Tuesday, July 5, 2022

MLB picks: Are the Braves, Phillies or Marlins a decent bet to catch Mets in the NL East?

Though it wasn’t a full month of baseball, we just witnessed the end of the first calendar month of the 2022 MLB season. The monthly benchmarks are generally a time to take stock of things in baseball circles and, I’ll tell ya, the National League East is a pretty intriguing division.  

The Mets were expected to be good and they are playing possibly even better than expected, especially considering Jacob deGrom is out. They have the best record in the NL and sit at the top of the division, already with a three-game lead. The Braves are the defending World Series champions and started slow, but they started slow last season, too. Plus, Ronald Acuña, Jr. just returned from his ACL tear. They seem a good bet to get things going at some point. The Phillies are plenty interesting and are certainly planning on contending all year. But it’s the Marlins — who just won seven in a row through Saturday — sitting in second place. 

Though the fourth-place Braves are six games out, it’s safe to say right now there are four teams with at least a reasonable argument to win the East this season. Who would you bet on? 

Let’s take a look at the current odds to win the NL East and break down how each team looks. Records are as of Monday, May 2.

Odds to win NL East

New York Mets: -140

Atlanta Braves: +240

Philadelphia Phillies: +650

Miami Marlins: +1100

Washington Nationals: +20000

Mets (16-7; -140)

Surely they’ll lose a series at some point, but they haven’t even split one yet. They’ve gone 7-0 in series to this point, the only untouched team in baseball. They likely get deGrom back at some point, too. 

In looking at the landscape of the offense and rotation, I don’t see serious concerns about a big backslide. The bullpen could use some shoring up, but there’s a trade deadline in July and bullpen help is the easiest thing to find. 

They were already a decent pick to start the season, but they’ve banked a nice lead and look incredibly consistent. They have superstars playing everyday and in the rotation. It’s possible to see them win an MVP (Francisco Lindor is the best bet) and Cy Young (Max Scherzer … or even Chris Bassitt?). They are deep and they have an incredibly motivated owner with huge pockets. 

Right now, the Mets are my prediction to win the division. 

Verdict: The value isn’t the best, but there’s zero value in losing and they are a very reasonable bet to win it. If you like them, take ’em and put your money on them. I do and I just did. 

Braves (10-13; +240)

I’ve brought it up many times, but the Braves were never even one game over .500 until August last season. From a mathematical standpoint, that has absolutely no bearing on this season. In that clubhouse, however, it’ll matter here for months. There will always be the belief that the hot streak they went on for the final two months of the regular season and then in October is right around the corner. Confidence is a big deal in baseball, too. It can’t trump a large amount of talent, but the Braves have plenty of that, too. 

The biggest problem is they’ve dug themselves, with the Mets help, of course, a six-game hole. They can overcome it, but I’m not sure heading into the season many believed the Braves had a true talent level of more than six games better than the Mets. Even if you did believe it was more, how much more? Because they have 23 fewer games to outplay them by more than six now. This part is a math problem and they are far behind in the equation. 

As noted, there’s certainly talent. Acuña is a major needle-mover. Along with Matt Olson, they have two players with MVP-caliber talent and Austin Riley is showing last season wasn’t a fluke, either. There’s plenty of talent in the rotation and that bullpen could shut down opposing teams for an entire series when going well. 

If you were picking from this point forward, there’s a great case to be made for the Braves to have the best record in the division. They are behind by six games, though, which makes it much tougher. The odds at only +240 aren’t too enticing. 

Verdict: Again, the value isn’t great after a 10-13 start. The hope would’ve been to get them right now around +500 or more, but the defending champs carry that weight. Still, predicting the Braves to repeat as NL East champions even with a six-game deficit is defensible, which means this is a quality wager for those so inclined to place it. I’m not, but I don’t blame anyone who disagrees with me. 

Phillies (11-12; +650)

They’ve been fickle this season and will likely continue to be with an offense that profiles like a heavy boom-or-bust group. Ups and downs, perhaps extreme ones, will happen plenty. And hey, roller coasters are fun. The highs for bettors will be very high and joyous. They’ll just likely bottom out after every good streak. It’ll be enough to contend all season and they could make the playoffs, especially now with three wild card spots. 

As far as the division, it’s a tall order. I do think Zack Wheeler gets back on track while Ranger Suárez will probably improve, giving the Phillies a nice 1-5 in the rotation. Bullpens are volatile beasts, but this one is a bit less than the last few Phillies iterations. There’s talent here and we know the front office will be looking to add in July. 

I believe from a somewhat-optimistic point of view, the Phillies are ticketed for somewhere in the mid-80s in wins. Absent a Mets collapse and the Braves not fully waking up — not to mention the Marlins needing to avoid hitting their peak — that won’t win the East. 

Basically, you’d need to believe in some failures from the other three contenders in tandem with positive Phillies vibes here. I’m not fully on board, though we’ve all certainly made worse bets. 

Verdict: I’m passing, but I wouldn’t vehemently argue with strong believers, either. 

Marlins (12-9; +1100)

In predicting the finish in the division right now, I’d have the Mets first, Braves second and then there’s a fight for third place between the Phillies and Marlins. Ultimately I’ll stick with the Phillies third and leave the Marlins out of the playoff picture. The thing is, they are really close and there is reason to believe they have staying power. 

It’s the rotation. I went a bit deeper after they’d won seven games in a row, but with Pablo López, Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Jesús Luzardo, they’ll scare a lot of teams. They certainly need a lot more offense beyond the great work they’ve been getting from the likes of Jazz Chisholm, Joey Wendle and Jesús Sánchez. If they got, from here on out, something like 90th percentile performances from Jorge Soler, Avisaíl García and Jesús Aguilar, now we’re talking. That plus something powerful in front of the trade deadline in July and it’s not a ridiculous prediction to have the Marlins taking the East. 

I won’t be making said prediction, but keep in mind we call this gambling and those odds are nice. 

Verdict: Worth a flier with money you don’t intend to use for anything important. Lottery ticket! 

Nationals (8-16; +20000)

There’s a reason the odds look so ridiculous. There’s just about a zero percent chance the Nationals win the division and I’d be willing to put it exactly at zero. You could argue there are four good teams in this division. There is one bad one and there isn’t much disputing that. Even if you think something like “hey, it’s only $10, why not?” my answer would be that it’s a colossal waste. If any amount of money is burning a hole in your pocket like this, please just donate it to a charity. 

Verdict: Lol (sorry, Nats fans)

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