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Odds a Team Goes First-to-Worst in Division Set at +750; Worst-to-Playoffs Odds Much Shorter

San Diego Padres players talking on the field
The San Diego Padres won 70 games in 2019, but still finished in last place in the NL West. Photo by Keith Allison (WIki Commons).
  • On just 13 occasions in MLB history has a team gone from last in their division one season to first the next
  • Going the from first to worst is even more rare, but don’t tell the 2014 Boston Red Sox
  • See the odds that a team does either in 2020

The 2012 to 2014 Boston Red Sox are the only team in Major League Baseball history to finish last in one season, win the division crown – and the World Series – the next, before returning to their division basement the season after that.

Going from worst to first – and vice-versa – is hard to do, but clearly not impossible. It took almost 90 years for MLB fans to witness that kind of dramatic turnaround from one year to the next, but aided by free agency and the expansion of the divisions, it has happened 12 times since the Atlanta Braves did it from 1990-91.

Sportsbooks are offering long odds that any team will go first to worst in 2020, but they have considerably shorter odds on a last-place team reaching the playoffs.

Odds a Team Goes First-to-Worst in 2020 Division Races

Outcome Odds
No -1200
Yes +750

Odds as of July 22.

One look at the final standings from 2019 should pretty much tell you all you need to know about the chances of a team going first to worst in 2020.

In the American League, there’s the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, and Houston Astros. Over on the Senior Circuit, there’s the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Yankees, Twins, and Astros seem hellbent on, not only repeating as division champions, but going deep into the postseason. Powered by offense and the deep ball (the Yankees’ 306 home runs was only bettered by Minnesota’s MLB-record 307 last year) the Yankees and Twins both improved their pitching staffs over the winter.

Over in the National League, the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts and the Braves bolstered their pitching staff too. Even a shortened 60-game season seems unlikely to derail either to the point that they fall into last place.

The Astros are still busy dealing with the fallout from their controversial 2017 world championship. Though they’ve lost their manager and general manager, the majority of the roster that won that title and returned to the Fall Classic last October is still in place, so it seems a lock to at least stay out of last place in the AL West.

In the NL Central, the Cardinals would seem to be the only realistic candidate to come anywhere near this conversation.

Jordan Hicks and Dexter Fowler opted out of the season, they lost outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the Braves, and they traded Jose Martinez to the Rays. But to drop all the way down in a division they won by 22 games last year still seems unlikely.

Pick: No (-1200)

Odds a Team Goes Worst-to-Playoffs in 2020 MLB Season

Outcome Odds
No -350
Yes +225

Going from worst to the playoffs is a different conversation than going worst-to-first in the division.

The 2019 AL basement clubs consisted of the Seattle Mariners (68 wins), Baltimore Orioles (54), and Detroit Tigers (47). Over in the NL, it was the San Diego Padres (70),  Pittsburgh Pirates (69), and Miami Marlins (57).

While it is certainly possible that a 60-game season makes a number of things possible, it probably does not induce miracles. Therefore, even with the benefit of a winter makeover and the longest preseason in baseball history, the teams in Baltimore, Detroit,and Miami need not apply.

Both Pittsburgh and Seattle are interesting. The NL Central is the most open going into the 2020 season, with teams such as the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers all in the mix to possibly dethrone the defending-champion Cardinals.

But while Pittsburgh is improving, the loss of Chris Archer to injury, the trade of Starling Marte, and the news that Gregory Polanco tested positive for COVID-19 are severe blows.

Though Seattle plays in the competitive AL West, and managed a respectable 68 wins last year, it didn’t really make any sizeable upgrades. The M’s are still likely to finish in the bottom half of its division once again.

That leaves us with the San Diego Padres. With 70 wins, the Friars were only one game back of the Colorado Rockies last year, and have yet to get the best out of stars such as Manny Machado.

The shortened season should suit players like Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., and their young rotation of Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino should be able to establish an early groove.

The Padres have a real shot.

Pick: Yes (+225)

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