Raise your hand if you predicted that, one month into the 2023 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be the National League’s winningest team.
I shouldn’t see many hands! (Barring, perhaps, those who decided to make a wild dart throw at a team that had +20000 preseason odds to win the World Series.)
Remarkably, the Pirates’ title odds haven’t improved as much as you might think, despite their 20-11 record entering play on Thursday, shrinking from +20000 to +10000. Nineteen teams have better odds of a World Series championship, including a San Francisco Giants team that has begun 13-17.
That’s just it: baseball folks tend to play the long game, recognizing that one month doesn’t a season make. One month into 2022, the Los Angeles Angels were 18-10 and 1 ½ games up in the American League West; they went 55-79 the rest of the way and finished 33 games back of the eventual champion Houston Astros. Similarly, I’d still expect the hot-starting Pirates to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the way — and their odds suggest I’m not alone — but they certainly should be better than expected.
Strangely, the injury-riddled New York Yankees’ championship odds haven’t budged, +750 in the preseason and +750 today, when they reside in last place in the American League East division. Perhaps more surprising, though, is that the 10-21, last-in-the-National League Central St. Louis Cardinals have seen their title odds improve, going from +2200 before the season to +2000!
The Tampa Bay Rays, who matched a modern record for consecutive wins to begin a season (13), have moved the needle considerably, going from +2500 preseason to +900 odds today. Naysayers point out how easy the Rays’ April schedule was — they played six of 29 games against last-place teams and 19-of-29 against sub-.500 teams — but the oddsmakers sure seem to believe (fifth-best title odds now).
A pair of young Atlanta Braves stars are the big movers and shakers in the individual awards races. Ronald Acuna Jr., who had +900 NL MVP odds, has emerged as the early favorite (+275) after a month’s play, thanks to .362/.449/.586 rates, major league-leading totals of 14 stolen bases and 26 runs scored and, of course, this 442-foot moon shot.
Meanwhile, Spencer Strider, whose NL Cy Young odds began at +800, has taken over as the favorite (+225), after he delivered four wins, a 2.57 ERA and a major league-leading 57 strikeouts through his first six starts. Is anyone really surprised that the Braves have shrunk their World Series-winning odds to +650?
With a month’s results now in the books, Derek Carty, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield offer their updated picks on which teams will take home the title, as well as which players will win the individual hardware, in 2023.
-By Tristan H. Cockcroft
To win the World Series odds
Philadelphia Phillies (+2000): Sure, I’m a homer, and the Phillies aren’t off to a great start, but they represented the NL in last season’s World Series, and they have pedestrian odds today in part because injuries have kept MVP candidate Bryce Harper and No. 3 starter Ranger Suarez out. Those guys are returning. Few teams can match Philly’s deep lineup, the 1-2 punch of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and a much-improved bullpen led by dominant Jose Alvarado. — Karabell
Milwaukee Brewers (+2200): Much props to the Pirates for their hot start, but here are the Brewers, 1 ½ games back and performing much better on defense this year than last. And this is despite the team having missed No. 2 starter Brandon Woodruff for nearly a month! The Brewers have never been afraid to bolster competitive rosters via trade in-season and have the prospect capital to do so. Those are some good odds for a team that could take command of this division this month. — Cockcroft
Tampa Bay Rays (+900): Let’s not get too cute here. The Rays just had the greatest run differential through the end of April that we’ve ever seen. Yes, it means something. Of the 15 highest differentials through a team’s first 29 games since 2010, all 15 teams made the playoffs and three of them won the World Series (2016 Cubs, 2018 Red Sox, 2020 Dodgers). The Jeffrey Springs injury is a tough blow, but they’ll get Tyler Glasnow back soon. They hit home runs, they catch the ball, they can run and as always they have a deep bullpen. That’s a World Series-winning formula — Schoenfield
Longshots to watch
