World Series Long Shot: Milwaukee Brewers 40:1
**This prediction and analysis was done before the Brewers signed pitcher Kyle Lohse. The odds have moved very little if at all since the signing so you should still be able to get Milwaukee at 40 to 1 or something very close.
While Cincinnati and St. Louis will be the favorites in the National League Central, Milwaukee presents much better value at 40:1, relative to 10:1 for the Reds and 16:1 for the Cardinals. Those three teams have been 1, 2, 3 in the NL Central the past two years but Milwaukee has had actually had the best cumulative record over the past two years combined. Milwaukee had a slow start last season with major bullpen issues but the offense was hot late in the season and the Brewers closed the year going 36-17 the final two months to make it into the Wild Card race before falling just short. While Milwaukee is rightfully a long shot, the Brewers have a very reasonable shot to make the playoffs and there would be great hedging opportunities holding a ticket at this price at that point.
The pitching staff was in flux most of last season and while Zack Greinke is gone, so are Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum after both struggled last season. The injuries last season allowed Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada to earn places in the rotation and both had very successful runs last season. Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta also both made debuts last year and could provide a boost to the rotation as well as they are two of the top prospects in the Milwaukee organization. Yovani Gallardo continues to be one of the more consistent starters in baseball despite limited recognition and he had 25 quality starts in 33 outings last season. The return of Chris Narveson after missing almost all of last season also gives the Milwaukee rotation more depth. While this rotation may not compete with the likes of Washington or Philadelphia, in the NL Central Milwaukee's starting five looks pretty solid.
The potential suspension of Ryan Braun looms over this team but after facing great scrutiny last season Braun delivered a season that rivaled his 2011 MVP season. Aramis Ramirez often starts slow but he ended the year with very productive numbers and Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki both had excellent seasons last year and gives the Brewers one of the better hitting outfields in the league as well as great speed on the base paths. The wild card for the Brewers could be the middle infield as Jean Segura started to show promise late last season at shortstop and Rickie Weeks did emerge from an awful first half with a more respectable second half. If Weeks can return to his 2010 or 2011 numbers this can again be one of the better offenses in the National League. Jonathan Lucroy was also having a great season last year before going down with an injury so the potential upside of this lineup is tremendous.
This is not a franchise with a great history of success but this team was in the NLCS two years ago and after missing the playoffs last year this should be a very hungry squad with a great mix of veterans and young emerging stars. It will be a tough division especially with Houston taken out of the division but Cincinnati is not likely to get the same results from its pitching staff this season and the Cardinals also have questions in the rotation. Milwaukee had the worst record among the NL Central contenders vs. Houston last season so the other teams could be hurt more by Houston's departure to the American League. Given this pricing, the Brewers look like a team that could have a lot of potential if the pitching staff pans out and the bullpen shows modest and expected improvement. Miller Park has held one of the top home field advantages in baseball in recent years and Milwaukee will have a good chance to find a way into the playoff picture and could certainly be a tough team to beat in a short playoff series.
Season Win Totals: OVER 89 Toronto Blue Jays
Teams making a big flurry of high-profile acquisitions have often fallen flat as the Marlins were prime examples last season. Toronto took advantage of the mess in Miami and acquired two excellent veteran pitchers and an All Star shortstop as the Blue Jays appear to be all-in this season. The Blue Jays finished just 73-69 last season but this was a team that scored 716 runs. Adding Jose Reyes to the top of the lineup could provide a boost to that production but the big difference this year will be in the pitching staff.
Last year's #1 starter Ricky Romero had a truly awful season but with all the moves this winter Romero will be slated to be the #5 starter this year. Romero should be due for a bounce back season and Brandon Morrow is the other holdover for the Blue Jays coming off a very solid year. At the top of the rotation three All Stars have been added with the 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey joined by Marlins defects Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Injuries are a concern for any pitching staff but this rotation has as much potential as any in the American League if the starting pitching staff can stay healthy. The improvement in the starting rotation with veterans that can produce consistent starts will also provide a big help to the bullpen. For once the AL East appears to be wide open. New York won the division last season but fizzled in the playoffs and the Yankees are limping through spring training with several key injuries. Baltimore had a historic season but all things point downward for the Orioles after a truly remarkable run of good fortune, finishing 24-games above .500 despite being only +7 in run differential. Tampa Bay will be in the mix as always and Boston certainly has no where to go but up after a disastrous season but every other team seems to have missing pieces and features key areas of transition. Toronto's administration seems to be sensing this opportunity and the team appears to be willing to spend money and perhaps make mid-season acquisitions to contend this year if necessary.
The Jays do enter with a new manager after John Farrell was poached by the Red Sox and John Gibbons will face high expectations in his first year as skipper but this is a team of veterans that should come together well. The Blue Jays are pegged at 10:1 to win the World Series with only four teams ahead of them yet 89 wins seems very attainable with the other four World Series favorites all priced in the 90s for a season win total. Toronto has not reached 89 wins since the second of two back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993 however so this number is expecting a serious breakthrough and there is serious risk of potential injuries with a veteran team. Things seem to be aligned for the Blue Jays with the big deals coming together however and this should be the first year in some time where fans north of the border have something to seriously cheer about.
Season Win Totals: UNDER 88 San Francisco Giants
At first glance this total might seem low for a team that has won two of the last three World Series titles but there are serious concerns for the Giants after everything fell together for this squad last season. Tim Lincecum can no longer be counted on as an ace starter after his struggles last season and it is not clear that he will be able to hold a spot in the rotation. After career years from Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner last season and the first strong season from Barry Zito in years, a step-back year for the rotation may be in order. San Francisco had five starters eclipse 184 innings last season, something that just does not happen consistently in this day and age and while the rotation should still rank among the best starting units in the National League, the competition in the division should make wins tougher to come by.
Buster Posey is also coming off an unprecedented MVP season, coming back from serious injury. Advanced metrics suggest Posey greatly overachieved last season as he had a .368 BABIP and it is a stretch to suggest that he can get through 148 games behind the plate again next season, especially with the extra wear of the playoffs. The Giants retain Hunter Pence but no longer have Melky Cabrera who carried the team early in the season before his suspension. Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan both provided second half sparks for the Giants but banking on similar results with less urgency and after big paydays is a risk. This will still be a very limited lineup that is reliant on its pitching staff and its low-scoring home ballpark.
The bullpen was outstanding last season but it is an aging group with Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Castilla, and Sergio Romo all at least 30 and now highly paid with new deals in the off-season. The outfield is also a big question mark with a potential platoon with Gregor Blanco and Andrew Torres in leftfield. Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt have also been streaky inconsistent players that may not be able to sustain success for an entire season. The Giants really don't have any impact prospects lurking other than perhaps outfielder Gary Brown and given the age of this team the potential for season-changing injuries is high, especially given how well everything played out for San Francisco last season.
San Francisco only won 94 games last season and only won 92 in 2010 when they also won the series so even a small decline in performance could push this team below this figure. The Dodgers have obviously made very aggressive moves looking to take over this division and Arizona was a threatening team late in the season after a rough start to the year. Both of those teams are expected to improve in their win totals and with Los Angeles now featuring a very formidable offense the toll could come on the Giants pitching staff in many of those games. San Diego and Colorado could also be more competitive than many expect making this a very tough division and the Giants are a strong candidate for a small decline in performance, similar to what happened after the team won the 2010 World Series. It is just very difficult to have so many variables line up for a special season like the Giants had last year.