Reigning MLB Division Champions Face Challenges to Repeat

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 4:32 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2018 4:32 PM UTC

Last year’s division winners are very chalky, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have significant value as division picks.

MLB: Unseating Division ChampionsFree MLB Picks: Red Sox +152 (to repeat in AL East);Cardinals +480 (to unseat Cubs in NL Central)Best Lines Offered: 5Dimes

The Yankees are the public’s favorite choice to be a team that dethrones last year’s champion of its respective division. Opening on the MLB odds board at -105 to win the AL East, New York has shot up to as high as -140. The Yanks are talented, no doubt, and made themselves even more so by signing slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Even if last year’s NL MVP can defy his reputation as being injury prone, the Yanks have a lot of questions. The main worry is their starting rotation. Luis Severino was amazing last year, but terrible the year before; which Severino will we get? Will Masahiro Tanaka find consistency? Will CC Sabathia’s age and discrepancy between ERA and FIP (his FIP, which is like ERA but factors out luck, was much higher than his ERA) catch up to him?

The Red Sox pitching has significant upside because a lot of players underperformed. Rick Porcello, for instance, is statistically due for some progression, based on his career FIP being lower than his ERA. Most notably, David Price is healthy and ready to build off his career 3.22 ERA. Boston’s lineup is filled with even more underachievement. Mookie Betts managed only a .264 BA, .28 lower than his career BA. Hanley Ramirez was even more disappointing and Dustin Pedroia missed a lot of action. Despite all of this underachievement, the Red Sox still won the division and signed J.D. Martinez with his career .285 BA and .514 slugging. Boston will repeat and is a must-have at + value.

The team most vulnerable to being unseated is the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Cubs tried to repair their unreliable bullpen but still show gaping holes, with one signing including injury-prone Brandon Morrow and another Steve Cishek, whose FIP is nearly .6 higher against lefties than righties. The outfield lacks consistently productive players and the starting pitching rotation is due to implode. Kyle Hendricks’ velocity is trending downward, which indicates wear and tear and general vulnerability. His 3.03 ERA last year is masked by his 3.88 FIP, meaning he was lucky. He’s due for statistical regression. Yu Darvish is a year removed from Tommy John surgery and is unlikely to recover from his slide in performance last year. Jon Lester is aging and also struggled last year. Tyler Chatwood is unlikely to help matters much with his struggles with command and high walk rate.

More than anything else, the resurgence of the Cardinals gives them betting value with your MLB picks. Newly acquired Marcell Ozuna has been looking like everything the Cards need him to be as their long-sought power hitter in their lineup, hitting .351 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 57 spring at-bats. With Jack Flaherty and, in May, Alex Reyes, the Cards will have added significant depth to their rotation. Based on the sabermetric WAR statistic that measures a player’s value to his team, the Cards have the highest-quality group of seven starting pitchers. Adam Wainwright could also bounce back and return to form; his career ERA is 3.29 ERA. Depth is key for the bullpen as well. New acquisition Dominic Leone enjoyed a positive spring training after producing a solid 2.56 ERA in Toronto, as is Tyler Lyons, who figures for another season with a sub-3 ERA. Newly acquired Luke Gregerson will rediscover himself after interrupting a streak of eight consistent seasons with one off year in 2017.

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