Top futures, props after simulating rest of MLB schedule

July 22, 2022 07:10 PM
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As we exit out of the MLB All-Star break, we have three divisions that seem to be solidified, with the Yankees (AL East), Astros (AL West) and Dodgers (NL West) holding leads of at least nine games. Those teams have obviously played consistently good baseball and their records reflect it. The other three divisions show races with less than a three-game lead at the top of the standings. With around 70 games left, those three races are still up in the air. 

It’s in those three divisions — AL Central, NL East, NL Central — where simulating the rest of the season based on current power ratings, injury situations and remaining schedule can pay dividends, particularly when you match the current division win odds against the results.

Some important points before I reveal the projections I’ve come up with based on my current power ratings:

— My current power ratings obviously don’t account for any potential trade-deadline deals that may occur before the end of this month. Unlike last year, when Max Scherzer and a few others were moved, the big names on this year’s market don’t amount to total game-changers. However, positional players such as Willson Contreras, Bryan Reynolds, Josh Bell and Andrew Benintendi could bolster lineups. Starting pitchers Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas or Pablo Lopez could improve rotations. If you have a reasonable gauge on which teams might be selling and which might be buying in the next week or so, you should feel comfortable bumping my projections up or down.

— The current power ratings also don’t account for the typical September overpricing, as oddsmakers tend to boost the lines on the better teams in conjunction with the rising stakes of games. They also don’t reflect any late-season resting of starters after playoff spots have been clinched. In both of the aforementioned cases, game lines can swing by as much as 50 cents, which can account for about 0.1 wins/losses on my projections. Multiply this by five and you can see how some changes to the projected standings would occur.

— I projected five-man rotations for every team based on recent usage. Obviously, it is impossible to project every starting pitcher for the remaining 1,046 games, so this could also throw off the numbers. For instance, many teams will have doubleheaders down the stretch. Naturally these rotations will rely on spot starters in these unusual scheduling circumstances. The teams with the most games remaining from now until the end of the season — whose rotations might be thrown off the most — are the Guardians, Dodgers and Rangers, all with 72 games remaining.

— I have made several assumptions and/or speculations based on when some key players may return from the injured list. These players include pitchers such as Jacob deGrom of the Mets, Walker Buehler of the Dodgers, Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals and Freddy Peralta of the Brewers, and hitters such as Bryce Harper of the Phillies, Trevor Story of the Red Sox, Yordan Alvarez of the Astros and Mitch Haniger of the Mariners, to name the biggest ones.

— I ran all of the simulation numbers for games from Thursday through the end of the season, ensuring all teams reached the 162-game mark.

A personal observation before I proceed with the results: I found myself challenged by this exercise datawise as it is nowhere near as straightforward as running the numbers for a football or basketball season. Changes in starting pitchers, ballpark factors and the numerous injury situations all can impact daily game odds quite a bit. Keep in mind, these projections are merely done as a way for you to spot potential value on the current odds boards, whether that be by my schedule-strength calculations or the actual won-lost projections after 162 games. I’ll go through each of the divisions and share my own take on the findings and any potential value spots.

AL East

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the AL East.

Steve’s take: Unlike last year, when I accurately called for the Rays to take the AL East in what figured to be a very tight race down the stretch, there will be little drama in 2022. The Yankees have put themselves in a position to not only capture the AL East crown but also earn a bye into the ALDS (top two teams in each league earn byes). Their only task figures to be securing the top seed in the postseason. The real race to watch here is for the three wild-card spots in the American League, as the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox figure to be duking it out with the Mariners. Right now, the projections show Boston on the short end of that stick, but a starting pitcher addition at the trade deadline, as well as a healthy return of Chris Sale, could bolster their chances. The Rays’ challenge is to withstand the league’s second-toughest schedule the rest of the way. Of the wild-card contenders, Seattle owns the easiest slate, 24th in baseball, with the Jays next at 16th.

Steve’s wager: Yankees are a cinch to win the division, but I would be willing to make a wager on the Blue Jays to qualify for the playoff field.

AL Central

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the AL Central.

Steve’s take: My projections for the AL Central show the biggest second-half “upset” of any of the divisions. The White Sox went into the All-Star break playing pretty good baseball, and their bullpen seemed to finally be performing to its lofty expectations. Their starting rotation is easily the highest rated of the five teams and they are nearing a point of finally being fully healthy. This would seem to be a team you’ll want to back over the course of the next two and a half months. Minnesota currently owns a 2.5-game lead in the AL Central but faces the league’s 11th-toughest schedule the rest of the way. I have the Twins playing right around .500 baseball in their remaining 68 games. Cleveland has been too inconsistent to consider a legitimate threat, having suffered losing streaks of three games or more on six different occasions. Detroit and Kansas City have shown stretches of being competitive and could throw a wrench into someone’s postseason plans.

Steve’s wager: The White Sox to win the division at + 135. This is the best team in the division and finally getting healthy and playing up to expectations. Expect a much better home effort in the second half as well.

AL West

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the AL West.

