For the first time since mid-March, baseball is back! Beginning Wednesday July 1st, Major League Baseball’s best are reporting for duty in what will undoubtedly be the most interesting season in recent history.
In this article we dive into how we can take advantage of scheduling; what type of teams will be successful, and which will not. Finally, we look at division winners and possible futures bets and why you should beware this season. There are a ton of gambling questions to answer, but one thing is obvious: Like the team’s themselves, WE must get off to a fast start.
It has been nearly 25 years since MLB played less than 162 games. 1995 was shortened to 144 games following the infamous labor strike of 1994. That season the Atlanta Braves went 90-54 and defeated the Cleveland Indians (100-44) to win their only World Series. The Indians were the best team in the regular season obviously but failed to end a title drought that continues to this day.
There was little doubt that the two best teams faced each other in the World Series and the better team won. In a season of 144 games you only lose 18 games, or 11% of a normal 162-game season. 2020 will be the shortest MLB season ever and over 65% of the season will not be played. By contrast that would be akin to an NFL team playing only 6 games, instead of the usual 16. At the 60-game mark last season, the eventual champion Washington Nationals were under had a losing record and looked dead without Bryce Harper.
Conversely, Harper’s new team, the Philadelphia Phillies were the second-best team in the NL. Over the final 102 games the better team rose, while the other fell. In 1995 despite a shortened season, the best teams reached the World Series and battled it out 1 vs 2, that will not happen this season. The two best records may meet in the Fall Classic, but it will be highly doubtful it would be the same result at 162 or 144 for that matter.
So how do we profit off this? Easy, we find the angles that teams and managers will look for.
After all they are the ones who determine whether we win or lose. Every team will play 40 games in their division (10 vs each opponent) and 20 games against their corresponding league’s division (4 vs each opponent.) For example, the NL west teams play the AL west teams, NL central/AL central, NL east/AL east. The first thing that jumps out to me is the central pairings. Both central divisions were relatively wide open. You could make a case for seven of the ten teams to challenge this season.
Conversely, three of the five worst teams in the league reside in this pairing (Detroit, Kansas City and Pittsburgh). Last season the Cleveland Indians went 18-1 against the Detroit Tigers. We use the ‘return to the mean’ principle to figure the Tigers will win 3 games or more against Cleveland as the Tigers have less teams to plan for and know their biggest improvement must be against Cleveland.
As we look at west division pairings, we should look for an improvement from Colorado’s record against the Dodgers from last year when they went 4-15 against LA. I expect a bounce back season from Bud Black and the Rockies, and they will win 3-4 games against the Dodgers as they return to the mean. In a 60-game season, every MLB team can stay competitive, so a lot of bunching is inevitable.
Currently we know the first game this season will be Washington vs the New York Yankees. Other than that, the dates and full schedule remain a mystery but teams with easy starts will be favored late and we can take advantage of that.
MLB released a comprehensive 100-plus page safety dossier that covers protocols from ‘pitchers bringing a wet rag to the mound in order to avoid going to your mouth to wet your hands’ to full diagrams that show where players can stand for nearly every event that will happen INCLUDING how to take infield. The moral is this: we are in uncharted territory on every level.
In most seasons the x-factor could be a player returning from injury, or a top prospect who comes up mid-season and helps a team make a pennant run. In 2020 I believe the biggest x-factor is…the training staff. Yes, you read that correctly. Whichever team stays the healthiest (not just COVID) could be in the driver seat come October.
Immediately the Yankees are a team that seem to deal with injuries yearly but ironically have benefitted from the delayed start because of those injuries. Depth will also be key.
I expect positive COVID test from players, but how teams will handle that will be key. Teams like the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, and most notably the LA Dodgers have a ton of depth both at the major league (ML) level and in their minor league systems. When a player does test positive, he will be quarantined until he can produce at least two negative tests.
Even non-COVID injuries could be not only prevalent but devastating. Soft tissue injuries always happen early in the season as the bodies get stretched out from spring to the regular season. Most teams treat soft tissue injuries as 4-6-week injuries, this year that is nearly the whole season.
Deep veteran teams with veteran managers will have an edge as they will need less time to get comfortable and have a deep talent pool to dive into if needed.
Personally, I love baseball futures bets. I am cautious this season however because of the 60-game season means a lot of crazy stuff could happen but I do have some bets that I expect to cash by October.
Out west I look at both the Astros and Dodgers as safe picks to win the AL and NL west respectively. Both teams are heavy favorites to win their divisions (LAD -1000 & HOU -265 according to Oddsshark). The Angels are +750 and for me that pick has value as both the additions of manager Joe Maddon and 3B Anthony Rendon could do enough to sneak a division title out in a short season. Also, with only 60 games and a 30-man roster with no pitcher restrictions to start the season, that allows the Angels more time and players to find a reliable pitching staff. The pitching is the only thing holding the team back.
Out east I expect the Yankees and Braves to win represent their respective divisions.
The Bronx Bombers are -265 to win the AL east and the Braves are +180. I am all over the Braves here and expect a ton of value in this pick. The east is a good division overall, but I expect the Nats and Mets to regress this year and the Phillies to be a .500 team. In the American League I am intrigued by the Blue Jays at +2500. Toronto has young talent and is probably a few years away BUT in a shortened season anything can happen.
Essentially the Jays are 25-to-1 to win the division. That screams value to me as the implied probability of +2500 is 4%, I believe the Blue Jays have a better than 4% chance of winning this division. If you would like to play it a little safer the Tampa Bay Rays are +450 and manager Kevin Cash could thrive in an odd season like we embark on in late-July. The central divisions are very tough to call and the fact all will play each other complicates things.
In the NL central I like the Reds at +280. The universal DH allows Eugenio Suarez to DH as he comes back from surgery. They also look to Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo to be the main pieces of a good pitching staff. Switching to the American League central, I believe the Twins repeat as division champs as no team will enjoy the universal DH more than Minnesota.
The Twins are -134 to win the division so my value pick will be the Chicago White Sox. Chicago has a lot of young talent like Toronto does, however Chicago’s youngsters are closer to competing than the Jays. Chicago is +300 to win the division according to oddsshark. Every year I have what I call my “five dollar bet.” It is a bet I drop only 5$ on a massive longshot. No team has more young pitching talent in the AL than the Detroit Tigers. SPs Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal all project as top rotation arms and early indications are these guys will get work in this year.
The Tigers are +10,000 to win the central. I will take 5$ and take a chance.
On the ESBC gambling podcast network our results speak for themselves. Our secret? We do our research. Not only do we do our research, but we share it with all of you! Make not mistake about it, we are in a recession. Because of this we have no time to waste. The baseball season is a perfect microcosm of our situation. Maybe most years we could have a bad day or week but like baseball teams WE MUST GET OFF TO A FAST START!
By: Brandon Ferst