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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:54 PM

Future Bets - AL East

2020 MLB American League East Best Bets

After dealing with the three National League divisions last week here, here, and here, it's time to flip over to the American League side of things this week. The American League is one where you arguably don't have the overall depth in a couple of divisions like the NL East and Central do, but by no means does that mean we should be handing over division crowns and season win total 'over' bets to the teams that dominated the AL a season ago.

American League East – Win Totals

Baltimore Orioles 56.5
Boston Red Sox 84.5
New York Yankees 101.5
Tampa Bay Rays 89.5
Toronto Blue Jays 75.5

American League East – Odds to Make Playoffs

Baltimore Orioles Yes (+4000) No (-20000)
Boston Red Sox Yes (+130) No (-150)
New York Yankees Yes (-1200) No ( +750)
Tampa Bay Rays Yes (+105) No (-125)
Toronto Blue Jays Yes (+800) No (-1400)
 
That being said, the one division where already crowning a champion is the AL East with the New York Yankees expected to run away with things. At least on paper, that's hard to disagree with, and with division odds in the 1/8 range, there is really no point in diving into AL East division winner odds much further. But there is plenty more value elsewhere in the division, so let's get right to it.

Season Win Total Best Bet #1
Baltimore Orioles Over 56.5

The Orioles are going to be far from a competitive team in terms of playoff contention this year, but that doesn't mean we can't project them to be a much improved team relative to expectations. After all this was a team that won 54 games a year ago despite being tied with the Cubs for the worst luck in all of baseball (-6) based on Pythagorean Wins, and went 0-10 SU at home against the Yankees for the entire year.

That latter stat isn't even the worst of it against New York, as Baltimore went 0-16 SU in their final 16 games against the Bronx Bombers, as bettors everywhere continued to go back to the well and lay heavy heavy juice with New York every time they shared a field with Baltimore. Even with the Yankees being projected to be as good as they should be, I highly doubt we see a repeat performance from the Orioles in the overall head-to-head rivalry, or go winless at home vs New York this season.

Grabbing a couple more wins over New York would easily go a long way in clearing this low win total for Baltimore, but this play is more about their league-worst luck – they were -8 in Pythagorean Wins in 2018 – eventually turning around, and them grabbing a few more wins within their division games where they were 24-52 SU a season ago.

On the field, Baltimore's got enough talent to expect 60+ wins from them, as names like Trey Mancini and Renato Nunez will once again be counted on to carry the run producing load. Around those guys they've got some sneaky good on-base guys that could help set the table for Baltimore at times, and as long as 1B Chris Davis sees less and less time on the field, the prospects for the Orioles season look that much better.

But it's the prospects of Alex Cobb and Kohl Stewart in the heart of their starting rotation that I believe will help push this Baltimore team well over this total, as those two guys are two of the names I do expect to out-perform expectations greatly. If those two guys can get the required help from the offense in days when they've got their best stuff going, Baltimore will win more often then this number is really giving them credit for.

Finally, we can't forget about the fact that since MLB went to it's current 15-team leagues back in 2012, there have been four teams – all AL teams – that have finished a campaign with fewer than 60 wins prior to last year. Those four teams were the 2013 Houston Astros (51 wins), the 2016 Minnesota Twins (59 wins), the 2018 Kansas City Royals (58 wins) and the 2018 Baltimore Orioles (47 wins).

In all four instances, each franchise improved their season win total by at least one game – KC went from 58 to 59 wins – with the other margins being +7, +19, and +26 wins the following year. This year's Orioles team needs to just improve by somewhere near the bottom end of that range – three games – and with all the negative luck they had a year ago as well, that's far from an unrealistic ask.

Yes, Baltimore is going to lose a lot of games this season again, but the worst of the worst is over in this rebuild for the franchise, and a 40% win rate (64ish games) has got to be the next goal that Orioles brass is hoping they shatter this season. They didn't have a winning record against any division rival a year ago and still got to 54 wins, which includes that disastrous run vs the Yankees. In fact, Baltimore didn't have a winning record against any team they played last year outside of going 4-3 SU against the LA Angels last year, and I doubt that stays the same this season. This Orioles team will get to 60 wins at least.

