The picture in the American League looks like this: Boston is seeded first and will host the winner of the wild-card game, so either Oakland or New York. Houston hosts Cleveland, and the winner of that series will face either Boston, Oakland, or New York.
It’s commonly said that the season effectively starts from scratch when the playoffs begin. But it would be more accurate to view the playoffs as an extension of the regular season because current form matters. Each of the last three World Series champions ended the regular season on a high note and trended upwards heading into the playoffs. Last year’s champion, Houston, won six of its last seven regular-season games. The 2016 champion Cubs won nine of its last 12 games. The 2015 champion Royals won its last five games.
In deciding a baseball future, I therefore want to eliminate Boston and Cleveland from consideration. Boston was 2-5 in its last seven games entering Sunday. The starters rank in the bottom half in ERA in the past month. Above all, ace Chris Sale struggled in his past two outings and is reportedly having issues with his pitching mechanics. Maybe his shoulder inflammation is still bothering him. But the postseason isn’t the time to fix either issue. The bullpen ranks sixth-to-last in September ERA. There is no betting value in Boston. I also want to eliminate Cleveland, which was 5-5 in its last 10 games entering Sunday. Even if Cleveland was hot, I still wouldn’t consider them because they’re only in the playoffs as the result of playing in baseball’s worst division. This team has only one win more than Tampa Bay and two wins more than Seattle despite getting to play the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals a total of 57 times.
The two AL teams most worth considering are Houston and New York. New York had won five of its last six through Saturday. Its starters have a 3.60 ERA in September. The lineup is hot, producing at least seven runs in its past five games. A big part of that is having a healthy Aaron Judge again. He’s 4-for-10 with a homer in his past few games. The bullpen is reputably one of baseball’s best. Chad Green and closers Aroldis Chapman and Zach Britton have consistently shut down opposing batters. Houston had won eight of its last nine entering Sunday. The starters have a 3.01 September ERA, the bullpen has a 2.93 September ERA, and the lineup is healthy and could catch fire. Top hitter Jose Altuve is slumping, but the pitching is solid, led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, each of whom has an sub-three ERA, and Collin McHugh and Roberto Osuna in the bullpen.
The Yanks have great betting value. While Houston makes a lot of sense, the Astros would face the Yanks in a Game 7 at home, where their record is actually much worse than on the road. There isn’t much separating these two hot and elite teams, and home advantage would have been a separating factor. The key detail for bettors is that in a very even matchup, one team is currently sitting at +300 to win the World Series and the other, New York, is sitting at +1000.