Pennsylvania MLB Team X has a record of 25-29 (a .463 winning percentage), sits 11.5 games back in its division, and is 5-5 over its last 10 games.
Pennsylvania MLB Team Y has a record of 24-28 (a .462 winning percentage), sits 7 games back in its division, and is 7-3 over its last 10 games.
So, naturally, oddsmakers give Team X a much better chance of succeeding over the final two-thirds of the baseball season than Team Y.
Huh? What in the name of Keystone State Kops is going on here?
Well, quite simply, Team X is your Philadelphia Phillies, a high-payroll, manager-firing, underachieving team that the state’s online sportsbooks still suggest could surge over the summer and slide into the postseason, based on the odds.
Team Y, then, must be the Pittsburgh Pirates, a rookie-laden, Pythagorean-defying, no-hit, no-pitch, no-field, penny-scrimping team whose odds of playing in the postseason would be akin to those of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard reuniting.
On paper, the Phils and Bucs are both on pace for 75 wins, which would be well below expectations for Philadelphia and far above forecasts for Pittsburgh.
The perception of the sportsbooks is these two clubs remain vastly different in their 2022 potential, with the Phillies far ahead.
The big signings haven’t paid off
After the Phillies made expensive signings of free agent sluggers Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber in March, oddsmakers took note and improved their forecast for 2022. Just before the season started, they were pegged as about an 85-win team, with odds of 35/1 or shorter to win the World Series and 18/1 or better to win the NL pennant. They were behind the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves in odds to win the NL East, with a range of +380 to +550.
That was before two months of Castellanos looking pedestrian, Schwarber batting below .200, MVP Bryce Harper losing the ability to play in the field due to an elbow injury, the bullpen repeating recent years of troubles, and the defense looking about as shaky as everyone had suspected it would be.
All that culminated with Joe Girardi’s firing as manager last week after a 132-141 record in two-plus seasons. After bench coach Rob Thomson replaced him, the team promptly swept the Los Angeles Angels, including a thrilling come-from behind win from a 6-2 deficit in the eighth inning Sunday.
At the same time as the Phillies are trying to claw their way back to .500, the Mets have defied belief by winning two of every three games despite the absences of star pitchers Max Scherzer for the past three weeks and Jacob deGrom since the season began.
Odds say it’s doable for Phils, even if unlikely
While the sportsbooks give Philadelphia long odds, thusly, to win the division, the interesting thing is their odds to win the pennant or World Series aren’t hugely different from in March.
The most favorable odds for a Phillies backer for different futures bets are the following:
- To win the division, 18/1 from FanDuel (which has the Mets -390). BetRivers and other Kambi sites have the Phils at just +850.
- To win the NL, 22/1 from DraftKings (which has the Dodgers +220).
- To win the World Series, 45/1 from DraftKings (Dodgers +450).
DraftKings also offers a simple yes-or-no bet on whether teams will make the six-team playoffs in each league. It lists the “yes” on the Phils at +210, the “no” at -265.
Some of the basis for Philadelphia still being given a credible chance at success is Harper’s studly hitting, as a regular DH, despite his injury. His .309 batting average with 13 home runs and .998 OPS carry similarities to last year’s MVP season. He started this year with MVP odds of 9/1 to 12/1, which is about where he is now, though behind Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, and Paul Goldschmidt.
The 12/1 odds on Harper now can be obtained from FOX Bet and the Kambi-backed sites that include BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires.
The Phillies begin a three-game series in Milwaukee Tuesday night, and FanDuel had them priced in the morning as a small underdog for the opening game at -104.
Pirates’ record viewed as deceptive
The preseason over/under totals from the sportsbooks placed the Pirates as about a 64-win club instead of the 75 they’re on pace for, but their 24-28 record seems tainted by other numbers.
With a run differential among MLB’s worst, at -75 (the Phils are +18 despite their losing record), the implication is the Pirates should really stand down among the league’s bottom-feeders at something more like 18-34.
Other numbers all seem to bear that out, with the team batting average of .226, team ERA of 4.34, and team fielding percentage of .978 all among MLB’s worst.
And yet … and yet, that run differential is heavily influenced by two games: a franchise-worst 21-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on April 23 and an 18-4 loss at home to the St. Louis Cardinals on May 22. In one-run games, the Bucs are 8-6, and there appear to be signs that the long rebuilding era of a team that last made the postseason in 2015 (it’s 2011 for the Phils) has bottomed out.
Seven Pirates rookies have made their MLB debuts this season already, many of whom have made an impact. That list does not include Oneil Cruz, a preseason NL Rookie of the Year favorite who is expected to be called up soon (and who can be claimed still for that honor at 40/1 at BetRivers by those believing he can make up ground on the current favorite, Padres pitcher MacKenzie Gore).
Despite any future optimism, the Pirates have a long way to go to convince oddsmakers of realistic hopes this season.
The most favorable return on them from the current futures bets listed:
- To win the NL Central, 250/1 from DraftKings (which has the Brewers -265).
- To win the NL pennant: 600/1 from DraftKings.
- To win the World Series: 1000/1 from DraftKings.
As the only sites showing odds to make the playoffs, DraftKings and Betway give a Pirates bettor 40/1 on the yes.
Pittsburgh can try to start an incredible journey for any “yes” bettors by beating the Detroit Tigers Tuesday night in the start of a two-game series at PNC Park, but even for that contest, the oddsmakers are pessimistic about the team. FanDuel made the Pirates +108 Tuesday morning.
Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY