Last week, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas became the first sportsbook to release projected win totals for the upcoming 2019 Major League Baseball season. The numbers came over a month earlier than they did prior to the 2018 season. Perhaps even oddsmakers have grown bored of this unexciting MLB hot stove season.
Of course, these numbers are going to shift quite a bit over the next several weeks until the regular season actually gets underway in March. There are still a number of big-name free agents out there, including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Obviously, whichever teams wind up signing Harper, Machado and any of the other difference-makers still on the market will see their projected win totals adjusted accordingly.
So, that makes betting on such a thing a tricky endeavor with still so much to be determined. Still, with so little baseball news to digest these days, we might as well kill some time by trying to make some predictions, anyway. Using the Caesars projections, let’s dive into a few over/under bets as we get closer to the 2019 MLB campaign.
Houston Astros (Over/Under 97 ½ Wins)
The Astros were beaten in 5 games by the Boston Red Sox in last season’s American League Championship Series. That was a shocking result, especially considering the Astros went up to Boston and took Game 1 at Fenway. The Sox caught fire after that and stormed their way to their fourth World Series title in the last 14 years.
That disappointing finish hasn’t negatively impacted oddsmakers’ opinions of the Astros, it seems. Houston is projected to win 97 ½ games by Caesars next season, which gives them the highest projected total of any of the league’s 30 teams.
Houston, like many teams, hasn’t been all that active this winter. The Astros are still expected to tinker with the roster prior to spring training, but their most noteworthy additions so far are infielder Aledmys Diaz, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and outfielder Michael Brantley.
The most notable departure to this point is catcher Brian McCann, though starter Dallas Keuchel and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez are still free agents. The Astros are not expected to retain either of them, but we’ll see what happens there.
The signing of Brantley gave the Astros a much-needed left-handed power bat to put into the lineup. Houston was pretty righty-heavy to begin with, with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa each exclusively swinging the bat from the right side. Brantley, Josh Reddick, and prospect Kyle Tucker give the Astros some capable left-handed hitters, which gives the lineup better balance.
The Astros were baseball’s best pitching staff last season. The Astros’ 3.11 ERA as a team was the best mark in baseball by a huge margin, as the Dodgers’ 3.40 mark ranked a distant second. The likely loss of Keuchel puts a hole in the rotation, but Houston has enough depth to replace him.
Collin McHugh is expected to rejoin the rotation, but they also have arguably baseball’s best pitching prospect, Forrest Whitley, waiting in the wings. With Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole still headlining the rotation, the Astros won’t miss a beat.
The Astros won a franchise record 103 games last year. In 2017, the year they won the World Series, Houston won 101 games. The rest of the division is nothing special at all, so there is little reason to expect Houston won’t top the American League West for the third year in a row. Barring some sort of calamitous injury situation, this is still an exceptional baseball team.
Cleveland Indians (91 ½ Wins)
The Indians present an interesting case. The Tribe have breezed their way to the AL Central title in each of the last 3 seasons amid very little competition. The division may have been the worst in baseball last year, so the Indians were able to win it by a whopping 13 games despite winning 91 games during the regular season.
Until a new challenger emerges, the only logical thing to do is to keep projecting the Indians to win the AL Central. Despite having one of the more stacked rosters in the game, the Tribe was swept easily in the ALDS by the Astros last fall.
How the Indians will look on Opening Day remains to be seen. Brantley has already left for Houston, while Andrew Miller, the star reliever who propelled the Indians to a World Series berth in 2016, is now a member of the Cardinals. Cleveland inked Carlos Carrasco to a nice contract extension, but the team is reportedly fielding trade offers for Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer.
There is enough smoke around the Kluber rumors to where I believe he’ll be wearing another uniform once March rolls around. Losing one of the best starters in baseball without an obvious readymade replacement to come fill in will hurt this team considerably.
The Indians also lost Yonder Alonso, but he was replaced by Carlos Santana. I’m not convinced Santana is as good as his contract, but he’s at least comparable in terms of production to Alonso.
The outfield is another issue. As of this writing, the Indians’ starting outfield looks like it’ll be Tyler Naquin, Leonys Martin, and Greg Allen. Jason Kipnis may moonlight in the outfield at times, too. They could still make a move for someone like Adam Jones, but until they actually fix this situation I’m not all that bullish on their lineup heading into next season.
Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are good enough hitters to cure plenty of ills, but 1-through-9 this offense clearly isn’t as potent as teams like Houston, New York or Boston in the American League. Even Oakland has a more imposing lineup. Could the Indians still win more than 91 games due to the sheer awfulness of the Central? Absolutely.
That said, I’m not buying it. Not yet, at least. I’ll do an updated version of this article later in the spring after some of the free agency dust has settled, but for now, I’m taking the under on 91 ½ wins for Cleveland in ‘19.
Chicago Cubs (89 Wins)
When the Cubs won the 2016 World Series I thought they were headed for a dynasty. Chicago has made it to the postseason in each of the 2 years since, but at no time during either season did they look as scary as they did in ‘16 when they were clearly the best team baseball had to offer.
The Cubs still made it to the playoffs last year as a Wild Card, but they had to scrape and claw just to get that far before being beaten at home by the Rockies in the Wild Card Game. Kris Bryant struggled with injuries all year long, while 2 of the team’s big free agent acquisitions, Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, were awful amid injury-plagued seasons of their own.
