The World Series, Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven championship final, is the last opportunity for sports bettors to bet on baseball for the year. It’s an exciting matchup to handicap because you’re dealing with two outstanding clubs playing in the highest-pressure environment imaginable. Furthermore, unlike other sports’ finals, in baseball, the rules differ between the two leagues, which drastically influences the landscape of the series.
Known as the Fall Classic, the series – which has been played consistently since 1903 – is essentially the highest-stakes interleague showdown of the MLB season. Because the home team gets to play under their rules, home field becomes incredibly significant when breaking down the contests. If the World Series is extended to a full seven games, that last showdown is a vital strategic advantage for the home squad, since their roster will be built around either using the designated hitter or having their pitchers hit (depending on the league).
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Beyond the presence or absence of a designated hitter from game to game, betting on the MLB World Series requires attention and consideration regarding numerous factors and variables. In this gambling guide, we’ll break down several ingredients to think about when making your choices at the sportsbook. Additionally, we’ll take a look at some of the special proposition bets that bookmakers offer each fall exclusively for the series.
Study Interleague Records
Home field advantage almost always plays a critical role in determining the World Series champion. Because the series pits the pennant winners from the American and National Leagues against each other, the contests must alternate rulebooks based on in which ballpark a game is played. While both teams proved their superiority over the clubs in their league, how their roster will adapt to the presence or lack of a designated hitter is less known.
During the regular season, teams play twenty total interleague games, a relatively small sample size. Not to mention that interleague play now occurs throughout the entire season rather than being relegated to only two months. As a result, some of the contests will have happened so early in the year that they’ve lost some relevance. Still, the statistics from those twenty showdowns will be a central piece of the handicapping puzzle, as they provide some valuable insight into how both sides deal with the rival’s rules.
Interleague Home and Away
Since merely breaking down their overall interleague play record won’t give us enough data to use effectively when betting on the World Series, it’s best to analyze specific values, such as their home and away record against the opposite league. Now, the home record won’t be as significant, unless you’re lucky and the two Fall Classic competitors met up for a series or two earlier in the season. In that case, you’ll have some head-to-head data that can provide vital insight into the championship best-of-seven.
In many cases, the two franchises will not have squared off during the summer months. When this happens, the interleague play performances as the “away” team are essential. You’ll want to study how each squad altered their lineup to fit the foreign rules. There are several questions to ask yourself when handicapping a baseball game between rival leagues. Here are some examples:
- Did the American League team force the DH to play defense?
- How much of a liability was he as compared to their regular fielder?
- If the team chose to bench the designated hitter and keep their regular defense on the field, how much hitting was lost from the lineup?
- How much was the batting order changed to accommodate the pitcher’s at-bats?
- Are there any pitchers in the series who are solid at the plate, and in which games are they on the mound?
- Who did the National League team use for their designated hitter at AL parks?
- Did his insertion into the lineup alter the order, or did he stay in the pitcher’s slot?
- Since AL teams invest in their DH role, how much of a talent gap is there between him and the athlete the National League side utilizes in that position?
It’s also worth your time to scope out both teams’ success versus organizations with similar builds or playing style if the two pennant winners haven’t faced off before. Again, you’ll be focusing on interleague play.
What this doesn’t mean is to research their results against a familiar opponent. Too often, stylistic matchups determine the outcome of a series. So, if the shared competitor had a roster whose weaknesses were more exploitable by one squad than the other, it doesn’t necessarily show us anything about how they’ll play against each other.
The idea is to either find similar squads or clubs with comparable ballparks to glean more information ahead of the series. Look through their interleague play records and find the most closely-related rosters and conditions available. You may need to study a squad’s results against one opponent’s batting order, another team’s pitcher, and in a third’s stadium. Anything that’s similar should be studied. You can even break it down further to analyze how they’ve hit against pitchers of the same ilk or pitched against lineups with an equivalent makeup.
Depending on who wins the pennant, some clubs may enter the World Series carrying tons of historical baggage. In Major League Baseball, there have been a few infamous championship droughts. Once these strings of bad luck in the playoffs grow long enough, the pressure applied by the post-season frequently causes uncharacteristic fluke mistakes and errors. It seems that the losing streaks themselves beget more losing.
Both the Cubs and the Boston Red Sox endured horrific fall collapses at the hands of enduring curses. Similarly, both the Curse of the Goat and the Curse of the Bambino were broken by teams built by general manager Theo Epstein. So, if you are betting on the World Series during a club’s drought, you can write off any curses as long as Epstein is the GM. Otherwise, it’s worth considering as part of your handicapping.
Baseball requires a tremendous amount of focus and the ability to perform in intensely pressure-filled situations. Any additional distraction, like a fan base constantly fretting over the possibility of another heart-breaking season’s end, can become detrimental to the athletes’ performances. The effect of these old curses is multiplied in late-series, late-game situations.
Pitching on Short Rest
Another massive detail to think about when betting on the World Series is pitchers’ rest. Because the two sides take different paths to the championship series, they may not play the same number of games, which affects the pitching rotation.
For example, a club that finishes the ALCS in five games is meeting an NL team that went to game seven. That American League team will be rested enough to start the top of their rotation and best thrower in game one. Meanwhile, their National League opponent may have required their top pitcher to win the previous series and will now have to face their opponent’s ace with their second or third starter.
It’s also normal for organizations to start their best throwers on short rest for big games in the same series. We’ve seen post-season heroics from starting pitchers like Curt Schilling, who won legendary turning-point games on only three days of rest. However, this isn’t always ideal. If one of the clubs is going with a starter on short rest, it isn’t a death sentence by any means, but it’s something worth noting.
