By Bill Speros | | 7 mins
What Every MLB Bettor Needs To Know Entering 2021 Season
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Major League Baseball bettors will be paying attention to what happens in the spring training Grapefruit and Cactus leagues more than they have in recent years.
Why? Well, baseball is coming off the most-unique season in more than 100 years. Amid the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, the 2020 MLB campaign was shortened to 60 games. The Los Angeles Dodgers roared through that mini-season and the subsequent expanded postseason to win their first World Series title since 1988.
The Dodgers are +350 favorites at DraftKings, with the Yankees second at +500. The over/under on projected win totals at the Las Vegas SuperBook have the Dodgers with 103.5, and the Yankees second at 95.5. At the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates over/under for victories is 57.5, followed by the Rockies at 63.5.
MLB is planning to play 162 games again in 2021. Trying to determine which teams and players will bounce back to a full schedule the best after the abbreviated season of 2020 is the greatest challenge facing would-be bettors this year.
Here are five major baseball betting trends to watch in 2021 as spring training begins:
Pitching. Pitching. And More Pitching
Complete games may be as rare as full stadiums in 2021. Consistent, quality starting pitching has quickly become baseball’s unicorn. This past season, starting pitchers averaged less than five innings per start for the first time in MLB history. Much of that was by design, as several teams adopted the multiple-starter format. Still, no pitcher threw more than 84 total innings in 2020 and neither the American League champion Rays nor World Champion Dodgers had one pitcher who threw more than 60 innings before the playoffs.
Teams will have to record those 27 outs (or 21 in double-headers) over 162 games with two fewer available roster spots in 2021, down from 28 to 26. Those numbers don’t bode well for those who long for 2-1 games played in under two hours.
Among the notable pitchers expected back from injury this season: David Price, Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard. All three missed 2020. Price opted out of playing with the Dodgers because of coronavirus concerns. Sale of the Red Sox and Syndergaard of the Mets underwent Tommy John surgery. Neither Sale nor Syndergaard is expected to be back at 100% this season but should be expected to contribute after the All-Star break.
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A New Ball & Ballgame
There will be some noticeable changes in how the game is played in 2021 — notwithstanding the potential issues that continue to loom over all of sport due to the coronavirus pandemic. MLB has announced it will “deaden” the baseball this year. In addition, the number of teams allowed to store baseballs in humidors will double from five to 10. Both moves are designed to cut back on the number of home runs. That may offset some of the perceived weaknesses in pitching and potential increase in scoring.
The seven-inning doubleheaders and use of runners on second base to start extra innings introduced last year will return in 2020. The expanded playoff format and universal DH were both shelved. So pitchers will once again bat in the National League.
Spring training games begin on Feb. 27 and run through March 30. The season starts on April 1 with the All-Star Game scheduled for July 13 at Truist Park near Atlanta. The season ends Oct. 3, with the wild-card games set for two days later. The World Series is scheduled to start on Oct. 26 with a potential Game 7 on Nov. 3.
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Meet The Rebooted Mets
The Mets haven’t won a World Series since 1986. They present the most-intriguing, single-team storyline heading into the 2021 season. New ownership (Steve Cohen) has promised to build a winner and seize the Big Apple narrative and take bragging rights from the Yankees. This new-found optimism among Mets fans was tested when the team fired GM Jared Porter and later, coach Ryan Ellis, after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against both.
On the field, the Mets jumped into the heart of the NL East race behind the Atlanta Braves by acquiring shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco from the Indians. New York went 26-34 in 2020. In addition to Carrasco and Syndergaard, the Mets pitching staff boasts Jaocb deGrom, Marcus Stroman (also coming off injury) and second-year starter David Peterson, who went 6-2 last year with a 3.44 ERA, striking out 40 batters in 49.2 innings. First baseman Pete Alonso aims to return to his 2019 NL Rookie of the Year form.
World Series futures bettors have shoveling money at the Mets since the Lindor trade. The odds for the Mets to the 2021 World Series have risen from +2500 to +1200 at BetMGM, where 31.4% of the handle has been wagered on the Amazins. The Mets are +525 to win the National League pennant and +140 to win the National League East at DraftKings.
Padres, Dodgers Battle For Baseball Supremacy
While the matchup between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees dominated the first two decades of this century, the power center and buzz have now shifted to the West Coast. The Dodgers and Padres have emerged as “The Rivalry” in baseball. Each team has a marquee star — Mookie Betts for the Dodgers and Fernando Tatis Jr. for the Padres — with the potential to emerge as the latest “Face of Baseball.”
The Padres are the No. 2 pick to win the National League at Fan Duel at +420, behind the Dodgers at +175. The Padres will be the first impediment for the Dodgers, who hope to be the first team to repeat as World Series champion since the Yankees of 1999-2000. Spaced out over 162-games, the Dodgers won the equivalent of 117 games in 2020 (a .717 clip) before going 13-5 in the postseason. The Dodgers snagged 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer as a free agent from Cincinnati. At the plate, the Dodgers led the majors in runs scored last year.
The Padres had a franchise-best .617 winning percentage in 2020. San Diego tried to keep pace with Los Angeles in the NL West arms race by adding Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove to their pitching staff this offseason.
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Don’t Sleep On These Birds
Last season, the White Sox and Padres quickly emerged as betting favorites in the total win and postseason markets. Their potential for success has been priced in 2021. But there are opportunities out there for a good price that may prove profitable.
The Toronto Blue Jays are +900 at BetMGM to capture the American League pennant and a tempting +2500 to win the World Series. Toronto saw its winning percentage increase from .413 in 2019 to .533 in 2020. The Jays added pop to their lineup with the addition of outfielder George Springer, who should add some octane to the Toronto batting order. Springer was signed to a club-record six-year, $150 million deal in January. The Jays are serious in 2021, if nothing else.
We could see three AL East teams in the postseason this year — the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, powerhouse Yankees and Blue Jays. But which one might reach the World Series remains a tantalizing question for bettors.
In the National League, the Cardinals are clear favorites to win the woebegone Central at +175 at BetMGM and may be worth an early investment. Even better for bettors, St. Louis is +1200 to win the National League pennant and +2200 to win the World Series at the same book. The Cardinals (88.5) and Brewers (83.5) are the only teams in the Central projected to finish above .500 in terms of over/under on total wins at the SuperBook. St. Louis went all-in on 2021 by dealing for third baseman Nolan Arenado, who will complement Paul Goldschmidt in the Cardinals' lineup.
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