What? A season preview of Major League Baseball before the Grapefruit League reaches its foregone conclusion? The horror!
We’ve established on the LegitGamblingSites.com blog that macro-analysis can beat micro-analysis. For instance, while handicappers poured over the biographies and grade-school report cards of reserve players at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I simply reasoned that France’s attackers would be faster than anyone the Croatia National Team was used to defending. That allowed me to successfully predict the final match without algebra, calculus, or the use of private investigators.
It’s much the same with Major League Baseball’s spring-training ballgames. There will be a few minor surprises or moves or injuries here and there during February and March, but preseason baseball is largely an exercise in conditioning and developing rookies who have already made the major leagues or Double-A (now a more-direct conduit to MLB than AAA for young players).
I once saw a reserve/tryout hitter bat-in the winning runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 9th inning of a preseason ballgame. The announcers (including the celebrated Al Hrabosky) literally did not know the name of the guy who won the game for the Cardinals. They talked around the subject and said things like, “It’s always good to see a tryout-jersey get a base hit. Heh heh. Heh.”
That was just as well because there’s no such thing as results-based scouting early in the baseball year. Like the old fogeys in Moneyball, the Redbirds’ management had already decided to send Mr. Anonymous back to the American Legion.
So it’s perfectly safe to handicap Major League Baseball in early February. In fact, it can add value to a futures pick to decide which club to gamble on as early as possible. Action will ramp-up on MLB futures in March and April. But even if a ballclub starts looking really good on paper, it’s less likely that a surge of placed wagers in February will change the odds to a less-desirable payoff promise.
Who are the top contenders to reach (and win) the Fall Classic in 2019? Here’s a peek at each of the 8 most-likely suspects according to our friends at BetOnline.
New York Yankees ((+700) Odds-to-Win 2019 World Series at BetOnline)
The Yankees lived up to their ‘Bronx Bombers’ nickname in 2018 with the most lethal bats in the Major Leagues. Leading the charge was Giancarlo Stanton with 38 home runs and 100 RBIs. Outfielder Aaron Judge posted a slugging percentage of .528.
The pitching rotation received a major boost when the team traded for James Paxton, formerly a hurler for the Seattle Mariners, this offseason. The southpaw led the Mariners with 208 strikeouts, and will join Luis Severino who posted 19 wins a season ago.
But for a still relatively-inexperienced Bronx team to reach the World Series, the club’s fielding must be cleaned up. The Pinstripes ranked 20th in the Major League with 93 errors in 2018.
Despite the sloppy defense, manager Aaron Boone led the Yankees to a 100-62 record and an appearance in the ALCS in his maiden year on the job.
Bryce Harper is also rumored to potentially play in New York this season. That would be a shot in the arm to the club’s prospects for October.
Boston Red Sox (+750)
The defending World Series champs are favorites to become the first team to repeat in nearly 2 decades. Manager Alex Cora defied expectations in his debut season by dominating all of baseball with a 108-54 record.
Red Sox bats include the 1-2 punch of Andrew Benintendi and defending American League MVP Mookie Betts. Betts will aim to increase his 80 RBIs from a season ago and improve on a blistering .346 batting average. All-Star J.D. Martinez returns after leading the team with 43 homers.
Center-field standout Jackie Bradley Jr. returns after reeling-in his first career Golden Glove. Betts is also a defensive dynamo. But managing the pitching rotation will remain a challenge for Cora. Chris Sale leads a 6-man rotation and is coming off a 12-win season with a 2.11 ERA.
Houston Astros (+800)
The past 2 seasons have been marvelous in Space City. The Astros won the World Series in 2017 and have captured 2 consecutive AL West pennants.
Key replacements must be found to replenish the pitching rotation heading into 2019. Outside of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who combined for 31 wins, there are mostly question marks. Fielding has been impeccable, however, as the club committed the fewest errors in the league and boasted the top fielding percentage in 2018.
3rd baseman Alex Bregman led all Astro batters with 31 homers and 103 RBIs. Outfielder George Springer added 22 home runs en route to an All-Star appearance.
Manager A.J. Hinch holds a record of 374-274 since taking over the club in 2015.
Los Angeles Dodgers (+800)
Manager Dave Roberts has taken the Dodgers to the doorstep of a World Series in 2 consecutive seasons. The back-to-back National League champs have a record of 287-200 since Roberts took over in 2016 and an NL best +800 odds to win the 2019 title.
Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger lead the way for Dodger batting attack coming off a season with 60 combined home runs. The loss of the electric Yasiel Puig and his 23 home runs will leave a hole to fill in the lineup, and the Dodgers may not prove to be as high-powered without his bat.
