Sunday, April 14, 2024

MLB best bets: Odds, picks for all six divisions, pennant races, plus World Series champion for 2024 season

With the 2024 Major League Baseball season just around the corner, we’re ramping up the preseason coverage and that means hitting on some gambling futures. I’ve already run through some win totals (over/unders) and player props. Now it’s time to run through the divisions and make pennant and World Series champion plays, too. 

To be clear, these are my plays and everything here is my own thought process. For those who don’t gamble, this is for entertainment purposes and you’re free to make your own picks. For those who legally gamble, feel free to agree with me and follow the play or disagree and play whatever you want. It’s your money. 


AL East

Odds by team: Yankees +170, Orioles +180, Blue Jays +450, Rays +600, Red Sox +1800

I’ll lop the Red Sox off here, as I think they’re going to be bad this season. Any of the other four are a justifiable plays this season to win the division. The Yankees jumping to the favorites here over the offseason wasn’t a surprise to those who know how odds work. Even if they aren’t clearly the best team, they have a gigantic fan base and that means a lot more people are going to bet on them. For me, it usually means stay away because their odds will be a bit skewed. In light of the Gerrit Cole injury news, however, I was a bit surprised to see them still sitting in the top spot. Heading into this season, I think I would’ve ranked him as the pitcher most important to his team in all of baseball. 

The Rays are enticing at that price, but the rotation has a lot of questions in this difficult division. I know the Jays are good, but they are uninspiring to me. So … 

My play: Orioles +180 

The Orioles won 101 games last season and return nearly everyone. The Kyle Bradish and John Means injuries this spring are concerning while they’ll need to shuffle the bullpen a bit in light of Félix Bautista’s Tommy John surgery. Another year of growth for the young position-player core is a major bonus, plus Jackson Holliday will be added during the season, if not for Opening Day. Grayson Rodríguez is ready to make the leap to frontline starter for a full season while Corbin Burnes is a Cy Young-type starter. I like the O’s. 

This was +200 last week and once we hear Cole is out for a while (which I fully expect), they’ll shrink again, so strike while the iron is hot — assuming you agree with me. 

AL Central

Odds by team: Twins +100, Tigers +300, Guardians +350, Royals +850, White Sox +3500

The Twins are the best team. They won the division by nine games last year and while they let Sonny Gray walk in free agency, there are several areas where the team should internally improve (a better season from Carlos Correa and a full season from Royce Lewis chief among them). 

We have to decide if they feel a sure enough thing to win the division that it’s worth even odds. I could totally see the Tigers, Guardians or even Royals sneak in there and steal the division. It’s possible all three are improved, even if only slightly. 

My play: Twins +100

With the odds being even, we’re deciding if we think the chances of the Twins winning the division are better than 50%. I do. I’m not going heavy on this one, but it’s a reasonable play with just one betting unit. 

AL West

Odds by team: Astros +100, Rangers +210, Mariners +300, Angels +4000, Athletics +17500

First off, ignore the Angels and A’s. As the odds lay out nicely, any of the other three teams are a reasonable bet to take the division. The Astros have won it each of the last six full seasons and I’m staying put. The Rangers’ rotation for the early part of the season is an issue while the Mariners’ offense needs to show itself capable of pushing the two titans here. 

My play: Astros +100

The Astros had so much go wrong last season. Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez missed a lot of time with injuries. They were 39-42 at home. The rotation was ravaged with injuries and underperformance. And they still won 90 games. Things won’t be nearly as difficult for them this time around at home or in the rotation while I expect more games from Altuve and Alvarez. 

I wouldn’t argue with Rangers or Mariners plays, though. Both are formidable. 

NL East

Odds by team: Braves -340, Phillies +350, Mets +1200, Marlins +2500, Nationals +12500

I don’t see any reason to waste time or resources on the Mets, Marlins or Nats here, so it’s just a question of Braves vs. Phillies and then considering the odds. 

