Aside from a quartet of winner-take-all games, Major League Baseball could not have asked for a better opening for its new playoff format. The Wildcard weekend produced a 15-inning thriller, a historic comeback, the final game of three legendary careers, and a romantic ear-swaddling moment on national television.
Now, we enter the best of fives. The Division Series will showcase the four teams with first-round byes and the four teams already knee-deep in playoff action. As we balance drama, hot streaks, and too many days off, how should we examine these three-win sets?
Which underdog is most likely to advance?
Everybody loves a good underdog story. The Seattle Mariners and their now-defunct 21-year playoff drought have delivered as the season’s protagonist. With a hungry fanbase behind them and the support of all of the eliminated, America is rooting for the team who plays in the isolated corner of the Pacific Northwest.
The Mariners are the best long shot bet to win their respective Division Series.
Seattle is hot right now, propelled into postseason play by Cal Raleigh’s legendary home run. Raleigh’s streak continued in the playoffs, and the Mariners offense followed suit. Their improbable 8-1 comeback on Saturday was as lucky as it was incredibly impressive, but that’s okay.
What will keep them competitive against a complete Houston Astros roster is their top-end starting pitching and clutch clique of relievers. Luis Castillo brings about feelings of excitement not seen on a Seattle mound since Felix Hernandez. He’s an ace through and through and can match anyone Houston is willing to throw. Mitigating the Astros’ starting pitching advantage will be vital.
Logan Gilbert will be key, too. A singular poor start against the Kansas City Royals was the only blemish on an incredible final six weeks of the season. He’s got all the makings of a big-game pitcher and will unquestionably find himself in such a spot. Robbie Ray has the stuff to play in the postseason, too, but has struggled against Houston and put the M’s behind on Saturday.
Late in games, Seattle has a flurry of arms to throw at the Astros, including Andrés Muñoz. Their young starters-turned-relievers have already proven themselves in big spots. They may not have the advantage on either end of the pitching staff, but they have the talent to close the gap.
Furthermore, this storybook season may continue with just a single win in enemy territory. Seattle is going to show up on the Richter scale for two games of this series. Sometimes, thinking you’re the team of destiny is enough.
Compared to the other matchups, Seattle is the best underdog bet to advance. Per FanDuel, their odds sit at +194, meaning an $100 wager could net $94 in profit. The talent gap in the other American league series is likely insurmountable. The Los Angeles Dodgers won 111 games and the Braves might be the deepest team in baseball.
If you’re drinking the Kool-Aid on a plus money team to advance, you might as well make it the most fun team in baseball.
When betting on a playoff series, it is best to bet prior to Game 1. Picking the underdog here will give you the longest odds (highest payout, but least likely) unless they drop the first game, which essentially ends the series anyway. If you’re confident about any of these underdogs, pull the trigger! The window to capitalize on your instincts will be short.