For baseball fans and sports betting enthusiasts fond of making futures bets on unheralded teams, now is the time to hit the online windows. Even a $10 ticket likely will generate a season’s worth of thrills — but that’s probably not the case for Pirates backers.
It would be wise not to just shrug off teams with high odds, either. In 2008, a Tampa Bay team that had been a doormat for its decade-long existence won the AL pennant at 125-1 before falling in the World Series at 300-1 to Philadelphia.
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Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees have been the class of the East the past two years, with NYY winning the loop by seven games in 2019 with TB getting the wild card. The roles were exactly reversed last year.
This year New York is the clear choice to return to the top as the only AL team that’s an odds-on choice (1-2) to win a division. But bullpen issues could make them somewhat vulnerable, with the loss of Tommy Kahnle (to LA Dodgers) and with standout lefty Zack Britton not only coming off COVID-19 and losing lots of weight, but now needing elbow surgery. He’ll miss at least a month and whether he returns to form is up in the air. Manager Aaron Boone no doubt will give his new pacemaker a workout.
On Yanks’ Heels
According to the odds, defending AL champion Tampa Bay and Toronto are the teams that should nip at the Yankees’ heels should they stumble.
The Rays, though, seem way overvalued in the wake of the loss of two veteran starters, lefty Blake Snell (San Diego) and righty Charlie Morton (Atlanta). And considering the Rays have far surpassed their expected win total the past three seasons (87.5 this year), they are due for a regression. Ditto for their record in one-run games (14-5 in 2020).
Next up are the intriguing — and homeless — Blue Jays, who got a rare taste of postseason ball by squeezing into the eighth playoff spot last year.
They are a threat to stay relevant all season behind pitcher Hyun-Jim Ryu and the hitting of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, Toronto would have been a great value for the pennant/World Series early on, but its numbers have been cut in half in recent months. Arrggh!’
Longest Long Shots
That leaves Baltimore and Boston, who finished fourth and fifth last season.
The Orioles got off nicely at 12-8 in 2020 before their customary free fall, going 13-27 the rest of the way. The roster and farm system reportedly aren’t talented enough to be a threat.
That leaves Boston, a team with a winning pedigree, as the team with the best chance for a nice futures payout without much risk.
Over the past eight years, the Red Sox have won the division four times, even taking the WS in 2013 and 2018. That was before they sent AL MVP Mookie Betts and LHP David Price to the Dodgers.
But manager Alex Cora is back after he and the team mutually agreed to split last year in the wake of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal when he was the Astros’ the bench coach.
What helps makes this team special is a solid heart of the order with Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts.
On the mound, fingers will be crossed that left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (19-6 in 2019) keeps up his spring improvement after having a bad bout of COVID-19 last year. And if seven-time All-Star lefty Chris Sale can be anything close to his former self after Tommy John surgery, he’ll be a welcome addition for his hoped-for return in the latter portion of the schedule. And, not to be overlooked, is the addition of outstanding RHP reliever Adam Ottavino (from Yankees), who struggled last year but was stout in 2018-19. He’ll probably fit in as the closer.
Boston has the look of a surprise wild card.
The AL Central will be examined March 14.