Cardboard cutouts replaced fans behind home plate Sunday when Cody Bellinger blasted a grand slam for the Los Angeles Dodgers in an exhibition. Crowd noise was pumped through speakers, the on-field celebration was awkward and most aspects of the game were bizarre, except for Bellinger playing the role of a superstar on baseball’s best team.
One night later, Aaron Judge ripped a home run in an empty stadium as the Yankees continued to stage an impressive hitting exhibition in New York.
This MLB season will be a short, strange trip, and hopefully it ends with a World Series. But there are no locks in baseball or betting.
Despite the negativity exacerbated by an acrimonious and prolonged offseason when many fans promised to swear off the sport, baseball still could be an easy sell at the sportsbooks. It’s a marketing boost when the most attractive teams in the eyes of the betting public are the Dodgers and Yankees, a pair of potentially dominant clubs that will generate the hype that helps fans warm up to the game again.
When bettors hit the polls in Nevada, the Dodgers are winning the popular vote in World Series futures wagering.
“The Dodgers lead by far in most tickets and money, with the Yankees in the No. 2 hole,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said.
The numbers are a little different in New Jersey, where the Yankees are getting strong regional support as 4-1 co-favorites with the Dodgers.
The abbreviated 60-game season opens Thursday, with the Yankees and Dodgers in action as favorites on opposite coasts. If the brief exhibition schedule indicates what’s coming, baseball betting will do brisk business this season.
“People like the action,” Bogdanovich said. “If they are betting baseball in Korea and Japan and (MLB) exhibitions, they will be betting this for sure.”
But the coronavirus concerns make this season especially unpredictable for oddsmakers and handicappers, and the way baseball will be bet is taking on a slightly different look.
Several books, including the South Point and Westgate, are shifting to posting a moneyline on teams with no listed pitchers. If the Yankees are -130 favorites with Gerrit Cole as the expected starter, but Cole is scratched, no refunds are made. Bettors will get the moneyline price at the time the wager was made instead of the adjusted price — the same way games are bet in the NFL and NBA.
“I have been pushing for this for years,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “We had more pitchers scratched than ever last year, and a lot of teams are going to an opener instead of a traditional starter. It’s too confusing for your average bettor. So far, everybody I’ve talked to is on board with it. A lot of crazy stuff is going to happen this year.”
The set moneyline price for the game line, runs line and first five innings is meant to simplify the action on both sides of the counter. As usual, 8½ innings must be completed for action, and check the house rules because differences will exist.
“I was asked, ‘Why do you list pitchers? You don’t list quarterbacks,’ ” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “There are going to be more ‘Off’ pitchers than we’ve ever seen before. It’s best for bettors and books to have action. You could benefit from it or you could be on the short end of it. It could work both ways.”
Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, a longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker, said via Twitter: “So why would someone make a big bet on the favorite, the Under or -1.5 runs if they knew there might be a chance they don’t get (Max) Scherzer or Cole or (Clayton) Kershaw? And if somebody wants to make the opposite bets for the limit, you must assume they know the ace will be scratched.”
Sharper bettors who get information before it’s available to the public should have an edge, which is always the case. The obvious difference this season is a much higher probability of late lineup changes and pitcher scratches.
“There’s no question that information is going to be a key,” said Chuck Edel, a Las Vegas professional bettor. “There’s a lot of things that could happen. If I get some info, I’m going to fire. But I don’t think I’m going to jump in with two fists. I’m just kind of waiting and seeing.”
In a normal season, sharps typically look for lower-scoring games in March and April when pitchers are ahead of hitters in colder temperatures. Edel said he thinks opening the season in warm weather might help the hitters and, with the designated hitter in both leagues, scores could be higher. But, he said, that’s just his theory.
“I think it’s going to be wide open this season, and it’s going to be a difficult time for sports handicappers,” Kornegay said. “I think people in general are taking a wait-and-see approach. I think a lot of people are unsure, and so far we have not seen a lot of sharp play on baseball futures.”
Erin Rynning, a VSiN analyst and pro bettor, said he’s ready to jump into baseball immediately instead of playing the wait-and-see game.
“I’ve been betting UFC and golf, so I’m definitely going to bet baseball,” Rynning said. “I’m actually looking forward to it. In a 60-game season, every game means a little more. Hopefully, I think there will be some good opportunities.
“But it’s hard to bet these baseball futures. It seems like it’s potentially a waste of time.”
While Rynning did bet the Milwaukee Brewers to win the World Series at 55-1 odds, he’s not making many other futures wagers, such as team win totals, because of fears the season might not be completed.
“Futures action is slow because people are wary of tying their money up on something when there might not be a result,” Bogdanovich said. “Nobody is going to be surprised if the season gets canceled.”