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Which MLB futures bets actually have a chance at the World Series?
By JOE FORTENBAUGH

Since Major League Baseball transitioned to a 10-team playoff format in 2012, 23 of the 30 (.766) clubs to qualify for the postseason found themselves either on top of their respective divisions or within 2.5 games of the divisional lead on September 1.

Expand that criteria from within 2.5 games of the divisional lead to 5.0 games and you’ll find 27 of the 30 (.900) teams to earn a postseason berth within our data set. During this time frame, the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals made it to the playoffs from further out in the divisional hunt than any other team at a distance of 9.5 games.

We mention these statistics because the dog days of summer have officially concluded and the postseason push has finally commenced. With that in mind, let’s separate the contenders from the pretenders and analyze the upcoming schedules for the clubs with a legitimate shot of winning the World Series.

Playoff probability: Percentage chances of qualifying for the 2015 postseason
World Series probability: Percentage chances of winning the 2015 World Series
*World Series odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
*Playoff and World Series probabilities courtesy of Fangraphs

1. New York Mets (73-58, first in NL East with 6.5-game lead)

Games remaining: 31 (14 home, 17 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .439
Home stretch: 3 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 82.6 percent
World Series probability: 6.1 percent
World Series odds: 6/1

Combine a highly-favorable schedule over the final two months of the regular season with the trade deadline acquisition of centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes and what do you get? In the case of the New York Mets, the result is a month of August that concluded with a 20-8 record with an average of 6.0 runs per game scored.

The Mets are streaking at the moment and will face only three teams over the rest of the season (at Washington, vs. New York Yankees, vs. Washington) with a .500 record or better. No wonder this club has seen its World Series odds plummet from 25/1 to 6/1 in just one month’s time.

2. Washington Nationals (66-64, second in NL East trailing by 6.5 games)

Games remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .460
Home stretch: 3 of 11 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 19.7 percent
World Series probability: 2.6 percent
World Series odds: 25/1

Sure, the Nationals are technically in the postseason hunt and boast a soft schedule to finish up the 2015 campaign, but center fielder Denard Span has been lost for the season (torn labrum) while his teammates have watched a two-game lead in the National League East on July 31 turn into a 6.5-game deficit in just over a month.

With the Pirates and Cubs tearing apart the National League at the moment, the only way for the Nationals to make it into October is via a divisional title, which appears too tall an order with the way the Mets have been playing.

3. San Francisco Giants (69-62, second in NL West trailing by 4.5 games)

Games remaining: 30 (16 home, 14 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .472
Home stretch: 2 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 11.7 percent
World Series probability: 1.0 percent
World Series odds: 20/1

The defending champs are just lying in the weeds at the moment and have the luxury of playing their final seven games of the season within the friendly confines of AT&T Park. Not only that, but right fielder Hunter Pence, second baseman Joe Panik and center fielder Angel Pagan are all expected back in action in the coming weeks.

With the way the Dodgers have let the Orange & Black hang around this season, don’t be surprised if Bruce Bochy’s crew delivers yet another strong finishing kick in the month of September.

4. Kansas City Royals (80-50, first in AL Central with 13-game lead)

Games remaining: 32 (15 home, 17 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .486
Home stretch: 2 of 11 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 100.0 percent
World Series probability: 10.4 percent
World Series odds: 7/2

They were 90 feet away from a championship last fall, own Major League Baseball’s second-best bullpen, boast a bona fide ace in former Cincinnati Red Johnny Cueto and find themselves 13 games up in the American League Central with just one month to play.

But between the recent surge exhibited by the Toronto Blue Jays along with the short price of 7/2 to win the World Series, this isn’t exactly the most tempting play on the board.

5. Texas Rangers (68-62, second in AL West trailing by 4 games)

Games remaining: 32 (17 home, 15 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .487
Home stretch: 4 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 59.2 percent
World Series probability: 3.1 percent
World Series odds: 16/1

A wild card berth seems plausible thanks to the trade deadline acquisition of starting pitcher Cole Hamels, but do you trust this franchise to advance to the American League Divisional Series and then knock off either Toronto or Kansas City? Yeah, me neither.

