Plenty of surprising teams are making noise at the midway point of this year’s MLB season. Some of the unlikely challengers won’t sustain their success, but history shows that at least one will hang around for a deep World Series chase.
The 2019 Washington Nationals and 2021 Atlanta Braves are prime examples. Both weren’t dominating at the All-Star break but pushed through to the postseason. After the two got there, they caught fire and won it all. Both show that once a team reaches October, anything can happen. It almost occurred again in 2022 with the Philadelphia Phillies.
This year, multiple clubs are set up to potentially replicate those historic runs. All they have to do is nudge their way into postseason play. Here are our three best sleeper picks for the 2023 MLB World Series.
Miami Marlins: The Fish Aren’t Getting Fried? (+6000, BetRivers)
The Marlins are extremely exciting. It’ll be tough to win the National League East–the Braves are on fire, which hurts their odds–but a top Wild Card spot is clearly attainable.
If Miami’s starting pitching holds strong, it has a chance. Rookie Eury Pérez has dominated outside of a few mishaps. Breakout starters Jesus Luzardo and Braxton Garrett have been tough to beat. If reigning NL Cy Young Sandy Alcantara regains his form, Miami has championship-caliber pitching.
Offensively, the off-season acquisition of Luis Arráez has paid off. The Venezuelan is trying to become the first qualified hitter since Ted Williams to hit over .400. Slugger Jorge Soler has inserted power into the lineup as well, ranking in the top 10 in all of baseball for home runs.
Trading for a catcher would improve their odds. The Marlins’ options haven’t posted an OPS over .600. Look for Miami to target Yan Gomes, Elías Díaz or Salvador Pérez (if he becomes available). But even if the Marlins can’t upgrade, they’ve proven that they can compete.
Cleveland Guardians: Pitching Reigns in Cleveland? (+6500, FanDuel)
The Guardians might be currently hovering around .500, but they have a path to the postseason. The AL Central is not good. Eighty-five wins should be enough to take the division. If they get in, they can win it all.
Cleveland’s offense is struggling–that’s obvious. Going into the All-Star break, the Guardians rank 28th in RBI and dead last in homers. It’s José Ramírez and Josh Naylor against the world. That, at some point, has to change.
The real value with Cleveland is its pitching. The Guardians rank top 10 in ERA and WHIP. Shane Bieber has been reliable: he’s currently their only starter that’s notched more than 75 innings. Youngsters Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams have been rock solid. And we aren’t factoring in Triston McKenzie, who has barely pitched but is expected back in August. If he returns healthy, this rotation has some serious punch. And closer Emmanuel Clase backs it up with heat and 24 saves.
This offense will eventually somewhat fix itself. Factor in the trade deadline, where we expect the Guardians to lean towards buying, and they improve. You bet on Cleveland because of its pitching and hope the offense flips. After all, come playoff time, pitching is king.
Cincinnati Reds: From One of the Worst to First? (+7500, DraftKings)
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. The Cincinnati Reds are considered a potential 2023 MLB World Series squad. This after losing 100 games a year ago.
If the Reds go anywhere, it’s because of their young hitting. Spencer Steer and Matt McLain have both impressed. Jonathan India is playing more like he did when he won Rookie of the Year in 2021. Add it all up and Cincinnati has the third-best OBP of any team and is near the top in runs. And we haven’t even mentioned Elly De La Cruz. The recent call-up is batting over .300 in his rookie season and has taken the league by storm.
This is where things get rough, though. The offense might be hot, but Cincinnati’s pitching is ice-cold. The Reds have one of the worst ERAs in baseball. Hunter Greene may not be back until August due to injury. Three of Cincinnati’s current starters have an ERA over 5.5. The only bright spot is Andrew Abbott, who dominated in his first six MLB starts. The Reds bullpen, headed by Alexis Díaz, has been sound. But relievers can’t see high-leverage situations if the starters don’t help.
The pitching may seem like an indicator that Cincinnati doesn’t belong. But the Reds are in an NL Central race that has mediocre competition. The division is there for the taking. If Cincy does anything, it’s because the young hitters catch lightning in a bottle. And honestly, we’ve seen crazier things happen.
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