Los Angeles has a young crop of talented pitchers in the rotation behind highly-regarded starters Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, but the bullpen needs an upgrade while primary closer Kenley Jansen recovers from heart surgery. An improvement in fielding could help the Dodgers get over the hump to finally snatch the World Series from the AL champ. The Blue & White finished 26th in errors committed and 23rd in fielding percentage in 2018.
Chicago Cubs (+1200)
The Cubs were one of the most consistent batting teams in the league in 2018 with a 4th-ranked team average of .258. Shortstop Javier Baez lit-up his opponents for 34 home runs and 111 RBIs, but it was not enough to get the Cubs past the Wild Card game.
Star pitcher Yu Darvish had his season cut short due to injury, but Jon Lester had a terrific summer with 18 wins and an ERA of 3.32. The club was 3rd in the Major League with an overall team ERA of 3.65.
1st baseman Anthony Rizzo had a fantastic year in the field and received a Golden Glove. Baez was active at shortstop with nearly 400 assists and 96 double plays.
After 10+ years as a manager with the Cubs and Rays, Joe Maddon captured his first World Series title with Chicago in 2016. Since he took over in 2015, the Cubs have compiled a record of 387-261.
Philadelphia Phillies (+1200)
New skipper Gabe Kapler led the Phillies to a hot start out of the gate in 2018, but the team eventually sputtered to an 80-82 finish and missed the playoffs. Despite the dreadful tailspin to end the season, the Phillies have the shortest futures odds of any NL East team at 12-to-1 payoff.
The Phillies were a horrid batting team in 2018. The club’s offense wound up finishing last in the Major League with a team hitting percentage of .234. That stat could turn a 180 in 2019 as the Phillies are among the frontrunners to potentially sign Harper and/or Manny Machado.
Aaron Nola leads the pack in the pitching rotation, coming off a solid 17-win season with an ERA of 2.37. Additional depth was added to the bullpen through acquiring Juan Nicasio and James Pazos from the Mariners.
The Phillies must make significant fielding improvements to sniff the postseason for the first time since 2011.
St. Louis Cardinals (+1200)
The Cardinals made a splash in the offseason by acquiring powerful Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks. The acquisition gives the batting lineup a huge boost and could propel the Gateway City into another MLB fan-frenzy late this summer.
However, the club has missed the playoffs 3 seasons in a row, which has worn on the patients of Redbird supporters. Mike Shildt went 40-28 as the interim manager in 2018 and was awarded a 3-year contract to lead the club.
Shildt’s primary concern will be the Cardinals’ horrific fielding. The team finished last in the majors in errors and fielding percentage in 2018, despite catcher Yadier Molina winning yet another Golden Glove (with that almost-petulant “I work with children’s charities” look on his face the entire time).
The acquisition of veteran reliever Andrew Miller will aid the Cardinals’ bullpen.
Milwaukee Brewers (+1400)
The defending NL Central champs are at somewhat surprisingly-long odds to prevail in autumn.
Manager Craig Counsell has posted a 316-308 record since taking over the club in 2015, but last season was the breakout year for the Brewers under Counsell’s leadership as the squad won the division crown for the first time since 2011 and was a lone win away from the World Series.
Part of the formula was a reliable pitching rotation that finished 5th in the league with a collective ERA of 3.73. Jhoulys Chacin led the way with 15 wins and a 3.50 ERA, but the Brewers are still in search of a lefty to add to the mix.
Jesus Aguilar was a reliable asset at 1st base, helping out on 92 double plays and a posting a season fielding percentage of .996. But the team as a unit was bad on defense, finishing 28th in the majors in assists and 26th in fielding.
The Brewers were among the most powerful hitting teams of ’18 with 218 home runs. The 3-headed monster of Aguilar, Christian Yelich, and Travis Shaw combined for 103 home runs and added 304 RBIs.
MLB Futures: Early 2019 Prediction and World Series Pick
World Series have been called “crapshoots.” But futures betting is almost never a search for a lock-down pick but rather an attempt at a massive payoff. If we can figure out who will make it to the Fall Classic in 2019, we’ve got about a coin-flip chance to win the futures bet.
There are few complete clubs. I like the Yankees well enough, and it seems unreal that the team hasn’t won a World Series in so many years, but the ball doesn’t know diamond history. It just flies and rolls after people hit it. Plus, the Pinstripes’ payoff odds are short compared to other contenders.
I like taking long lines and dynamic clubs in the preseason. The Brewers ding home runs left and right, can have a terrific pitching staff with just a few adjustments, and are probably just a fielding lesson or 2 away from becoming a dominant force in the National League.