For the first time ever, Major League Baseball will stage Opening Day before college basketball’s Final Four as the baseball season begins with every team in action this Thursday. So, it’s time to take one last look at some win totals from William Hill and see were bettors are leaning. Here are three teams with some interesting numbers and their current win totals.
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Los Angeles Dodgers (94.5)
The Dodgers led the majors with 104 wins last year – at one point, they were on pace to break the MLB record of 116 victories before an improbable late-season skid of one win in 17 games from Aug. 26-Sept. 11. The Dodgers got things turned around in time and won their first pennant since 1988, losing a Game 7 at home in the World Series to the Houston Astros.
L.A. brings back most of the team from last season. Yu Darvish is gone, but remember he was only a trade deadline acquisition – not to mention a big reason whey the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series with his two horrible starts. The Dodgers have plenty of starting pitching depth to replace Darvish, along with one of the majors’ top bullpens. The lineup has two of the brightest young stars in the game and the past two NL Rookies of the Year on Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager.
So why, then, are bettors at William Hill hammering the under 94.5 wins? As of this writing 77% of the tickets on the Dodgers are leaning under and a whopping 94 percent of the total money. Some of that could be late money flowing in after third baseman Justin Turner recently broke his wrist. Turner won’t need surgery but could be out until June. He led the team with a .322 average and .415 on-base percentage in 2017 and is clearly a glue guy in the clubhouse.
FanGraphs projects L.A. with a 93-69 record this year. I agree with an under wager.
St. Louis Cardinals (87)
On the flip side, bettors are hammering the over for the Redbirds, with 84 percent of the total William Hill tickets leaning that way and 73 percent of the total money. St. Louis made a terrific trade in the offseason in landing Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna on the cheap. Ozuna is coming off a career-best season, setting personal bests with a .312 batting average, 37 home runs and 124 RBIs, which ranked third in the National League. The two-time All-Star selection is also solid defensively, having won his first Gold Glove in 2017.
St. Louis ranked seventh in the NL in runs (761) and eighth in homers (196) last year and those totals should rise with a full season of Ozuna. This writer, however, questions the pitching staff. Adam Wainwright will begin the season on the DL – he’s fading as it is — with a strained hamstring as will closer Luke Gregerson. The team is hoping top pitching prospect Alex Reyes will return around May 1 from Tommy John surgery, but he will be handled with kid gloves all season and be on an innings limit. The Cards, who lost starter Lance Lynn in free agency, should have considered signing a free agent starter such as Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb.
FanGraphs projects the Cardinals to finish 86-76. Should this team struggle early, Mike Matheny could well be the first manager fired. Many Cards fans wanted him gone after last season’s 83-79 mark. I lean just under here.
Best Bet: Minnesota Twins (84)
The Twins were the biggest surprise in MLB last year, going from the worst record in baseball in 2016 (59-103) to 85 wins and a wild-card spot. Yet this year’s team has a win total one lower?
OK, ace Ervin Santana will be out until early May following February surgery on his right middle finger, but the Twins were busy this offseason fortifying the rotation in landing two underappreciated guys in Jake Odorizzi (trade from Rays) and Lance Lynn (free agent from Cardinals). They also have a rising young ace in Jose Berrios.
Offensively, the Twins caught a break with All-Star third baseman Miguel Sano wasn’t suspended for an off-the-field incident. Center fielder Byron Buxton blossomed at the plate in the second half of last season and could be a Top 5 all-around player in the AL in 2018; he’s a magician defensively. Logan Morrison and his 38 homers were signed on the cheap when Tampa Bay cut him loose.
Frankly, though, the top reason why this talented team will top 84 wins is the AL Central Division it plays in. Cleveland is excellent, but Detroit, the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City are all in full rebuild mode. The Twins should be able to beat up on those three teams, perhaps nearly getting halfway to 84 wins just vs. those three.
Bet the over 84 wins.