6. Houston Astros (73-59, first in AL West with 3.5-game lead)

Games remaining: 30 (14 home, 16 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .487
Home stretch: 5 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 95.2 percent
World Series probability: 10.7 percent
World Series odds: 9/1

It’s been a hell of a ride for a city that has witnessed some of the worst baseball in the sport’s history over the last decade, but it still feels as if the Astros are a year or two away from a serious World Series push. However, a rotation that features Dallas Keuchel and Scott Kazmir along with a Top-12 offense has to at least command some respect from the betting public.

7. Toronto Blue Jays (74-57, first in AL East with 1.5-game lead)

Games remaining: 31 (14 home, 17 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .492
Home stretch: 2 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 99.5 percent
World Series probability: 13.3 percent
World Series odds: 5/1

Have you seen this lineup? Did you notice the franchise-record 21 wins in the month of August? Between a legitimate frontline ace in David Price and an offense that has paved the way for an MLB-leading plus-191 run differential, there’s no hotter team in all the land than the Toronto Blue Jays.

8. St. Louis Cardinals (85-46, first in NL Central with 5-game lead)

Games remaining: 31 (15 home, 16 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .492
Home stretch: 5 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 100.0 percent
World Series probability: 10.5 percent
World Series odds: 6/1

There is absolutely nothing that can derail this team from qualifying for the playoffs. The Cardinals own not only MLB’s top-rated starting rotation in terms of earned run average (2.79), but the club also features the lowest bullpen ERA in baseball at 2.33. At 6/1, this is a far more attractive futures wager than laying 7/2 on Kansas City or 7/1 on the playoff-inept Dodgers.

9. Los Angeles Dodgers (73-57, first in NL West with 4.5-game lead)

Games remaining: 31 (14 home, 17 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .493
Home stretch: 4 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 91.1 percent
World Series probability: 20.0 percent
World Series odds: 7/1

Between the injuries, overall dysfunction and flammable bullpen (4.04 ERA, 23rd in MLB), 7/1 is far too short a price to lay Don Mattingly’s Dodgers. A $300 million bankroll can buy you a lot of recognition, but it can’t guarantee that three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw finds a way to exorcise his postseason demons.

10. Pittsburgh Pirates (79-50, second in NL Central trailing by 5 games)

Games remaining: 33 (14 home, 19 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .501
Home stretch: 5 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 99.9 percent
World Series probability: 7.8 percent
World Series odds: 10/1

They’ve got the makeup of a legitimate contender that can go toe-to-toe with anybody in baseball, but you can’t help but feel at least a slight bit of trepidation in the fact that Pittsburgh may need to beat the red-hot Chicago Cubs just for a shot at the National League Divisional Series.

11. New York Yankees (72-58, second in AL East trailing by 1.5 games)

Games remaining: 32 (18 home, 14 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .504
Home stretch: 3 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 96.3 percent
World Series probability: 7.1 percent
World Series odds: 12/1

The pinstripes rank second in run production and 10th in bullpen ERA this season, but a starting rotation that ranks 20th in the major leagues in earned run average is a serious concern as October approaches.

12. Los Angeles Angels (65-66, third in AL West trailing by 7.5 games)

Games remaining: 31 (15 home, 16 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .504
Home stretch: 6 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 16.3 percent
World Series probability: 0.9 percent
World Series odds: 40/1

Perhaps the Halos find a way to close strong and make the playoffs, but an offense that ranks 23rd in runs per game isn’t going to get anybody all hot and bothered.

13. Chicago Cubs (74-56, third in NL Central trailing by 10.5 games)

Games remaining: 32 (15 home, 17 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .507
Home stretch: 5 of 11 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 94.7 percent
World Series probability: 5.6 percent
World Series odds: 14/1

Similar to Houston in the sense that they’re apparently ready to contend a year or two early while also similar to Pittsburgh in that they’ll have to win an ultra-difficult wild card game in order to advance to the NLDS. Still, we can’t blame you for backing the fan-friendly Cubs and ace Jake Arrieta at the reasonable price of 14/1.

14. Minnesota Twins (67-63, second in AL Central trailing by 13 games)

Games remaining: 32 (16 home, 16 road)
Opponent’s winning percentage: .511
Home stretch: 4 of 10 opponents with .500 or better record
Playoff probability: 15.9 percent
World Series probability: 0.2 percent
World Series odds: 40/1

They’ve done a lot with a little and have a very bright future thanks to young talent like second baseman Brian Dozier, but the Twins have nowhere near the arsenal necessary to contend with the powerhouse clubs of the American League like Kansas City, Toronto and Houston.