Pittsburgh Pirates (+10000): The Pirates have a very good shot to win their division, which makes their WS odds stupid-bad right now. THE BAT X projects the NL Central to finish, on average: 1) Brewers (86 wins), 2) Pirates (82 wins), 3) Cardinals (80 wins). Yet betting markets have the terrible Cubs (+550) with a better chance to win than the Pirates (+700) who are the better team and are actually in first place right now. I love the Pirates division bet at those odds (they only need a little bit to go right to overcome that projected deficit), and if they do happen to win the division, the playoffs are random enough where +10000 odds to win it all offers very good value. — Carty
Baltimore Orioles (+7500): Well, if we’re going to take a closer look and invest in the Pirates then why not dream about their 1970s World Series rivals in Western Pennsylvania, also off to a great start this season. Catcher Adley Rutschman is a future MVP and more hitting prospects are on the way. What if SS Jorge Mateo, one of the top fantasy options so far, is for real? The bullpen is great but the O’s could use more starting pitching, and the pending return of lefty John Means will certainly help. Perhaps Baltimore could slip into the playoffs, like last season’s Phillies, then make more October noise. — Karabell
Texas Rangers (+4000): I just mentioned the Rays’ run differential. Well, the Rangers also had one of the best differentials we’ve seen in the past 15 years – and they did it against a tougher schedule than Tampa Bay and without Corey Seager for much of the month. Obviously, this bet relies heavily on the health of Jacob deGrom, but the Rangers have an underrated lineup and underrated bullpen. They could use an outfielder, but that easy enough to fix at the trade deadline. — Schoenfield
National League Most Valuable Player
Luis Arraez, 1B/2B, Marlins (+8000): It may seem improbable for a guy with meager power on a team that probably misses the playoffs to earn enough notice for this award, but when we’re all checking in regularly in September on Arraez and his march to a .400 batting average, you’ll understand. Arraez hit .316 for the 2022 Twins and finished 13th in AL MVP voting. That wasn’t a good team, either. Arraez has a legitimate chance to hit .400 and these are sweet odds. — Karabell
Sean Murphy, C, Braves (+6000): Hey, I’ll roll the dice on this one. He’s probably been the second-best player in the NL so far; the problem is he’s also been the second-best player on his own team behind Ronald Acuna Jr. Can he keep the offense going at this level? He’s been much more selective, drawing more walks and crushing fastballs when he does swing. He had a 122 OPS+ with the A’s last year, so it’s not like he hasn’t produced in the past. — Schoenfield
American League Most Valuable Player
Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays (+5000): While young SS Wander Franco seems to get more notice for leading baseball’s top team, and boasts considerably better MVP odds, Arozarena has the better statistics, pacing for more than 30 home runs and averaging an RBI per game. If the Rays stroll to 110 wins and Arozarena hits .300 and knocks in 125 runs, it will be tough to keep him from being a top contender for MVP. — Karabell
Matt Chapman, 3B, Blue Jays (+3000): I’m with Eric that Arozarena’s odds deliver ridiculously good value, but so do Chapman’s… and Chapman’s all-around game is a little more MVP-like in my estimation. You’d think the AL’s defending Player of the Month would have stronger odds, especially considering his Statcast page is full of red dots and “100s,” which is exactly what you want to see. — Cockcroft
Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays (+3500): I’ll take another Toronto player. Bichette is once again raking, picking up where he left off last September. He’s going to hit well over .300 with power and has a good chance to lead the league in hits and runs. His strikeout rate is way down, but what makes him an ever stronger MVP candidate is his defensive metrics are much improved, which will help his WAR – and that will help his MVP case. — Carty
Longshots to watch
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners (+6500): The Mariners don’t look like a playoff team right now, although they do have the starting pitching to turn things around. Kelenic has been their best offensive player and all the underlying metrics suggest his numbers are for real. If the Mariners get back in the race and Kelenic keeps hitting like this, that makes him a longshot contender. — Schoenfield
National League Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (+2500): THE BAT projects Kershaw as the second-best pitcher in the NL right now (behind only Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider, whose best odds are +220). He’s old and “boring”, but he’s still elite and the Dodgers offense is bound to come around soon to get him some Wins. 25-to-1 odds (which you can find at BetMGM) are far too good to pass up for a pitcher this good. — Carty
