Tuesday, April 3rd at 8:00 PM ET
LAS VEGAS – The Major League Baseball season opens in this country this week.
You'll note my intentional wording there as the MLB regular season actually opened last Wednesday and Thursday in Tokyo. A lot of baseball fans aren't even aware the season started, which says a lot about the sports' marketing efforts (and don't even get me started on MLB's blackout policy that allows teams to designate their “home market” and Las Vegas falls in six teams' markets, including the A's even though Oakland is more than 550 miles away, so the games weren't available here).
On the field, the Mariners and A's split the games with both teams winning as betting favorites and both games being low-scoring and staying under the betting totals. While those results aren't applicable to the league as a whole (since no other teams will be playing in the Tokyo Dome), it could very well foreshadow how these teams could be teams to look at with the unders in their respective games.
Baseball isn't on the same level of football or basketball when it comes to betting here in Las Vegas (we talked about this a little during last week's PredictionMachine.com Podcast with Paul Bessire and Jimmy Shapiro starting at the 16-minute mark), but it is a big part of the spring and summer menu and the daily players are loyal. Baseball, more than any other sport, is all about statistics, so I'll be interested to follow along with Bessire and the Predictalator this season.
World Series futures have been available since last October when the LVH SuperBook(formerly the Hilton) and, even though they fell short of expectations, it wasn't any surprise that the Phillies were made the 4-1 favorite with the Yankees and Red Sox both 6-1; Rangers 8-1; Braves 10-1; defending champion Cardinals with the looming free agency of Albert Pujols at 12-1; the Rays, Giants and Tigers at 15-1; and the Angels at 20-1.
Those sat pretty stagnant until Dec. 8 when Pujols signed with the Angels, whose odds were dropped all the way to 7-1 while the Cards were raised to 20-1.
Another big signing that had an impact on the futures was the Tigers getting Prince Fielder, and as we head into this week the Tigers are now the 6-1 co-favorite along with the Phillies, with the Yankees and Angels at 7-1, the Rangers at 8-1, and the Red Sox at 10-1. You'll note an overabundance of American League teams near the top of the futures. The Phillies are a heavy favorite to win the National League at 5-2 with a dropoff to the Giants, Braves and Reds at 13-2 (same as 6.5-1 for the mathematically challenged) with the Tigers a lukewarm 3-1 favorite to win the AL with the Yankees and Angels at 7-2, the Rangers at 4-1 and the Red Sox at 5-1.
In past Vegas Beat columns, I've hammered away about not tying up your money in futures (in this case, for nearly seven months) and the fact you'll almost always get better odds by parlaying from series to series in the postseason instead of taking fixed-odds futures (and face it, if you think your baseball team has a chance to win the World Series, they have to get to the playoffs first anyway). However, I will allow that futures such as MLB over/under season win totals and odds to win the division can offer some value.
Now, the over/under season win totals have mostly had all the value taken out of them by sharp bettors betting the numbers into shape, but you might find some plays in the divisional races (and the advantage of these wagers is your team just has to outperform the few teams in its division, and you don't have to have the team you like make a deep postseason run in order for you to cash). Here's a look at the LVH's divisional odds:
NL East: Phillies 5-9, Braves 9-2, Marlins 9-2, Nationals 6-1, Mets 40-1. The Nats are getting some support at juicy odds, though obviously it's going to be hard to overcome the Phillies as well as the Braves and Marlins, who should get the "new-stadium boost."
NL Central: Brewers 11-10, Reds 9-5, Cardinals 7-2, Cubs 15-1, Pirates 20-1, Astros 100-1. I'm a diehard Cubs fan and, well, never mind – I bet with my head not my heart. The Reds look like a solid play at 9-5.
NL West: Giants 7-5, Diamondbacks 8-5, Rockies 9-2, Dodgers 7-1, Padres 15-1. Dodgers have Magic, but not this year.
AL East: Yankees 4-5, Red Sox 9-4, Rays 4-1, Blue Jays 12-1, Orioles 80-1. Walkover for the Yankees? I'm not betting against it.
AL Central: Tigers 2-9, Royals 7-1, Indians 7-1, Twins 15-1, White Sox 25-1. Walkover for the Tigers? Even more likely as the teams chasing them aren't as good as in the AL East.
AL West: Angels 4-5, Rangers EV, Mariners 25-1, A's 25-1. Bessire is high on the Rangers. It looks like a coin-flip between them and the Angels.
Kentucky wins NCAA title, covers.
Monday night closed the books on the NCAA basketball season (at least as far as the men were concerned, the women's title game was to be played Tuesday night with undefeated No. 1 Baylor a 6-point favorite over Notre Dame).
Kentucky completed its coronation, as Jim Nantz said on CBS. I was just glad he didn't channel his 2004 self when he called the Final Four. UConn was leading Duke 79-75 as 2.5-point favorites when Duke's Chris Duhon tossed up a running shot from 35 feet away as time expired. Nantz said, "It doesn't matter" as the ball headed to the hoop, but it sure mattered to a lot of his viewers as the ball banked off the glass and into the basket to make the final score 79-78, giving the Blue Devils and their backers the point-spread cover.
The situation was similar Monday night as Kentucky was a 6- to 6.5-point favorite over Kansas on most tickets (the line opened as low as 5 and went as high as 7 offshore and went to 7 at a few books on Monday, but none of those numbers lasted very long) and Doron Lamb made 2 free throws with 17 s+econds left to put the Wildcats over all the spreads at 67-59. Kansas' Elijah Johnson launched a 3-pointer that had every bettor on the edge of their seat, but it was an airball grabbed by UK's Anthony Davis and the Jayhawks let them dribble it out to keep that the final score.
Kentucky was a fairly good result for Vegas future books. Sure, many tickets will be cashed, but their odds were always low (opening at the LVH SuperBook last April as the 5-1 favorite, opening the season in November as the 7-2 second choice behind North Carolina, taking over as the favorite in late January, and opening the NCAA tournament at 2-1) so the books easily offset those with all the tickets they took on all the other teams.