Oddsmakers Place Phils In The Middle, Pirates At The Bottom Among MLB Teams

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Baseball teams’ full rosters return for spring training this week, with Pennsylvania’s two franchises expected to be a solid, decent, middling performer in one case and worst in the MLB in the other.

The state’s online sportsbooks project the Phillies to be right around .500, probably fourth in the tough NL East, with about the same number of teams ahead of and behind them in odds to be crowned World Series champion.

No one, meanwhile, has longer odds than the Pirates to win either the World Series, National League pennant, or NL Central. Projections for the rebuilding team are so bad that if you simply bank on them losing fewer than 100 games, you can win money on them.

While not all of the betting sites have yet posted all of the options they will have on baseball by March, there’s enough posted already for a worthwhile look at what’s available while snow still lies on the ground around most Pennsylvanians.

Phils underperformed again, and oddsmakers adjust

The Phillies had bred hope before the start of the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign with some top-shelf additions (shortstop Didi Gregorius, No. 2 pitcher Zack Wheeler, new manager Joe Girardi) on top of the notable acquisitions before them (Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen).

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But last year proved another disappointment in the end, with a late September collapse that resulted in a 28-32 record and a ninth straight season out of the playoffs. That has tempered expectations this year, as the Phils bring back largely the same roster, with the notable exception of overhauling a historically bad bullpen.

The sportsbooks that have already posted over/under betting options for season win totals — FOX Bet in one case, and the shared odds from the Kambi-backed sites of DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, and Parx, in the other — all make 80.5 the Phils’ number. That’s based on MLB’s plan for returning to a regular 162-game season.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees are widely considered favorites to win the World Series, Phils backers can get them at odds of 40/1 from the Kambi sites and Caesars. Those same sites also provide the best payoff for the Phils to win the NL pennant (20/1). The Kambi sites pay off best at +875 for winning the NL East.

Most sites make the Atlanta Braves the divisional favorites, and the Mets have jumped well ahead of Philadelphia in odds thanks to a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Indians to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. The Phils are perceived to also be behind the Washington Nationals.

Philadelphia should have one of the game’s better lineups once more, however, anchored gain by Harper and Realmuto. Those stars should be ably supplemented by Gregorius, McCutchen, slugging Rhys Hoskins, Juan Segura, and Alex Bohm, coming off of one of the league’s best rookie performances in 2020, with the lineup’s biggest question mark being who will play centerfield and how well.

Bigger questions, however, surround the starting pitching behind Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola, Wheeler, and Zach Elfin, and whether all of the new faces in the bullpen will make fans forget the stench it left for a second straight season with its 7.06 ERA. Archie Bradley is the key acquisition, with Jose Alvarado, Brandon Kintzler, and Sam Coonrod also signed on to join last year’s closer, Hector Neris.

Pirates seemingly sinking to new depths

How bad could the Pittsburgh Pirates be in 2021? Oh, let us count the ways.

  • Their .317 winning percentage from a 19-41 record in 2020 would equate to 51-111 over 162 games.
  • Players perceived as having the most marketable value in the offseason — Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon — have already been traded off for minor-leaguers, with more potentially to be dealt before season’s start.
  • Not only do the Kambi sites set the Bucs’ o/u on wins at 58.5 (six below the next-lowest teams, the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles), but they try to coax bettors to take the “over” by making it even money. Those betting under 58.5 have to lay -124.

Now, to be fair to Pittsburgh, FOX Bet is slightly more optimistic — if one can call it that — by setting the o/u at 60.5. But like everyone else, it deems the Pirates’ World Series chances as ludicrous, making them 200/1. (Betfred chortles most at the very thought of it, listing 300/1.)

The Pirates do have one potential superstar of the future in third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (.376/.442/.682 slash line in 24 games last year) and a couple of young players in infielder Kevin Newman and outfielder Bryan Reynolds hoping to bounce back from sophomore slumps after excellent rookie years in 2019.

Other than that, there’s little in the cupboard — especially in the way of proven pitching arms — as the organization undergoes a full blow-it-up rebuild unlikely to bear fruit before 2023, at the earliest.

The St. Louis Cardinals are considered the class of the Central Division after acquiring superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado, with odds from +100 to +180 to win it. The Pirates’ chances of emerging ahead of the four other teams are rated 50/1, at best.

Harper is the focus of player props

While more baseball betting options are likely to surface on the online sites before the season officially starts for both teams April 1, some markets for individual player performance are already being offered.

Those player prop futures bets are largely of interest to Phillies fans rather than those of the Pirates, and the biggest number pertain to hard-hitting Harper.

While Mookie Betts and Juan Soto are the favorites for NL MVP, odds on Harper place him around 10th for the honor. The best payout currently would come from BetMGM, at 17/1, while he is as short as 12/1 at FOX Bet.

Harper can also be had at 20/1 (Kambi, Betfred) to lead the MLB in home runs; 16/1 (Betfred) to lead in RBIs; and 20/1 (FOX Bet) to score the most runs. The Kambi sites also make the outfielder one of the players for whom it has posted an early o/u on their home run total, making it 37.5 for him (-106 on the over).

Among other Phils, Realmuto is 30/1 for MVP from Kambi and BetMGM and Hoskins can be bet at 50/1 from BetMGM.

While various sites make the Mets’ Jacob deGrom the favorite for the Cy Young Award, Nola is deemed a worthy contender, with FOX Bet making him 11/1 but BetMGM, Betfred, and Kambi sites paying off better at 12/1.

Nola is also a candidate to lead the MLB in strikeouts, with Kambi sites making the Yanks’ Gerrit Cole the favorite at +450 but Nola a 20/1 betting option.

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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