The 2023 MLB playoffs are here with the wild-card round beginning Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. The American League best-of-three series will feature the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays, with the winner facing the Baltimore Orioles, and the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins playing for the right to square off with the defending champion Houston Astros in the division series. In the National League, the winner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers series will play the Los Angeles Dodgers, while the Atlanta Braves await the winner of the showdown between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Miami Marlins.
Are chalk plays the right move this October?
The past three World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves (+275, 2021 winner), Los Angeles Dodgers (+475, 2020 winner) and Houston Astros (+500, 2022 winner), are the top three in terms of title odds this October. They're closely followed by the American League's winningest team, the Baltimore Orioles (+650).
That said, each enters the postseason facing questions that might not have been present a few short weeks ago.
The Braves, considered the prohibitive favorites, have two key rotation members in Max Fried and Charlie Morton currently on the injured list.
The Dodgers, playing in their 11th straight October and winners of 10 division titles in that time, have a rotation fronted by 35-year-old Clayton Kershaw and with only one other active pitcher (Bobby Miller) who has made more than 12 starts for them.
The Astros squeaked into an AL West title on the regular season's final day, but otherwise were a .500 team over the season's final seven weeks.
The Orioles, meanwhile, learned on Saturday that closer Felix Bautista, a key cog in one of the game's best bullpens, requires Tommy John surgery and will not be back to compete this postseason.
Short series, especially in the postseason's early stages, can breed Cinderella stories. We saw it just last year with the Phillies' charge into the World Series, and they might be a popular pick to do it again in 2023 (+1400 odds). The Brewers, behind their rotational top three (Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta), might move the needle for bettors (+1800).
Who do our analysts pick to go all the way this October? Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell,Todd Zola and Tyler Fulghum share their picks.
Picks represent the analyst's comfort with betting on the specified odds and does not imply bets they would make if odds weren't considered. Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
Wild-card round (best of 3)
Toronto Blue Jays (-114) vs. Minnesota Twins -105
Texas Rangers (+152) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (-180)
Arizona Diamondbacks (+160) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (-190)
Miami Marlins (+170) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (-200)
Cockcroft: Blue Jays (-114) and Rangers (+152): The Blue Jays might've opened as underdogs and transformed into slight favorites, but I still see value in them, with Kevin Gausman lined up to open that series and pretty good two-three men in Jose Berrios and Chris Bassitt behind him. Additionally, the Blue Jays' offense seems much more potent to me than its stat-sheet results indicated this year. Sure, the Twins have a solid one-two-three of their own in Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, but they also have a putrid October track record, and one that I think might again haunt them. The Twins have lost 15 consecutive postseason games -- I do think that streak ends -- and nine consecutive postseason series -- I don't think that gets snapped. Honorable mention goes to the Rangers, as the AL's underdogs stand further out.
Karabell: Phillies (-200) and Brewers (-190) in the NL. Perhaps the odds are not so great, but I like the Phillies and Brewers to advance in the National League, and perhaps mirror what happened in the NL last season when the wild-card entrants knocked off teams with more wins to advance to the NL Championship Series. I will say that the odds on the Marlins are quite a bargain. They send lefties to the mound the first two games in Philly, and they could make things difficult for the home team, quickly.
Blue Jays (-114) in the AL: I want to pick the Twins because, let's face it, the current players have nothing to do with the fact this franchise last won a playoff game when Eisenhower was president. (OK, it was 2004. Stop it.) The problem is several key hitters are injured (Byron Buxton, Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa), and even if they play this week, they might not be at full health. I take the Blue Jays, even though the odds aren't so great for a road team, and the Rays in the AL.
Zola: Rays (-180) and Blue Jays (-114): The Rangers certainly played their way in with a strong September, but their first-half offense lived off an unsustainably high batting average with runners in scoring position. I'm also concerned injuries have stripped their rotation of ample quality arms and the bullpen is suspect. The Rays have as many injuries, but they have better bandages and are a team with a style to win in the playoffs. I was really hoping the Twins would be bigger underdogs as I think they could have pulled off the upset, but with the Blue Jays being the slight favorite, the odds flip in their favor. Toronto hasn't played to its full capability all season, and there is no reason to think it'll start now ... well other than "on paper." I'll back "on paper."
Fulghum: Blue Jays (-114) and Phillies (-200). Both of these picks in the Wild Card round come down to decided pitching advantages. For Toronto, Kevin Gausman is a true shut down ace with a dominant 31.1 K% this season. Minnesota's lineup is not only not healthy, but also likes to swing and miss. If the Toronto bats live up to expectation based on name (looking at you George Springer and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.), then they should be able to take this series.
Philadelphia was one of the hottest teams in baseball the second half of the season mainly due to their offense finally starting to click. With Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola providing two starts in this series, I like the Phillies chances of advancing to the NLDS.
