Jeff Roberson / Associated Press
Saturday, March 16, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Sports bettors are spoiled at the moment with a variety of games to bet on every day in local casinos. It’s not going to stay that way. March Madness will feel like it wraps up as soon as it starts, and the NBA and NHL playoffs conclude to usher in the annual gambling dry spell. Plan accordingly and don’t get drawn into trying to beat Major League Baseball on a daily basis in June, July and August. The best baseball betting opportunities are available now, with the preseason markets softer than the in-season lines on games. Coming off three straight winning years, here are our annual Major League Baseball win-total best bets, along with a couple of bonus World Series future selections.
• St. Louis Cardinals over 88 wins: Offseason trade acquisition Paul Goldschmidt is the perfect talisman for his new team. The former Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and perennial All-Star does everything well, just like the Cardinals. They appear to be the only team in the National League Central with no discernible weaknesses. The knock against St. Louis might be that they’re similarly lacking any overpowering strengths, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem in a mediocre division. St. Louis might additionally be worth a bet at plus-225 (risking $1 to win $2.25) to win the NL Central.
• Milwaukee Brewers under 86.5 wins: Yes, the Brewers came within a game of reaching the World Series in October, but it was a season in which everything broke right and they peaked going into the playoffs. Those types of campaigns rarely repeat. Some slight regression could be in store for outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, each of whom had career years, and though Milwaukee will still field a potent offense, its real problem comes on the pitching mound. The Brewers’ starting rotation doesn’t merit the team being priced as one of the top National League contenders.
• Colorado Rockies under 84.5 wins: The Rockies' plus-35 run differential this past season indicated they should have won 85 games. Instead, they notched 91 victories and nearly knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first division pennant in franchise history. It was the sort of overperformance that tends to even out over time, a process that should be accelerated with a lesser roster this season. The Rockies lost standout second baseman DJ LeMahieu and go-to reliever Adam Ottavino to the Yankees and are no longer one of the younger teams in the league, with half the starting lineup in their mid-30s. A lot is working against Colorado.
• Tampa Bay Rays under 84.5 wins: It’s easy to be wooed by the sight of a young team with a high ceiling, but it can also be dangerous. Talent doesn’t guarantee a step forward, as it can just easily go the other way while players work through growing pains. There’s not going to be a lot of room for error for Tampa Bay in the American League East. Both the Red Sox and Yankees won at least 100 games last year, and there’s no reason to call for either of them to experience significant downturns. It would be more likely to see the Rays fall from their 90-win perch after not making any upgrades in the offseason.
• Arizona Diamondbacks over 75.5 wins: An exodus of well-known players often causes an overreaction in the betting market. That appears to be what’s happening with the Diamondbacks after they lost Goldschmidt, outfielder A.J. Pollock and starting pitcher Patrick Corbin in free agency. They’re much less exciting without the stars but still solid up and down the roster with a strong rotation anchored by veteran Zack Greinke. It’s no surprise that Arizona’s win total is the farthest removed from preseason analytic forecasts, which peg it closer to a .500 team at 81-81.
• Minnesota Twins under 84 wins: Fading the most popularly bet sleeper is traditionally a winning strategy in the preseason. The Twins appear to fit the role, as their odds to win the World Series and American League have been sliced in half—from 60- and 30-to-1, respectively, to 25- and 12-to-1—and an extra victory has been added to their win total. Bettors seem starved to anoint a team as a threat to the Indians in the American League Central, but Cleveland has no equal. Minnesota was fortunate to win 78 games this past year and is unlikely to get much higher this season.
• Seattle Mariners over 71.5 wins: Here’s the ideal situation to back a young team—when they’re at their lowest asking price. The new-look Mariners might bottom out, but it’s just as feasible they’ll jell and exceed expectations. The most likely scenario falls somewhere in the middle with Seattle posting a mid-70s win total. The Mariners’ range of possibilities is wide, but most of them are above this extremely low number. The lineup is inexperienced, but Seattle has a more veteran starting pitching staff, which should experience positive injury regression after being decimated last season.
• Bets to win the world Series: Yankees and Astros at 6-1. Going with the two favorites isn’t the least bit bold, but that’s where the value rests this year. (Last year’s World Series participants, the Red Sox and Dodgers, are both 7-to-1, in case you’re wondering.) Gamblers are so enamored of the chance at a high payout in the futures that they’ve neglected the teams at the top of the board and left them at a higher-than-merited price. Locking in the two best teams in the league at 6-to-1 apiece is highly appealing and virtually guaranteed to look like a bargain by the time the playoffs start this fall.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.