Baseball bettors have had several months now to check out World Series odds, and several weeks to consider pennant and division numbers. Now it's time to add season win totals to the list of wagering options.
We generally start to see win totals released on MLB futures odds boards about the same time boxscores from spring training appear. Exhibition games are in full swing now in Florida and Arizona, and industry trendsetters in the sports book biz have their Over/Under marks out there.
Keeping an eye on the boxscores is just as important for bettors as watching fluctuations in win totals at various outlets. MLB teams are scrutinizing battles in camp for a position or two in the field, not to mention their rotations and bullpens. Injury news is also trickling in, both new injuries and players rehabbing old scars in an attempt to be ready for Opening Day.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks are just two weeks away from posting wins and losses that count, and all 30 teams will be in action a little more than a week later. Here are a couple of win totals I like right now.
Motown Cats Aim For 4th-Straight AL Central Crown
For the third straight season, the Detroit Tigers are the biggest favorites to win a division, which just happens to be the AL Central. Though they have cashed for their supporters each of the past two seasons to run their string to three consecutive division flags, Tiger backers have sweated it out with a 3-game margin in the AL Central two years ago and slim 1-game edge last season.
My bet is Detroit continues the division streak, and that makes the Tigers a very good bet to go over the 90-win mark that is the consensus on the early MLB futures odds..
In an earlier preview of the Tigers, my man-crush on new manager Brad Ausmus was revealed. Love, however, has nothing to do with the fact this team will once again win its division and breach the 90-win barrier. Detroit will have a better bullpen to go with an outstanding rotation, even if it turns out to be a subpar year for Justin Verlander who is a bit banged up, and the Tigers will have a better defense behind that pitching.
They are clearly being undervalued at this time. Forget all of that hype around the Kansas City Royals, and while I still like Cleveland with Terry Francona in charge, the Indians aren't good enough to topple Detroit from the AL Central perch.
Can Astros Avoid 4th-Straight 100 Loss Campaign?
It's actually tough to lose 100 games in a season, so what the Houston Astros have accomplished is pretty rare. Granted, it's in the awful category of baseball accomplishments, but still rare. Since 1973, 49 teams have turned in 100-loss campaigns, and the 2011-13 Astros join the 1977-79 Blue Jays and 2004-06 Royals as the only squads to do it three consecutive years.
Will Houston become the first in the free agency era to do it four straight seasons? That's what bettors are being asked with a 62½ win mark on the current MLB futures odds.
Some early returns at sports books suggest the Astros will indeed avoid a fourth 100-loss effort. We have not seen a team lose 100 games four straight seasons since the 1962-65 New York Mets, so betting 'over' on Houston's 62.5 line might be a safe bet. I'm going the other direction.
You can't blame Astros fans for their optimism this will be the year the team starts to turn things around. Few teams have fallen so fast and hard from playoff contenders to league doormats as Houston. Was it really just nine years ago this franchise was playing in its first World Series? The Astros were in contention for the NL playoffs until the final few weeks in 2008, turning in an 86-win mark that year, but have since gone 312-498 (.385), averaging more than 99 losses per season.
They should be a better team this year, but that isn't necessarily going to translate into more wins. Houston resides in a tough AL West where the Oakland A's, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels are among the top 6 contenders for the American League pennant, each at 8/1 on MLB futures odds. The Astros were 25-51 vs. division foes their first season in the AL, an ugly 2-17 against the Rangers, and they'll be taking on an improved Seattle Mariners team that is expected to finish right around .500.
My crystal ball says Houston will be close to the 63 wins, but fall a couple short. 'Under' 62.5 dubyas is my play on the 2014 Astros.