After months of haggling with its players in labor negotiations, weeks of frenetic hot-stove activity, and a condensed spring training, Major League Baseball gets to throw itself 15 Opening Day parties in the next couple of days at stadiums all across the land.
If you’re a baseball fan, this is a great time to take a deep breath that the sport avoided driving itself off a cliff. It’s the chance for fans to reconnect with favorite teams, stadiums and players. And if you’re a baseball fan who enjoys placing a wager, it’s a great time to snag a few tickets that can provide half a year’s worth of action.
Now that the Yankees have postponed their Thursday game with the Red Sox due to an incoming storm on the Eastern seaboard, the start of the 2022 MLB season shifts to the older league’s oldest venue: Wrigley Field, where the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to throw the season’s first pitch at 2:20 pm ET.
That’s the deadline to get in your MLB futures bets if you want them to reflect the 162-game season. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most intriguing plays as MLB prepares for the long march to its 118th World Series.
First, however, a few notes of caution. As Sean Zerillo points out at The Action Network, sportsbooks often offer middling value on these futures bets. For example, in win-total betting, they often over-inflate the win totals so that all 30 teams produce more wins than are possible in a major league season (2,430). Similarly, they often set World Series futures so that the probabilities add up to greater than 100%.
That said, let’s try to beat the system by finding some hidden gems and overlays:
World Series winner
Milwaukee Brewers (+1600 at multiple books)
The NL Central tends to reflect whatever the Cubs are up to. Why? It’s an internal dynamic not unlike the AL East, where the Yankees and Red Sox eye each other nervously all winter and often ramp up spending to match their archrival.
In the NL Central, the Cardinals typically spend only as much as they need to. With the Cubs rebooting after 10 months spent unloading what was left of their 2016 core, the Cardinals front office can sit back and let their fans feast on the nostalgia of Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, and Yadier Molina playing a final season together. That opens the door wide for the three small-market teams, and the Brewers are easily the best of those.
Will Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta pitch as well as they did last year, when they gave the Brewers the second-best rotation in baseball after the Dodgers? Maybe not, but they don’t have to. The Cardinals’ rotation might prove shaky, and the other three teams in the division aren’t good. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the Brewers don’t make a six-team playoff format with this much pitching. They stand a good chance of grabbing the No. 2 seed.
After that, the Brewers just need somebody to knock off the Dodgers, then to beat that team, and this will be a golden ticket.
San Francisco Giants (+2800 at multiple books)
Let’s stick with the great rivalries for a moment. One could make a credible argument that the Dodgers are actually underpriced at +500 at most books, but getting 5/1 with so many variables at this point seems kind of pointless. The books clearly like the Padres to bounce back, as they have the second-shortest odds in the division.
But what about the Giants? Was last season a fluke prompted by some late-career renaissances and a bit of good fortune? Maybe so, but you still get a lot of value here on an organization that runs as smoothly as any in MLB, with arguably the most advanced front office in baseball. And in Gabe Kapler, it has a manager who offers zero resistance to what president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and his team churn out.
Plus, if the Giants just make the playoffs, this will be a great ticket to hold. This club tends to know what it’s doing in October.
Atlanta Braves under 91.5 (multiple books)
The Braves were building toward that World Series championship for years before most baseball fans realized what they were doing. They underachieved in a playoff series with the Cardinals in 2019 largely because Mike Foltynewicz gave up seven runs in the first inning of the decisive game. Throw out the shortened 2020 season. Then, last year, they underachieved most of the regular season before showing their depth and pitching versatility in October.
But the hangover effect is real in baseball, especially for a young pitching staff like that of the Braves. Ace Max Fried, for example, is an uber-talented 27-year-old lefty who tied his career high for innings with 165 ⅔. That’s fine. Then, the postseason started and Fried pitched another 27 ⅔ innings of the most stressful pitching he has ever had to do.
Typically, the effects show up the following year, and the shortened spring training put pitchers’ health under an even greater spotlight this year. This is a good Braves team, but with the Phillies and Mets showing serious signs of improvement, the books may have gotten carried away with the total here.
Baltimore Orioles over 61.5 (at PointsBet)
By one way of thinking, this win total is absurdly optimistic. After all, the Orioles have managed to win just 47, 54, and 52 games in the last three full major league seasons. That truly is an embarrassing trajectory for a once-proud franchise.
But people get way too caught up in Opening Day rosters, which often look nothing like the rosters of August and September. The Orioles have the consensus best farm system in baseball, which tends to happen when you lose this much. What’s new in 2022 is that the team’s top prospects are knocking on the door.
Former No. 1 overall pick Adley Rutschman is positioned to arrive at some point in 2022, and outfielder Kyle Stowers may not be far behind. The beauty of having your best prospect (Rutschman) be a catcher is he’ll be there when the pitching prospects begin to arrive. Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Kyle Bradish, and Kevin Smith will be pushing for time in the majors this season.
Fans (and bettors) tend to overvalue trade and free-agent acquisitions and undervalue emerging young talent. Be one of the smart ones who avoids that trap.
Los Angeles Angels win AL West (+400 at multiple books)
It’s time for this team to stop wasting the individual brilliance of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and this might be the season when it finally happens.
The AL West is more winnable than it might appear, with the Astros showing some signs of decline and the Mariners probably overrated at this point. If the Rangers are better after spending a bunch of money, the A’s are far worse after trading away most of their best players.
Two of the more respected projections systems, PECOTA and ZiPS, have the Angels winning a lot more games than the Mariners and not too many fewer than the Astros. This is a high-ceiling, low-floor roster, so why not take your chances with, arguably, the two most talented players in any league?
Cardinals win NL Central (+275 at Westgate SuperBook)
While the Brewers might be better on paper, they’re not this much better (-175 at most books) in what amounts to a two-team race.
The Cardinals could get a huge lift if young ace Jack Flaherty returns some time around June 1, and they have a better lineup than the Brewers. Their middle-of-the-order of Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, and Nolan Arenado stands out in a division lacking star hitters. The return of young pitchers Jordan Hicks and Dakota Hudson also should help, as should an infusion from Triple-A of top prospects Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Matthew Liberatore.
Strikeout leader Dylan Cease (+1500 at DraftKings)
Of the top 10 pitchers in K/9 last year, Cease is both the youngest and the one showing the most improvement in his ability to get whiffs. The hard-throwing righty of the White Sox, who also has a big, sweeping curveball, has a classic strikeout pitcher repertoire and trailed only Burnes in the category last season. The White Sox are confident enough in Cease to have already named him their No. 2 starter, and the beauty of making this bet is you don’t really have to worry about his shaky control, as long as he sticks around long enough to get his double-digit strikeouts.
Home run leader Rafael Devers (+4000 at SuperBook)
The SuperBook is offering easily the best price here, with the second best odds at FanDuel at +2500. It’s an opportunity to combine some of the logic of the previous post, with Devers the youngest of the players in the 35-plus home run club from last season aside from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (the favorite at +700).
Guerrero is great and all, but those are unpalatable odds for this bet. Devers is only 25, he’s showing remarkably improved plate discipline, and at Fenway he’s playing in the right ballpark given his opposite-field power. For him to lead the majors, he’ll have to prove last year was far from a flukish spike in power, but if you’re going to take that chance, always bet on the younger player.