World Series matchup predictions
American League champion: Houston (+200), Baltimore (+280), Tampa Bay (+500), Texas (+700), Minnesota (+800), Toronto (+800)
National League champion: Atlanta (+115), Los Angeles (+225), Philadelphia (+675), Milwaukee (+900), Arizona (+1800), Miami (+1800)
Cockcroft: Philadelphia Phillies (+675) and Toronto Blue Jays (+800): The Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers (+950) and Blue Jays have appealing odds in a postseason that could be more of a toss-up than people think. I'll take the Phillies, less of a "dark horse" this year than last but with a stronger roster this year than last, and the Blue Jays, for those odds. It's a 1993 rematch, 30 years later! Joe Carter would be proud. (And Eric would not, of my making the reference.)
Karabell: Philadelphia Phillies (+675) and Tampa Bay Rays (+500): Shockingly, I happen to agree the Phillies have a shot to do what they did a season ago, because they have a solid one-two rotation punch and what looks like the better bullpen than Atlanta. Yes, the Braves hit home runs. They score runs. Ronald Acuna Jr. is awesome. Bryce Harper is pretty good, too. Not surprisingly, I like Philadelphia's odds to represent the NL again. In the AL, I like the Rays. Tampa Bay is a deep team with plenty of its own power and a strong, matchup bullpen. How about a 2008 WS rematch?
Zola: Milwaukee Brewers (+900) and Toronto Blue Jays (+800): Most like to refer to the Brewers' "Big Two." Freddy Peralta begs to differ. Milwaukee's front three can hang with anyone. Sure the Brewers' hitting is pedestrian, but they have enough to score ample runs in playoff baseball, and the bullpen can get the job done. As mentioned previously, the Toronto roster has all the necessary parts; they just need to come together at the right time.
World Series winner
Brave (+275), Dodgers (+475), Astros (+500), Orioles (+650), Rays (+1200), Phillies (+1400), Rangers (+1600), Brewers (+1800), Blue Jays (+1800), Twins (+2000), Diamondbacks (+3000), Marlins (+3300)
Cockcroft: Phillies (+1400): I picked the Braves to win on our baseball pages, but I really like the Phillies' World Series odds -- even more so than I do as simply National League champions. Many of the traits that took this team deep into October last year remain, and the aforementioned flaws that have cropped up for many of the popular contenders -- this year's Dodgers and Astros, for example, are not their 2022 models -- make speculating on a midtier World Series pick (including the Rangers, Brewers or Blue Jays) potentially lucrative.
Karabell: The Phillies and Rays (+1200) stand out as bargains with their odds, as do the Brewers (+1800) and Blue Jays (+1800). Really, a wild-card team can win this World Series. Even the top teams are flawed in some way.
Fulghum: I get the appeal of the Phillies at +1400 based on what they did last postseason and how they closed out the final couple months this regular season, but now that the Astros were able to fall into a wild card bye and added Justin Verlander at the deadline, it seems like they're primed for another deep run. If I was only making one bet in this market, I think it would be Houston at +500.
Zola: To be consistent, this should be one of the teams backed to make the World Series. If my narrative is the Blue Jays (+1800) come together in the postseason, they should be who I back to win the whole thing.
World Series MVP
Cockcroft: Michael Harris II (+3300). Here's where you can get some good value on one of the Braves, my straight-up pick to win it all. Harris was a second-half dynamo, with .325/.356/.522 numbers in 71 games, earning himself higher lineup placement than his previous bottom-of-the-order position in the process. He'll need to shake the memory of what was a forgettable 2022 division series showing (1-for-14, no extra-base hits, two strikeouts). Spencer Strider (+2200), the probable October staff ace, deserves an honorable mention.
Karabell: Well, if I'm going to stubbornly go with the Phillies, then the odds on 1B Bryce Harper (+5000) and SP Zack Wheeler (+7500) seem fitting. Harper had a great October last season, and Wheeler was hardly pleased when he was removed in the sixth inning of Game 6 with a lead, which turned into his loss. Revenge!
Zola: It appears my betting lean is on the Blue Jays, so let's go all-in and back Bo Bichette at (+5000) for the World Series MVP. He does things with some flair and plays shortstop, which can help in a subjective vote, and that gives him the edge over Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (+7500).
Fulghum: Since I like the Astros, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker make a lot of sense at +1000, but Alex Bregman is sitting there at +3300. Don't pass that up if you believe this team is capable of winning it all. Last year, Bregman slashed .294/.379/.568 in 13 postseason games. If he can replicate those numbers, he'll be in the mix. He's already got two rings and an All-Star Game MVP trophy at home so we know he's capable of rising to the occasion.
Other appealing bets
Cockcroft: Devin Williams as postseason saves leader (+1000). The Brewers are sure to be a popular underdog choice this postseason, thanks to their aforementioned rotational top three, but what also makes them compelling on the pitching side is their closer, Williams. As the playoff team that averaged the second-fewest runs per game on offense but with the best ERA, the Brewers will need to win many close games to advance to the title. Williams could play a Mariano Rivera-in-his-heyday critical postseason role for the 2023 Brewers.
Karabell: I do not think the Phillies sweep the Marlins. In fact, with excellent LHP Jesus Luzardo on the mound, Miami's Game 1 odds (+143) are sweet.
Zola: championship-winning league: National (-130): Yes, I know the Blue Jays are in the American League, but those calls were based on the respective team odds. In an either/or, American vs. National when the odds are relatively close, I'll support the league with the stronger overall field, and that's the Senior Circuit.