As we defined over the summer, over the last two decades, over 90 percent of World Series winners have been in the top half of the league in payroll.
Follow the money in a dirty sport with no salary cap. It’s that easy.
Now that we know which teams are in the postseason, the challenge is to decide which high-spending team is going win it all. Six of the 10 playoff teams are in the top half of the league in 2019 payroll:
- New York Yankees: $218 million
- Los Angeles Dodgers: $200 million
- St. Louis Cardinals: $172 million
- Houston Astros: $168 million
- Washington Nationals: $168 million
- Atlanta Braves: $138 million
There’s a very high probability that the 2019 World Series champion will come out of this group. In theory, money buys quality—even for the 25th guy on the roster who might only play one inning in a playoff series. But that 25th guy on the Yankees should be a lot better than that 25th guy on the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that spent just $63 million.
For the record, the Rays became just the second team ever to make the postseason after starting the year with the lowest payroll—after 2018’s Oakland Athletics, who lost to the Yankees in last year’s wild-card game. No surprise, the A’s and their $93 million payroll play the Rays in this year’s American League wild-card game on Wednesday, so the weaklings will have to cannibalize each other to have the honor of facing the Astros.
Of that money-spending group above, only the Nationals have to play in a wild-card game, while the other five teams all won division titles. Washington has a near-$40 million advantage over its wild-card opponent, the Milwaukee Brewers.
[For those keeping track, the missing playoff team in this discussion so far is the Minnesota Twins and their $125 million payroll.]
We know upsets can happen. The 2003 Florida Marlins proved that. But generally, it pays off to pay up in Major League Baseball. The top five betting favorites right now to win the championship are the Astros, the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Braves, and the Cards.
As discussed in another context, the Houston rotation looks very formidable, and the Astros can hit, too. They had the best regular-season record, although that is not usually the way to win it all. Only 13 teams since divisional play began in 1969 have posted the best record and gone on to win the Series, including the Boston Red Sox last year.
That means the ‘Stros may be doomed, because that’s only about 25 percent of the time. We’ve seen some bad teams win the Series, too, teams that maybe should never have even been in the playoffs to start.
The Yankees are too injured, and perhaps the Astros are doomed as the last time the team with the best record won back-to-back Series was in 1975-1976. The Braves, the Cards, and the Nats are too flawed, although anything is possible if a team finds lightning in a bottle.
We’re going with the Dodgers this time around, as they’ve lost the last two World Series. Of course, they’d be making history themselves, as the only time a club lost two straight Series before coming back to win it on the third try was in 1923—and that team had Babe Ruth on it.
Does L.A. have the modern-day equivalent of Babe Ruth on its roster? Only time will tell.
(This is why baseball is such a messed-up sport, you know?)