The 2014 Major League Baseball season kicked off last week when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks met for a pair of games in Sydney, Australia. But aside from that series, and the Dodgers-Padres game that took place Sunday night, the majority of teams begin their season today.
Last year the Boston Red Sox shocked the world, going from worst to first to capture their third World Series title in 10 seasons. Boston was a long shot to even make the postseason following a dreadful 69-win campaign in 2012, but ended up proving the analysts and oddsmakers wrong by October.
I'd be a fool to predict that a sub-70 win team will come out of nowhere again to take home the title in 2014, but I'm going to do my best to find some value in the preseason odds set by online sportsbooks.
Here are my top-10 bets for the upcoming MLB season.
10. No pitcher will record 50 or more saves (-120) -- bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook
There have been five 50-save seasons over the last 10 years. One was in 2004 by Mariano Rivera, who is now retired. One was Francisco Rodriguez's record-setting 62-save campaign in 2008; he's now closing for the Milwaukee Brewers, but hasn't posted more than 35 saves since '08. Jim Johnson had back-to-back 50-save seasons in 2012 and 2013, and Craig Kimbrel recorded 50 saves last year, as well.
Johnson, though still one of the best relief arms in the game, is now with the Oakland Athletics after spending his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles. And while he should be pitching for one of the best teams in baseball, the A's loaded bullpen and modern strategy make me think Johnson won't necessarily always be used in the ninth inning.
Meanwhile, there's no doubt that Kimbrel is the most feared closer in the game, but I expect a dip from the Atlanta Braves this season due to a lack of quality (and healthy) starting pitching. Kimbrel should therefore have fewer save opportunities.
Outside of Kimbrel and Johnson, MLB closers who could prove to be a legitimate threat to this wager include the Royals' Greg Holland, Detroit's Joe Nathan, Baltimore's Grant Balfour and Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapan. But I still like the odds that no one reaches the 50 mark.
9. Chicago Cubs over 70 wins (-105) -- Coral Sportsbook
The Cubs won just 66 games in 2013, but their Pythagorean record (expected record based on run differential) was 71-91. A year later, their core group of young talent is back with more experience and a much-improved bullpen, led by new closer Jose Veras.
Chicago's infield of Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena should compete with any unit this year, and everyone's going to be watching the maturation of the free-swinging, 24-year-old slugger Junior Lake in left field. The Cubs have the potential to be an exciting group, and I think they can muster up 71 wins.
8. Cleveland Indians over 81 wins (-120) -- bet365
I'm a bit surprised that a team that won 92 games last year is getting hit this hard by oddsmakers in preseason projections. Yes, the Indians play in a division with the team that I consider to be the best in baseball, the Detroit Tigers. And the Kansas City Royals are an up-and-coming group that could challenge for a playoff spot this season.
But by all measurable accounts, the Indians, who ranked sixth in the league last season in wRC+ (a key indicator of offensive success), are just as good if not better than they were in 2013. The team's premier bat, Carlos Santana, is now removed from his catching duties and will be the designated hitter. That's a boon for the club's defense, as pitch-framing stud Yan Gomes assumes the role behind the plate.
And though the club lost starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency, the projected rotation of Justin Masterson, along with young guns Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin, should make for a pretty solid staff. This team may carry a risk-reward element, but I think their expected win total is far greater than 81.
7. Texas Rangers over 87 wins (+105) -- Betfred Sportsbook
I'm a fan of stacked lineups. The Rangers carry more offensive punch than any other team in baseball.
Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder and on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo join a high-powered bunch that already features perennial MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, All-Star caliber shortstop Elvis Andrus and a strong cast of role players. I won’t be surprised if the Rangers lead the league in runs scored this year.
Combine that loaded offense with a rotation featuring Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish and a revamped bullpen, and the Rangers are one of the most complete teams in baseball. The two-time defending AL West champion A’s and the Los Angeles Angels should give Texas a run for its money for the division title, but with nearly 40 games combined against the hapless Houston Astros and mediocre-at-best Seattle Mariners, the Rangers should have no problem getting to 88 wins.
