MLB Early Season Betting: Who Have You Played?

A detailed view of the MLB batting practice baseballs. Mark Brown/Getty Images/AFP.

As the Major League Baseball calendar turns from April to May, some early surprise teams have emerged, contending for division leads despite not being expected to make a playoff push this year. Other teams who looked like a powerhouse on preseason paper have struggled.

As we continue trying to find ways to improve our MLB betting and determine which starts we can trust and which will not hold up over time, it’s important to look at the schedule. Who has a team played, and who’s coming up?

Strength of Schedule

On the morning of Sept. 11 last season, the St. Louis Cardinals were mired in third place in the National League Central, a mere two games over .500 and 15 games out of first. The Cardinals were three and a half games back in a crowded Wild Card race.

Eighteen days later, on Sept. 29, the Cardinals lost for the next time, running off a 17-game winning streak that had cut the division lead more than in half and put St. Louis in playoff position. St. Louis finished the regular season on a 19-3 run to earn a Wild Card in a late season-closing push no one could have seen coming.

Or could they? The Cardinals’ final 22 games of the season included 13 against the Mets, Cubs, and Padres, three teams who finished a combined 32 games below .500.

Up until that point, the Cards had played 66 of their 140 games—47%—against teams with winning records. As they made their playoff push, less than 41% of their foes were over .500.

A 19-3 record over that stretch was still a surprise, but a closer look at the Cardinals’ schedule could have given an indication that a late-season rally was possible.

Looking at This Season’s Early Schedule

Looking at a team’s schedule can help give an idea of how likely their early record is to hold up. The Yankees are starting a series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, with the two top teams in the AL East clashing. The Yankees enter at 16-6, winners of nine straight. The Blue Jays are a little behind, at 15-8.

The roads to those records, however, have been very different. The Yankee’s nine-game win streak includes three against the Orioles and three against the Royals, two teams that are a combined 15-27 on the year. New York has played just four of its 22 games against teams with winning records, and those four games? Were all against the Blue Jays last month. The Yankees have fattened their record by going 14-4 against losing teams.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have played 10 of their 23 games against winning teams, going 6-4 against them.
Things don’t change anytime soon for either team. The Blue Jays follow the Yankees series with the Indians, Rays, Mariners, and Yankees again, all contenders. Other than a rematch with the Jays, New York, meanwhile, has the Rangers, Orioles, and White Sox through Memorial Day.

What Does It Mean?

The Yankees could be firmly in control of the East by the end of this month, with the Jays struggling to keep within distance. Schedules eventually even out, however. And, with an early-season slate front-loaded with winning teams, the Blue Jays will get to fatten up on the Orioles, Rangers and other lousy teams during the summer months and stretch run, while the Yankees finally start playing some winners.

So, as we are frantically looking for ways to explain what could seem like a “Yankees collapse” later this season, it’s worth remembering the road to the records.

Out west, the Rockies are a surprising 13-9 in a tough division, but they’ve played just three games against winning teams. With full slates against the loaded Dodgers, Padres and Giants still to come, expect them to come crashing to earth eventually.

What Else to Look For

In addition to looking at how many good and bad teams a team has played, it’s worth noting how they’ve done against top teams. The Cleveland Guardians are a surprise early-season contender in the AL Central, but they’ve 0-10 against winning teams, a performance that doesn’t bode well for their staying power.

Schedules are the sexiest reason to explain a team’s performance, which is why knowing them can give you an edge at gambling that other people hunting for zebras instead of horses will overlook.