While the betting universe is transfixed on college hoops, NBA and, to a lesser extent, the XFL and NHL, another sport is quietly starting up in sun-filled diamonds across Florida and Arizona.
That's right: MLB spring training is upon us.
Pitchers and catchers reported a week ago and positional players reported either Sunday or Monday. The first spring training game takes place this Friday between the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals (3:05 p.m. ET).
The talk of MLB remains the Astros' cheating scandal. Over the last few days, we've seen Mike Trout, Justin Turner and several other players rip Houston and criticize Commissioner Rob Manfred for not handing down stricter punishments. Houston has officially become public enemy No. 1 and the game's biggest villain.
Looking to capitalize on the anti-Astros buzz, William Hill released an interesting season-long prop bet on how many Houston batters will get plunked this season. The over/under is set at 83.5. As David Bearman of ESPN noted, only 9 teams have been hit by 84 pitchers or more over the past five years.
Sportsbooks remain bullish on Houston despite the sign stealing scandal. Circa set their win total at 95 games. Only the Yankees and Dodgers (both 102) are higher. Houston is + 315 to win the American League (2nd best odds behind Yankees + 120) and + 700 to win the World Series (3rd best behind Yankees + 300 and Dodgers + 300).
In case you missed it, the Astros will be managed by longtime veteran skipper Dusty Baker. Here is a look at the projected lineup and starting rotation, according to RotoChamp.
1. George Springer OF
2. Jose Altuve 2B
3. Michael Brantley OF
4. Alex Bregman 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel 1B
6. Yordan Alvarez DH
7. Carlos Correa SS
8. Josh Reddick OF
9. Martin Maldonado C
1. Justin Verlander
2. Zack Greinke
3. Lance McCullers
4. Jose Urquidy
5. Brad Peacock
Tuesday's action features 25 college basketball games and 7 NHL games. For an updated breakdown of sharp action across the marketplace, be sure to tune in to the VSiN Market Insights Podcast with Josh Appelbaum. It will be posted at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Now let's analyze a handful of Tuesday''s biggest games receiving smart money.
8:30 p.m. ET: Creighton (20-6, ranked 15th) at Marquette (17-7, ranked 19th)
Bettors are in for a treat with this Big East primetime battle between ranked rivals. Creighton has a better record, higher ranking and has won three straight and six of their last seven. However, Marquette is at home, features one of college's best players (Markus Howard 27.3 PPG) and played well in a 72-71 loss to Villanova their last time out as 6-point dogs. This line opened with Marquette listed as a 2.5-point home favorite. The public sees two good teams and doesn't know who to take. However, some books have been leaning closer to Marquette -3, signaling some liability on the home team. One big edge to Marquette here: the Golden Eagles enjoy a big rest advantage. Marquette last played on February 12 while Creighton last played February 15. This is also a revenge spot for Marquette. These two teams met on New Year's Day with Creighton winning 92-75. The total opened at 154 and has ticked down to 153.5, signaling some under pro action.
9 p.m. ET: Kentucky (20-5, ranked 10th) at LSU (18-7)
This SEC showdown features two teams with impressive won-loss records. However, Kentucky is ranked and has won four straight while LSU is unranked and has dropped three of their last four. So why on Earth did LSU open as a 2-point favorite? The public can't believe Kentucky is getting points and they are rushing to the window to back the Wildcats. However, despite this lopsided betting, the line hasn't budged off of 2. This signals liability on the Tigers with pros fading the trendy dog. Ken Pom projects LSU to win 78-76. We've also seen some sharp under money knock the total down from 151 to 150. When two good field goal shooting teams go head-to-head (both 45% or higher), the under is 115-79 (59%) this season.
7:30 p.m. ET: Montreal Canadiens (27-26-8) at Detroit Red Wings (14-43-4)
Both of these teams have dropped four games in a row. But that's about all they have in common. The Canadiens are on the outside looking in but still technically alive for a playoff spot (currently 9 points out of the second Wild Card). The Red Wings, on the other hand, own the worst record in the NHL by far. Montreal is -4 in goals for vs goals against while Detroit is -106. The Habs are 14-11-3 on the road while the Wings are 9-18-2 at home. This line opened with Montreal listed as a -185 road favorite and the Wings a + 165 dog. You can expect this line to climb further to the Habs. They enjoy an added day of rest over Detroit (Feb. 15 vs Feb. 16). Road favorites are 57% on the moneyline since 2005. Road favorites with 3-4 days off are 61.1%. If their opponent missed the playoffs the previous year, they improve to 63.6%. The Habs could also get a big boost as captain Shea Weber is expected to return from injury.