A tradition unlike any other: my yearly MLB win total bets. Once Las Vegas casinos release their totals in early to mid February, I pore over the numbers and try to come up with roughly eight bets that I like. Last year, I went 6-2 with my picks (though I missed horribly with the Diamondbacks), and if I can do that again this year, I’ll be a happy camper.
Given how tightly packed the league is right now, with about four elite teams, four really good teams, and then a whole lot of chaff, it might be difficult to come up with eight teams I’m confident in, but I’ll give it my best shot. Anyway, enjoy, and check out the full list of win totals here.
Arizona Diamondbacks: UNDER 86.5
I’m high on the Diamondbacks, especially considering they’re coming off a 93 win season with a +153 run differential. I think they’re one of the five or six best teams in the National League and will contend for a playoff spot. With that being said, I can definitely envision a situation where the team can’t get past 86 wins – especially if they don’t re-sign JD Martinez, who smashed 29 homers in 62 games with Arizona last season. They’ve kept most of their team together from last season, only replacing starting catcher Chris Iannetta with Alex Avila and adding a couple of arms to the bullpen.
I also have some questions about the team’s overall health, given that only Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and David Peralta logged 500 plate appearances last season, and only Patrick Corbin and Zack Greinke made 30 starts. Given that they were able to succeed with those limitations, it’s not out of the realm of possibility they could do it again in 2018… but without Martinez, I’m somewhat hesitant to pencil them in for 88+ wins in February.
Baltimore Orioles: UNDER 77.5
The Orioles won 75 games last season and finished last in the AL East. They’ve done next to nothing this offseason, and will be filling holes from within, replacing Welington Castillo behind the plate with Chance Sisco and Seth Smith in right field with Austin Hays. Their bullpen is still excellent (though Zach Britton will be a solid chunk of time with a ruptured Achilles), and the rotation still looks pretty awful. Plus, the Yankees are even better than they were last season, and the Red Sox look pretty damn good too. How is this team not losing 85 games? I can’t see it, unless Manny Machado has an out of his mind contract year, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman finally have breakout seasons, and Mark Trumbo burns every glove he owns to focus on his offense.
Houston Astros: OVER 96.5
I try to stay away from extreme odds (like, for instance, the pathetic Marlins at 64.5 wins), but given that the Astros won the World Series with 101 wins last season, will have a full year of Justin Verlander this year, *and* added Gerrit Cole to their starting five…well, I’m all in on Houston this season. They were the best team in the AL last season, and look like they’ll once again be the cream of the crop this year. All the Astros really lost this offseason was Carlos Beltran (who struggled terribly at the plate), Mike Fiers (who was an extra part later in the year), and Luke Gregerson (another spare part following the emergence of Chris Devenski last season). That’s incredible to me – a 101 win team keeping nearly the exact same team together for the next season. AL West, beware.
Kansas City Royals: UNDER 76.5
Kansas City fell under .500 last year, and that was *with* their free agent triumvirate of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas still in the fold. Cain signed with the Brewers earlier this offseason, while Hosmer and Moustakas are still hanging around out there looking for homes. If either returns to Kansas City, maybe the Royals can make a run at .500. If neither do, this looks like a team that will struggle to finish ten games under .500. The Royals’ best reliever, Mike Minor, signed with the Rangers. Their #3 starter, Jason Vargas, is still a free agent. They’ve done a decent job bolstering their bullpen and back-end of the rotation, but the team is still counting on Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel to hold the fort down in the rotation after Danny Duffy.
But where the Royals will really struggle, predictably, is on offense – they were a bottom three team at the plate last year, even with Cain, Hosmer, and Moustakas ranking 1, 2, and 3 on the team in wRC+. They don’t have legitimate in-house replacements for any of the three, and if the Royals end up rolling out someone like Cheslor Cuthbert for 600 plate appearances, it could be quite a long year. But hey, at least Alcides Escobar is still around!