In spite of everything that went wrong, the Cubs still won 95 games a season ago. For 90 percent of the teams in baseball, winning 95 games in a season is an outstanding accomplishment. For the Cubs, though, that was a little underwhelming.
For whatever reason, the offense routinely sputtered a season ago. Chicago still plated 761 runs in 2018, but they ran hot and cold. With Bryant reportedly fully healthy heading into spring training this year, I’m expecting the 2016 NL MVP to round back into form. With all of the young stars in the game today, it’s easy to forget that Bryant was the talk of the league just 3 years ago.
Between Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs have plenty of thunder. But can they pitch? Aside from the injuries to Darvish and the struggles for Chatwood, the Cubs also got a lackluster season out of Jon Lester.
Cole Hamels was a godsend after coming over from the Rangers at the trade deadline, but can the 35-year-old keep it up for another full season? Jose Quintana has been a disappointment since coming across town from the White Sox in 2017, too.
The Cubs haven’t done much of anything this offseason. It stands to reason that the team’s brass believes the team is good enough to win it all as presently constructed. I’m not at all sold on the pitching, but there are enough starters with long enough track records here to where they should be an above-average starting staff, at worst.
I’m bullish on the Cubs heading into 2019. I think they’ll be hungry to reassert themselves as one of the game’s truly elite teams after a couple of subpar seasons (by their standards). The Milwaukee Brewers present a strong rival for them, but 89 wins for the Cubs just looks like a low projection.
Washington Nationals (88 ½ Wins)
At least the Cubs made it to the playoffs in their “disappointing” 2018 season. No team in the majors was a bigger letdown than the Washington Nationals, however. The Nationals have as much talent as any team other than the Astros, yet this club somehow went just 82-80 last season.
The Nats were never able to string together a hot enough month to get out in front of the division, which was eventually won by the Braves.
The biggest question facing the Nationals this offseason still surrounds Bryce Harper. Harper, who has been the team’s face for most of the last decade, is the most sought-after free agent on the market this winter. The 26-year-old reportedly turned down a 10-year offer worth $300 million from Washington earlier this offseason. Harper thought he would get a more lucrative offer once he hit the market.
Well…we’re now halfway into January and we’re still waiting on Harper to make a decision. The Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox have been the teams most often linked with Harper, but no word of any concrete offer from either team has been reported. In fact, some believe the Nationals are still very much alive in the race to land his signature.
Regardless of whether Harper comes back, I think the Nationals will bounce back ain 2019. Harper would be the best hitter on the team if he returns, but it’s not like he’s all they would have. Juan Soto got overshadowed by Ronald Acuna Jr. last season, but Soto quietly put together one of the most prolific rookie seasons of any hitter in recent memory.
Soto didn’t even turn 20 until late last October. Even without Harper, the Nationals have a prolific outfield that also features Adam Eaton and another young phenom in Victor Robles. On the infield, the Nats have big bats like Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman and Trea Turner.
The biggest move (so far) for Washington has been the signing of left-handed starter Patrick Corbin.
Corbin will join a rotation that already features a couple of perennial Cy Young contenders in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The back of the rotation is dicier – Anibal Sanchez and Joe Ross look like their Nos. 4 and 5 starters – but the Nationals have enough on-paper talent to win the World Series, even if Harper does leave for greener pastures.
The 88 ½ projected win total is just too low. I know they were a disappointing team last season, but they’re just too good to be that mediocre again over the course of a 162-game season. The total is going to climb if they sign Harper, so I’d be getting in on this right now while you still can.
Tampa Bay Rays (85 ½ Wins)
While the Nationals were the most disappointing team in the league last year, the most surprising team had to be the Tampa Bay Rays. Last winter, the Rays seemingly lost all of their big league talent. Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Tim Beckham, Evan Longoria, and Brad Boxberger all left the Rays last offseason.
The exodus even continued into the regular season when guys like Chris Archer, Alex Colome, and Wilson Ramos were traded. In spite of all of that, manager Kevin Cash still led this team to 90 wins in 2018.
90 wins wasn’t enough to make the playoffs in the hotly-contested American League, but the fact that they managed to win that many games despite a massive roster shuffle was nothing short of amazing.
The Rays won’t be sneaking up on anybody in 2019, though. Caesars has Tampa Bay projected for 85 ½ wins this season, which is a pretty hefty total.
The Rays were something of an experiment last season. Cash was the first manager to use the “opener,” which was a concept that was quickly copied by a number of other teams around baseball, most notably the Brewers. Cash would deploy a reliever to pitch the first inning against the top of the opposing team’s order. He would then bring in a starter (or long reliever) to pitch the next 4-5 innings.
The move worked wonders, but it remains to be seen whether that kind of success can be duplicated. The Rays had the sixth-best team ERA (3.75) in the majors last season despite not having any ace-caliber pitcher beyond Blake Snell. Snell came out of nowhere to win the AL’s Cy Young last season, but their talent beyond that is suspect.
Tampa’s lineup isn’t much on paper, either. Very few hitters in the order are proven at the big league level, so I’m not fully buying the notion that this team is ready to contend in the AL East again. As much as I loved Tampa Bay’s story last season, I am getting the feeling that their 90 wins were more anomalous than anything else.
Cash is a great manager, and maybe that alone will be enough to help this team contend for a postseason berth again in 2019. I’m just not buying it. They still have to deal with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East, and it remains to be seen whether the opener fad is a sustainable trend or a flash in the pan.