The 2021 Major League Baseball season -- with (some) fans -- is rapidly approaching. The most fun one can have in preseason betting is looking at the futures (I would say "the only fun," but there are people who wager on spring training games, seriously). In this installment, we'll take a look at the win totals, a.k.a. the over/unders. That is, each team is assigned a number and we bet on whether they'll end up over or under that number in wins this season.
All odds are supplied by William Hill Sportsbook. Before I dive into my picks, here's a look at all 30 teams, sorted in order by the win totals. Take a gander and see if any jump out at you.
Now, onto my picks. I've grown fond of forcing myself to grab five overs and five unders. I've been doing this for years and generally sit around 65 percent with my success rate, topping out at 8-2 and bottoming out at 5-4-1. Yes, I've never had a losing record, so that means you should definitely bet your life savings* on the following picks.
Dodgers over 103.5
Am I nuts? That's the highest win total I think I've ever seen and I'm still going over? Here's where I am:
- The Dodgers won 106 games in 2019.
- They were on pace for 116 wins last year.
- There are two really bad teams and one probably mediocre -- if not also bad -- team in their division.
- They are so insanely talented, yes, but also so deep that even a few key injuries won't really slow them down.
Of course, it's always possible the Dodgers have a terrible start like in 2018 before rebounding and still winning the division, which they 100 percent will. I guess that chance lies in the whole "they just won the World Series, finally, so they won't be as motivated for the regular season this year. If that's the case we'd have a loser by June.
I'm just not seeing anything even remotely in the ballpark of that happening with this bunch. They are so talented and deep and a "lack of motivation" doesn't really move the needle for me. Any human being finding a way to make the major leagues flips a switch when on the mound or in the batters' box.
I'm pretty comfortable in saying the Dodgers get to at least 104 wins. They are that good.
Padres over 93.5
The Padres were on pace to win 100 games last season, but that was only in a 60-game slate and, no, I don't think they were going to keep up that pace over the long haul. They are, however, better this time around. They've also proven to themselves they can win, after the 2020 regular season and coming back from an 0-1 deficit in a best-of-three series -- and they needed multiple comebacks in Game 2 to stave off elimination. The swagger remains, but now there's legitimate, battle-tested confidence behind it.
Also, if there are any concerns about me saying the Dodgers win 104 and Padres win 94 in the same division, remember the 2015 NL Central that housed a 100-win team, 98-win team and 97-win team.
Astros over 87
Losing George Springer is a big deal and it's certainly possible that the rotation could fall apart, but there's also a lot of talent in said rotation and the position-playing side still has the likes of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa. They'll get Yordan Alvarez back, too.
And frankly, there's a part of me that thinks after the Astros were shamed (rightfully!) so much for the cheating scandal and endured the down regular season that they are collectively totally pissed off and ready to stick it to the masses. That playoff run to the ALCS and nearly taking the AL seemed like them finally getting over it. Yeah, yeah, I know: How dare I use a gut feeling instead of numbers, but I really feel like a "Screw You" Tour with this offense is a legitimate possibility.
Also, look around the AL West. The A's lost Liam Hendriks and Marcus Semien and though they won't be significantly compromised, they'll be slightly worse. Then there are the Angels, who should never, ever be trusted at this point along with the still-not-contending Rangers and Mariners.
It's true that the Astros aren't even close to the juggernaut they were just two years ago, but I have them pegged to take the division and that pushes them up around 90 wins.
Royals over 72
Hey, I had to take someone from the lower tier as a team that plays at least somewhat competent baseball. Detroit is still bad and Cleveland is coming down, so those are pluses for K.C.
Look at the lineup, too. The full return of a remarkably powerful Salvador Perez last season was a crowd-pleaser and Whit Merrifield remains entrenched at the top. New acquisition Carlos Santana helps and it's possible Andrew Benintendi gets his career back on track with the change in scenery. Jorge Soler is plenty capable of a homer barrage, again, so I'm pretty confident they'll be drastically improved from their 13th-place finish in the AL in runs scored last season.
On the pitching side, the Royals were actually sixth in the AL in ERA last season and they've added Mike Minor along with some relief depth.
The worry here is the Royals fall too far out of the race -- especially with only two wild cards instead of last season's format -- and dump veterans in front of the deadline. If that happens, we might lose, but I'm betting on them being close enough for Dayton Moore to hold. In fact, I'm pretty confident in this over.