My play: None

I believe the Braves are going to win this division. I believe it pretty strongly, but not strongly enough to lay -340. The route here is to see if the Braves start the season slowly before they catch fire. If that’s the case, hopefully then the price would drop and then it would be time to pounce on them. Otherwise there’s just no value to be had here unless you really believe the Phillies take the division. The Braves won the NL East over the Phillies by 14 games last year. There are reasons to believe the Phillies are better and maybe the Braves are a touch worse in the regular season, but I’m just not seeing a full reversal at the top. 

To reiterate, I’ve got the Braves winning the division but I’m not paying -340. 

NL Central

Odds by team: Cubs +140, Cardinals +185, Reds +350, Brewers +900, Pirates +1600

This is the most wide-open division from the simple perspective that even a Pirates division crown wouldn’t shock me. They have the best odds of any team in the fifth spot in its division. The Brewers ran away with the division last year (nine games), but lost two of their aces (one to trade, one to injury) and their manager. This past week, they also lost their closer for three months. Surely the Cardinals will be better than last season. The Cubs are good. The Reds won 82 last year with a bunch of rookies who should, at least in theory, be better this time around. 

My play: Cubs +140

I was hoping the Cubs’ odds would be a bit better, but plus money is plus money and this is who I think wins the division. In addition to the Opening Day roster, the Cubs have a stacked farm system at this point and could potentially swing for in-season help if there’s a tight race for the Central. 

I wouldn’t argue with any play here, though. It’s an open division. 

NL West

Odds by team: Dodgers -700, Diamondbacks +1100, Padres +1100, Giants +1600, Rockies +17500

The Rockies don’t count. The three teams between the Dodgers and Rockies should all be wild-card contenders. Can they stay with the Dodgers, though? 

My play: None

The Dodgers are going to win this division. I’m probably 95% sure or more. They won it by 16 games last year and while I respect the ability of the D-backs, Giants and Padres to contend, it’ll only be in the wild-card race. 

But -700 just isn’t worth it. Remember in 2018 when the Dodgers started the season 16-26? Hope that happens as they sort through their rotation early in the year, which could cause their odds to fall to a palatable wagering position for us. 

To win AL pennant

Don’t waste your money: The Red Sox, Angels, Royals, White Sox and A’s range from +2500 through +20000, respectively, and I’m exceedingly confident none of them will take the pennant. 

Justifiable plays: Astros +450, Yankees +500, Orioles +550, Rangers +600, Mariners +900, Blue Jays +1000, Twins +1200, Rays +1700

Who do you like best? There are a lot of tasty-looking numbers here. 

Something to keep in mind here is that last year at this time, very few people had the Rangers taking the AL and nearly no one had the Diamondbacks making their NL run. Hell, almost no one had the D-backs even once the playoff field was set. These days, with more playoff teams and shorter early series in the postseason, we’re bound to see more unlikely deep runs, so if you get a gut feeling, it wouldn’t hurt to run with it. Again, how many people had Arizona in the NL last March? 

Worth the gamble? I don’t think the Tigers (+2800) or Guardians (+3300) will make the playoffs, but in that terrible division there’s always the chance that one of them pulls of a Diamondbacks-like miracle and ends up in the World Series. I’m not playing either, but I would understand a sprinkle (for example, if you usually bet $100, putting $20 on either) at those odds. 

My play: Orioles +550

Take everything I’ve mentioned about the Orioles, but let’s add an element here. Remember how the Rangers added Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery last trade deadline and then won the World Series? And how the Astros in 2017-18 added Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole via trades? 

Orioles president Mike Elias has already traded for Burnes and he didn’t have to encroach upon the upper levels of his prospect cache. Burnes is a one-year rental and this tells me Elias is ready to get aggressive with the championship window open instead of prospect hugging, much like the Astros did when he was second in command and helped land Verlander and Cole. 

This is to say that while the Bradish, Means and Bautista situations bring concern, I think Elias is ready to pounce and make their roster stacked heading to October. 

