We posted our 2021 MLB betting preview in Point Spread Weekly four weeks ago but wanted to update it with the season starting this week. We haven’t changed our minds much here in the Tuley’s Takes home office, especially since we don’t put much stock in spring training games, but we also know a lot of readers aren’t looking to start betting until the season is actually here.
Similar to other sports, it’s been an interesting offseason coming off a condensed 2020 regular season. A lot of player movement has happened, and we’re supposed to go back to a 162-game schedule and with a so-called deadened ball.
This leads to my first bit of gambling advice. A lot of people are saying to bet Unders early in the season, but if I see oddsmakers shading the totals low, I’m going to jump on the Overs. Why? Count me as skeptical that MLB will actually do anything to limit scoring. That’s just not something any league does, so I’m not buying it. I don’t think anyone knows how this will affect scoring, Over/Unders or anything.
Before we get to my team predictions, I want to discuss two topics.
For those in Las Vegas on Wednesday: After canceling its Baseball Season Wins Challenge last year, the Westgate SuperBook is resuming it this year. But if you haven’t entered already, the deadline is 10 p.m. PT Wednesday, and only in person at the Westgate. Entries are $200 with a maximum of three per person, and you pick against the locked-in Over/Under season win total for all 30 MLB teams, with the tiebreaker being to predict the total wins by the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Another important rule is that individual teams must play 155 games for action. That leads me to Topic No. 2.
For baseball bettors everywhere: Be aware of the house rules wherever you’re betting, whether in Nevada, other states with legalized sports betting or offshore. This should always be the case, but especially now with so much uncertainty remaining in scheduling during the pandemic. When betting Over/Under season win totals at the windows or on mobile apps, the Westgate SuperBook requires 155 games for action. The South Point requires only 150, and we’re hearing books are handling these many different ways, so be sure you know what you’re getting into just in case.
And now back to our breakdown of the MLB season ...
Let’s start on the Left Coast, where the Padres made a big splash this offseason by acquiring Blake Snell and Yu Darvish to add a much stronger starting staff to an already explosive offense. I’ve been high on the Padres the last few years, and I equate this to sometimes I’m early on a horse and maybe bet it too early before it reaches its full potential. This could very well be the year the Padres do that. The problem with betting the Padres to win the World Series (+ 850 at Circa Sports here in Vegas after being + 700 a few weeks ago) or the NL pennant (now + 400) or even the NL West (+ 245) is that they have to beat the Dodgers. Four weeks ago I wrote, “I’m still shopping around and will decide later if I get involved with the Padres in any of those markets.” I’m glad I waited, as the prices are a little better now. I’m glad I already bet the Padres Over 93.5, as they’re up to 94.5 at some books. In fact, this theme of liking a team in a division with a heavy favorite will be repeated later. The Dodgers are at 103.5, and I’m not making the same mistake of fading them like I did with Under 39 last summer in the abbreviated 60-game season.
This division has been wide open in recent years. The Cardinals traded for Nolan Arenado to solidify their role as the favorites at + 130 (Circa), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brewers (+ 195), Reds (+ 480) or even Cubs (+ 645, down from + 800) won the division. As a diehard Cubs fan, I might take a flier on them. I was never much of a Darvish fan, and even though I’ll miss Kyle Schwarber, Joc Pederson should fit well in that lineup. Still, I think the best bet in the division is the Cubs Over 78 wins, though I also like the Brewers Over 84.
If anyone has a strong opinion in this division, I’d love to hear it. I’ve gone back and forth on which team has the best odds to win the division among the Braves (+ 130), Mets (+ 140), Nationals (+ 745), Phillies (+ 925) and Marlins (+ 5000). The Mets should be the most improved, but oddsmakers have already accounted for that, so any betting value is gone. I was continually surprised by how much the Marlins overachieved last year in the shortened season and made the playoffs, but I’m not sure they can sustain that over a 162-game schedule. I think I’ll pass on this division.
The A’s are another team that overachieved last season, and I’m willing to fade them by going Under 86 with their season win total. That also leads to your most bettable chalky division winner in the Astros, still a value at -105 if you missed the + 125 earlier in the month. The Dodgers and Yankees are odds-on favorites in their divisions, but I see them as having more legitimate contenders to overcome, while the Astros should coast to the AL West title.
This is the last season for the Indians, who will then drop the nickname, but they’re not expected to go out on top. In fact, let’s go Under 81.5 or 81. We don’t see them getting over .500 as they should finish well back of the White Sox (+ 105) and Twins (+ 120). The White Sox have been on a lot of bettors’ radar the last few seasons and might be tempting at + 445 to win the AL or + 1100 to win the World Series. As has been stated with other teams, the oddsmakers are already on to them, but with Lance Lynn added to the rotation behind Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, the White Sox might actually have the staff to make a postseason run.
The Yankees are the prohibitive favorites at -235, but I’ve been waiting for the Blue Jays to break through for a couple of years. The addition of George Springer from Houston and Marcus Semien from Oakland helps an already potent lineup, and we just have to wait to see if they can outslug the Yankees. Similar to the Padres-Dodgers situation, I’m still debating whether to wager anything on the Blue Jays to win the World Series (+ 2200), the AL pennant (+ 900) or even the AL East (+ 475) — though those prices are all better than they were earlier this month. But I already loaded up on Blue Jays Over 86 wins.
Tuley’s Takes on Final Four
Baylor (-5) vs. Houston (O/U 135)
Saturday’s first national semifinal is one that many people had predicted, with the notable exception of those who had Illinois in the Final Four. Baylor opened as a 4.5-point favorite Monday night at Circa and has settled in at -5. I have this number at closer to pick-’em, so the original lean is on Houston + 5. However, I have a conflict of interest as I have the “Gonzaga/Baylor to win NCAA men’s title” future at + 120, so I still need Baylor to get to the championship game and I’m not interested in betting Houston just as a hedge. The better bet looks to be on the Over, as I set this Over/Under at 140 points, pretty much right between what we saw in Houston’s 67-61 win over Oregon State (closing total of 130.5) and Baylor’s 81-72 win over Arkansas (closing total of 148). This should also be right in between those games when it comes to pace of play.
Pick: Over 135
Gonzaga (-14) vs. UCLA (O/U 146)
Saturday’s second national semifinal features No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga going for the first undefeated season since Bob Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana team. The Bulldogs will face the last remaining low seed in No. 11 UCLA, which has had to win five games already, including the First Four. UCLA is also the last remaining team from the Pac-12, which is 13-2 ATS not counting the Oregon-USC game in the Elite Eight. The Bruins were especially impressive in taking down the East Region’s No. 2 seed, Alabama, in the Sweet 16 and then No. 1 seed Michigan in the Elite Eight, so it’s tempting to ride the hot hand. However, the Bruins needed overtime to get past Bama and beat Michigan by just two points at 51-49. But it’s hard to fade equally red-hot Gonzaga, which is 4-0 ATS in the tourney despite having to lay huge spreads like this and just dismantled UCLA’s Pac-12 rival, USC, to reach the Final Four. Early money has come in on Gonzaga, moving the line from -13 and -13.5 to -14 and was even at -14.5 at DraftKings late Tuesday night. The Over was also bet early from 143.5 at Circa to 146 at most books early Wednesday. My initial thought is to fade that move with the way Unders have been performing at Lucas Oil Stadium. I know it’s sacrilege not to have a bet on a Final Four game, but I’m passing for now and seeing how high the side and total get bet.
Pick: Pass (lean to UCLA + 14 and Under 146)