brewers relevant in the National League Central race.
Lorenzo Cain will return after opting-out early last season, while Keston Hiura could make a push for an All-Star spot of his own. The Brewers won’t slug nearly as well as they did back in 2018, but the NL Central is a very winnable division. Without a clear-cut frontrunner looming over the rest of the field, why not take a shot on the Brewers’ +160 odds?
Chicago Cubs (+340)
The Cubs seem to be headed down the same path as the Red Sox. Boston has parted ways with a few key players since winning the World Series in 2018 in an attempt to shed payroll. The Cubs, who won it all in 2016, are doing the same. Yu Darvish was jettisoned to San Diego after nearly winning the NL Cy Young Award last season, while rumors continue to swirl about Kris Bryant’s future in the Windy City.
The Cubs were upset by the Marlins in the Wild Card round of last year’s playoffs, but it still counts as a postseason appearance. Losing Darvish certainly puts a dent in the rotation, but the Cubs should be able to score enough runs to stay relevant in the playoff race. Bryant hasn’t quite lived up to expectations after winning the NL MVP several years ago, but he has also become somewhat underrated at this point. Anthony Rizzo is still here, while Javier Baez is a perennial MVP contender. Swapping Kyle Schwarber for Joc Pederson is likely a wash. Willson Contreras is one of the best hitting catchers in the game.
If the San Diego Padres can invest $784 million in three infielders, then the Cubs don’t have to choose between Javier Báez or Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant and make this another long rebuild at Wrigley Field.https://t.co/wfilT6INbm
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) February 19, 2021
Can they pitch? That’s the big question. Kyle Hendricks is now the de facto ace of the rotation. Hendricks is a quality starter, but he’s hardly blowing anybody away. Chicago nabbed Hendricks Lite in Zach Davies via the Darvish trade, while the elderly Jake Arrieta has returned after an underwhelming dalliance with the Phillies. Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay round out a very questionable rotation.
Again, though, the Central is unpredictable. The Cardinals are the favorites, but St. Louis has question marks of their own. Ditto for the Brewers and Reds, while the Pirates are likely the worst team in the sport. Someone has to win the Central, and I see no real reason for the Cubs to be this undervalued at +340 to make the postseason in ’21.
Chicago isn’t nearly the team we saw win the World Series a half-decade ago, but they’re also not as far off as the current playoff odds may lead you to believe.
Philadelphia Phillies (+270)
The Phillies are essentially the East Coast version of the Angels at this point. I talk myself into buying their stock every year after they have an active offseason, yet it never amounts to anything. Will that change in 2021? We shall see.
This lineup is going to look exactly the same way it did the last time we saw it. Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto are superstars at their respective positions, but the Phillies are still waiting on Rhys Hoskins to put it together and stay consistent for an entire season. Alec Bohm showed promise as a rookie last year, while Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius give the Phils some power at the middle infield spots.
Zack Wheeler is awfully expensive for a guy that has looked a little better than a No. 3 starter for most of his career. Zach Eflin showed some promise last year, but he’s been rather hit-or-miss. Matt Moore has popped up here after spending last season in Japan, while Chase Anderson rounds out the starting staff.
The bullpen was the real issue for the Phillies a year ago. Philly blew 12 saves as a staff last season, which was tied for the third-most in baseball behind the Angels and Astros. The Phillies’ bullpen ERA finished at 7.06, which is one of the highest marks for a season in MLB history.
The Phillies’ front office worked hard to address that issue this offseason. Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, and Sam Coonrod have all been brought in in a desperate attempt to fortify the team’s most glaring weakness. Bullpen performance is generally unpredictable, but it’s hard not to be impressed by some of the names the Phillies have added to the relief corps.
Will it amount to a real run? Time will tell. The Mets will ultimately reign supreme in this division, but Philadelphia has the talent to contend for a spot in the postseason. At +270, the upside is there in a wager on the Phils.
Washington Nationals (+135)
2020 was a lost season for the Nationals, but Nats fans likely didn’t mind too much. The team was fresh off of a Cinderella run to the 2019 World Series title, so last year’s dip in performance was likely forgiven by the local faithful.
Any team with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (NL Cy Young Sleeper), and Patrick Corbin atop the rotation should be relevant in the postseason chase. These guys aren’t getting any younger, but none of them have shown signs of slowing down just yet.
The latest on the #Nationals: Jon Lester’s role in the starting rotation, Max Scherzer’s ankle and Daniel Hudson’s math lessons. https://t.co/qHJm6w3fIy
— Jessica Camerato (@JessicaCamerato) February 23, 2021
The lineup looks solid, if unspectacular. Juan Soto is a solid long-shot MVP bet this year, while Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Bell, and Kyle Schwarber should give this group a bit more power than we saw a season ago. Victor Robles, Trea Turner, and Carter Kieboom were all highly-rated prospects at one point, and all three will feature heavily in the Nats’ plans this season.
Washington (+135) has more favorable playoff odds than some of the other long-shots, but there is still value to be had here. This just looks like a good, well-rounded team. Given my reservations about the Braves at the top of this division, Washington makes sense as a leverage bet to nab a postseason spot of their own.
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