Regardless of preseason expectations, just about every MLB club is fighting for a chance to punch a ticket to the playoffs. While the regular season hasn’t even reached Memorial Day yet, a handful of teams have already done a number on their 2019 playoff odds — both the good and the bad kind.
Prior to Opening Day, we looked at eight different teams who entered the year with intriguing playoff odds. We’ve taken that data and put it up against current playoff odds to see who has taken the biggest climbs and the greatest falls.
These odds should be taken with a small grain of salt because of how much regular-season baseball is left to be played. However, it’s interesting to note how drastic of a change can happen just six weeks into the year. Of the teams that will be highlighted, four have seen a huge drop due to slow starts, and two have seen a big rise because of fast starts.
Boston Red Sox
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 90.6%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 62.7%
What a difference a year makes, right? The only time Boston was under .500 last year happened on Opening Day when they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays. They went on to win 17 of their next 18 games, and the rest was history. But this year? The Red Sox have been fighting for most of the last six weeks to get themselves back up to .500, which was just accomplish on Wednesday.
Both sides of the ball have struggled to start 2019, but it’s the pitching staff that’s really been their downfall thus far. David Price (3.75) and Hector Velazquez (4.03) are the only two of three hurlers with at least four starts who own an ERA south of 5.00. And although things have gotten a little better lately, Chris Sale has been the poster child for these struggles, as he owns a 1-5 record with a 4.50 ERA in 44 innings (he finally looked like himself on Wednesday after allowing just one run with 14 strikeouts over eight innings).
It’ll be interesting to see how if the Red Sox can kick it into high gear as they currently look up at the New York Yankees — who have performed well despite an incredible number of injuries — and the Rays. Their chances of reaching the postseason are still good because of how the rest of the American League has played out, but it’s going to be a lot harder for them than many of us initially thought.
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 78.8%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 45.8%
In what was anticipated to be a deep and competitive National League East, the Nationals were still viewed as the overwhelming favorites. That is no longer the case, and this simple tweet comparing their record to the Baltimore Orioles truly says it all:
Yup, that’ll do it.
Washington has been hit with the injury bug a bit — they’ve missed Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner and Juan Soto for considerable periods of time so far this season. Things have gotten so bad on offense that the Nats are signing Gerardo Parra to a major-league deal despite the following statistics:
The bullpen has also been atrocious once again. Their 6.41 bullpen ERA and collective 64.1% strand rate are both the worst in baseball, along with an 11.3% walk rate that’s among the league’s 10 worst ‘pens.
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 29.9%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 5.0%
The A’s are likely still basking in the glory of Mike Fiers‘ second career no-hitter. It won’t completely erase a 17-21 start to this season, which had them in the AL West basement entering action on Thursday. Even with that dominant performance on Tuesday night, Fiers’ season-long ERA is just 5.48, while Marco Estrada (6.85) and Aaron Brooks (5.74) both own numbers north of 5.50.
One would imagine the offense will get a boost with the return of Matt Olson from the injured list. He hasn’t been around since the season-opening series in Japan. Oakland replaced him by trading for Kendrys Morales, which hasn’t gone well — the veteran switch-hitter posted a lackluster .213/.318/.277 triple slash through his first 110 plate appearances with the club. That was good for a very uninspiring 71 wRC+.
The Houston Astros are expected to take the division once again, and they’ve only strengthened their playoff odds since Opening Day (currently 98.7%). However, Oakland seemed to have a chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs’ algorithms because none of the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels were expected to be very good.
They’ve all been better than expected, though — at least, mostly better than or the same as the A’s — through the season’s first six weeks, which is why Oakland’s playoff odds have taken a nosedive.
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 94.7%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 78.0%
The Indians’ high preseason playoff odds were more a factor of the division they play in than how their roster had been built over the offseason. In an AL Central with three rebuilding teams (Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox), the only real threat to Cleveland is the Minnesota Twins (who we’ll talk about more in a second).
While the roster did go through some weird changes for a contending team during the winter, the Indians’ dominant starting rotation remained intact. That group has been decent to start 2019, but they’re certainly dealing with some challenges.
Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber have been solid, but Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco both have ERAs over 5.00. Kluber also is out for the foreseeable future after getting hit with a line drive, and Mike Clevinger has been limited to just 12 (dominant) innings.
What’s been a huge concern for the Indians is the offense. Carlos Santana has put together a nice start in his return to The Land (126 wRC+ through 142 plate appearances), but he’s literally the only hitter with a wRC+ higher than 100 entering Thursday’s games. The Indians team wRC+ of 69 is the second-worst mark in baseball.
Francisco Lindor is trying to make up for lost time after missing the start of this season (94 wRC+ through 67 plate appearances), but Jose Ramirez has struggled mightily (65 wRC+ in 151 plate appearances). The Indians can be a good team, but a lot of things need to go right for that to happen. So far, that hasn’t been happening.
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 35.5%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 82.3%
The Twins were a team we called out prior to Opening Day, and their early-season performance has certainly helped their chances of getting back to October. The rotation is performing quite well with Jose Berrios leading the way, but a revamped offense with a different approach has also been eye-opening.
The guy leading this squad in home runs? That’d be Eddie Rosario, who has launched 13 through 143 plate appearances thus far. His power has emerged over the past two seasons with consecutive performances of 20-plus homers, but his current single-season career-high mark of 27 (in 2017) seems to be in danger of getting passed.
Since posting a 34.4% fly-ball rate and 30.1% hard-hit rate in 2016, those numbers have both increased with each season. At the moment, Rosario has posted a 51.3% fly-ball rate with a 37.2% hard-hit rate.
This start has put Minnesota in a solid position moving forward, especially since they play in a division where three-fifths of the teams own less than a 1.0% chance of making the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays
Playoff Odds on 3/21: 29.9%
Playoff Odds on 5/9: 73.4%
The Red Sox and Yankees were initially expected to duke it out for the AL East crown, and they each entered 2019 with payrolls north of $200 million. Meanwhile, the Rays are currently in first place despite opening the year with a payroll south of $70 million.
Baseball, man. Gotta love it.
Tampa Bay has been solid offensively, but it’s the starting rotation that’s truly hit another level. Blake Snell has followed up his Cy Young performance with another terrific start, while Charlie Morton brought his success from Houston over to the Sunshine State, and Tyler Glasnow has opened some eyes himself.
One of the biggest changes in Glasnow’s game has been a drop in walks allowed. He allowed free passes at a 14.4% clip in ’17 and 11.3% in ’18, but that number is currently down at 4.4%. He’s also been leaning on his curveball quite a bit — after tossing it at a career-low 16.4% clip in ’18, it’s back up to 30.6% this season. Opposing hitters have posted a 50.7% strikeout rate and 51 wRC+ against that offering.
The AL East was already going to be a compelling race to watch, and if the Red Sox do get themselves in gear, it’s a very real possibility that Boston, New York and Tampa Bay could reach October this time around.