Corbin Burnes, SP, Brewers (+1800): He had a couple shaky outings to begin the season but has settled in with four straight strong starts and looks like again more like the preseason Cy Young favorite. Yes, it will take time for him to whittle that ERA down to a Cy Young level, but he’s been the best pitcher in the NL the past three seasons. — Schoenfield
Longshots to watch
Aaron Nola, SP, Phillies (+4000): The strikeout rate is down so far and the ERA high, but he finished fourth in the voting last year, seventh in 2020 and third in 2018, so we know he’s capable of a Cy Young-caliber season. — Schoenfield
American League Cy Young
Shohei Ohtani, DH/SP, Angels (+350): I know, I know, the prospective payoff isn’t big, but I think Ohtani’s looking like a pretty strong bet considering his hot start. A fun thought – could this be the year we finally get an MVP-Cy Young combo award winner who unquestionably deserved both? I think so, considering Ohtani’s absurd numbers: .102 batting average allowed, 35.1% K rate, 1.85 ERA, as he just seems to keep getting better as a pitcher. Voters these days don’t care about the innings total, and 185 innings of Ohtani could get it done — though he might well get to 200-plus anyway. — Cockcroft
Kevin Gausman, SP, Blue Jays (+1200): The unluckiest pitcher of 2022 (3.35 ERA, 2.37 FIP) looks like the same hurler after six starts so far, but with an ERA he actually deserves (2.33 ERA, 2.40 FIP), and there is little reason to expect things to change. A healthy Gausman should sail past 200 strikeouts for the third consecutive season and if he can just get a bit more run support, perhaps win 15 games for the first time as well. At these odds, take a chance. — Karabell
Longshots to watch
Joe Ryan, SP, Twins (+5000): Since I went chalk with my primary pick, I’ll offer up my long shot/value pick, and that’s Ryan. He’s got some nice numbers already in the tank, elite control and, perhaps most importantly, a light-hitting division that still benefits him (even if not to the degree it would have in seasons past). The main question for me is whether the Twins afford Ryan the 180-plus frames he’d probably need to mount a serious run, but he totaled 147 last year, so it’s possible. — Cockcroft
National League Rookie of the Year
Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks (+200): He’s the current co-betting favorite with James Outman and I see no reason to change my view on Carroll. He was arguably the sport’s top prospect entering the season and he’s showcased an outstanding all-around game with speed, batting average and 20-plus homer potential. — Schoenfield
American League Rookie of the Year
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles (+1400): In what might well be a wide-open race, Rodriguez’s skills (and odds) stand out. He’s already an elite strikeout source through five big-league starts, and to Eric’s previous point about the Orioles as a prospective contender, the team is going to need youngsters like Rodriguez to play big parts if they’re to get there (or deep into) October. Much as they’d like to keep his innings closer to 120 innings, I think he’ll be pressed further, and at that volume I see him finishing with easily the best pitching stats from the AL’s rookie class. — Cockcroft
Longshots to watch
Mason Miller, SP, Oakland A’s: You should already have your +1100 or so ticket on the current favorite Masataka Yoshida (now +325) when he was egregiously priced before the season. He was and remains the true favorite, but Mason Miller at +3000 is too good to pass up. He’s dominated at every single level, but his lack of pro experience and current 6.48 ERA are keeping his market down. That won’t last long, because his 11.9 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and 3.54 xFIP are elite. His Stuff+ is 4th-best in baseball behind only Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani, and Spencer Strider. THE BAT thinks he’s already the 29th best pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. But somehow he’s priced as just the 10th-most likely to win AL Rookie of the Year. Sign me up. — Carty
Hunter Brown, SP, Astros (+600): Perhaps the Astros never considered bringing Justin Verlander back because they knew Brown would emerge into an ace. So far, so great, as Brown has the best numbers of all the Houston starting pitchers and shows no signs of regression. His AL Cy Young odds are non-existent, so see if you can get in on that action as well. — Karabell