In a free-agency decision that turned into a controversial photo finish, Trevor Bauer picked the Dodgers over the Mets. When asked why, Bauer said he opted for the best shot to win the World Series. Like him or not, oddsmakers agree with him.
By signing the top pitcher on the market in early February, the Dodgers clinched their spot as consensus World Series favorites — 7-2 odds at BetMGM and as low as 2-1 at William Hill — and got tagged with MLB’s highest regular-season win total in more than 20 years.
After the Westgate SuperBook opened Los Angeles’ win total at 103.5 last week, William Hill oddsmakers raised the ante by posting the Dodgers at 104.5, a number that’s notable in sportsbook history.
“The Dodgers have so much talent it’s insane,” Westgate baseball oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “The Dodgers are so deep they could field two major-league teams and their second team could probably be better than half of the teams in the league right now.”
On the opposite end, the Pittsburgh Pirates are stuck with MLB’s lowest win total at 58. The Pirates have traded most of their top players in recent years and appear to be tanking for the No. 1 draft pick, which is not a bad strategy.
The Dodgers have deep pockets and are on a spend-to-win spree. In February 2020, they traded with Boston for outfielder Mookie Betts and handed him a 12-year contract extension worth $365 million. Betts batted leadoff for the World Series champions, so the move paid off.
Bauer, more loathed than loved because of his polarizing personality, followed the money and picked Hollywood over New York. He hit the lottery in Los Angeles by signing a three-year, $102 million contract. He finished 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA and threw a majors-high two shutouts for Cincinnati last year, when he won the National League Cy Young Award. He joins a Dodgers staff that includes Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, David Price, Dustin May and Julio Urias. Price opted out last season, yet the rotation still was strong enough to defeat Tampa Bay in six games in the World Series.
Besides having MLB’s lowest team ERA of 3.02 last season, the Dodgers’ offense led by Betts topped the majors in runs scored at 349, or 5.8 per game.
In the coronavirus-shortened 60-game season, the Dodgers went 43-17 — a 71.7 winning percentage that would project to 116 wins in 162 games. A win total of 104.5 might even seem low, but it’s the highest since sportsbooks posted the same number on the 1999 Yankees, who finished 98-64.
“The first bet Under was professional money,” William Hill book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “The Dodgers look good, but they have to beat the Padres a bunch of times in that division.”
Is a bet Under 104.5 really that sharp? In the 2019 regular season, the Houston Astros finished 107-55 and three other teams hit triple digits in wins — the Dodgers (106), Yankees (103) and Twins (101). Minnesota feasted on three terrible division opponents, just as the Dodgers will this year.
The Dodgers and Padres are scheduled to meet 19 times in the NL West, where Arizona (76), San Francisco (74.5) and Colorado (63.5) rank in MLB’s bottom 10 in win totals. San Diego, historically cheap yet suddenly spending like a major-market franchise, also strengthened its rotation by acquiring the Cubs’ Yu Darvish and the Rays’ Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.
The Padres, still little brothers in a fight with the Dodgers, have the NL’s second-highest win total of 93.5 at the Westgate, which opened the Braves and Mets at 90.5 atop the NL East. William Hill oddsmakers see a difference in the teams, posting Atlanta at 92 and the Mets at 89.
The Mets upgraded their offense and defense by trading with Cleveland for star shortstop Francisco Lindor in January. But can the pitching staff hold it together until June, when Noah Syndergaard is expected to return from Tommy John surgery?
“The Mets are an intriguing team,” Salmons said. “We think of the Mets and Braves as equals. The Mets’ lineup with Lindor in there sure looks a heck of a lot better than it did last year. We’re not sure what to expect from Syndergaard, and the scary thing about the Mets is the bullpen.”
The bullpen is a potential problem for most teams, including the Dodgers, who always get nervous when manager Dave Roberts makes a pitching change in a postseason game.
“The only weakness the Dodgers have is the manager, but that’s not going to affect them in the regular season,” Salmons said. “It would be shocking if any of the three teams in the division (other than the Padres) are within 25 games of the Dodgers. I think the Dodgers can win as many games as they want to, but do they want to push that hard?”
The Mets missed on Bauer and two other free-agent targets — outfielder George Springer, who left Houston to sign with Toronto, and infielder DJ LeMahieu, who re-signed with the Yankees.
BetMGM lists the Yankees as -175 favorites to win the AL East, and they are tagged with MLB’s second-highest win total — 97 at William Hill and 95.5 at Westgate. The Rays (88), Blue Jays (86), Red Sox (79) and Orioles (65) have considerable gaps to close in the division.
“I would like to see one year where the Yankees don’t have a lot of injuries,” Salmons said. “That’s such a good division. Toronto has a young team that everyone expects to keep getting better, and we don’t know what the ceiling is. I never question what the Rays do because all they do is win. I still expect the Rays to be right there.”
On the Westgate odds board, the Angels’ Mike Trout is the + 175 favorite to win AL MVP, followed by the Yankees’ Aaron Judge at 7-1. The Mets’ Jacob deGrom is the 2-1 favorite to win NL Cy Young, with the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and the Indians’ Shane Bieber 2-1 co-favorites in the AL. William Hill opened Judge and Trout as 12-1 co-favorites to win the majors’ home run title.
Opening Day is April 1, when all 30 teams are scheduled to play. Of course, COVID-19 problems could interfere with those plans, which is why sportsbooks have attached stipulations to win total wagers. Westgate rules require teams to play at least 155 regular-season games for action, and William Hill set the bar at 150 games.
“I don’t think there’s going to be an issue getting the games in,” Salmons said. “MLB has shown it can do the seven-inning doubleheaders and make up the games.”
Spring is a time for optimism. Last year at this time, we had no clue what was about to hit us. Still, there was no stopping the Dodgers in 2020, and they appear even stronger now.
MLB WIN TOTALS
Los Angeles Dodgers 103.5
New York Yankees 95.5
San Diego Padres 93.5
Atlanta Braves 90.5
New York Mets 90.5
Chicago White Sox 89.5
Minnesota Twins 89
Houston Astros 88.5
Tampa Bay Rays 88
Oakland A’s 86.5
St. Louis Cardinals 86
Toronto Blue Jays 86
Washington Nationals 84.5
Los Angeles Angels 83.5
Milwaukee Brewers 83.5
Cleveland Indians 82
Philadelphia Phillies 81
Cincinnati Reds 80.5
Boston Red Sox 79
Chicago Cubs 78
Arizona Diamondbacks 76
San Francisco Giants 74.5
Miami Marlins 73.5
Kansas City Royals 73
Seattle Mariners 72.5
Detroit Tigers 68.5
Texas Rangers 67.5
Baltimore Orioles 65
Colorado Rockies 63.5
Pittsburgh Pirates 58
Source: Westgate SuperBook