MLB Betting: Will the Dodgers Top the Wild National League West?
Prior to the beginning of the regular season, most would have told you that the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, who squared off last fall in an epic World Series, would cruise to their respective division titles. The Astros seemingly upgraded their championship roster by adding ace Gerrit Cole to an already-loaded rotation, while the Dodgers boasted as much organizational depth as any team in the majors. Challenging either team for a divisional crown looked like a long shot, at best.
Well, now that we’re in August, it’s clear that neither team will have an easy path to the postseason. Entering play on August 13, the defending champions hold a narrow 2.5-game lead over the Oakland A’s for the top spot in the AL West, with the Seattle Mariners lurking 4 games out. The Dodgers, meanwhile, find themselves in second place in the NL West, a game adrift of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Colorado Rockies are just a half-game behind Los Angeles. The Astros and Dodgers are still favored to top their respective divisions, but they won’t breeze their way to the finish line like they did in 2017.
While some divisional races look all but over with, some are still very much up in the air. Which teams will punch their tickets to the postseason by winning their divisions?
Odds to Win American League East
- Boston Red Sox -3000
- New York Yankees +1500
The Yankees and Red Sox have been engaged in a heated battle atop the American League East all season long. However, the BoSox were able to put some distance between themselves and their hated rivals by securing a 4-game sweep over the Bronx Bombers in a series at Fenway Park in early August. While the Yankees have rebounded by going 6-1 since the embarrassing series in Boston, the Red Sox still hold a healthy 9.5-game edge on the Yanks.
There is still time for the Yankees to make up that ground, but it would take a monumental collapse at this point for the Sox to cede the top spot. The Red Sox are massive favorites at -3000, and with good reason. I wouldn’t bother tempting fate by punting on the Yankees at +1500 here. It’s looking like Aaron Boone’s men will have to settle for a Wild Card spot.
Odds to Win American League West
- Houston Astros -700
- Oakland Athletics +500
- Seattle Mariners +1600
While the Athletics have played their way into the thick of things in the AL West, Vegas is still heavily favoring the Astros to get the job done. While it would be shocking for the Astros to settle for a Wild Card spot or fall out of the postseason altogether, it’s certainly not impossible.
The Astros were skating along this season before a recent rash of injuries to key players. All-Star shorstop Carlos Correa just returned this past weekend after missing about 2 months with a back injury, but Houston is still without the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Lance McCullers Jr. Altuve and Springer are expected to return within the next week or so, while McCullers will be sidelined until September with a forearm issue in his throwing arm.
The Astros have enough pitching depth to get by without McCullers, but the absence of both Altuve and Springer have left gaping holes in what is arguably baseball’s best lineup when at full strength. Let’s also not forget that stalwart catcher Brian McCann has been out of the lineup for a while now, and there’s no telling whether the veteran backstop will return at all this season.
The rest of this month will go a long way toward dictating how this race ultimately plays out. Houston will play a couple of home games against the Rockies before embarking on a massive West Coast road trip. The Astros will take on the A’s in Oakland this weekend for 3 games before playing 3 in Seattle and another 3 in Anaheim. Houston will then return home to play Oakland once again toward the end of August. The Astros will have a chance to either put some distance between themselves and their rivals, or this race will remain tight for the duration of the season.
The difficulty in Houston’s schedule lightens considerably in August. The Astros will have to travel to play a 3-game set in Boston, but the Astros will also get series against non-playoff teams like the Orioles, Blue Jays, Angels (twice), Tigers and Twins. If August doesn’t go well, Houston will have a chance to make it up against a cupcake September schedule.
In the end, I think talent will ultimately win out here. The Astros still have a run differential of +195 on the year, which is the second-best mark in the majors behind the Red Sox. Oakland and Seattle are quality teams, but both have certainly benefited from some excellent luck in close games. The A’s have a run differential of +65, while the Mariners actually have a negative -22 run differential.
I trust the talent on the A’s side more than the Mariners’ side. Oakland has quietly built a strong, young roster with all sorts of power. I’m far less bullish on their pitching rotation, however, and I ultimately think that will prove to be the Athletics’ downfall.
If you want to punt on one of these teams I’d recommend Oakland at +500, especially since a 2.5-game gap isn’t a big one. That said, the smart money is on the Astros to figure this out before it’s all said and done.
Odds to Win National League East
- Philadelphia Phillies +100
- Atlanta Braves +130
- Washington Nationals +500
Coming into the year this one looked like the Nationals’ to lose. The argument can still be made that Washington has the most talented roster in baseball, but they have struggled to get out of their own way so far in 2018. The Nats have dealt with all sorts of injuries to this point, while some of their other big-name players have just underperformed.
Chief among those is Bryce Harper, who was hitting around .200 heading into the All-Star break. The superstar outfielder has picked up his performance considerably since the break, and he will need to hit like the Harper of old if the Nationals are to have a chance at stealing the NL East crown. Washington stole defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday night after allowing a walk-off home run against the Cubs that dropped the Nationals 5.5 games behind the Braves and Phils atop the division.
Most expected the Phillies and Braves to be improved this season, but few had them pegged as legitimate divisional contenders. Both teams have been rebuilding their respective farm systems over the last several years, and both are finally starting to bear fruit. At this point, it’s fair to say that neither team is a fraud. They’re here to stay.
The Phillies’ starting staff inspires more confidence than that of the Braves. Atlanta has the better offense, but it’s hard to ignore how much pitching can help mold a playoff contender. Aaron Nola has quickly become a legitimate ace, while the veteran presence of Jake Arrieta helps stabilize what is a young group. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin have all been excellent so far this season.
The last month-and-a-half of the season should be fascinating. The Phillies still have 3 series left with the Nationals and 2 with the Braves. The Nationals, who just split a 4-game series with the Braves in DC last week, have one more series left against Atlanta. Washington does have a fairly breezy run in the latter half of September, with 2 series against the lowly Marlins and another against the Mets. They’ll close things out at Coors Field in Colorado.
While I’m tempted to say that the Nationals’ veteran-laden team will ultimately get things together, the fact that they haven’t completely gelled yet gives me plenty of pause. Stephen Strasburg currently sitting on the disabled list doesn’t help matters, as the rotation is currently Max Scherzer and a bunch of pitchers we can’t trust.
That said, I love the value on Washington at +500 here to win the division. There is still plenty of time left, and the 3 series against Philadelphia could go a long way toward determining the fate of both clubs. The value on the Nationals at +500 is hard to ignore, so Dave Martinez’ club is easily my favorite long shot of any option in any division. I like the Braves and their high-octane offense if you’re looking for a safer option, but I won’t fight you if you believe in the Phillies at +100.
This one is essentially a crapshoot, and it may very well come down to the final weekend of the regular season.
Odds to Win National League Central
- Chicago Cubs -300
- Milwaukee Brewers +300
- St. Louis Cardinals +1200
- Pittsburgh Pirates +2800
As of this writing the Cubs hold a 3-game lead over the Brewers, a 5.5-game lead over the Cardinals and an 8-game lead over the Pirates. I think we can go ahead and write Pittsburgh off here, while I’m tempted to do the same with St. Louis. The Cards have perked up a bit since firing Mike Matheny, but this is still a roster that just doesn’t look all that imposing. I think there are too many holes, particularly in the rotation, for the Cardinals to make a serious push.
So, as was the case in 2017, I think the NL Central comes down to either the Cubs or the Brewers. Both teams were active ahead of the trade deadline, though they took starkly different paths. The Cubs upgraded their pitching staff by adding Cole Hamels and Brandon Kintzler, while the Brewers opted to load up on offense by acquiring Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop.
Milwaukee had holes to fill in the rotation but instead their strategy seems to be to pummel opposing pitching staffs with the long ball. The Brewers now have one of the deepest, most powerful lineups in all of baseball. Who needs pitching and defense when you can just hit a bunch of dingers? Adding Moustakas and Schoop to a lineup that added Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich over the winter means the Brewers are one of the most improved offenses in the big leagues.
While Hamels has been excellent since coming back into the National League, the Cubs do still have some rotation question marks. Is Yu Darvish coming back? If so, how will he look? He struggled quite a bit prior to his injury, and his form during the postseason last year with the Dodgers has to be additional cause for concern. The Cubs have also gotten incredibly consistent work out of lefties Jon Lester and Jose Quintana, who were expected to be the lead dogs for this staff coming into the season.
I think the value here on Milwaukee at +300 is hard to ignore. While the Cubs have the veteran presence and championship mettle, the Brewers have shown that they’re a force with which to be reckoned. These teams will also do battle in 3 more series the rest of the way, the first of which gets underway from Wrigley Field starting on August 14. The Cubs make for the “safer” play, but you aren’t winning anything by betting on them at -300.
I think the Brewers are worth the risk, so give me Milwaukee to pull the upset here at -300.
Odds to Win National League West
- Los Angeles Dodgers -175
- Arizona Diamondbacks +240
- Colorado Rockies +600
- San Francisco Giants +3300
The Giants are too far gone, so we can go ahead and ignore them here. This race will pretty clearly come down to L.A., Colorado or Arizona.
The Dodgers tried to bolster themselves by adding a couple of big bats in Manny Machado and Brian Dozier ahead of the trade deadline. While Dozier has been solid since coming over, the Dodgers are still waiting for Machado to find his way. One would imagine he’ll get on track sooner or later, but the sudden pressures of trying to perform under the bright lights of Los Angeles amid a pennant race might be getting to him.
How far the Dodgers are able to go will likely be dictated by the quality of their pitching the rest of the way. The offense should be able to sort itself out. L.A. has had to deal with the slight decline of Clayton Kershaw, but the southpaw is still one of the 3 best pitchers in the game, even in this lesser state. Los Angeles will also be without star closer Kenley Jansen for about a month due to an irregular heartbeat. This past weekend in Colorado, his absence was felt. The Dodgers’ bullpen blew leads in 3 consecutive games in what was a 3-1 series defeat at the hands of the Rockies.
The Diamondbacks make for an interesting case. On paper, they have just about everything. The lineup with Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Steven Souza Jr. is quality. The rotation with Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray looks fearsome in a postseason series. The back-end of the bullpen features a stalwart fireballer in Archie Bradley. There are some holes here, but not many.
Colorado is the real wild card. Anything can happen in a series at Coors Field, but this is a different team on the road. The starting pitching has been carrying this squad for about a month now, with German Marquez and Kyle Freeland each enjoying breakout campaigns. Jon Gray has also rounded into form since an untimely demotion to the minors last month. We know they have the bats necessary to score runs, it’s just a matter of the bullpen holding up long enough to see out wins down the stretch.
I think the value on the Diamondbacks is too good to ignore at +240. The Dodgers will probably be the team at the top once the season ends, but Arizona has given L.A. plenty of problems over the last couple of years. I don’t trust the Rockies’ bullpen enough here to really give the serious consideration at +600.
The Dodgers are the likely division champ, but the profit potential and betting upside lies with the Diamondbacks.