Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, March 28, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Betting baseball is a grind most recreational bettors aren’t cut out for.
Much like it does for the players, the 162-game Major League Baseball schedule requires gamblers give daily dedication and uninterrupted focus. There’s a popular way to cheat the system, however, and it’s getting more popular every year.
Over/under win totals provide an opportunity for bettors to place wagers before the season that keep them in action for six months. And it’s not too late, as a few days remain before the MLB season starts in earnest and the lines disappear from betting boards.
For the first time since 2011 — when I went 4-1 on the exercise — Talking Points scoured the numbers to present some best bets. Below you’ll find my four favorite overs and four favorite unders — a repeat of this year’s NBA format that seems to have worked out well — as well as a slide with the remaining numbers.
Atlanta Braves under 87 wins
The Braves’ offense was a wreck at times last season, largely due to B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla contributing historically incompetent campaigns.
Pitching was the only repair as Atlanta allowed 29 fewer runs than any other team in the majors. There’s no way the Braves’ staff can repeat in 2014, not with the rash of injuries that’s already struck.
Two projected members of the rotation, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, are out for the year while two more, Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd, won’t be ready for the start of the season. The situation is so dire that Atlanta signed 35-year-old Aaron Harang, whom the Indians released, earlier this week and immediately named him its No. 3 starter.
The bullpen was likely to regress after a year where it led the league in every major category before injuries started to pile up.
It’s going to be necessary for the bats to return the favor from last year and carry the team. But it’s not necessarily possible.
Baltimore Orioles under 81 wins
Based on line movement, the Orioles are the most popular over bet at the LVH Superbook in the last month.
Their win total rose by three games since late February, generating value on the other side. Seventy-eight wins looked feasible, but a smidge optimistic.
Eighty-one victories looks asinine with this pitching staff. Baltimore’s big offseason splurge was on Ubaldo Jimenez, who had resurgence with Cleveland last year to record his first serviceable season in three years.
But who’s to say last year was the norm and not the outlier for the now 30-year-old veteran? Even if Jimenez delivers for the Orioles, it’s difficult to place too much trust in the hands of Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez.
It’s also tough to ask the offense to stay as prolific as it was in 2013.
The reigning homerun champion, first baseman Chris Davis, was merely human in the second half of last season after channeling the spirit of Babe Ruth before the All-Star break. Breakout star Manny Machado, third baseman, will start the season on the disabled list. Catcher Matt Wieters strikes out too often.
This team has too many warts to call for them to finish above .500 for the third straight year.
Cincinnati Reds over 84 wins
All the attention is elsewhere in the National League Central.
It’s with the Saint Louis Cardinals, which made their second World Series in three years last season. It’s with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which broke through to make the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. It’s with the Milwaukee Brewers, which are writing another chapter in the Ryan Braun saga.
It leaves the division’s only team to win 90 games in three of the past four years dangerously discounted. The loss of Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the order is a hit, but his replacement Billy Hamilton could lead the league in steals as a rookie.
Half of the remaining lineup is 28-years-old or younger and entering their primes, meaning a couple breakout or career years are likely. And that doesn’t include 30-year-old Joey Votto, one of the best pure hitters in baseball.
There’s more youth in the rotation, where none of the top four starters are older than 30. Johnny Cueto looks healthy. Homer Bailey has thrown a no-hitter in each of the last two seasons. Tony Cingrani and Mike Leaker have looked like potential aces at times.
Look past the Reds no more.
Detroit Tigers under 90 wins
Taking the teams with win totals of more than 90 games to go under is traditionally a moneymaking strategy.
Last year, for example, four of five teams that oddsmakers called to eclipse the lofty number fell short. There are only three with the distinction before this season.
Not wanting to fade the Dodgers, over/under 95 wins, or the Nationals, over/under 90 wins, leaves the Tigers as the only possibility. And quite an attractive possibility.
A case can be made that each of the four other teams in the American League Central have improved. Three of the four, all except for the White Sox, boast higher win totals than they did a season ago.
That comes at the expense of the Tigers, which no longer have the red carpet rolled out in front of them to march to a fourth straight divisional title. They’re still a minus-250 favorite to win the division, but those odds are trimmed in half from last year.
