MLB Second-Half Preview and Postseason Picks

MLB Second-Half Preview and Postseason Picks

MLB Second-Half Preview and Postseason Picks
Sportingnews.com

We have had a few days off from the MLB season to process what we saw during the first half from all contending teams. Who are the real contenders to make the playoffs, and who are the teams that can make a serious run and maybe ride a hot pitcher to the World Series?

Just about every team in contention has some kind of negative stigma attached to it, and it gets less attractive for the bettor looking for value in future odds. Any value that was initially attached to teams like the Pirates at 25-to-1 odds just three weeks ago is gone now at 14-to-1. And when looking at the Pirates right now, after their little hiccup entering the All-Star break, is there enough doubt to make you think less of them down the stretch?

Here's a look at all the contending teams with their current World Series odds and what we see as their major problems down the stretch:

AL East Winner: Tampa Bay Rays (13/1)

So, you may have missed out on the 18-to-1 odds offered last week, but at least you got to watch David Price pitch another game in his Cy Young form from last season. In three starts since returning from an injury, he's been blowing teams away, allowing only three earned runs combined in 25 innings. We like almost everything about this team, but getting Price back makes it possibly dominant down the stretch. The thing we don't like so much is the bullpen.

AL Central Winner: Detroit Tigers (6/1)

The American League will have the home-field edge in the World Series, thanks to its 3-0 win in the All-Star game on Tuesday, but does that advantage hold enough weight to make you like the Tigers at 6-to-1 odds? We're talking about a great hitting club with outstanding starting pitching, but one with a shaky bullpen with no true closer. The worst part about the Tigers that scares us is that they have never been able to shake the pesky Indians in the AL Central; Detroit is only 1.5 games up. Home-field edge has proven to be a big deal in the past three World Series, with NL teams featuring great starting pitching and outstanding bullpens shutting down the feared AL lineups of the Rangers (twice) and Tigers. Maybe home field and/or not wiping out their ALCS opponent so quickly will be their ticket this year.

AL West Winner: Oakland A's (9/1)

If we were trying to find a gritty team that reminded us of the Giants from two of the past three playoffs, the A's might be it. They have the starting pitching that gives the appearance of being able to shut down good teams, and they'll have to be at their best -- likely against Detroit, which didn't work out last postseason. The big key here may be how long Bartolo Colon will be on the team. With possible suspensions looming, the A's better have a Plan B ready.

AL Wild-Card Winner: Boston Red Sox (8/1)

The good news is that John Lackey looks outstanding. The bad news is that Jon Lester has progressively morphed into 2012's version of himself. There also is a cloud of uncertainty regarding Clay Buchholz's health. Can he return to his April and May form? And are Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa the main answers out of the 'pen? The offense has been relatively healthy as it leads baseball with 498 runs scored.

AL Wild-Card Winner: Baltimore Orioles (20/1)

We give the O's the edge over the Rangers, in part because Nelson Cruz could see his days done for the year if suspended, but also because the Angels are going to come strong and have 13 games to navigate their way through. The A's do as well, but they enjoy a two-game lead in the division right now. The Orioles could use another Joe Saunders-type of pickup to solidify their chances in the playoffs, but overall their starting pitching is the weakest among all contenders in both leagues.

Hard chargers in September: Anaheim Angels (30/1)

We think the Angels will get close to the playoffs, but fall short, which is still quite a feat since they're currently five games under .500. They'll simply run out of games. If only the season was 170 games instead of 162.

NL East Winner: Atlanta Braves (7/1)

The Braves have a six-game lead on the Nationals and are 6.5 ahead of the Phillies. They're going to need each and every one of those past wins to carry them through the final week of the season. The fortunate thing for the Braves this season is that they haven't had to rely on the Upton brothers to stay competitive. Freddie Freeman has taken over the leadership role instead. The starting pitching could use a boost from last year's stretch ace, Kris Medlen, and the potential return of Brandon Beachy.

NL Central Winner: St. Louis Cardinals (7/1)

Top-to-bottom, this looks like the most fundamentally sound team in baseball. The Cardinals do everything well. The biggest question for them is whether or not Edward Mujica can continue to be as efficient as he was in the first half. They begin the second half with a tough stretch that may shed more light on what they're made of. After beginning a three-game set with San Diego on Friday, they'll play a desperate Phillies squad and a decent Braves team before starting a big, five-game series at Pittsburgh. Then it's three at Cincinnati and four against the Dodgers. That is a rough stretch.

NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers (10/1)

They're 2.5 games behind Arizona in the division, but we expect them to take over soon, that is as long as they remain healthy. The Dodgers have the look of being one of the most dangerous teams in the entire playoffs. The Nos. 2-4 hitters might be the most feared in baseball right now, and getting Clayton Kershaw -- the best pitcher in baseball -- to pitch at least two games of a series will be huge. Their bullpen is sound, Zack Greinke has become quite a wingman for Kershaw, and if they get anything out of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, they become the team to beat for the World Series.

NL Wild-Card Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates (14/1)

This opening second-half stretch will be pivotal for them. The Pirates shouldn't have to play .500 the rest of the way to get their first playoff spot since 1992, but their chances of advancing dwindle if not playing in a series. In a one-game setting, they don't have the big horse to ride for one important game. In a series, they can outduel an opponent's No. 2 or 3 starters. Maybe A.J. Burnett comes on strong in the second half and maybe Jeff Locke proves he hasn't just been lucky. They do lead baseball with the lowest team ERA, and they still haven't seen Andrew McCutchen bust out offensively.

NL Wild-Card Winner: Cincinnati Reds (14/1)

We saw a horrific stretch for the Reds where it looked as though Brandon Phillips was stranding a just-walked Joey Votto on first base a couple times every night. Even with Phillips slumping, Votto still never ventured too much out of the strike zone, which can be bad sometimes for a struggling team that needs a big hit from their best player. Phillips looks to be out of the slump and we should start seeing more runs soon. The Reds' pitching has been pretty good all season.

Postseason Picks

NLCS: Dodgers defeat Cardinals in six games

ALCS: Rays defeat Tigers in seven games

World Series: Dodgers defeat Rays in six games

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