When making futures bets in any sport, there are always a number of variables to take into consideration. However, bettors often rely on past data to make educated guesses on how the upcoming season will play out.
With the unique rules in place for the upcoming MLB season, it is fair to say bettors have more variables than ever to sift through for their futures bets. COVID-19 continues to be a problem in our society and has the potential to throw a lot of curveballs (no pun intended) in an already shortened season.
For those unfamiliar with this season’s format, all teams will play 60 games. 40 of those games will come against divisional opponents, while the remaining 20 are against crossover divisions. Thus, the only interleague games will be between the two leagues’ East, Central, and West divisions.
With the backdrop set, we take a look at the best bet to win the American League pennant.
Odds to Win the 2020 American League Pennant (odds courtesy of BetMGM)
|New York Yankees +170||Houston Astros +380||Minnesota Twins +800|
|Tampa Bay Rays +1000||Chicago White Sox +1200||Cleveland Indians +1200|
|Oakland Athletics +1200||Boston Red Sox +1800||Los Angeles Angels +2000|
|Texas Rangers +4000||Toronto Blue Jays +5000||Detroit Tigers +25000|
|Kansas City Royals +25000||Seattle Mariners +25000||Baltimore Orioles +50000|
Before the pandemic hit, the New York Yankees seemed like the most logical choice to win the AL pennant. They have won 100+ games each of the last two seasons and pushed the Astros to the brink of Game 7 in the ALCS the year before that. The Yankees have been a well-balanced team for the last three years. They have blended youth with a complement of veteran leaders, and a solid pitching staff with a lights-out bullpen. The one thing the Yankees seemed to be missing was a bonafide ace at the top of their rotation. They solved that problem this offseason by signing Gerrit Cole to a historic $324 million contract.
However, if there is ever a season to oppose the favorites it is this one. The condensed 60-game season should level the playing field, as the best teams do not have 162 games to separate themselves from the pack. In addition, given that 2/3 of games are played against your division, teams like the Yankees are at a disadvantage given how strong their division is at the top.
In addition, it is hard to ignore the negative news coming out of the Yankees camp all offseason. Luis Severino is lost for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Aaron Judge continues to be affected by a fractured rib and his status for Opening Day is still in question. DJ Lemahieu just tested positive for the coronavirus, and Masahiro Tanaka was hospitalized after taking a line drive to his head during a practice session.
With the exception of Severino’s injury, most of these things will sort themselves out soon. However, there is certainly not great karma coming out of the Bronx early on.
What Team Benefits Most From this new Format?
While we are not going with the “chalk” pick of the Yankees, we also are not looking too far down the odds list. There is no team that benefited more from the craziness of the pandemic than the Houston Astros.
Before the pandemic hit, we listened to a number of different Astros players and representatives give awkward press conferences related to the cheating scandal. Had this been a “normal” baseball season, the Astros would likely have been subjected to harsh treatment at every visiting ballpark, as fans were to be sure to voice their displeasure over how the Astros disrespected the game.
Such treatment and constant media attention surrounding their part in the scandal would have been sure to weigh on Astros players all season. However, now that games will be played in empty ballparks, Houston can now approach games from a more business-like perspective.
Another way Houston benefited from a delayed start to the season centers around ace Justin Verlander. The reigning Cy Young Award winner underwent groin surgery in March and looks to be on track to start the season in late July. Had we been operating under normal circumstances, the Astros would have been without Verlander for two months or maybe longer.
Though star pitcher Gerrit Cole’s departure to the Yankees makes New York instant favorites, Houston should be able to withstand losing a pitcher of his caliber. Besides Verlander, the Astros have another former Cy Young Award winner on their staff in Zack Greinke.
However, many baseball pundits predict teams to devalue starting pitching and rely on bullpens more than ever in a shortened season. Given that starting pitchers have less time to find their rhythm and with how important every game in a 60-game season is, look for managers to get creative and lean on their bullpens more often to shorten games. That is a good thing for Houston, as they ranked second only to the Rays in bullpen ERA last year.
There will be many who will not believe the Astros are capable of their usually solid offensive numbers without cheating. However, Houston will put that theory to the test and I will bet the Astros pass that test. Baseball is one of the most mentally fatiguing and draining sports. However, with less distractions surrounding them than anticipated, look for the Astros to capitalize and win the American League pennant for the third time in four years.
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