At the beginning of the offseason we heard that the Detroit Tigers were odds-on favorites to win next year’s World Series, in large part due to the fact that they have an easier road to the playoffs than most. This, it appears, is no longer the case. According to numerous media outlets, oddsmaker Bovado now has the Tigers ranked 5th (in the sense that these represent rankings) behind the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Angels and Nationals. Since those initial odds were released, the Tigers have re-signed Anibal Sanchez and added Torii Hunter – so it clearly isn’t an issue of the Tigers standing still, the Tigers have improved. Why do the Tigers fortunes then seem to be flagging?
Part of this has to be the very real and very large improvements made by some of those teams, particularly the Toronto Blue Jays (who have added Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey among others). The Blue Jays now look like the very real favorites to win baseball’s toughest division, the AL East. The Angels – to me – don’t really look like a better team than they did at the start of the 2012 season or at the 2012 trading deadline, but they clearly look like a better team than they did at the end of October. Though they lost out on their most important free agent target (Zack Greinke) and are going into 2013 with somewhat of a fudge as far as the rotation is concerned, they not only added Josh Hamilton but took him away from their chief divisional rival. The improved odds for the Angels may have as much to do with Texas’ poor offseason as their own good one.
The same argument can probably be made for the rest of the teams that have passed the Tigers – and for the Tigers themselves. The Dodgers did acquire the best free agent out there in Zack Greinke, but their competitors in the division (beyond player retention in San Francisco) haven’t done much. The Nationals did make a few important moves: signing Dan Haren and trading for Denard Span – but a big part of their odds gains must come from the gutting of the Marlins and dumping of Dickey by the Mets, both of which give the Nats an easier road to the playoffs though Florida and New York were both long shots anyway. For the Tigers, part of the decrease in their own odds (and they did drop from 9-1 to 10-1 if I am not mistaken) is probably due to the Royals big push toward relevance. The AL Central might still be the least competitive division in baseball, but it looks to be significantly more competitive than it did a couple of months ago.
The Tigers odd of winning that championship are still fairly good at 10-1, it isn’t as though the Tigers have faded to become or be considered an also-ran or a dark horse. It is somewhat worrying, though, that the Tigers now seem to be considered at best the 3rd strongest team in the American League (and worse than the two most likely NL representatives to the series). It has to seem a little disheartening to Mike Ilitch, to know that his $150 million plus is still a longshot gamble (though it always was).