Cubs over 79
Look, the NL Central is awful. The Cardinals are going to win the division, but I'm not confident in them going over their 86 wins here. I have the Cubs in second, ahead of the laughable Pirates (I'm not even taking over 58 wins) and two teams I'm taking in the under section. That means if I have the Cardinals winning around 86, the Reds and Brewers under .500 and the Pirates around 58 wins with the Cubs in second, by the simple logistics in the matter, I have to have the Cubs over 79 wins, right?
Again, there's concern here. If the Cubs do fall out of the race, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo are all free agents after this season and could be traded. So could Willson Contreras, who is a free agent after 2022. Hell, Kyle Hendricks could go, too. Look, gambling is difficult. We know that. We also know the Cubs generally have surpassed most projection models since turning the corner in 2015. Stick with what works.
Simply, I'm betting on the Cubs being competent enough to finish second and that means the over hits.
Yankees under 97
I think the Yankees are going to win the AL East. I also think it'll be with fewer than 97 victories. The Orioles are still brutal, but the Red Sox are going to be better, the Rays are obviously still a contender and the Blue Jays are quite strong. It wouldn't be surprising to see the top four teams in the division all finish with winning records and the Yankees aren't nearly the titan the Dodgers are, so I see them taking the title with around 92-94 wins. That's good enough to get us paid.
Rays under 86
Thanks to their run to the AL title and doing so with a grouping of players not really well known nationally, along with their shoestring budget for player payroll, there was a corner of the baseball world pretty well obsessed with the Rays last October. It was a total lovefest through the playoffs on national broadcasts. With that comes a gut feeling for many gamblers to get sucked in and believe the Rays just always find a way to win, no matter the circumstances.
Is that really true, though? Before these past two playoff berths (they were bounced in the ALDS in 2019), the Rays missed the playoffs five straight years and were under .500 in four of those.
This time around, they've shed two of their three full-time starting pitchers and replaced them with bargain-basement buys Chris Archer and Michael Wacha. The bullpen is excellent, but can it really survive the grind of 162 games now with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell becoming Archer and Wacha? They already overachieved their run differential last season by four games in just 60 and I'm dubious on Randy Arozarena all of a sudden just becoming Barry Bonds for two months.
As noted in the above selection, I think the Yankees win the division, the Blue Jays are very good and the Red Sox are much improved.
All of this pushes the Rays down below 86 wins for me -- something like 83-79.
Phillies under 81.5
It was good that they brought back J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. And, sure, they added Archie Bradley and the bullpen can't possibly be nearly as putrid as it was last season. It's just that they almost just ran it back with the team that was 28-32 through 60 games last year. Remember, too, that at one point they won 10 of 11. Still managing to finish four games under .500 in 60 with that stretch says they were pretty terrible other than that.
They'll win in the ballpark of 77 games, finish in fourth and a bunch of people will misguidedly blame Bryce Harper. We'll be fine with that, because we got paid on this bet and Bryce is still way richer than us.
Brewers under 83.5
I guess I still haven't learned my lesson because I end up low on them pretty much every season. This time I'm going to be right, though, I'm telling you.
The once-vaunted bullpen is really thin behind Josh Hader -- who isn't nearly the eater of worlds he was a few years ago, by the way -- and Devin Williams. The rotation has two very good starters, two not-so-good and one with a legendary injury history. The offense will be better than last season for sure, but the Brewers were 12th in the NL in runs, 12th in average and 13th in OPS. Better should be a given, but that doesn't make it productive.
They'll be in the high-70s in wins, fighting for third place with the ...
Reds under 81.5
Another team with two starters I love and not much behind them, though it's possible Tyler Mahle breaks through. Still, the 4-5 spots are rough and the bullpen lost its closer (can Sean Doolittle recapture his old glory to form a lethal lefty combo with Amir Garrett?) and overall looks creaky. I don't like the defense with Mike Moustakas and Kyle Farmer forming the double-play combo, in addition to having to play Nick Castellanos in the field every day now.
Again, high-70s in wins (I'll pick 77). That's a winner for us here. Hopefully we're 10 for 10, though that's an unrealistic goal. We will, however, get the majority of the picks right and that's profit.
We'll check back in here in late September and hopefully it'll be to sing my praises. Best of fortune to all fellow gamblers.