Baseball tends to be more predictable than some of the other major American pro sports. While we generally have a decent idea of who will win the NBA title or compete for a Super Bowl berth, the general randomness of America’s Pastime can lead to some surprises. Look no further than last season, when the Washington Nationals failed to qualify for the postseason despite having one of the game’s most talented rosters.
We are only about a week into the 2019 Major League Baseball season, so there is still obviously a long way to go before the World Series starts in October. Drawing conclusions after just a handful of games is generally a dangerous practice. However, it’s hard not to raise your eyebrows when you look at the standings and see that the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees have a combined record of 7-18 through the first week of the season.
If you placed preseason bets on any of these teams to win the World Series, don’t fret. There is still a looooot of baseball left to be played. There’s a reason the season spans 162 games. These contenders may have their respective issues, but I wouldn’t be looking to hedge my bets on any of them so early in the year.
On the flip side, we have had some teams with low preseason expectations come out of the gates on fire. The Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers have gotten off to pretty impressive starts. Will any of them keep it up? And, more importantly, are any of them worthwhile sleeper betting options moving forward?
What’s Up in the AL West?
The AL West standings look upside down at the moment. The Mariners are a ridiculous 7-1 to start the season, with the lone loss coming in a game in which they gave up a game-winning home run to Mitch Moreland in the top of the 9th inning. They’re just a couple of outs from still being undefeated. Meanwhile, the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros are just 2-5. What gives?
Betting odds change all the time, but oddsmakers aren’t letting a few games change their minds about how this division will ultimately play out. Houston remains a heavy -400 favorite (per BetOnline) to win the AL West. However, the Mariners have seen a huge uptick, going from +1500 before the season all the way up to +700. Those +700 odds give Seattle the second-best chances of winning the AL West, though they’re still well behind the Astros.
The Rangers, despite a 4-2 start of their own, still have the lowest odds at +2000 to win the West. The Angels are at +1400, while the Athletics are sitting at +800.
Seattle has started well thanks in large part to their offense. The Mariners have scored an MLB-high 56 runs through 8 games, and their 17 home runs to this point is second behind the L.A. Dodgers. Domingo Santana, Jay Bruce, and Tim Beckham have each hit 3 long balls. Interestingly, none of these guys was even on the Mariners’ roster a season ago.
There are plenty of concerns with the starting rotation, however. Marco Gonzales is a fine pitcher, but if he’s your ace you’re probably not going to make much noise come October. Rookie Yusei Kikuchi is a bit of a wild card, while the other 3 spots are occupied by a watered-down version of Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, and Wade LeBlanc. It’s far from the worst staff in baseball, but there’s not a ton of upside with this group.
I don’t think it’s a hot take to say that the Mariners will slow down eventually. There’s definitely an outside chance that this team can sneak its way to a Wild Card berth, but asking them to win the division at +700 is a tall order.
The Rangers are a team with plenty of talent, and I got the feeling that people were sleeping on them a little bit prior to the season. The starting rotation is filled with experiments, which is probably why people were bearish on them. Drew Smyly and Edinson Volquez both missed the entire 2018 season. Shelby Miller has been a disaster for the last few years. The 2 best pitchers, Mike Minor, and Lance Lynn, are above league average at best.
Still, this team has tons of power, and if the pitching can remain somewhat respectable I do think this is a team that can surprise some folks as the season progresses. The pitching is scary, but if everything breaks right there’s no reason to believe the staff can’t be successful. All 5 guys have some pedigree. It’s mostly a matter of whether they can stay healthy.
I don’t think Texas can win the AL West, but I do like their chances of finishing ahead of Seattle in the standings.
As for the Astros, this is just a blip on the radar. They faced a tough Rays’ pitching staff in the first series of the season, and followed that up by dropping 2 of 3 against the Rangers in Arlington. Going home to Minute Maid Park for the first time should help, and this roster is just too stacked to stay down for long.
Assuming guys like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are back to full strength, there’s no reason to think the early-season slump will be anything to worry about. There’s no real point in betting on the Astros at -400 to win the division, but I’m still bullish on the Astros’ championship chances. So, betting on Houston to win it all at +800 is still an outstanding idea.
Yankees and Red Sox Faltering?
Prior to the season, the Yankees and Red Sox were the 2 odds-on favorites to win it all in 2019. The Red Sox are coming off of their fourth world championship since 2004, while the Yankees added to what was already an incredibly talented roster over the winter. Both teams won over 100 games a season ago, so why shouldn’t they be right back at the top of the standings again this season?
New York dropped 2 of 3 to the lowly Orioles in the first series of the year and followed that up by losing 2 of 3 to what should be a bad Tigers team. New York has also already had to put Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki on the injured list. Not exactly an ideal start for the Bronx Bombers.
Regardless, they should be able to keep their heads above water. The Yankees boast the game’s most talented pitching staff top-to-bottom, and the starting pitching to this point, even without Luis Severino, has been fine. The offense has been a relative disappointment, but this team also led baseball in home runs in 2018. They’ll get it in order.
As for the Red Sox, I’m less optimistic about their chances at repeating as World Series champs. Boston has the offense, of course, but the bullpen is a major question mark at this point.
I stated in the linked article above that I preferred the Yankees to the Red Sox among World Series bets, and I stand by it. New York’s early-season troubles don’t seem to be much to worry about. The Sox have had issues of their own, but it’s not like I think they’re a bad bet at +800 to win it all again.
New York is listed at +125 to win the AL East, right ahead of Boston at +150. Both teams are near locks to make the playoffs, but I’m much more interested in betting on the Yankees there.
What About the Cubs?
The Astros, Red Sox and Yankees will all be fine. The Cubs, however, have a more concerning situation. Chicago went into Arlington and lost their first series against the Rangers before struggling in their second series against the Braves.
The big issue for Chicago to this point has been the bullpen. Chicago’s bullpen owns a collective ERA of 8.83 at the time of this writing, and they have already blown 3 saves. We’ve seen the importance of having a dominant bullpen in recent years, and this iteration of the Cubs just doesn’t have it.
There also just isn’t as much talent on the roster as there was when Chicago won the 2016 World Series. The pitching rotation has a number of question marks, most notably Jon Lester and Yu Darvish. Lester’s underlying numbers last season were downright bad, while Darvish hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy. Even when healthy, he has been wildly inconsistent for the last couple of years.
While the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox have some weaklings in their respective divisions, the same can’t be said of the Cubs. Chicago’s division has a bevy of talent, and all 5 teams are honestly capable of ultimately coming out on top. The Brewers came to within a game of the World Series last fall, while the Cardinals added to a strong lineup by trading for All-Star Paul Goldschmidt.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati may still be a year or 2 away, but they’re not doormats, either. Divisional games are going to be difficult all year for Chicago, and they have the toughest road to the playoffs as a result. I’m just not big on the Cubs, so they’re a bet to avoid across the board. Pass on the Cubs to win the NL Central at +275, and definitely pass on them to win it all at +1600.
Of course, it’s way too early to panic if you happen to have a betting option on any team. The Major League season is a lengthy grind, so every team is going to endure its fair share of ups and downs over the summer. Patience is a virtue when it comes to betting on baseball, so I wouldn’t get too high or too down about anyone bet, especially considering it’s still early April.
Houston, New York, and Boston will figure it out. Seattle will come back down to earth, while Texas could make for a sneaky betting option if you’re feeling frisky. I’m jumping ship on the Chicago Cubs. It’s obviously not impossible for them to figure it out eventually, but a shaky start is confirming some of the trepidation I had about them prior to the beginning of the season.