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The New York Yankees and Four 2017 World Series Pretenders

By Taylor Smith in Sports
| August 4, 2017 12:00 am PDT
2017-world-series-yankees

The calendar just flipped to August, which means baseball’s divisional and Wild Card races are entering the stretch run. While a few of the divisional races have been over for a while (NL West, AL West, NL East), several of those division titles are still very much hanging in the balance. The Chicago Cubs seem to have righted the ship in the NL Central, but the Milwaukee Brewers are still lurking on their heels.

While some teams may consider themselves to be contenders, it’s pretty easy to separate the legitimate clubs from the pretenders. Using Bovada’s World Series odds as a reference, we are going to tell you which teams to ignore when betting on who will win it all this fall.

Kansas City Royals +2500

Despite having been rather mediocre for the majority of the season, Bovada lists the Royals with the same chances of winning the Fall Classic as the Arizona Diamondbacks. Frankly, the Diamondbacks are a vastly better club than the Royals are in just about every way. Kansas City, which has several key players set to hit free agency this winter, had to make the decision to buy or sell at the trade deadline last month.

Despite the risk of losing guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain for nothing in a few months, GM Dayton Moore made the decision to act as buyers. The Royals didn’t make a big splash, but they did acquire three pitchers (Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, Brandon Maurer) from the Padres a few days before July 31. Kansas City also re-acquired Melky Cabrera from the Chicago White Sox.

So, the Royals are all-in on one last hurrah with the core that took them to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015. This team won it all just two years ago, so who’s to say they don’t have another run in them? While this bunch is certainly battle-tested in October and knows how to win in the playoffs, we aren’t buying what they’re selling.

There are just too many red flags. Jason Vargas has predictably regressed after an ungodly start to the season. Danny Duffy’s velocity is down after he burst onto the scene last year. The other three starts, Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy and Cahill, are average also-rans that won’t strike fear into anybody in the postseason.

The lineup recently saw an uptick in performance, but it’s gone back to being completely ordinary over the last week or so. They could always surprise us by rediscovering their 2015 magic, but we aren’t buying these Royals as viable World Series threats.

Washington Nationals +650

The Nationals currently check-in with the third-best odds to win it all at +650, behind only the Dodgers and the Astros. While the Nats appear to have a stacked rotation and a deep and powerful lineup, we’re worried that their problematic bullpen is going to rear its ugly head once again when the playoffs roll around.

The Nationals have done an admirable job of trying to plug the holes out there so far this season. GM Mike Rizzo acquired lefty Sean Doolittle and righty Ryan Madson from the Oakland A’s last month, and the Nats also nabbed All-Star Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins right before the deadline. Those three might instantly have become Washington’s three best relievers.

Is that really going to be enough, though? Washington has endured bullpen issues before, and it has been a huge part of derailing their postseason runs in each of the last few years. In order to make a deep playoff run for the first time, the Nationals may have to lean on Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez to pitch deep into just about every game. While the first two are each arguably top-five starters in all of baseball, that’s still quite a lot to ask.

Could Washington just pound their way to the World Series? It’s possible. The four-man tandem of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon in the middle of the lineup is second to none in all of baseball. We haven’t even mentioned Trea Turner, who figures to be a spark plug at the top of the lineup once he returns from injury in the next few weeks.

Still, there isn’t a whole lot of precedent for teams with such glaring pitching issues winning the World Series. Washington will need their relievers to deliver in crucial spots if they want to make a serious run at the title. At this point, we just don’t trust that bullpen enough to fully buy-in. We’ll pass on the Nationals.

Chicago Cubs +700

The defending World Series champs have spent the majority of the season sleepwalking, but they seem to have awakened since the All-Star break. The Cubs were underperforming vastly throughout the entirety of the season’s first half, but they have used a second half surge to overtake the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central. Entering play on August 4, Chicago sat a game-and-a-half up on the Brew Crew in the division.

While they have been better, there’s just something missing from the 2017 iteration of the Cubs. Starting pitching largely carried them to their first title in over a century last year, but those same starters have struggled mightily throughout the season to this point. None of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey or Kyle Hendricks has pitched nearly as well as they did a season ago.

They could certainly round into form once the games start to mean more, but their form is worrisome. Lester was a dominant force atop the Cubs’ rotation last October, but we’ve seen him get rocked on a fairly regular basis this season. Ditto for Arrieta, who looks nothing close to the pitcher that rolled his way to the Cy Young Award in 2015. Hendricks, who led the NL in ERA last season, has been injured and ineffective. Lackey looks hittable and washed up.

The Cubs still have the bats and bullpen depth to get the job done. It’s just incredibly difficult to win back-to-back World Series titles. It hasn’t been done since the Yankees won three straight from 1998 until 2000. Chicago clearly has the talent to do so, and they’re going to be in the championship conversation for the better part of the next half-decade, minimum.

If the starting pitching can get back on track, they’re as good as anybody. We just don’t trust it’s going to happen for them this season. No thanks, Cubs.

New York Yankees +900

The Yankees appeared to go all-in on 2017 based on their moves prior to the trade deadline. After acquiring Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the White Sox a few weeks ago, the Yanks made a huge splash in snagging Sonny Gray from the Oakland A’s on deadline day. Gray will be a part of the rotation for the next few seasons, but this move made it clear that New York has plans to compete for the 2017 title.

On paper, New York looks pretty stacked everywhere. The rotation featuring Gray, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka gives them a sturdy 1-2-3 punch. The bullpen, with Kahnle and Robertson joining Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, looks menacing. We haven’t even mentioned a thunderous lineup that includes the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner and Todd and Clint Frazier. There’s a lot of quality there.

The American League is just tough. In order to make it to the World Series, the Yankees are likely going to have to fight their way through some combination of the Royals, Astros, Red Sox and Indians. While we have no doubt the Yankees are better than the Royals, we would take each of those other teams over the Yankees in a five- or seven-game series.

Severino is on his way to being an ace, but he’s not quite there yet. Each of those other three teams has a bona fide No. 1 sitting atop the rotation, and we’re not convinced that the Yankees can match that as of now. The Yanks are going to be legitimate threats down the road, but we don’t think 2017 is their year.

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