It’s mid-March, which means baseball is almost on us at long last. While we have handed out tips on each league’s MVP race already, it is time to take a look at who could win it all.
Last year saw the Houston Astros outlast the New York Yankees in a wild ALCS that went the distance and then edge out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The margins of victory were razor-thin but if, like me, you wagered the Astros before the season began you earned yourself a very tasty 16/1 return on your investment.
This year you won’t be getting nearly as good odds on the Astros. In fact, the futures odds are considerably shorter this year across the board, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a look at some of the teams and make a wager that should keep you interested all season long. So who should you back?
Houston Astros: 13/2, +650
The defending champs are joint-favorites this year for good reason. They return the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa at the plate as well as Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and the man that made the difference last season, Justin Verlander. They’ve added Gerrit Cole to give themselves a rotation that rivals any in the majors, and have the likes of Brad Peacock and Ken Giles in the bullpen still.
The AL West doesn’t look like it will be a pushover this year, but after racking up 101 wins in 2017 there is no reason to think they will end up in the lottery of the AL Wild Card Game. Even if they suffer a few injuries, the likes of Derek Fisher and Charlie Morton are around to provide above-average replacements.
New York Yankees: 13/2, +650
The Yankees are joint-favorites because, well, they are the Yankees. But also because they added the biggest power bat in baseball during the winter when they traded for Giancarlo Stanton. The combination of Stanton and Aaron Judge should probably force the Yankees to provide shields to the crowd in the bleachers this year, but it will also give them a vicious offense that is enough to demoralize any pitcher.
Behind those two headline names, the Yankees have the best hitting catcher in MLB in Gary Sanchez, and four more excellent outfielders that they could spin into help elsewhere at the deadline. Oh, and Gleyber Torres could be a full-time starter this year at some point. Yea, their offense is going to be troublesome.
Where the Yankees lack is in the rotation. Luis Severino is better than he gets credit for, but Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are little more than innings-eaters right now, while Aroldis Chapman is an inconsistent worry at the moment. 9-8 wins count the same as 9-2 wins, but if Stanton's injury history returns to bite him or Judge's monster slump return, they could be in trouble.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 7/1, +700
The Dodgers have been on the verge of another World Series for the last five years. They have a ridiculously deep rotation and bullpen, headlined by Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. But while run prevention may be their MO that doesn't mean the bats are soft. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner are monsters at the plate and with the likes of Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and Andrew Toles providing backup, they can hit as well.
The NL West is a very good though, and both the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies could push the Dodgers into the NL Wild Card if they lose a few key pieces to injury, but they are likely the force in the National League this season.
Cleveland Indians: 8/1, +800
The 2016 AL pennant winners are desperate to climb back to the top of the mountain. With their core of infield talent returning and the arms in place, there is nothing to stop them strolling to another AL Central title.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are outside MVP candidates, while Jason Kipnis is capable of providing pop and on-base skills if he can stay healthy. Michael Brantley has played just 101 games in the last two years, so his bat will be a bonus for the Indians if he can stay healthy. Then there is their stable of arms. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco return as one of the best one-two punches in baseball, Andrew Miller is the best setup man in the league, and Cody Allen can still get the job done as a closer.
The Indians are well-rounded and have an easy path to the division title, which is more important than ever when you have the wildcard play-in game.
Chicago Cubs: 9/1. +900
The 2016 champs had a disappointing 2017, but they still won the NL Central comfortably. They have swapped Jake Arrieta for Yu Darvish at the top of their rotation, but retain good depth with Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks behind him.
At the plate, they have plenty of options, with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo headlining and Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Ian Happ all looking to build cases for more at-bats, while Willson Contreras is one of the best hitting catchers around.
Washington Nationals: 10/1, +1,000
The Nationals are the last of the likely division winners but have the longest odds. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg return as a killer duo atop the rotation, but the bullpen retains some of the problems and uncertainties that have plagued it for years.
At the plate, Bryce Harper is likely in his last year as a Nationals player before hitting free agency. The superstar is surrounded by talent though, with Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy all capable of doing damage. The likes of Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton, and Victor Robles give them great depth in the outfield that could well end up being parlayed into bullpen help at the deadline. If this isn't the year for the Nationals then they could be waiting a while.
The big teams are so unchanged from last year that it is almost impossible to see a team take the jump that Houston did last year. The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox are all outsiders that could make magic but need a lot to break right for them.
In terms of value, both the Astros and Yankees offer terrible returns, so I would avoid them. I like the Nationals at 10/1 but even they aren't terrific value. Vegas has sucked a lot of interest out of this futures bet this season after being stung by the Astros last year, but if you were to really push me I would probably end up taking the Dodgers. It feels like their year at long last.