Their record won’t suffer that much, but reaching the 90-game plateau is asking a lot.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over 87.5 wins
The overwhelming support that saw the Angels become the most bet-on team of the last two pre-seasons has suddenly evaporated.
Their win total has stagnated at 87.5 games. Their odds to win the World Series have actually boosted from 14- to 16-to-1.
Sounds like the perfect time to jump aboard. The Angels have the same core as the team that bettors tripped over each other to bet over 92.5 wins in 2012.
They fell a forgivable three games short that year. Anaheim underachieved far more drastically last season, winning only 78 games, but had a run differential of minus-4 that’s more befitting of a.500 squad.
That evening out combined with the fair assumption that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton will contribute more than in career down-years last season could pay major dividends. Additionally, the Angels have three young starters at the back of the rotation, a potential sparkplug leading off in Kole Calhoun and a promising new third-baseman in David Freese. Oh, and there’s Mike Trout, the best player in baseball.
The Angels might have saved the season everyone’s anticipated for when they’re least expecting it.
New York Yankees under 86 wins
God bless the diehard nature and unwavering confidence of Yankee Nation.
The widespread fan base is to thank for this win total not moving from where it opened, which is all too high. No advanced-metric projections have the Yankees sniffing this many wins in 2014.
Nothing on this roster validates the most storied franchise in baseball history coming into the season as one of the top five World Series favorites at 12-to-1.
Without a single player younger than 30-years old, the starting lineup is the most injury-prone in the league. The bullpen is in disarray.
The starters are the wild card, as they could make one of the strongest staffs or one of the weakest depending on how a few things play out. If C.C. Sabathia regains what he lost last year, Masahiro Tanaka proves up to the task of improved competition and Michael Pineda uses his potential to break out, then the Yankees could be scary.
But that’s a lot of “ifs.” Leave betting on the Yankees to their fans.
San Diego Padres over 78 wins
The Padres have rushed past their win total with strong second halves in each of the last two seasons.
Imagine what they could do playing a whole season like that. It’s not as far-fetched as the betting market, which has bet San Diego’s win total down a game, is making it.
San Diego is exactly the kind of team worth taking a stab on with an over bet. It’s compromised of young pieces that could coalesce together and plays in what looks like a weak National League West division behind the juggernaut Dodgers.
Everth Cabrera and Will Venable form one of the most underrated top-of-the-order one-two punches in baseball. Jedd Gyorko supplied power with 23 homeruns in his rookie season.
Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults and Tyson Ross are all promising young starters. Some thought the Padres should have done more to bolster themselves during the offseason, but there’s something to be said for a forward-thinking front office trusting in what they have.
Toronto Blue Jays over 80 wins
The blog took wins from the Orioles and Yankees in earlier slides that have to go somewhere. Here’s to guessing they’ll wind up with the American League East rival Blue Jays.
It’s easy to forget that, at this time last year, odds favored the Blue Jays to win the East. Without any major departures or changes, Toronto is now the longest shot in baseball’s most scrutinized division at 15-to-1.
The Blue Jays aren’t anywhere near that far behind the competition. They posted a dreadful 74 victories a year ago, but the most significant reason for the underwhelming season was bad luck.
The top seven batters in their order all missed extended time with injuries. The starting pitching was atrocious, but the bullpen was among the major’s best.
Acquisitions like Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and R.A. Dickey don’t go from making Toronto a World Series contender one year to a bottom-feeder the next. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, somewhere around a .500 record or better.
Lines for the remaining 22 teams
Arizona — 78.5
Boston — 87.5
Chicago Cubs — 69.5
Chicago White Sox — 75.5
Cleveland — 81
Colorado — 76
Houston — 63
Kansas City — 82.5
Los Angeles Dodgers — 95
Miami — 70
Milwaukee — 79.5
Minnesota — 70.5
New York Mets — 74.5
Oakland — 87.5
Philadelphia — 74
Pittsburgh — 83.5
San Francisco — 85.5
Seattle — 80.5
Saint Louis — 91.5
Tampa Bay — 88.5
Texas — 86.5
Washington — 90