With the last of the champagne finally poured out following Boston's incredible World Series championship run, it's time to take an early look at the contenders for next year's title. A handful of strong teams face surprisingly long odds, which should generate plenty of bettor interest heading into the season.
Here are three longshots with the best chance to make a run at the championship (odds courtesy LVH):
San Francisco Giants (20-1)
The 2012 champions had a disappointing season, as both their offense and pitching regressed from the year before. The Giants were once again one of the least productive teams in the majors in terms of home runs, finishing with just 107. It didn't help that only one player - outfielder Hunter Pence - appeared in more than 150 games. And while the starting pitching helped guide the team to a 94-win season in 2012, this year's rotation was in tatters from the get-go - Matt Cain (8-10, 4.44 ERA) and Tim Lincecum (10-14, 4.37) were ineffective while the back end struggled to win games. Expect some improvement from Cain and the newly-resigned Lincecum, which should be enough on its own to put the Giants back in contention in the National League West.
Pittsburgh Pirates (25-1)
The emerging Pirates showed the baseball world they're ready to be taken seriously, securing their first playoff berth in more than two decades on the strength of a potent, balanced lineup and strong starting pitching. But Pittsburgh still has some offensive improvements to make if it hopes to emerge as a World Series contender. Four regulars hit below .235 last season, while only two players (Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen) hit more than 20 homers. The pitching staff was a revelation, ranking third in the NL in ERA, and should remain among the league leaders with a strong foundation that includes Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole. The NL Central will be tough as always, but the Pirates have a decent chance of making a run.
Toronto Blue Jays (40-1)
No 2012 contender was as disappointing as the Blue Jays, who entered the season as a World Series favorite but ended it with one of the worst records in the American League. Toronto was ravaged by injuries - three-fifths of the starting rotation and well over half of the opening-day starting lineup spent time on the disabled list - and the team underperformed during its brief spates of reasonably good health. The lineup is still one of the best in the league, and the bullpen was a pleasant surprise despite logging the third-most innings in the league. If the rotation - led by R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow - can avoid the DL, Toronto should find itself in the running in the ultra-competitive AL East.