It hurts to say this, but Astros are good

Let’s March! We are just days from hearing three great words: It is March. Buzzer-beaters, brackets and ’round-the-clock hoops are just around the corner, signaling the end of the brief post-Super Bowl lull for sports fans. We all love the NCAA tournament and probably will appreciate it even more after being deprived of it last year. The first major sports-related consequence of the pandemic last March, the tournament was one of the few marquee events that was canceled and not rescheduled. It wasn’t delayed, it wasn’t made up — we had no 2020 NCAA champion. 

As we creep back to normalcy, conference tournaments will begin shortly, leading to the Big Dance. A healthy and reasonable debate can be had over this question: What is the best month of the sports calendar? March has to be a No. 1 seed for that tournament. Not only does it contain endless action and countless exciting games, but March brings the feeling that spring is upon us. Warmer weather, baseball and the Masters are on deck once we make it to March, and the playoffs for the winter sports are usually not far behind (though they’ll be later than usual this year). 

With only a little over a month until opening day, these last weeks before March Madness are a good time to prepare for the baseball season. Betting MLB win totals is great for a few reasons: Baseball teams play pretty much every day, so if you bet a team’s win total, you have a little action going every day — something to watch, something to follow. Also, bad breaks seldom affect MLB win totals. The season is 162 games, and aside from a rash of unforeseen injuries, if your assessment of a team is accurate, you will win your bet. In the NFL, with only 16 games, a bad call or missed kick can derail a strong handicap. In baseball, there are no flukes over 162 games. If you’re right, you win. If you’re wrong, you lose. Let’s try to be right and look ahead to the baseball season. 

 

Houston Astros Over 87 Wins: I know, you hate the Astros. So do I. But we’re bettors, and in the words of “The Wire’s” D’Angelo Barksdale: “Money be green.” Some teams are public darlings, teams we like and want to root for. The books usually know this, prey on this information and inflate the total. This is the inverse. They know we hate the Astros and want to see them not just lose every game but also get hit with plenty of pitches. They cheated their way to a title in 2017 and were within a win of a second title in 2019 before getting busted days after the season ended, and they were arrogantly unapologetic when caught. Unfortunately, however, the talent is there, and so is value on the Over. They still have an excellent lineup and great pitching depth in the farm system, with Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy emerging as promising arms with lights-out strikeout ability. They had a bad season last year, but most of that was due to a rash of injuries. They got healthy in October and were within a game of facing the Dodgers in what would have been a 2017 World Series rematch (I’m sure MLB still bemoans the small-market Rays appearing instead). The last three full seasons they have won 107, 103 and 101 games, respectively. This team is not quite at that level, as George Springer signed with the Blue Jays and Justin Verlander will miss most if not all of the season. But the Mariners, Angels and Rangers have soft enough pitching staffs for the Astros to get fat. I hate to do this to you, but take the Over 87 on the (expletive) Astros.

 

Texas Rangers Under 68 Wins: “Suck for Luck,” “Tank for Tua,” “Just be Jacksonville for Trevor Lawrence” (fine, I made that one up). NFL teams have recently attempted all-outs rebuilds, and now we’re seeing some baseball teams try to rise to the top by first sinking to the bottom. Meet your 2021 Texas Rangers! They have a new general manager, Chris Young, and have not had a winning season in five years. They traded Lance Lynn and Rafael Montero and will likely do more dealing come July. They are an organization bereft of talent and will try to build this thing from the ground up. Some very impressive college pitchers will come off the board at the top of the next draft, and the Rangers are putting themselves in position to pick one of them. The A’s and Astros will be quality teams fighting for the AL West title, the Angels have two of the best hitters in baseball and the Mariners have a young core of talented players who will pop within a few years. The Rangers will get beat up in 2021 and will need to take their lumps for several years as they replenish their talent base. Take the Under. The Rangers could have the worst record in baseball this year.

 

Los Angeles Angels Under 85 Wins: Mike Trout is one of the best players of all time, and Anthony Rendon is elite. They are a lethal 1-2 combo that will be fun to watch and not so fun for opposing pitchers. However, neither player learned to pitch during the offseason. The Angels will score plenty of runs, but the reason they haven’t won a playoff game in over a decade remains their fatal flaw: They just do not possess quality starting pitching. Dylan Bundy had a nice bounce-back season last year, and Griffin Canning has shown flashes of potential. The problem is keeping them healthy and getting any sort of depth behind them. Shohei Ohtani was much ballyhooed coming over from Japan but has been unable to find his way onto the mound much or consistently find the plate once he is there. Trout is signed to a long, lucrative contract but has just a handful of postseason at-bats in his brilliant career. The Angels have tried. They’ve spent money on big-time free agents like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Ohtani and Rendon. They seemed like a logical fit for NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, who signed in L.A., just not with the Angels. They instead signed Alex Cobb. Trout and Rendon will hit some loud, long home runs this summer, and they will be a very fun .500 team once again. Go Under on the 85.

 

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