MLB handicapper Mark Lathrop checks in with some of his best futures bets of the season as we move on from April's action and look ahead. Read up on the surprises of the spring.
The season is only a month old, yet there is ample opportunity to assess how preseason projections are coming along. There have been some surprises here and there, and also teams that are playing right into their predicted pattern. Let's look at some of the preseason best bets I had for win totals, and other outliers as we enter May's MLB schedule.
AL Best Bet: Rangers' Under 77.5 Wins Wager is Cruising
The Rangers have limped to an 11-18 start with a -39 run differential through the first month of the season and would nearly have to play .500 ball the rest of the way to ruin this "under" call from my MLB picks. That is not likely to happen with Fangraphs now expecting them to win 69.3 games and finish last in the AL West. That’s what my model said would happen, but Oakland was the black sheep in futures markets with an O/U win total of 74.5 games. The Athletics have the third-ranked offense in the MLB according to accrued WAR and are projected to be a .500 team the rest of the way. They’ll get plenty of chances to beat up on the Rangers this season, too.
NL Central Best Bets: Cubs Not Separating Themselves
I had three best bets for the NL Central as I saw the betting markets overvaluing the Cubs and Brewers and undervaluing the Pirates. The division races are intertwined with the unbalanced schedule, so if you see one team out of whack the rest must follow suit. Well, one month in and things are looking pretty good with the Pirates leading the Central division with a 17-11 record and a new projected win total of 85.9 games at Fangraphs. It will be difficult for them to fall under the 73-game O/U win mark at this point, especially with the Reds winning a race to the bottom. Those wins against the Reds should be spread out throughout the division if they continue to tank, which puts my "under" 84.5-win pick for Milwaukee at risk. The Brewers are currently projected to win 84.2 games. My "over" 85.5-win pick on the Cardinals will be helped by the Reds, though, as they are currently expected to win just more than 87 games.
NL East: Surprisingly Competitive, Except for Marlins
The NL East is a complete surprise after most preseason models had the Washington Nationals running away with the division. The Nats are 12-16 and have been average on offense, ranked 14th in MLB after being projected to have the sixth-best offense in the league. They are also behind the Phillies and Mets in their division in overall pitching and have the 24th-ranked bullpen in MLB. The Nationals are still projected to win the NL East, according to Fangraphs, so if you were still inclined a futures wager there could be value. The Mets sit at +480 to win the National League now and the Nationals are at +800. The Braves, at just 1.5 games back in that division, sit at +3250 at 5Dimes. The Marlins are just as bad as we thought they were going to be and sit at +25000 to win the NL pennant. The Marlins will inflate the win numbers of the rest of the teams in that division.