The 162-game MLB season seems lasts forever and the various stages can blend together into one homogenous chunk if you’re not paying attention. But for bettors, some portions of the season are more promising than others.
The best times for spread and moneyline betting are the start of the year, when sportsbooks don’t have a great feel for many teams, and the start of September, when out-of-contention squads call up loads of unknown youngsters.
As for future betting, there is value before the year begins, but perhaps the best time to wager is right now. The trade deadline is coming up, players are returning from injuries, and we have a clear sense of what teams should be peaking in the coming months.
Who provides value in the futures markets at the moment?
Texas Rangers: 15/2
The Rangers are the tepid favorites to win the American League. Thanks to the AL winning the All Star Game (again), Texas would have home field advantage in the World Series. While you can make an argument for at least six AL teams being the best in their league, Texas has amassed one of the top records without (arguably) their top starter.
Prior to missing last year, Yu Darvish had pitched three seasons in the big leagues and made three All Star Games. He has a career record of 41-26 with an ERA of 3.26 and opponent batting average of .215. He returned from a five-week absence on Saturday and was dominant against the Cubs for two innings before running out of gas. All told, he struck out nine and allowed two runs in 4.1 innings.
Quality starting pitching is all the Rangers have really lacked this year. Darvish is a tremendous addition. Texas also has one of the best farm systems in baseball, meaning they could call up a difference-making prospect later in the year, but it’s more likely that they make a trade for an established arm. A rotation of Darvish, Cole Hamels, Colby Lewis, and potentially Rich Hill (currently with Oakland) or Julio Teheran (currently with Atlanta) would be a nice complement to a lineup that is top-ten in batting average and runs scored.
Washington Nationals: 17/2
For the first couple months of the season, the only National League team anyone was talking about was the red hot Chicago Cubs. Chicago slowed before the All-Star break, and now attention has shifted to the MLB-leading Giants. Lost in the excitement are the Nationals. The Cubs’ early run and San Fran’s current streak are impressive, indeed, but Washington has been consistently good all year.
Pitching is the strength of the team; Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Tanner Roark have all had very good seasons on the mound. But the Nats offense holds its own, as well. While you can’t bank on David Murphy continuing his career year, any drop off there should be balanced by Bryce Harper picking it up a notch. If young shortstop Trea Turner can add some key hits, the lineup should be World Series worthy. Even if he can’t, Washington has enough depth left in the minor leagues to make a trade that could put them over the top.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 20/1
The price on LA is as high as it has been all year and that’s not undeserved. The Giants haven’t run away with the NL West, but they are going to be tough to catch. And while the Dodgers currently hold a Wild Card spot, the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates – and even the upstart Marlins – all have designs on a playoff bid. Three of those five teams are going to miss out.
That said, there are reasons to like the Dodgers. Los Angeles will benefit from one of the easiest remaining schedules; they’ll get Brett Anderson and Alex Wood back in the next month, and Hyun-Jin Ryu just returned before the All Star Break; youngster Julio Urias seems likely to become a weapon out of the bullpen; and Clayton Kershaw is due back from the DL in the next couple weeks.
On offense, the Dodgers have been below average, but they have pitching depth and one of the best farm systems in baseball if they want to make a move before August 1.
If LA does claim a spot in the Wild Card game, the fact that they can trot out Clayton Kershaw is huge. Kershaw has been touched up in the playoffs before, but he’s the best pitcher in baseball by a pretty wide margin.
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavila III (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.