Exploit Public Biases
Like all sports championships, the World Series draws a much broader viewing audience than games during the rest of the year. The added attention is also real for sports betting, and each fall, hordes of casual bettors decide to get a little action on the matchup, usually betting based on team allegiance or popularity over more advanced handicapping. These added dollars have a severe impact on the betting lines, providing a great deal of movement and potential value for sharp bettors.
In general, the public money is strongly influenced by biases when betting on the World Series. If one of the competing teams is a classic franchise with an extensive nationwide fan base, that side will see the bulk of the action regardless of roster, ballpark, or other significant elements. This is also true if one of the clubs has a more compelling storyline or narrative in the media. Basically, once the public gets hooked on a team, they’ll bet them all the way to the end.
For the more advanced gamblers, this can be a gift. When you’re hoping to bet on the fan favorite, you’ll need to watch the lines and hope for value when they first are released, though the public interest will already be built into the line. However, if you’re fortunate enough to be buying action on the other side, that casual money will only add value to your pick as they alter the odds. In that case, it’s smart to quietly sit back and wait for the most advantageous line you can get.
Major League Baseball assigns one umpiring crew to the Fall Classic, and they rotate positions for each game. The officials rotate clockwise, so whoever starts the series as third-base ump will be calling balls and strikes for game two, the second-base umpire will get game three, and so on. This announcement that comes days before the first contest gives handicappers plenty of time to analyze their season-long statistics and strike zones.
The strike zone for any given matchup can be one of the most impactful factors at play. An official who frequently applies a smaller zone will reside over more high-scoring, offensive contests, since the throwers aren’t given much room to operate. When the man behind the plate prefers a larger area, the pitchers can work the corners more and keep hitters guessing all night. So, you’ll want to know what to expect from the officiating crew before ever placing a bet on the World Series, because they’ll largely determine the type of game that’s played.
When a team is still playing deep into the fall, that’s when the veterans earn their money. Not only are they often a foundational piece of the roster, but they are commonly just as central to the environment in the clubhouse. Many athletes need multiple trips to the World Series before they finally get over the hump. Under the bright lights, with every pitch potentially being the turning point of the series, it’s best to have players who have been there before and can impart wisdom to the younger guys.
Franchises that have experienced much post-season success tend to perform better in the playoffs, despite regular-season records. There’s something about the familiarity of winning and a confident fan base that’s been there before that benefits organizations like the Yankees, Cardinals, and now Red Sox when it’s all on the line.
When the Astros won their first championship in 2017, Carlos Beltran played an integral role in the final game-seven matchup. While the soon-to-be-retired aging veteran didn’t contribute on the field, he did provide the series-winning advice to Houston’s lineup. Beltran noticed that Dodgers’ starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches, and he shared the tell with the Astros’ batters. They knew whenever the breaking ball was coming and were on top of him from the start. He gave up four early earned runs that were ultimately the difference in the game.
World Series Prop Bets
Thus far, we’ve only discussed significant variables to study when betting on the World Series. Having a solid grasp of each side’s potential is indeed a top priority, but you should know about the increased betting options as well. For the World Series, sportsbooks roll out a plethora of interesting proposition bets, mostly aimed at the casual bettor. However, you may still find some intriguing wagers.
Prop (or proposition) bets are a type of gambling that involves various aspects of the game other than the winning team or the total score. These wagers can cover just about anything and will often include choices like “The First Team to Score” or “First Player to Hit a Home Run.” You can also typically gamble on the contest requiring extra innings.
What makes betting on the Fall Classic different are all the additional proposition wagers that are sold. Like the Super Bowl, the bookmakers make nearly every minute detail available for gambling. They’ll pair up members of the opposing clubs and let you bet on which will have more total bases or wager on the total number of pitchers used in a game. There’s no limit to the volume of betting lines offered for the World Series, which is a fun addition to fall baseball.
After a full 162-game regular season, including twenty interleague contests and two or three playoff series (depending on if the Wild Card game was played), the league’s two pennant winners finally face off for all the marbles. To handicap this matchup, we put a lot of stock in their previous performances under the rival league’s rules, particularly the contests that took place more recently. Due to the alternating rulesets, home field advantage becomes a massive factor, which is why these statistics are prioritized when breaking down the series.
There are some essential ways in which gambling on the Fall Classic is similar to common baseball betting. Of course, it all begins with a responsible bankroll, an understanding of how you want to use it, and an organized staking plan. Also, you’ll want to handicap the game using the variables mentioned above so that you may create your own MLB betting line, which we go more in-depth on in another article. Lastly, once you’ve set your personal line, you should shop for the best betting lines and only touch lines with value.
A great aspect of World Series betting is the presence of two top-level teams and managers going all out for a win every night. During the regular season, teams will often rest some of their best athletes, get caught in a lull due to the length of the campaign, or avoid using specific reserves to save them for another day. During the Fall Classic, every game is crucial and can swing the series, so franchises will use every player at their disposal if the moment calls for it, including starting pitchers brought in for relief or going again on short rest.
As always, the results are just a numbers game in a sport primarily driven by statistics and analytics. To accurately predict how things will go down, a handicapper must analyze as many details as possible and model them to find the probability of each side winning. Even then, there are times in which the least-likely outcome occurs. There’s no way to plan for those minutes, but by doing your due diligence throughout your gambling career and betting for value, the odds will work out in your favor over the long run.