To win NL pennant

Don’t waste your money: I really only come up with two teams here in the Nationals (+10000) and Rockies (+15000). 

Justifiable plays: Dodgers +150, Braves +350, Phillies +750, Cubs +1600, Diamondbacks +1700, Cardinals +1800, Reds +2000

Again, who do you like? Even if it’s just a gut feeling. This was the league last year that gave us two 100-win regular-season teams and an 84-win champion. 

Worth the gamble? I’d stay away from the Giants (+2000), Mets (+2200), Brewers (+3000), Marlins (+4000) and Pirates (+5000), but I could see a scenario for an unlikely run from any of those teams. Some more than others, obviously, but I wouldn’t argue vehemently with someone who wants to put a low-stakes wager there — the aforementioned “sprinkle” that I mentioned above. Remember those 2023 Snakes! 

How about the Padres at +2200? They need to figure out the rotation, replace Juan Soto‘s production and find a new closer after letting Josh Hader walk in free agency, but there’s still plenty of talent here. They were just 9-23 in one-run games and 2-12 in extra innings last season. Fernando Tatis Jr. was coming off an entire year off that included multiple surgeries and a PED suspension. He’ll be an MVP-caliber player this year. Manny Machado will be better. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove battled injuries. And they still only missed the playoffs by two games. They just recently added Dylan Cease to the rotation, giving the Padres a potentially strong top three in the rotation. 

Again, they lost Soto and Hader along with Cy Young winner Blake Snell (assuming he does sign elsewhere). But just getting to the playoffs means some funky stuff could happen. I could see it. 

My play: Phillies +750

In each of the past two postseasons, we’ve seen it play out that the Phillies are a very good regular-season team but are much better in the playoffs. Last year in the first half, Bryce Harper was coming off Tommy John surgery and Trea Turner had one of the worst extended slumps of his career. They’ll be better for a full season this time. The offense as a whole will be great and they’ve fixed some defensive issues. 

The rotation with full seasons of Ranger Suáez and Christopher Sánchez will be better as well. Then let’s see all those Citizens Bank Park vibes in the playoffs without the whole “offense falls apart in Games 6 and 7” this time. 

To win World Series

Don’t waste your money: Mets, Giants, Red Sox, Tigers, Guardians, Marlins, Brewers, Royals, Angels, Pirates, Nationals, White Sox, Rockies, A’s

I know I said some of these teams might be worth a gamble in the pennant plays above, but adding an extra step just makes it much more unlikely for a team like, say, the Brewers or Guardians. I just can’t see it. I’ve mentioned the D-backs run last year multiple times and with their three World Series games in Arizona, it was evident they were at the end of their rope against a far superior Rangers team. There’s only so long an upstart can keep overplaying.

Justifiable plays: Dodgers +300, Braves +600, Yankees +800, Astros +850, Orioles +1200, Rangers +1400, Phillies +1500, Mariners +2000, Blue Jays +2500, Twins +2800, Cubs +3000, Cardinals +3300, Diamondbacks +3500, Rays +3500

Worth the gamble? The Reds at +4000 are a tough one. With so many players who were rookies last season, it seems like there’s potential for a bit of a backslide. But there’s a lot of talent here. Let’s say the Reds make the playoffs and then a rotation of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Frankie Montas and either Andrew Abbott or Graham Ashcraft is firing on all cylinders. They could make a deep run, right? I feel like I’m having to squint too hard, but it’s still there. 

The Padres are +6000 and I explained any possible love for them above. They work as a longshot gamble here, too. 

My play: Phillies +1500

I love both the Phillies and Orioles this season and the Phillies have longer odds. I’ll run with them. 

I could also be swayed to play the Dodgers and Braves, obviously, along with the Yankees and Astros. For longer shots, I like the numbers on the Twins, Cubs and Diamondbacks. 

The Phillies and Orioles, however, are my horses this season for deep playoff runs. 

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