Once you reach the mountaintop and are faced with the sobering realization that there is no more terrain to climb, what do you do? If you’re the Chicago Cubs in this metaphor, you hop into a helicopter and keep on elevating. Whether it’s a full season of Kyle Schwarber, or Jon Lester learning to throw to first, there’s still plenty of room for improvement for these Cubs coming off 2016’s storybook ending.
With the longest championship drought in baseball stifled, Chicago can now set its sights on becoming the first back-to-back champion since the Yankees in the late 90s. And if this team could defeat the weight of 108 years of failure, what chance does the rest of the league have in 2017? Well, according to most oddsmakers, better than three-fifths.
Yes, it may be hard to remember, but there were some pretty good ball clubs sprinkled among the league’s 29 other teams last season. In particular, the runner-up Cleveland Indians were a fantastic bunch that pushed the Cubs to Game 7, even though almost all of the starting rotation watched the postseason from the dugout, thanks to a string of unlucky and bizarre injuries. If Corey Kluber actually had some help some help last October, perhaps it would have been the Indians ending an incredibly long title-drought.
Now Cleveland has brought in the aid of a big-time American League slugger in Edwin Encarnacion, strengthening their roster while weakening a potential challenger in Toronto. The other big transition of AL power came when the Sox of white sent Chris Sale to their hued counterpart: a Boston team that was already the reigning AL East champs. But while the Indians and the Red Sox are the favorites among DH-toting teams, the young Houston Astros or New York Yankees could surprise.
In the National League, it’s largely the same suspects as last season: the high-priced Dodgers, the eliminated-every-Division-Series Nationals, and that other team from New York. The odd-year curse of the San Francisco Giants could strike again and hold them out of the playoffs, but other than that, there’s less intrigue on this side of the bracket.
Whether your team is chasing a pennant, or just christening a brand new stadium with the two oldest starting pitchers in baseball, we’ll try to find some odds and props for every fan-base to enjoy.
Here’s SBD’s first look at the upcoming MLB season.
2017 World Series Odds
- Chicago Cubs: 7/2
- Boston Red Sox: 6/1
- Cleveland Indians: 7/1
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 9/1
- Washington Nationals: 12/1
- Houston Astros: 18/1
- San Francisco Giants: 18/1
- Toronto Blue Jays: 20/1
- St. Louis Cardinals: 22/1
- New York Mets: 25/1
- New York Yankees: 25/1
- Texas Rangers: 30/1
- Detroit Tigers: 40/1
- Seattle Mariners: 40/1
- Baltimore Orioles: 50/1
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 50/1
- Colorado Rockies: 70/1
- Kansas City Royals: 70/1
- Chicago White Sox: 80/1
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 100/1
- Miami Marlins: 100/1
- Tampa Bay Rays: 100/1
- Los Angeles Angels: 120/1
- Minnesota Twins: 150/1
- Oakland Athletics: 150/1
- Philadelphia Phillies: 175/1
- Cincinnati Reds: 200/1
- Milwaukee Brewers: 200/1
- Atlanta Braves: 300/1
- San Diego Padres: 300/1
Odds to make biggest improvement (in wins) in 2017
- Minnesota Twins: 7/3
- Tampa Bay Rays: 15/4
- Houston Astros: 5/1
- Arizona Diamondbacks: 9/1
- Los Angeles Angels: 11/1
Failing to crack 60 wins leaves the massive-improvement door open for the Minnesota Twins. Ultimately, the team wasn’t as good as their 2015 record of 83-79 and not nearly as bad as last year’s 59-103 mark. If they settle somewhere in the middle, winning games in the low 70s, that could be enough to claim the title of best turnaround.
In terms of teams that could actually threaten the postseason, look to those aforementioned Astros. Last season, Jose Altuve finished third in MVP voting, leading one of the best infields in baseball. But starting pitching let the club down, as Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel had a down year and Lance McCullers missed over half the season.
Odds to have biggest regression (in wins) in 2017
- Texas Rangers: 3/2
- Baltimore Orioles: 6/1
- Kansas City Royals: 8/1
- Chicago Cubs: 10/1
- Chicago White Sox: 10/1
No one was really shocked when the Texas Rangers bowed out of the playoffs in three straight games last year: their 95-67 record did not match their minuscule +8 run differential. With a 36-11 record in one-run games, luck was clearly on the Rangers’ side, and if you believe good fortune is cyclical, then Texas should see a much more mediocre season this time around.
Another drop-off candidate is the Kansas City Royals, who are just one season removed from a championship. Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar are all free agents after the year, a tough contract situation for even the most affluent teams. If the Royals don’t start the year like gangbusters, it’s likely one or more of those players will be dealt by the deadline.
Odds any player breaks 50 HRs in 2017: 9/5
Only two players have broken that barrier in the last nine seasons, as pitching continues to improve (or PEDs become harder to get away with). But on top of the usual sluggers capable of giving this milestone a run for its money, there’s also a few young bats who could surpass the mark if they play enough games. Yankees phenom Gary Sanchez had 20 dingers in 55 games last year, while Colorado’s Trevor Story had 27 in 97 games.
Odds any team breaks the record for regular season wins (116): 120/1
The Cubs were the best team in baseball by a mile, and still fell 13 wins short of tying the record. Over the course of a 162 games, it’s incredibly difficult to avoid a couple lulls. Chicago may have been able to give the record a real run had they not endured a slide of 15 losses in 21 games right before the All-Star break.
Odds any team breaks the record for regular season losses (120): 350/1
As hard as breaking the wins record would prove, breaking the loss record would be even more difficult. In the one North American league where tanking doesn’t really pay off, and the last place teams finishes with 60-odd wins, compiling a .253 winning percentage would require a perfect storm of incompetence from upper management and apathy from fans.
Odds MLB games are actually faster in 2017: 13/10
Early into his tenure as Commissioner, Rob Manfred has apparently decided that speeding up the pace of play is going to be his Moby Dick. And we all know the best way to kill a white whale: with paper cuts.
So far, the proposed rule changes for the upcoming season would shrink the strike zone (which is never going to get approved by the Players Association) and eliminate the need for a four-pitch intentional walk. Surely that will make a difference in games that ran an average of 3:04 last season. Until the MLB gets serious about limiting visits to the mound and time between pitches, games will continue to be a slog.