May is upon us, meaning spring has sprung and the MLB season is about a month old. There could be some future odds value in betting on some divisional leaders to hang on and win it.
Leaders of their respective divisions by May 1 have done a pretty good job of holding on to win their divisions.
In 2017, four of the six division leaders on May 1 remained in first place the rest of the season; only the Orioles (AL East) and Rockies (NL West) failed to hang on. Since 1996, the first full year of the wild-card format, 73 of 132 divisional winners (55.3%) have been in the lead in their division after the first month of the season.
According to an ESPN article from last season at this time, 15 of the 22 World Series winners since 1996 have been leading their division, including the 2017 Astros. Another interesting tidbit from the ESPN piece is that the Astros are now the first defending World Series champion since the 2012 Cardinals to be leading their division the following May 1. Before those two, it was the 2008 Red Sox who did it.
Let's look at all the divisional leaders and their odds to win their divisions, according to sportsbook Bovada.
AL East: Boston Red Sox (-180)
The Yankees (+170) are going to give the Red Sox a run for their money to win the division. As telling as the May 1 standings numbers have been, Boston holds a very small lead and while their team is very good, the Yankees’ bats have the ability to beat almost anyone if they can stay hot for a prolonged period of time. I think there is more value in New York at this point in the season than Boston to win the AL East.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians (-550)
The Indians have been favored to win this division throughout the season. They are the only team in the division above .500 entering play on May 1, and there is little chance they lose this division barring something drastic happening to one or two of their stars. The Indians are almost a lock to win this division, but -550 is a little too much chalk for future betting purposes with so much season left.
AL West: Houston Astros (-300)
The Astros should also be considered a strong favorite to hang on to their divisional lead. Their division is a lot tougher this season than it has been in the past, though. The Angels are a very good team and the Mariners have opened the season good as well. Even though it’s less chalk than the AL Central, the Astros aren’t yet a good futures bet to win the division.
NL East: New York Mets (+200)
The Mets have a very small lead in the NL East, and while it’s a nice story to see them back in contention after a horrible 2017, it’s not going to last. The improvements the Mets have made won’t be enough to hold off the Washington Nationals, who despite being below .500 at May 1, Washington is still the favorite to win the division at +115. They are still the play with your MLB picks despite the Mets’ and Braves’ hot starts.
NL Central : Pittsburgh Pirates (+1500)
The Pirates have been the biggest surprise to start the season, but playing in a division with the Cardinals (+275) and Cubs (-125) is not going to help them hang on to this lead over the rest of the season. Pittsburgh’s young pitching is impressive; I’ve seen almost all those guys in the minors in Indy before. However, it’s a long season, and the Cards and Cubs are too talented to lose to the Pirates this season.
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (-115)
The NL West is probably the most interesting race as of May 1. The D-backs’ solid all-around team is in first place by a wide margin, but the Dodgers (+125) are still the cream of the crop in the division. I think taking a shot on the D-backs is worthwhile considering the Dodgers have their problems, but it’s a risk that might be better taken on one game of theirs and not a bet stretching the rest of the season.