MLB Season Win Totals to Watch
The marathon of the 2021 MLB regular season begins on Thursday April 1 and my featured recommendations are noted below, with the win number noted next to each team mentioned.
National League Action
BEST BET - Over Miami Marlins
Didn't the Miami Marlins (70.5) make the playoffs last season and win a round vs the Cubs? All of that after losing much time due to Covid early in the season? With the deck stacked against the Marlins, they nonetheless delivered...most impressive!
Are they really going to get worse? Unlike many teams with "what ifs?" in their pitching staff and rotation, Miami's arms have actually produced something in the recent past. They're established now with some real upside, especially Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez. Meanwhile, there are enough serviceable veteran bats in the lineup (Dickerson, Marte, Rojas, DuVall) to help keep the offense afloat.
And it looks like touted young Jazz Chishom, who generated a lot of chatter in the Grapefruit League the past month, has made roster and will start at 2B.. Moreover, we’re not sure the rest of the East outside Braves is all that great. This looks the best bet to us in the NL...and why are Cubs rated about 10 wins higher? It’s a definite “over” for us in Miami.
Additional Wagers to Make
Over Philadelphia Phillies
Under San Diego Padres
Under Chicago Cubs
Over San Francisco Giants
A bit better bullpen (any bullpen, really) and the Philadelphia Phillies (80.5) would have climbed above .500 and into the expanded playoffs in the shortened season. Not surprisingly, the new front office combo of President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld tried to make some offseason upgrades to the relief corps. And while we’re not totally sure about Archie Bradley as a closer, he's better than what they had last year, and set-up men look to have been upgraded as well.
Aaron Nola-Zack Wheeler-Zach Elfin is also not a bad 1-2-3 combo at the top of the rotation, and keeping top-shelf C J.T. Realmuto happy with a nice contract extension was a good bit of business.
Yes, we still think Bryce Harper is a bit overrated, and Rhys Hoskins certainly strikes out too much, but scoring runs was not the Phils’ problem last summer. Stopping other teams from scoring in the 8th and 9th innings was the issue, and if that improves just a bit, the Phils might hang in the playoff mix well past Labor Day. It’s an “over” for us at Citizens Bank Park.
The hype mill is whirring in America’s Finest City, as the San Diego Padres (94.5) think they have upgraded enough to make a run at the Dodgers in the West. We’ll see; no matter, this is an aggressive wins total, so much so that the Padres can still have a good season and make the playoffs and land “under” (beneath 95 wins). GM A.J. Preller has made some news the past couple of years and did so again by luring a couple of big fish, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, to bolster a rotation that looks potentially nasty with Dinelson Lamet also flashing ace-like stuff at times last season.
Darvish and Snell, however, have had injury issues in the past, and we have some depth concerns about the San Diego rotation. Jayce Tingler does have plenty of arms in his bullpen, especially with offseason additions Mark Melancon and Keone Kela, though the relief corps underperformed a bit last summer. Borrowing a page from Billy Beane, Preller also had Tingler stressing patience at the plate last season, and the Padres had more baserunners than previous years, partly explaining Manny Machado’s gaggle of grand slams.
Machado and Fernando Tatis, Jr. (signed to a new, long-term deal) are obviously stars, but the Padres are also now wearing a real target, which they still weren't last season (at least not like now). What could help is if the rest of the non-Dodgers West is bad, but the Giants and perhaps D-backs might not be as awful as some believe. Coming in around 90-92 wins should still get the Padres a wild card berth...though it might not be quite as fun now that longtime play-by-play man Ted Leitner has retired. Look “under” at Petco Park.
Did the Chicago Cubs (79.5) make any upgrades worth noting since their season ended with a whimper in the first round of the expanded playoffs vs. the Marlins? To us, it looked like more outflow than inflow, especially with staff ace Yu Darvish now gone to the Padres. And that could just be the start; GM Jed Hoyer might at some point in the near future be looking to move several contract-year players like Kris Bryant or maybe even Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
Will this be the last Windy City hurrah for some of these key members of the 2016 World Series winners? Or might some of those mentioned not last at Wrigley Field past the trade deadline?
We have other questions, especially in the bullpen, where Craig Kimbrel is no longer the reliable closer he used to be. Touted 2B Nico Hoerner has also already been sent to the minors for more seasoning, so the hype surrounding him will have to wait a while. On the plus side, we don’t think swapping out lumbering LF Kyle Schwarber for ex-Dodger Joc Pederson (a better all-around performer) is a bad trade-off at all, but that's about all we see for possible upgrades. Moreover, an injury or two in the rotation and the Cubs are going to be at a further disadvantage. Now, maybe if they go 17-2 against Pirates, the Cubs have a chance to clear .500, but short of that it looks an “under” to us at Wrigley Field.
Flying beneath the radar these days are the San Francisco Giants (75.5), who have barely made a peep since last seen in the playoffs five years ago. But while no one was looking except the cut-outs in the stands and the cars on the outfield fence at Oracle Park last summer, the team punched above its weight and probably should have qualified for the expanded playoffs before a late fold in the final series vs. the Padres.
We were not huge fans of manager Gabe Kapler while he was with the Phillies but liked the aggressiveness his team showed for him at the plate last summer. Suddenly, the Giants didn't seem timid as in recent years. There are lots of contact hitters in lineup; RF Mike Yaz is very, very good and a longshot MVP candidate, while 2B Tommy La Stella might prove a sneaky-good addition.
There’s reason to pump the brakes, too; there are several concerns in the rotation (is Kevin Gausman really a no. 1 starter? What does Johnny Cueto have left in his tank?), but if Kapler can squeeze some innings out of offseason additions Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood, it might be a serviceable rotation. The bullpen might also be okay if Jake McGee can handle the closer role, while ex-Twin Matt Wisler is another possible closer who could also fill a late-inning setup assignment.