Season Win Total Best Bet #2
Boston Red Sox Over 84.5

The biggest move made this off-season came by the Boston Red Sox when they shipped out David Price and Mookie Betts to the LA Dodgers. It was a move that was clearly motivated by money as there is no other reason to trade an in-their-prime superstar like Betts other than money. It's a move that's not sat well with a huge portion of the baseball community, especially the baseball media, but that same group will chastise any team that's not fiscally responsible while not remaining competitive, and the last I looked, Boston's still got a team chalk full of talent and will be highly competitive again. Trading away Betts does not signal a 'tanking' move by Boston in any regard.

But that's how this trade has been shaped for the most part, as Boston's win total was sitting at 87.5 in mid-January before any of this went down. Having a great, generational talent is always going to be a plus for any team, but in baseball especially it does not equate to consistently winning. Just look at the Angels with Mike Trout. I applaud Boston for remaining competitive and wanting to be fiscally responsible for once. Baseball isn't like other sports where one great player can significantly change your prospects. It helps sure, but it's not the be all, end all.

For example, last year, Boston went 8-6 SU in games that Betts did not start and ended up with a +9 run differential overall in those games. It's not like they got nothing in return for him as Alex Verdugo is a highly talented outfielder as well, and Boston still has the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Badley Jr, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez in their lineup. Not to mention Michael Chavis showed flashes of brilliance at times last year, and while adding Kevin Pillar for depth in the outfield might not move the needle much offensively for this team, his ability to have a significant impact on defensive runs saved cannot be overlooked.

So yes, on the surface trading away a generational talent like Betts doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to many, but in reality, he was somewhat expendable. Boston's still got starter Chris Sale leading their rotation, a guy who's got nowhere to really go but up after last season's disastrous campaign, and the rest of the slated starting staff – Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez – aren't exactly dead weight. They'll get plenty of runs support themselves from this still highly talented offense as it is.

Zigging when the majority are zagging will take you a long way in this business, and I still can't believe the scope of the negative overreaction the market has had to Boston's prospects this year based off of one trade. Heck, Boston went the contrarian route in trading Betts and that's something that's not hard to respect. Their path to success starts with winning more AL East games this season (35-41 SU in division play last year), a number that includes a a 5-14 SU record vs the Yankees.

With the Red Sox finishing the year with a -3 luck factor as well in the Pythagorean wins category, they just now need to play baseball with break even luck to surpass this year's new season win total. Remember, they had a winning record without Betts playing last year, and Chris Sale's year was uncharacteristically bad and done in August.

I just have a hard time not seeing this team win 90 or so games, as the perpetration and reality of this team is completely out of whack in the market right now. They may not end up winning the division, but they will compete for it for as long as they can, and with +130 odds to make the playoffs, it's not like a Wild Card berth is far-fetched for Boston this year. How many Wild Card teams get there with 84 or fewer wins?

Player Prop Best Bet
Xander Bogaerts Over 156.5 hits

Bogaerts is another one of the young generational talents entering his prime that Boston had on their roster, and with Betts out of town, he's almost become the defacto face of the franchise now. He will be one to live up to those expectations as well, as it's not like he still doesn't have plenty of protection around him in Boston's lineup. Bogaerts will still get plenty of great pitches to hit, and after tagging 190 hits last season, this should be another year where he gets at least 160.

Bogaerts has only cleared this 156.5 number in three of his six full seasons at the MLB level, but one of them he finished right on 156, and he's always easily cleared this number when playing at least 150 games. He will have to continue to be a big part of Boston's success (or lackthereof) this year, and given my previous play in this piece, it's easy to see that I believe Bogaerts will be having another great year, and 160+ hits will be the driving force behind it.

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