Steve’s take: Seattle’s 14-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break took a lot of the focus off of just how well Houston has played since its slow start. Since going 7-9 in their first 16 games, the Astros are on an incredible 52-23 surge, which, if you’re projecting out a full season, is a 112-win pace. This team has been that good, despite battling nagging injuries to key stars throughout the first half. Ace Justin Verlander has been an absolute star in his return after missing 2021. The Mariners have obviously turned it on of late but would need to go 51-17 in their final 68 games to pass the Astros based on my projections for the division leaders. That said, unlike 2021, Seattle is set up well for a wild-card run, and my projections actually give them a seven-game cushion to play with over the AL’s seventh-ranked team, the Red Sox. Elsewhere, for as good as the top two teams have been lately in the AL West, the Angels have been a brutal disappointment once again. On May 24, they beat Texas 5-3 to go 10 games over .500 at 27-17. Since that point, their season has cratered with a 12-36 skid. Shohei Ohtani is incredible and Mike Trout, Jared Walsh and Taylor Ward have the makings of leading a prolific lineup, but it just never seems to work for this franchise. Texas has played good ball in spurts, while Oakland is a disaster, particularly on its home field where it sports an 11-32 record.

Steve’s wager: Houston shows too steep of a price to pay, so again, I would side with a wager on a team to make the playoff field, Seattle, currently listed at -145.

NL East

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the NL East.

Steve’s take: The Mets have surprisingly kept control of this division despite injury problems once again in the first half. The key loss was to DeGrom, who figured to miss a few early starts but found his return timeline delayed much longer. I have projected the rest of the season based on an early August return for their star pitcher. Making matters worse in the first half, deGrom’s replacement, Tyler Megill, who exhibited ace-like traits in his brief time in the rotation, also went out with an injury. Scherzer also missed some starts. When healthy, this is the best rotation in baseball, and the lineup is finally doing its fair share of the work. The biggest threat to New York’s division title aspirations is defending World Series champion Atlanta, sitting 2.5 games back after making a June/July surge. The Braves lack the star pitching power but can rake as good as anyone in the National League. My projections show these two teams playing nearly identical-level baseball in the second half, with the Mets playing the far easier remaining schedule. Philadelphia would seem to be too far back behind multiple teams to make a run at the division crown but is a legit threat for a wild-card spot. My current projections have them in the postseason as either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed. However, that hinges on healthy returns of Jean Segura (mid-August) and Bryce Harper (late August). Also, will Philly add a pitcher at the trade deadline? Miami figures to have a better shot at playing spoiler in the second half than Washington, especially with Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara having a Cy Young-worthy season.

Steve’s wager: Based upon the expected healthy return of deGrom, the enhanced offensive production from the lineup and a far easier schedule than the Braves, I’d be willing to lay the -159 with New York capturing the NL East title.

NL Central

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the NL Central.

Steve’s take: The most intriguing two-team race in the first half may have been between the Brewers and Cardinals. The teams are separated by just a half game at the break, with Milwaukee out in front. Heading into the All-Star break, neither team was playing as if it wanted to hold the lead, though, with the Brewers losing eight of their last 12 games and the Cardinals going 7-10 in their last 17. Milwaukee’s skid was particularly concerning in that several games were all but won before usually reliable closer Josh Hader was rocked. The Crew will need him to rebound quickly in order to hold off St. Louis. As far as my projections are concerned, I have the teams playing similar-level baseball in the second half, with a slight edge to Milwaukee. However, that could change if either team adds pieces at the trade deadline. Manager Craig Counsell’s team could use an offensive boost, while the Cardinals would benefit greatly from adding a solid starting pitcher or two. Quite frankly, the rest of the NL Central is a joke, and none of the three teams seem capable of anything more than trading away key players to contenders the rest of the way. The Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in baseball. The Brewers aren’t far behind.

Steve’s wager: The only wager I could endorse here is St. Louis to win the division as the underdog at + 175. The Cardinals have the better lineup than Milwaukee, face the easiest remaining schedule in the league and figure to be active at the trade deadline. There’s some good value there. Both teams have to like their chances at securing a wild-card spot with the remaining three NL Central teams essentially playing as pushovers down the stretch.

NL West

Subscribers can go to Point Spread Weekly, out Wednesday, for Steve's projected final standings in the NL West.

Steve’s take: With a 12-game lead in the loss column, there’s no real reason to suspect the Dodgers will even be taxed in the race for yet another NL West title. Los Angeles went into the break on fire and, despite challenges to their starting rotation throughout the first half, are in a great position to grab the NL’s top seed. Both the Padres and Giants have underperformed by preseason expectations, but San Francisco was surging heading into the break. San Diego got recent discouraging news as Fernando Tatis’ timeline to return from a wrist injury was delayed. At this point, I’d be surprised if he plays at all anymore in 2022. The Padres have had all kinds of trouble getting any consistent and lasting good play. The bottom two teams in the NL West are who we thought they’d be but are both capable of making things tough on the two teams above them fighting for wild-card spots.

Steve’s wager: With the Giants playing the better baseball heading into the break, I believe their chances at making a run at a wild-card spot are superior to the Padres. The odds don’t reflect it, as San Francisco is + 145 to qualify for the playoff field while San Diego is -500. I would go “Yes” on the Giants at + 145 and “No” on the Padres at + 360.

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