The futures landscape in the American League for the upcoming MLB season is pretty fascinating. There’s a trio of teams boasting more favorable odds to claim the pennant than the defending-champion Tampa Bay Rays over at DraftKings Sportsbook. FanDuel has four teams with shorter odds than the Rays, with a fifth tied at +950.
In last year’s column, we pegged Tampa Bay as a strong value bet to win the AL at +1000. The strength of their pitching and their willingness to play match-ups creatively made the Rays an attractive darkhorse. Of course, COVID significantly altered their path toward ultimately proving that wager a worthy one, but the Rays got it done nevertheless before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series.
Though the Rays traded ace pitcher Blake Snell to the Padres this winter, they return a roster capable of competing for another league championship in 2021. The question for our purposes, though? Whether they represent a better betting value than some of their talented league-mates. Let’s dive into it with a breakdown of some of our favorite values to win the AL pennant in 2021.
New York Yankees (+230)
Last year, we didn’t think too highly of chasing the American League favorites given the limited ROI. The Yankees and Astros had great teams, sure, but the value just didn’t seem worthwhile. This year, though, could be a different story when it comes to the Yankees.
The odds-on favorite to claim the AL title, the Yankees have a starting rotation bursting with upside. Though the group will depend upon several ace-caliber arms rounding back into form after injuries, it’s hard to argue with the tremendous potential of a group headlined by Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Jameson Taillon. Add in the possibility of a midsummer return from Tommy John for Luis Severino, and you’ve got a potential worldbeater on your hands in the Bronx Bombers.
Oh, and that’s all before speaking even a word of the unforgiving lineup the Yanks figure to deploy this season. Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu shined in the pandemic-shortened 2020, while Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez are far too talented to repeat their disappointing efforts from the 60-game sprint. The buzz on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton returning healthy to the heart of the New York batting order is palpable, too. If everything clicks, this roster is one of the deepest in the sport. I’m not usually a fan of betting a favorite, but I don’t think you can go wrong with the logic behind a wager on this year’s Yankees to make their return to the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Chicago White Sox (+380)
So this is another chalky pick, considering the White Sox boast the second-most favorable odds for an American League title at both DraftKings and FanDuel, but I would be remiss if I didn’t pump their tires a bit following another aggressive off-season on the South Side. Though many have chided the hiring of Tony La Russa, the Sox field manager, it would not be surprising to watch TLR push the right buttons in his return to the dugout this summer. After all, when all of the buttons are high-quality options, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.
That should be the case for this year’s White Sox. On the offensive side, reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu leads a dynamic group of relentless hitters. The lineup includes up-and-comers like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Nick Madrigal sandwiched among established veterans like Tim Anderson and Yasmani Grandal. Squeeze a rebound campaign from 25-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada, too, and you’re cooking with some serious fire throughout this lineup. After trailing only the Yankees in runs scored among AL clubs last season, the group should pose even more danger after another year of development from its burgeoning young talent.
The pitching staff, which already boasted a sturdy 3.81 ERA last year, received a notable boost in Lance Lynn. Lynn, who was practically built to thrive in the craziness of a pandemic-season, took his no-nonsense approach to the mound for a league-high 13 starts and 84 innings in 2020. His output wasn’t half-bad, either. The burly right-hander finished with a 3.32 ERA and a smattering of down-ballot Cy Young votes. Throw him into the mix with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, and the imminently-returning Michael Kopech. Suddenly the White Sox have the potential to roll through their rotation with dominance across the board.
Liam Hendriks is a big get for a bullpen that was already teeming with talent. Don’t sleep on the potential impact of flame-throwing Garret Crochet, either. He emerged shortly after joining the Sox in the 2020 MLB Draft and could be a factor again this year.
For a slightly better value, bet the White Sox at DraftKings (+380) instead of FanDuel (+370). Do so, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing boring about backing one of the ‘favorites’ in the AL this year.
So what about the Tampa Bay Rays? (+950)
If pressed for a true longer-odds value for the AL this season, I’d run it back with the Rays. Yes, that’s despite their move to trade prime Blake Snell over the winter. Look, the factors that drew me toward the Rays last year were about much more than one pitcher. Most of them remain intact for the upcoming season.
The Rays have one of the best front offices in the sport, consistently finding ways to do more with less. Their lack of financial resources has inspired a spirit of ingenuity. They take an alternative approach to many elements of the game. Slowly but surely, it’s an approach being adopted and mirrored by other franchises across baseball.
Whether it’s their effective exploitation of match-ups offensively or their brazen approach to pitching, the Rays have a knack for finding what works for them. The end product will always amount to something greater than the sum of its parts in Tampa Bay. That’s a notion that gives me confidence in the potential for a repeat by this team in 2021.
A roster with little in the way of household names–though Randy Arozarena is well on his way to becoming one after his breakout performance last October–will almost certainly grind its way to another competitive campaign. Watch for the primary piece of the Snell return, Luis Patino, to establish himself in the rotation. Don’t be surprised, either, if Chris Archer enjoys a renaissance for the team that launched his once-successful career.
All bets are off once wunderkind Wander Franco makes his debut and emerges as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Go ahead and strike on the Rays while the value still exists for doing so.
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