This marks the fifth season with dual wild cards

Mar 20, 2016 8:15 AM

AL LONG SHOTS

This marks the fifth season with dual wild cards in both major leagues, which has contributed to more long shots having a say in the postseason or at least staying in the hunt deeper in to the season than in previous decades.

Last year’s AL longshot success story was the Houston Astros, who opened at 200-1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and was bet down to 60-1 by Opening Day. Those Astros took advantage of that extra Wild Card berth and then advanced to the ALDS before being ousted by eventual world champion Kansas City.

Now for a look at the three division races and fun betting options for an entertaining summer. Odds listed were provided by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

EAST

As usual, the Red Sox (6-1 pennant/12-1 World Series), who were in last in 2014-15, and the Yankees (8-1/16-1) are hard to like at such puny odds. Even last year’s runaway loop winner, the Blue Jays (7-1/14-1), are far more attractive. Curiously, they opened 5-1/10-1 and have lost traction with futures players.

Boston did add veteran lefty David Price and has closer supreme Craig Kimbrel, but he slipped in San Diego last year. New York is healthier than it has been, when it got the first wild card, but it’s only March. And the Blue Jays lost their ace in Price.

That leaves Tampa Bay and Baltimore, both 30-1/60-1.

The O’s were able to keep Chris Davis (47 HRs), but their pitching is suspect. Especially if Chris Tillman (11-11, 4.99 ERA) is a favorite to start Opening Day.

That leaves the Rays as the best value. In 2008, they took the AL flag at 125-1. Reports indicate lefty Matt Moore has been great this spring after struggling last summer following Tommy John surgery and is ready to make a super 1-2 punch with overpowering Chris Archer. The offense is the Rays’ Achilles’ heel, but if Evan Longoria can again hit 30-plus homers (2013), he might be able to carry a team that has a nice price.

Note: Last year’s pick Toronto (13-1/30-1) won the East but lost in ALCS.

CENTRAL

From 2011-14, Detroit was the loop kingpin. That scenario changed abruptly last year when the Tigers, who entered as co-favorites to win the pennant, finished last.

Therefore, this season the Tigers (12-1/25-1) may be excused from this discussion. Guys like RHP Justin Verlander just don’t pack the same gusto. And the farm system is weak.

Kansas City, which won the division by 12 games last year, is at 8-1/16-1 after being listed at 10-1/20-1 during the holidays. Not bad, but not good enough to consider since its starting pitchers just don’t work deep enough into games and put too much pressure on the bullpens, which happens to be very good.

Cleveland, meanwhile, is a co-favorite with KC at 9-5 to win the division and also has 8-1/16-1 numbers. The Tribe may have an edge on the mound, too, with 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. But those odds just aren’t tempting enough.

Chicago is at 15-1/30-1, but ace Chris Sale can’t pitch every game. No thanks.

That leaves Minnesota (30-1/60-1), which is a fun team to watch, win or lose. The Twins, like Houston last year, had opening odds of 100-1/200-1 and made a splash, but the Minnesota guys fizzled out. They led the division into early June and had a wild-card berth as of late August. If starters Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana can keep the ball in the park, Minnesota has a nice-enough lineup (4.3 runs a game) to give its backers another thrill ride.

WEST

The Astros weren’t the only upstart team out West making noise last season. Texas, which was a 50-1/100-1 choice in early June, won the division before losing to Toronto in the ALDS. And that was without star pitcher Yu Darvish, who was out all year.

Now he’s back, and so is trade-deadline pickup Cole Hamels.

Anyway, this season the Astros are at 5-1/10-1 and the Rangers at 9-1/18-1. Other options are Los Angeles (15-1/30-1), Seattle (15-1/30-1) and Oakland (50-1/100-1).

The A’s bottomed out last season after the betting public jumped on them heavily in early spring, turning a 100-1 WS choice into a 20-1 pick. But Oakland burned that money early and appears to have little these days with the exception of RHP Sonny Gray, who went 14-7 on a team that was 26 games below .500.

Cutting to the chase, the choice here is the Angels over Seattle and RHP King Felix, who seems to have lost some zip on the speedball. At least that’s what analysts have said.

LA was in the playoff race till the last day in 2015 and should have enough talent, behind Mike Trout and veteran Albert Pujols, to give their backers a good run for the money. Garrett Richards is a really nice ace on the mound, too.

(Last year’s pick: Seattle 6-1 pennant/14-1 WS): Finished fourth.

“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL 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].