After the longest offseason in baseball history, a truncated 60-game 2020 MLB season finally gets underway this week.
A vastly reduced fixture list lends itself to a more random set of results, but to what extent, if any, does that increase the prospects of an upset?
Familiar names like the Yankees and the Dodgers, who, along with the Twins, were the only teams to win 100 games last season – dominate bet365’s World Series Winner market. In contrast, the Astros, aiming to go one better than last year, are the only other team in single figures.
It’s easy enough to see the Yankees justifying favouritism – indeed, no team has benefited from the delayed start more than the New Yorkers. Aaron Hicks, Judge, Stanton, James Paxton and Sánchez were all set to miss chunks of the 2020 season through injury, but all are now ready to roll.
And then there is the addition of pitcher Gerrit Cole, who finally gets the chance to wear the fabled pinstripes after signing a large nine-year (effectively the rest of his career) deal worth a reported $324 million.
Cole, who went 20-5 last season with the Astros while striking out a league-leading 326 batters, is set to spearhead a Yankees rotation that will also feature Tanaka, James Paxton, JA Happ, and perhaps Domingo German or Jordan Montgomery. Luis Severino is out for the year.
It is no surprise that the Yankees are heavy 1.33 favourites with bet365 to win the East Division, where the Tampa Bay Rays look the primary challengers, while the Yankees are just 2.7 to win the American League.
So, are the Rays the only serious threat to the Yankees in the east? They certainly look it on paper. They have improved their win percentage in each of the last three seasons, mostly thanks to a strong pitching rotation. The shorter season might well play into the hands of the Rays, given how many innings they can fill with high-class arms.
They look a bona fide threat to the Yankees, but is there hope for outsiders, the Toronto Blue Jays?
At 26.0 in Eastern Division odds, the six-time divisional winners appear to have little chance of causing an upset, and at 100.00 in the series betting, it looks as though a third ring is beyond them for another year.
The Blue Jays are a long way off their 1992/3 pomp under Cito Gaston. He became the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball history to win a World Series title.
Three straight-four-placed finishes and a 67-95 record in 2019 suggest all is not well at the Rogers Centre.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Blue Jays C indeed the opposite might be true should their quartet of talented young hitters, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. None of them have reached their 27th birthday yet, blossom in the way many envisage.
This quartet of hitters average around 17% better than the league’s average, and there have only been eight games so far in which all four have lined up. That number jumps to 80 when at least three quartets have played, and it’s no surprise that the Blue Jays’ offence is considerably better when these guys play.
And it’s not just in the offensive area that there are clear signs of encouragement.
We are still to see the best of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who signed an $80m dollar four-year deal in the offseason, while the club’s most exciting long-term pitching prospect, Nate Pearson, is expected to join the roster of starting pitchers. Pearson is 17.0 in American League Rookie Of The Year betting lists.
Quite where these exciting prospects will be playing their home games this season remains to be seen after the federal government of Canada refused the Blue Jays permission to play at regular home, the Rogers Centre.
These young players may need another season, at least to begin to flourish, but there are surely worse 26.0 shots around than this group coming of age together in 2020, and it wouldn’t come as the biggest surprise were the Blue Jays to emerge as the biggest threat to the Yankees this season.
There appears to be some strong belief in the camp that this 60-game season provides them with a better opportunity of sneaking into the play-offs.
Over in the National League, it’s all about the LA Dodgers. They are expected to stroll home in the western division and are just 1.15 to do so with bet365. They 2.6 favourites to win the National League and go into the World Series.
The Dodgers have won SEVEN consecutive titles and secured 2019 success with 109 wins. They have been talked of as having one of the deepest line-ups ever, but that hasn’t stopped them going ou btt and strengthening further.
The acquisition of 2018 MVP winner Mookie Betts, who is favourite to score most runs in 2020 as well as starting pitcher David Price from the Red Sox ensures that they will be in contention for a seventh World Series come the fall C. That is why they are at the top of outright betting lists, along with the Yankees.
With pitching even more of a crucial factor in this shortened MLB 2020 season – because lineups won’t get to see the same pitcher over and over again.
With that in mind, the Cincinnatti Reds, spearheaded by the improving Luis Castillo, looks likely to be named the Reds’ starter for the second season. The 27-year-old posted a 15C8 record in 2019, with a 3.40 ERA and 226 strikeouts C while he was named to his first All-Star Game.
The Reds’ are strengthened by offseason signings Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos, and look value at 3.5 in bet365’s National League Central odds.
Whether they can go all the way and give the Dodgers a scare is another matter, but at 13.0 in National League Winner betting, they look worth a small interest.