6. New York Yankees over 87 wins (+120) -- Bovada
The Yankees are tough to judge. This is a team that somehow won 85 games last year, despite fielding a lineup basically picked up off the scrap heap due to injuries. Former Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia was a shell of his former self in 2013 and appears to be on the downside of his brilliant career. All-world second baseman Robinson Cano is now in Seattle. And Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera is gone for good.
But New York went out and spent nearly half a billion dollars this offseason to replenish the roster. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are three All-Stars who should help immediately. Brett Gardner is one of the most underrated players in the game and will play one of the best left fields in the league. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are back, and while their production is unknown, it should be better than what the Yanks got from Jayson Nix and Lyle Overbay last year.
But the real wild card is Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ prized $165 million acquisition from Japan who could take New York’s rotation from average to playoff caliber. I’m betting Tanaka and the revamped Yankees lineup will be enough for the club to compete for the AL East title, which means 88 wins is definitely in the ballpark.
5. Giancarlo Stanton +1600 to win home run title -- Paddy Power Sportsbook
Giancarlo "Don’t call me Mike" Stanton is just two years removed from leading all of baseball with a .318 ISO (isolated power). He was 23 years old and hit 37 home runs in just 501 trips to the plate.
Stanton battled through some injuries last year, but he remains the best pure power hitter in the National League and maybe the game. It’s hard to pass up 16-to-1 odds on this guy, even if reigning home run champion Chris Davis and perennial candidate Miguel Cabrera might have better chances.
4. Miguel Cabrera +650 to win AL MVP -- Unibet Sports & Racebook
Mike Trout was the best player in baseball the last two seasons. Miguel Cabrera was the second best. Cabrera won the AL MVP both years.
The Most Valuable Player Award is a trophy awarded by baseball beat writers. It is not necessarily based on who statistically or objectively performed the best, and it is voted on by guys who prefer big counting numbers like home runs and RBIs to the harder-to-calculate but still very present factors that Trout brings to the table.
I predict Mike Trout will far and away be the best player in baseball once again. But the voters again will swoon for Cabrera, a legendary player in his own right.
3. Adam Wainwright +900 to win NL Cy Young -- Bovada
Adam Wainwright is the second-best pitcher in the National League, trailing only Clayton Kershaw in the debate. But Kershaw will miss the beginning of the season with a swollen muscle in his left upper back, leaving the door open for Wainwright to take an early lead in the arms race.
Wainwright went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA in 241.2 innings, recording a ridiculous 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while racking up 6.2 fWAR (wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs). He was dominant down the stretch for the Cardinals, who came within two games of winning their second World Series in three years.
The stars are aligning for Wainwright to take home his first well-deserved Cy Young, and at 9:1 odds, I can’t pass up the opportunity to get on his bandwagon.
2. New York Yankees +350 to win AL East -- bwin Sportsbook & Racebook
I’m already betting on the Yanks to win at least 88 games, and if they get to that mark, they’ll be right in the thick of the AL East race. I think these odds are too juicy to pass up on a team that has won all but four AL East titles since 1998.
And remember: This is Derek Jeter’s farewell tour. There’s no way this doesn’t end in something magical for No. 2.
1. Detroit Tigers +1100 to win World Series -- myBet Sportsbook
The team I consider to be the best in baseball somehow has anywhere from the fourth to sixth best odds to win the World Series at various online sportsbooks.
The Tigers have by far the best starting rotation in baseball, boasting two Cy Young winners in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, an All-Star in Anibal Sanchez, and the best fourth starter in the game in Rick Porcello. Their lineup is slightly above average, and moving Miguel Cabrera from third base to first drastically improves the club’s infield defense.
The Tigers should also have one of the easiest runs to a division title in all of baseball, giving them a head start over several other quality teams in the discussion. The A’s might be just as good as the Tigers, but they have to contend with the Rangers and Angels in the West. Same goes for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and even the Orioles in the AL East.
These odds are a steal.
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011. Follow him on Twitter @danpodheiser.