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Odds for Every Possible World Series Matchup; Which Longshots Could Actually Happen?

Joey Votto warming up.
Joey Votto is having one of the worst seasons of his career, but his Reds have a high ceiling, especially if the 2010 NL MVP and six-time All-Star can turn things around. Photo by Keith Allison (flickr).
  • Odds have been listed on every possible World Series matchup
  • Yes, even Orioles vs Marlins
  • Which longshots could actually meet up in the 2019 Fall Classic?

Ever wonder what a list of 225 possible World Series matchups looks like? Spoiler alert: it’s really long.

Oddsmakers took on the daunting task of setting odds for each potential matchup, listing every AL team against every NL team.

The favorites include the usual suspects: Red Sox vs Dodgers, Yankees vs Cubs, and Astros vs any NL team with a pulse.

While my colleague covered the value bets among the 2019 World Series favorites, I went searching for a golden needle in the haystack. Below are the odds for my four favorite longshot World Series picks, plus Orioles vs Marlins!

Longshot 2019 World Series Matchups

AL Team Chance to reach WS at FanGraphs World Series matchup odds Chance to reach WS at FanGraphs NL Team
Rays 8.8% +11000 1.5% Diamondbacks
Twins 12.0% +15000 1.5% Diamondbacks
Rays 8.8% +52500 0.6% Reds
Twins 0.5% +72500 0.6% Reds
Orioles 0.0% +900000 0.0% Marlins

Odds retrieved on May 14, 2019.

The common undercurrent with my sleeper picks is run differential, the best indicator of progression/regression in the MLB.

The AL Contenders

Tampa Bay Rays

It’s early yet, but the Rays (+57) have the second-best run differential in the AL, trailing only the powerhouse Astros (+72). They also have a half-game lead in the AL East over the Yankees. While that’s not likely to last once New York gets healthy, their hot start has put them in great position to at least earn a Wild Card bid in the top-heavy AL.

While they were hitting the cover off the ball early, the strength of this team is the pitching staff, both starters and relievers. They have the best xFIP (3.55) and ERA (2.96) in all of baseball, and can now pair Cy Young-winner Blake Snell (3.56 ERA, 2.49 xFIP) with ace-in-waiting Tyler Glasnow (1.86 ERA, 2.77 xFIP) and the ever improving Charlie Morton (2.64 ERA, 3.53 xFIP).

The recent injury to Glasnow is concerning, but not debilitating. Plus, there’s talk that the Rays might bring in free agent Dallas Keuchel, signifying their commitment to winning this year if nothing else.

GMs across the AL predicted Tampa would be a menace this season, and they are just that. The potential to get a lights-out performance from Snell in the Wild Card Game, and then follow with Glasnow and Morton in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, is an encouraging proposition.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins have the third-best run differential in the AL (+50) and own a four-game cushion on Cleveland in the Central. Unlike the Rays, Minnesota has a very good chance to hold onto that lead. So much so that  the Twins are the odds-on favorite to win the division at -130. Crucially, winning the division would mean avoiding the Wild Card game and likely avoiding Houston in the ALDS.

Why the flip in the odds this early in the year? Two broad reasons.

First, the Indians aren’t what we thought they were. The Tribe have a -12 run difference and injuries up and down the pitching staff. Also, this small-market team could wind up sellers at the deadline. Trevor Bauer has already been quoted as saying he “won’t be with the Indians next year.” If Cleveland doesn’t have the top-tier starting rotation they did on paper to start the year, they will be no better than also-rans.

If the a prolonged slump of Jose Ramirez (.195/.290/.312, 4 HR, 12 RBI) continues, also-rans will be the ceiling.

[Minnesota] winning the division would mean avoiding the Wild Card game and likely avoiding Houston in the ALDS.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Twins have seen marked improvement from key players. Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco both have an OPS over 1.000. Eddie Rosario has mashed 13 home runs. As a team, they are second in the majors in wRC+ (117) and wOBA (.348), behind only Houston.

Side note: not familiar with advanced baseball statistics? See the FanGraphs glossary

The way Byron Buxton has progressed, there is no respite in this lineup for opposing pitchers.

The Twins now have their own injury concerns with Nelson Cruz suffering from a wrist problem, but they have the depth to weather his absence. Cruz was only sixth on the team in slugging when he went down.

The NL Contenders

The National League is where I’m grabbing the true sleepers, which is necessary to find the supremely long odds I’m looking for. The NL looks to be the more even, and thus more open, league, so it makes sense to go strength in the AL and sleeper in the NL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks were in the hunt all of last year until the very end. Somehow, they wound up 8.5 games back of Colorado in the Wild Card despite posting a +49 run differential to the Rockies’ +35.

They were expected to regress this season with Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin departing. They haven’t so far. They currently own the second Wild Card spot in the NL, half a game up on the Padres and Cardinals.

Arizona (23-19 overall) has been incredibly balanced so far, sitting eighth in wRC+ (106), fifth in wOBA (.333), tenth in xFIP (4.12), and 12th in ERA (4.25).

Zack Greinke and Robby Ray lead a deep starting rotation that has gotten a tremendous boost from young Luke Weaver (2.98 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 3.52 xFIP). The bullpen has its problem areas (e.g. Matt Koch), but the 9th inning is on lock thanks to a resurgent Greg Holland (1.93 ERA, 3.58 xFIP).

[W]e know what the upside of [the Diamondbacks] is, and when you’re looking for a viable longshot, upside is what matters.

Will the lineup keep hitting the way it has? Probably not. The career years from David Peralta (.326/.368/.547, 139 wRC+) and Eduardo Escobar (.288/..362/.532, 134 wRC+) are likely to come back to earth, and rookie Christian Walker (.292/.366/.576, 145 wRC+) will be hard-pressed to stay this productive.

But we know what the upside of this team is, and when you’re looking for a viable longshot, upside is what matters.

Cincinnati Reds

When it comes to the Reds, they are extremely unlucky to be 18-23 at this point. They have outscored their opponents by 30 runs (fourth-best in the NL) and have a miserable 6-13 record in one-run games. Their expected W/L record, based on run differential, is 24-17.

They are currently 4.5 games out of a playoff spot, which isn’t a ton, but they will also have to leapfrog seven teams (which is a ton).

Can they do it? Possibly.

Cincinnati’s rotation has taken a giant leap this year. Luis Castillo is the Cy Young leader at the quartermark, and the team, as a whole, is third in the majors in XFIP.

To most people’s surprise, the lineup hasn’t hit this year. Blockbuster trade addition Yasiel Puig has underperformed terribly (.217/.269/.392, 0.2 WAR) and the always-dependable Joey Votto has been uncharacteristically unreliable (.206/.325/.338, -0.2 WAR).

Blockbuster trade addition Yasiel Puig has underperformed terribly … and the always-dependable Joey Votto has been uncharacteristically unreliable.

If they return closer to their career averages over the back-half of the season, the Reds could streak to a Wild Card spot. (They’re not catching the Cubs, I’m sorry to say.)

Earning a spot in the bracket is the all-important first step. While no Wild Card team has made the last four World Series, at least one reached the World Series every year from 2002-07. In the two-team Wild Card era (starting in 2012), two more have reached the Fall Classic (2014 Royals, 2014 Giants).

So I’m saying there’s a chance.

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