Of Sam Panayotovich
FOX sports betting analyst
Regardless of what you think about it Houston Astrosit’s impossible to ignore the success they’ve experienced over the past five seasons.
Houston has reached the American League Championship Series every year since winning the World Series in 2017. The Astros are still churning out butter and clinching wins even after losing George Springer and Carlos Correa in back-to-back offseasons.
They currently lead the AL West with a 29-16 record thanks to a strong offense and one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. And while it’s clear that the Astros have very good players, the organization certainly deserves some credit for keeping the ship afloat.
“It’s definitely a combination of both,” Westgate SuperBook senior baseball trader Randy Blum told FOX Sports. “The organization didn’t overwhelm Correa because they had this kid Jeremy Peña ready to take over at shortstop. Decisions like these aren’t easy, and that’s a credit to scouting and development.
“Houston also has quality players throughout the squad. And always [Justin] Verlander is back and it’s amazing that he’s doing what he’s doing. Some of the other starting pitchers are still on the way up, but Verlander’s veteran presence in the rotation is a big deal.”
Verlander is the clear favorite to win the AL Cy Young [+450 at FOX Bet], and he paces a staff posting a collective 2.80 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers have better numbers in both categories.
We could very well be destined for a 2019 ALCS rematch between the Astros and the New York Yankees for a chance to play at this year’s Fall Classics. The Bronx Bombers have hit 63 homers in 44 games, and ace Gerrit Cole has the highest ERA [3.31] in a surprisingly dominant rotation.
I wonder what that seven-game series price would be on a neutral field.
“The Yankees are a slight favorite, but it’s a long season,” said Blum. “Just knowing how the public would bet on it helps you with that assessment. A lot would depend on who’s healthy in October, but if you let me put a number on it now, the Yankees are a slight favorite.”
Born and raised in New York as a Yankee fan, I always wonder how guys like Blum can reconcile fandom with reality. Are things like a scorching start to this season or 13 years without a World Series title affecting his numbers?
“I can’t let that happen,” Blum said after a laugh. “Sometimes I put on my brave face when we’re talking ball in the office, but then I have to get the numbers right. [SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons] keeps me in check too. You can’t let this stuff affect your numbers.
“You force yourself to put emotions aside when giving numbers for betting purposes. Say you make a bet on your White Sox and lose your personal bet; you carry on. If I did the same on our side and we take a hundred bets on other teams and lose money, that’s not good.”
Speaking of my Chicago White Sox, what the heck is going on?
Chicago is lagging 22-21 after 43 games, and the South Siders are in the bottom five in baseball in runs scored, walks scored, RBIs and on-base percentage. They are currently 4.5 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central.
“Big picture, they’ll be fine,” said Blum. “They still have enough offense and the pitching was great. Eloy [Jimenez] seems to get injured every year so he’s out for a while. Other guys got hurt like [Yoan] Monaco and [Luis] Robert. Lance Lynn hasn’t even thrown a pitch yet.
“The surprise in the seven-week division was the Minnesota Twins. I didn’t expect them to play as well as they did. Can they continue like this for the rest of the season? I would tend to say ‘no’. on this one.
“I still think the White Sox are the clear favorite to win the AL Central, just not as heavily favored as they were preseason.”
Reigning champions Atlanta Braves is another team that has so far failed to live up to preseason expectations. They are between 21 and 23, with mostly medium shots and shots, but they are far from out of competition.
Atlanta’s division deficit is already a touchdown, but the gap is half what it was in the NL wildcard race. Chances are that superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. will be heating up and catapulting his club into contenders’ talks before we know it.
Also, slow starts after a party-packed celebration are nothing new.
“There’s always a little hangover with the team that wins the World Series,” Blum explained. “It’s something we always talk about preseason when we call the numbers. We never go too high on the team that won it all because there’s always a slow start the following year. I expect the Braves to get better as the season goes on, they’re not as bad as they played off the chute.
“Nevertheless, the Mets are a very good baseball team. They obviously have a lot of depth in the rotation and that’s being tested with the injuries right now [Jacob] degrom, [Max] Scherzer and [Trevor] Megil. [Francisco] Lindor had moments. He’s still trying to find himself a bit, but Pete Alonso looks like an MVP candidate, and [Brandon] Nimmo was great for her. The offensive is significantly improved.
“The Braves will make a push, but the Mets have a real shot to hold on to all year long. It should be a good race. The real question mark is deGrom and when will he return daily. You can see on Twitter that the Mets will be providing an update on deGrom. I wait hours for these updates and then they say nothing. It is strange.
“I expect he’ll be back after the All-Star break and Scherzer will eventually rejoin. The Mets just need to stay the course and avoid this painfully long losing streak before these two guys return.”
Last but not least, the NL West is shaping up to be an absolute juggernaut, with two teams expected to win 100 games on the high side per baseball ref.
Los Angeles was my preseason pick to win the World Series at +500 – pretty daring right? — but I was very impressed with San Diego’s start and San Francisco’s resilience. And even Arizona is having a successful season.
Even Will Smith would appreciate that wild, wild west.
“The Diamondbacks are obviously the real surprise,” admitted Blum. “I didn’t expect them to be a .500 team this year. There’s still a long way to go, but they’re playing solid baseball, winning games, and hanging out.
“We expected the other three teams to be in the postseason mix. Heading into this season, I had the Giants a notch below the Dodgers and Padres. The Giants were due for some regression due to their graduation last season, and there weren’t any great additions to the roster. They’re now five games away from the division lead, which is what you expected.
“The Padres, on the other hand, are playing better than we thought. After a disappointing 2021, they took a step forward and surpassed our pre-season number. It looks like the Padres will be in it for the long haul this year and give the Dodgers a run.
“The Dodgers are still the team to beat on paper. Looking at their lineup from top to bottom, they have the pitching and hitting and are solid in all facets of the game. Aside from a lot of injuries, I just don’t see them losing this division.
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He will probably decide against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.
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