Milwaukee Brewers: OVER 81.5
The Brewers were one of the MLB teams that were “trying” to win this offseason, but reality doesn’t quite match the narrative. Yes, they made a pair of big splashes in the outfield by signing the aforementioned Lorenzo Cain, and acquiring Christian Yelich from the Marlins. But all those moves have really done are push one of Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun, or Eric Thames (who were all productive in their own right last year) to the bench while ignoring the key issue in Milwaukee – their mediocre starting rotation. Jimmy Nelson was one of the best stories of 2017, but he’ll miss a significant part of 2018 after shoulder surgery. Both Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have been good for the last two years, but Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo are far from sure things.
That being said, the Brewers are still quite a good team that won 86 games a year ago and added a pair of stud outfielders to their lineup. If they can make one more offseason splash and sign a starting pitcher like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, I’ll feel a lot more confident about them hitting that over.
New York Yankees: OVER 93.5
I can definitely see a way the Yankees season goes pear-shaped (most notably: Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt, Aaron Judge regresses, and the rotation cannot stay healthy or live up to expectations), but let’s be honest here – this is a 91 win team that added the reigning NL MVP to an already ridiculous lineup. The Yankees didn’t really *need* to do much this offseason, but of course, they added the league’s biggest fish.
In addition to those previously mentioned issues, I think the Yankees have a pretty weak infield – Didi Gregorius is fantastic, but Greg Bird played just 48 games last year and wasn’t good when he was on the field, Miguel Andujar has five games of experience at the major league level, and Ronald Torreyes is a bench player. Maybe improving their infield should have the focus for New York this offseason, but when a player like Giancarlo Stanton is there for the taking, you have to do it.
San Francisco Giants: UNDER 81.5
The Giants lost 98 games last year. They weren’t a good team at all. Instead of trying to build for the future, the team spent this offseason trying to contend in 2018. Embattled starter Matt Moore was dealt to the Rangers. Matt Cain retired, leaving a rotation spot open for Chris Stratton. Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson were brought in to replace Denard Span and a cadre of outfielders not named Hunter Pence, while Evan Longoria was finally pried from the Rays to take over at third base.
But despite all that…this is still the same team at its core. Pence wasn’t good last year. He’s back. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik all struggled last season. They’re all back. The overpaid rotation duo of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are still there, as is dirtbike loving World Series hero Madison Bumgarner and the core of a disappointing bullpen. Will the Giants be better in 2018? Sure, most likely! Will they be 18 wins better? Yeah, probably not – remember, even during their run of three World Championship in five years, they weren’t a dominant, soul-taking team during the regular season. This wasn’t a 100 win core of players when they were at their peak, and they’re not at their peak anymore.
Washington Nationals: OVER 91.5
This will be the last stand of the Nationals’ Bryce Harper-led core (unless Harper surprises everyone and re-signs with the team before next offseason). Understandably, Washington didn’t mess too much with their 97 win team. They lost a couple of bench players in Adam Lind and Jose Lobaton, and a reliever in Matt Albers. They’ll have full years of a trio of relievers acquired last July: Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler (re-signed this winter), and Ryan Madson. Lind was replaced on the bench with ex-Brave Matt Adams, a similar player. Their entire starting lineup returns minus Jayson Werth, which is a good thing given Adam Eaton’s expected return from a torn ACL, Michael Taylor’s 2017 emergence, and top prospect Victor Robles knocking at the door.
If the Nationals struggle this year and fail to win 90 games and/or the NL East, it will be because of injuries in their rotation. They’re already a man down thanks to Joe Ross’ Tommy John surgery, and the fifth starter job will be a battle between prospect Erick Fedde (who struggled in a three start cameo last season), ex-farmhand turned journeyman Tommy Milone, and former prospect AJ Cole, who probably has the inside track on the job after a solid yet unspectacular trial run at the end of last year. If Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer gets hurt, and *two* of those fifth starter candidates are filling out the rotation…it could be a long year in DC.