A realistic best-case scenario is that the staff won’t prove a liability, which is a step in the right direction. If all goes well, this could be a .500 or slightly better team, especially as West rivals Colorado and Arizona might be headed in the wrong direction. “Over” at Oracle, with a parallel recommendation to find the blowtorch signal of KNBR 680 anywhere west of the Rockies and listen in to the post-game Giants Roundtable, where the incomparable Jon Miller holds court with Dave Flemming and TV cohorts Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow for some must-hear, late-night entertainment.
American League Action
BEST BET - Under Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox (80.5) were the first half of a disappointing New England parlay last season; the Patriots weren’t any good, either, but at least Bill Belichick had a bit of an excuse and looks to be doing something about it in the NFL offseason. Not so much the Bosox, whose biggest upgrade is simply getting Eduardo Rodriguez (19-6 in 2019) back into the rotation after missing 2020.
But was his career year two seasons ago an outlier? And what will Chris Sale look like post-Tommy John surgery if he really is to return sometime in July, as is currently the hope?
Even with Rodriguez and Sale pulling their weight in the rotation, remember that the bullpen (5.79 ERA) was the AL version of the Phillies’ last summer, an absolute disaster area. Most of the offseason additions were modest, though perhaps versatile ex-Dodger Kike Hernandez fills the gap at 2B that has been left by Dustin Pedroia’s retirement. (Pedroia missed all of last summer with knee problems.) Alex Cora is also counting heavily upon some modest offseason additions such as Hunter Renfroe (likely in RF), oft-injured Garrett Richards (hopefully part of the rotation), and reliever Adam Ottavino, likely a part of a bullpen-by-committee after last summer’s implosion by the relief corps. Keep in mind that for a full season, the Bosox were on about a 66-win pace last summer, so it would be quite a jump to .500 or above. “Under” at Fenway Park.
Additional Wagers to Make
Under Houston Astros
Over Oakland A's
Over Tampa Bay Rays
Before the Houston Astros (87.5) got hot in the playoffs, a spot which they almost blew in late September, the team was nothing special last summer. Of course, on the heels of the offseason controversies and dismissal of manager A.J. Hinch, perhaps it was all predictable, and the team did respond to Dusty Baker in the postseason, narrowly missing a World Series berth after rallying from 0-3 down to force a Game 7 vs. the Rays in the ALCS.
Injuries were certainly an issue last summer, but there look to be some legit questions about this rotation, especially as Zack Greinke (now 37) isn’t dominant and blowing away batters as he did earlier in his career, and Lance McCullers has had varieties of injury issues in the past. We’re always wary of pitching staffs that had injury problems in the previous season...those issues often arise again. Expect Jake Odorizzi to be a decent addition to the rotation and prove a valuable innings-eater, but this is not the dominant staff it was a couple of years ago.
The everyday lineup could also greatly miss the many contributions of George Springer, who has shuffled off to the Blue Jays, and Carlos Correa also balking at a contract extension could turn into distraction. Seems to us like a lot needs to go right for the ‘Stros to hit 87 wins; it’s an “under: for us at Minute Maid Park.
Why does it seem the Oakland A’s (87.5) continue to be underestimated? The pitching is always solid and for once most of the faces in the rotation are familiar, with some buzz in the Cactus League that lefty Jesus Luzardo is about to emerge as an ace. And it is well-established that skipper Bob Melvin is also one of the best at handling his pitching staff. Losing top-shelf closer Liam Hendriks might not turn into a major issue, either, as offseason addition Trevor Rosenthal looks able to handle closer duties.
The A’s also played .600 ball last summer with the offense sputtering at times, with the “Matts” (3B Chapman and 1B Olson) struggling more than expected, but each are proven commodities and we don’t expect the offense to get any worse. And if longtime Rangers SS Elvis Andrus can bounce back from his own subpar 2020 (we’re giving a lot of players mulligans for last summer), he could prove a very useful addition.
Oakland, which also won a playoff series for the first time since 2006 early last October, might be capable of a deeper postseason run for once, and rates our pick to win the West. “Over” at the Coliseum, where we hope they’re going to allow some fans so we can enjoy some of that real BBQ down the concourse on the left field side.
Too clever by half, perhaps, the Tampa Bay Rays (85.5) and their analytics, which urged manager Kevin Cash to remove Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series when he had the Dodgers tied in knots and the Rays on their way to forcing a Game Seven. We know what happened next, and now Snell is gone to the Padres. But the analytics that boomeranged in the Fall Classic have also helped mold a consistent overachiever at the Trop, and it looks like the Rays are being undervalued again.
Tampa Bay has rolled out pitcher after pitcher the past few years thanks to its deep farm system, and while waiting for a few more arms to properly ferment have added a couple of veteran stop-gaps in the rotation, Michael Wacha and Chris Archer (Archer returns to TB; assuming he must be sound from various injury concerns the past two years or GM Erik Neander wouldn’t risk it, we suppose) to bridge the gap. Wacha and Archer won’t have to worry about working more than four or five innings anyway, and given the pitching culture in Tampa Bay we don’t think the Rays will miss Snell as much as people think. Moreover, as a year ago, there are lots of established and live arms in bullpen.
The offense, while not dominant, remains functional, with plenty of contact hitters and good speed on the bases. We’ll get to see exciting postseason hero Randy Arozarena from the start of the season in LF, too, and by summer, touted SS Wander Franco might be ready for a promotion. The Rays are solid defensively, too. This is the second -best team in East and could again beat the Yankees or anyone else in a short playoff series. We’re looking forward to Dewayne Staats describing another “over” in St. Pete on Rays TV this summer.
Odds Subject to Change - per Bet MGM