Neither of Pennsylvania’s MLB teams could have been happy with their 2021 seasons, but things may be looking up for one of them — and oddsmakers have taken note in recent weeks.
No one is expecting positives out of the Pittsburgh Pirates, even if sportsbooks have set their season wins over/under higher than the 61 games they won last year. For the Philadelphia Phillies, however, recent investments in Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber in the outfielder/DH department further stack a lineup that was already impressive with Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto.
These notable signings have moved odds for a successful season in the direction of the Phils, even if not enough to put their chances ahead of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in the competitive NL East. Too many question marks remain about the Phils’ pitching to count on that type of leapfrogging, but with an extra wild card team added this year, their prospects for making the postseason for the first time since 2011 have grown in multiple ways since October.
Phils pegged to get about 85 wins
Baseball futures bets on season win totals can be a popular option during the cold Pennsylvania months of February and March, for those who don’t mind tying up their money for at least six months. The normal posting of the option by legal online sportsbooks was delayed this year, however, by MLB’s lengthy lockout.
Those over/under options finally began to appear two weeks ago. The first postings on Philadelphia, which went 82-80 last year, were the 82.5 from Kambi-supported sites such as BetRivers, Unibet, and TwinSpires, and 83.5 from DraftKings and Betway.
But that was before announcements that Schwarber and Castellanos, who both hit 30-plus homers in 2021, would be joining the club. The sites mentioned above have all moved the Phils’ total up two games since then, and 85.5 is the most common wins number to be found now (with the Kambi sites at 84.5, but with costly vig of -125 to bet the over).
In addition to the newcomers, manager Joe Girardi again has 2021 MVP Harper at his disposal, along with ace Zack Wheeler, who led the NL in both innings and strikeouts. To go far, however, the team may need bounce-back years from Aaron Nola (4.63 ERA last year) and young third baseman Alec Bohm (an anemic .247/.305/.342 slash line).
And then there’s the seemingly perennial search for a better bullpen, which ranked 25th in ERA last year. To that end, club President Dave Dombrowski invested $10 million in signing Corey Knebel and $6 million each in Jeurys Familia and Brad Hand, who have all been standouts in the past, though none could lay claim to being both healthy and successful for a full season last year.
The upshot is that the Phils are listed anywhere from +380 (DraftKings and Betway) to +550 (Betfred) to lead the NL East. Earlier this month, FanDuel had the Phils +600, but it has moved them to +440. The oddsmakers peg the Mets and Braves in a close race, with both in the +130 to +155 range.
To win the NL pennant, the best price is the 18/1 offered by Betfred. It and FOX Bet also offer the best World Series odds payoff on the Phils claiming their first title since 2008, at 35/1. Two weeks ago, several sites were still listing 40/1.
Pirates could do better and still be awful
For the long-rebuilding, low-budget Pirates, it may still be several years before any of their fans consider risking money on their winning either a division, pennant, or World Series. You could win a lot of money (potentially, but almost certainly not) by betting on any of those, right on up to 100/1 at Betfred for the NL Central crown and 500/1 at FanDuel and BetMGM for a World Series title.
But the beauty of a futures bet on win totals is that your team doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be better than projected. Some backers of the Pirates last year were able to cash a futures bet from just their 61-101 record, even though it was their worst full-season performance since 2010.
On the other hand, it was a marked improvement on the Bucs’ .317 winning percentage from a 19-41 COVID-shortened season in 2020, and now the sportsbooks anticipate more baby steps forward.
Pittsburgh’s lowest win total is set at 62.5 by BetRivers and the other Kambi books, but with a hefty -134 vig to take the over. That’s a big increase from the 59.5 number that Kambi put out initially, but unlike in the case of the Phillies, the oddsmaker seemingly realized it put out a questionably low number originally, as the Pirates have made no major signings since then.
Other sportsbooks list the Pirates’ over/under on wins at either 64.5 (FanDuel, BetMGM, FOX Bet) or 65.5 (DraftKings, Betfred, Betway). Though those suggest an improvement on last year’s performance, the numbers put them in the bottom of MLB expectations this year alongside the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles.
It’s easy to understand the pessimism when looking at a Pirates roster that has just one player, Bryan Reynolds, that any other team would be happy to give a spot in its lineup. The switch-hitting center fielder hit .302 with 24 home runs last year. The next most promising player in the lineup is third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, but he took a step back in his second year in the league, hitting just six homers in a season marred by injury troubles.
The starting rotation, meanwhile, is to consist of pitchers both old and young who had trouble getting their ERAs under 5.00 last year.
The Pirates’ farm system, which is where the focus has been recently for team management, is full of tantalizing prospects like Rookie of the Year candidate Oneil Cruz. There’s a big question, however, as to how much any of them will be used in 2022 and, if so, how much they can help.
Photo: Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY