Theo Epstein must be doing something right. After breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat and building a World Series winner for the Chicago Cubs, Epstein has been named the greatest leader in the world by Fortune magazine. Pope Francis is third on their Top 50 list. Angela Merkel (No. 10) and Justin Trudeau (No. 31) are eating Epstein’s dust.
Epstein responded to Thursday’s publication with typical modesty, pointing out how close Chicago was to losing the 2016 World Series – and how much luck is involved in baseball. But that’s why they call it fortune. The important thing here is that Epstein used the same Moneyball tools that broke the Curse of the Bambino for the Boston Red Sox, and built the Cubs to contend for multiple championships down the line. Boston and Chicago head into the 2017 campaign as +450 co-favorites on the World Series futures market. While the Red Sox face a stiff challenge getting out of the American League, the Cubs are +175 favorites for the National League pennant, ahead of the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers at +500.
There isn’t much competition for the Cubs (103-58, +2.99 units last year) in the NL Central. Even if the champions aren’t likely to match last year’s win total, none of the remaining four teams are expected to put up much of a fight. The St. Louis Cardinals (86-76, –6.49 units) and Pittsburgh Pirates (78-83, –13.78 units) have both taken steps back in talent level, and the Pirates in particular are hamstrung by their low payroll. That leaves the Cards as Chicago’s top divisional threat at +1100 to win the NL pennant.
The Nationals (95-67, +0.27 units) have the shortest odds coming out of the NL East, but they look like they’ll be in a tight two-horse race with the New York Mets (87-75, –7.55 units), who are priced at +800 for the pennant. Injuries and inconsistency have dogged both teams, and the Mets really took one on the chin last year with their pitching staff. Some “regression” can be expected in that area for New York. Matt Harvey (3.47 FIP) is ready for Opening Day, although Zach Wheeler (3.55 FIP) will probably start the season in the bullpen after a rough spring.
The biggest obstacle ahead of Chicago’s road to the World Series will probably come from the NL West. The Dodgers (91-71, –6.37 units) are projected to win more games than anyone else on the senior circuit, and the betting lines have the San Francisco Giants (87-75, –7.54 units) close behind at +600 to overtake the Cubs for the pennant. Both teams made the playoffs last year; the Dodgers beat Washington in the NLDS, while the Giants took down New York in the Wild Card round. Either one would make a worthy champion – and San Francisco has already done it three times this decade. It took the Cubs 140 years to win their third World Series.
*Odds as of March 24, 2017