Opening Night is here in Major League Baseball, as St. Louis visits Miami to open the season tonight on ESPN at 7 PM ET. TheSportsNotebook makes its final predictions. Below are picks on each team’s record, along with the Las Vegas odds on their chances to win the division, pennant and World Series. I’ve also included a link to the individual team previews that have run here throughout March, and as a special bonus offered some of the same betting opinions that should be sampled with the same caution one would take on a medicine bottle marked “poison.” By of reminder, remember that each league now gets two wild-card teams in the postseason, with the two teams meeting in a one-game showdown to reach the Division Series. With that, let’s conclude the buildup to the baseball season here at TheSportsNotebook..
New York Yankees: 92-70 (5-6, 7-2, 7-1)
Toronto Blue Jays: 87-75 (9-4, 25-1, 50-1)
Boston Red Sox: 86-76 (4-1, 5-1, 10-1)
Tampa Bay Rays: 85-77 (10-1, 9-1, 17-1)
Baltimore Orioles: 64-98 (80-1, 100-1, 200-1)
As the final records note I see an entertaining three-team race for what will amount to the final playoff berth in the new format. Two days ago I was set to overlook my doubts about my own team, the Red Sox and pencil them in for that spot. Then Andrew Bailey got hurt. Now both Boston and Tampa Bay have issues in the bullpen and Toronto is solid on the back end. The Blue Jays need some extra starting pitchers to stand up, so taking them for second place is still a risk, but while baseball isn’t the NCAA Tournament or the NHL playoffs, you still need to grab for a surprise team somewhere and an improved Blue Jay squad is it. One more note: I may be picking the Yankees to win the division, but those 5-6 odds are crazy when you have three viable contenders right behind them.
Detroit Tigers: 90-72 (2-9, 3-1, 6-1)
Minnesota Twins: 83-79 (12-1, 50-1, 100-1)
Kansas City Royals: 82-80 (8-1, 30-1, 60-1)
Chicago White Sox: 80-82 (20-1, 40-1, 80-1)
Cleveland Indians: 78-84 (8-1, 30-1, 60-1)
I’m not as high on Detroit as a lot of people are, but they’re still decisively the best in the Central, and while I would never bet a team at 2-9, I think those odds are fair. I like Minnesota to have a big bounceback year and stay in the wild-card hunt most of the way. While the Twins improve through a return to the good fundamental baseball that marked their play from 2002-10, the Royals improve because of the continual infusion of young talent. And though I have the White Sox sub-.500, if you’re someone who likes to bet a longshot, take a look at those odds, especially the 20-1 just to win the AL Central. White Sox pitching is a tease—that’s why I’m skeptical, but if any team is going to break out of the pack and challenge Tiger rule, it would be President Obama’s boys on the South Side.
Oddmakers aren’t stupid. If you bet equal amounts on the Angels and Rangers to win the division you still lose money, with Texas being even and LAA being a little less. That underscores just how sharp the divide is in this division between the two powers and the two lousy teams. What strikes me about Seattle and Oakland’s odds for the pennant and World Series is if you compare them to Baltimore, why do people think the A’s are better than the Orioles? Read through the team previews, check out the personnel and please tell me. Oakland’s a hopeless case until they get their stadium issues resolves and get a renewed commitment to winning.
AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: I’ve got Toronto and Texas in the one-game wild-card showdown. And I won’t get cute with playoff scenarios this far in advance—there’s no reason to think the Yankees, Tigers or Rangers are better suited to win a short series than the Angels are, so having LAA as the team with the best record means I’ll pick them to reach the World Series. The 3-1 price is pretty tight. If you’re looking for greater value on a pennant-winning bet, the team I’d check would be one I think will miss the playoffs—Tampa Bay is 9-1 and if they make the postseason, it means they’re starting pitching was dominant, and that gives them a very reasonable chance and pushing through to the World Series.
Atlanta Braves: 89-73 (4-1, 13-2, 16-1)
Miami Marlins: 88-74 (4-1, 8-1, 20-1)
Washington Nationals: 85-77 (13-2, 13-1, 30-1)
Philadelphia Phillies: 85-77 (5-8, 5-2, 6-1)
New York Mets: 77-85 (40-1, 40-1, 100-1)
I realize I’m bucking the tide on the Philadelphia Phillies. Will Fairbanks here at TheSportsNotebook says they’re still the best team in baseball. A good friend of mine has picked the Phils to win the World Series. I’m saying otherwise. I’m nervous about the Braves—the psychological side effects from their September collapse may linger, but even if they come up short, I really like the Marlins now in the Ozzie Guillen-era, and it’s Washington’s time to step up. If you’re a bettor, just place equal amounts on the Braves, Marlins and Nationals to win the NL East and grind out a small profit by essentially betting against the Phils and ruling out the Mets.
St. Louis Cardinals: 90-72 (7-2, 15-1, 35-1)
Milwaukee Brewers: 86-76 (9-5, 11-1, 25-1)
Cincinnati Reds: 83-79 (11-10, 13-2, 15-1)
Pittsburgh Pirates: 73-89 (17-1, 25-1, 80-1)
Chicago Cubs: 70-92 (17-1, 25-1, 60-1)
Houston Astros: 59-103 (120-1, 40-1, 300-1)
Cincinnati’s the favorite, but I think people are focusing too much on what St. Louis lost (Albert Pujols) and not enough on what they have (read the team preview for more) and especially what they have coming back (Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright who missed all of last season). The Brewers are another team I’m nervous about, but if Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke take the next step from good to great (a step Greinke already showed he could take back in 2009 with Kansas City) than the Brewers will finish second and sneak off with a wild-card spot.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 90-72 (8-5, 8-1, 20-1)
San Francisco Giants: 85-77 (7-5, 13-2, 16-1)
Los Angeles Dodgers: 76-86 (7-1, 17-1, 40-1)
Colorado Rockies: 75-87 (5-1, 15-1, 35-1)
San Diego Padres: 67-95 (12-1, 125-1 100-1)
I’ve got my doubts about all these teams, but Arizona’s got the best balanced team and the best manager. It’s also managerial factors that lead me to give the Dodgers a slight edge over the Rockies—nothing against Colorado’s Jim Tracy, but I was really impressed with the job Don Mattingly did in Los Angeles, and I hope Magic Johnson’s ownership group gives Mattingly the opportunity to still be there when the organization finally digs itself out from under the Frank McCourt mess. San Diego’s a team I could see playing better, but there’s only so many wins to go around.
NATIONAL LEAGUE PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: I’ve got a Milwaukee-Miami matchup in the wild-card game, but and I’m half-expecting there to be further playoffs prior, so close are the top four teams in the East, the top three in the Central and the top two in the West. To be frank, I don’t like any of these teams are World Series possibilities, but the rules do say one of them will make it. If Chris Carpenter gets healthy, I’ll say he and Adam Wainwright pitch St. Louis back to the Fall Classic.
WORLD SERIES OUTLOOK: Yeah, I went shameless and picked a Cardinals-Angels World Series that any NCAA Tournament bracket designer would have gone out of their way to create. And again, if St. Louis is really still playing baseball at this point it will mean Carpenter and Wainwright will be hitting on all cylinders and the vets are healthy, giving them at least a chance. But if LAA survives Texas and New York in the American League, they’ll survive St. Louis and go on to win Mike Scoscia’s second World Series on the 10-year anniversary of his first.