Special to GamingToday
Major League Baseball provided futures bettors another season of thrills and nice payouts last year, continuing a trend that’s been going strong since 2006.
That year the Tigers won the AL pennant at 45-1 odds, followed in 2007 by the Rockies, who also were preseason 45-1 choices when they won the NL loop.
Last season it was the Red Sox, forecast to finish fourth in the powerhouse AL East, who took the world title after opening at 30-1 at the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook.
Of course, all that pales when compared with the colossal payouts generated by St. Louis in 2012 and Tampa Bay in 2008.
Two seasons ago, the Cardinals rallied from the left-for-dead heap late in the closing weeks to not only make the playoffs but win the pennant and Series after their odds skyrocketed to 500-1 for the loop flag and 999-1 for the world title. One guy famously collected $375,000 on a pair of $250 wagers made Sept. 12.
The Rays were the betting darlings four years earlier when they took the AL pennant at 125-1.
Anyway, although odds are somewhat tempered these days with the invention of the second wild card, there’s still a good chance for nice paybacks.
Here are this season’s long-shot choices in each division to make the 2014 postseason. Odds are provided by the LVH SuperBook:
AL East: Thanks to the presence of the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox over the years, there usually has been consistent value in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
In addition to the Rays’ remarkable run in 2008, the Orioles were 50-1 picks to win the pennant in 2012 and reached the divisional round as a wild card.
This season the early choice is TORONTO (20-1 pennant/50-1 WS), based largely on the fact the Blue Jays were the East favorite entering last season based on big-money acquisitions such as Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. At some point pride has to kick in after a 74-win season.
AL Central: The Tigers are the Secretariat of this group, but if they have trouble getting out of the gate, or if Justin Verlander becomes too distracted with Kate Upton, there are a bevy of teams capable of winning 85 to 88 games and making it a close run. And every one of these also-rans has odds of at least 20-1 for the league flag.
The choice here is KANSAS CITY (20/1, 40/1), although Cleveland (92-70 last year) has the same odds after coming off a surprise wild-card appearance under first-year boss Terry Francona. But that team probably won’t be able to sustain near that performance, which was a 24-game improvement over 2013.
Thus, it’s the Royals, who have had glimpses of success in recent years and even in 2013 made a belated drive for a wild card before running out of innings. They could be this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
AL West: Considering the A’s, Angels and Rangers are all going off at 7-1 for the pennant, that leaves the Mariners at 20-1 and the Astros. But Houston’s the longest shot on the board at 100-1 and not worth even a token wager at that price unless you need a losing ticket for tax write-off purposes.
So, the choice has to be SEATTLE – yet again. And if they do happen to make the playoffs, they could be a force with pitcher Felix Hernandez and little help. And maybe even Robinson Cano will play up to his usual standards before his wallet becomes a burden.
NL East: By process of elimination, NEW YORK (50/1, 100/1) is the choice in a division that figures to be dominated by Atlanta and Washington, the clear-cut front-runners.
Although the Mets will be without All-Star starting pitcher Matt Harvey (elbow), they do have nice arms in Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler. David Wright at third base is always a threat to have a sensational year, and New York will need one if it hopes to contend.
Philadelphia and Miami? The greybeard Phillies could be the MLB version of the 76ers, while the Marlins dug themselves such a hole they won’t be recovering any time too soon.
NL Central: Somewhat surprisingly there are multiple good choices available behind St. Louis, which is going off at a too-low 3-1. Pittsburgh, which burst onto the playoff scene with 94 wins last season, is at 12/25, and perennial contender Cincinnati is 15/30 and is always a threat with slugger Joey Votto and lefty Aroldis Chapman.
Assuming the Cubs and Brewers are in over their heads again with lineups and mound staffs with too many holes, the selection becomes CINCINNATI over Pittsburgh based on the better odds.
The slight rap against the Pirates is they haven’t sustained a winning record over the years the way the Reds have. Plus, Cincinnati has jettisoned manager Dusty Baker. That has to count for something.
NL West: Los Angeles, at 2-1 to win the NL flag, is the heaviest favorite pennant in either league, but to make much of an impact on your bank account you’ll have to wager a hefty sum to make the seven-month wait for a payoff worthwhile. Who wants to do that?
The Giants have the pedigree to win their third world title in five years, but the pitching staff has taken a major downturn in the past year or so and at 10-1 for the flag aren’t worth the risk. As for the Rockies and Diamondbacks (both 30-1 for pennant), no dice.
Colorado’s pitching, as always, is suspect. And Arizona has Paul Goldschmidt and not much else to cluck about, with rumblings that manager Kirk Gibson isn’t on firm ground.
So the choice is SAN DIEGO (25/1, 50/1), which dominated the division only two seasons ago before its death spiral to end the 2012 season, being eliminated from the postseason on the final day.
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting Professional Sports games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].