MLB Handicapping: Division Races Odds and Betting Predictions

The 2014 MLB regular season heads into the final two series of games before next week’s all-star break, which traditionally marks the start of the real race for this year’s playoffs. Odds to win each of the six division races that secure an automatic spot in the playoffs have been released by Bovada.

Starting in one of the trickier divisions to handicap, the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles (48-40) and the Toronto Blue Jays (47-43) remain the favorites at 7/4 odds, followed closely by the New York Yankees at 9/4. Boston has faded to 12/1 after starting the season as the favorites to win, and Tampa Bay has fallen way down to 25/1.

The value to me still lies in New York’s odds. It is just one game above .500 as of this past Sunday’s results, but that is only 3.5 games off the pace. Toronto has started to fade after a strong run in late spring to give way to Baltimore, which now leads the division by two games. I question whether the Orioles have what it takes to be the lead horse in a very tight race.

The Detroit Tigers opened the season as prohibitive favorites to win the AL Central, and despite a roller-coaster ride that has resulted in a 48-37 record through their first 85 games they are still heavily favored at 1/5. The surprising Kansas City Royals have kept pace in the chase with a record of 45-42, and their odds to pull off the upset now stand at 17/4. Cleveland is six games off the pace, and its odds to emerge on top at the end of the year are 9/1.

All the Tigers need to do is win the majority of their series over the second half of the season to lock things up, but there has to be some genuine concern in the lack of balance between a 25-15 record on the road verses a 23-22 record at home. If they can turn things around at Comerica Park, it should be easy stride to the finish line.

The AL West has been dominated by Oakland so far. However, even though the Athletics have the best record in the American League at 55-33, they have an unwanted visitor coming up close in their rear view mirror. Over the past 10 games the Los Angeles Angels have matched Oakland win for win with a 7-3 record and a current four-game winning streak. The A’s lead still stands at 3.5 games and the odds they hold on an win the West are still in their favor at 1/3, but things are definitely getting a bit close for comfort.

The Angels’ odds to win the West are currently 11/4 and more than worth a second look when looking for value in the numbers. Los Angeles is ranked fifth in the AL in pitching with a team ERA of 3.87 as compared to Oakland’s league-leading 3.15 staff ERA. These two teams remain neck and neck at the very top of the AL in scoring with an average of five runs a game.

The NL East was supposed to be a two-team race this season between Atlanta and Washington, and as we cross the halfway point that is exactly what we have. Atlanta is 49-39 and holding a half-game lead on the strength of one extra win as compared to Washington’s record of 48-39.

Both teams are coming into the last two series before the break hot, with the Braves winning nine of their last 10 games while the Nationals posted a 7-3 mark during the same stretch. The current odds favor the Nationals at 5/9, so the value lies in Atlanta at 3/2 in what appears to be a dead heat.

The most intriguing division in the majors has to be the NL Central. Milwaukee busted out of the gate to a blazing start, and it has been able to maintain the pace at 52-37 through its first 89 games. The surging Pittsburgh Pirates are now in second place and just 4.5 games back after a 8-2 run in their last 10 games, while the favored St. Louis Cardinals have fallen five games off the pace with a 4-6 record in their last 10 outings. Cincinnati (45-42) remains a legitimate contender and is sitting six games back.

The odds to win this four-team race favor the current leader at 10/11. The Cardinals are listed at 9/5 followed by the Pirates at 5/1 and the Reds at 15/2. I would have to go with St. Louis as the proven entity in this division despite the team’s current form. There is still plenty of time to turn things around between now and September.

The final MLB division race takes us to the NL West, where the early favorites are starting to play that role. The Los Angeles Dodgers were almost a given to win this division as the top favorite to win the NL Pennant this season. Do not tell that to the upstart San Francisco Giants, who until recently had the lead in the West. The Dodgers (51-40) are playing to form and holding a slim half-game lead, while the Giants have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games to fall to 49-39 on the year.

Los Angeles’ odds to win the NL West are now set at ½, and the odds that the Giants hang on over the second half of the season and win are 3/2. While you might be tempted to try and squeeze some value out of San Francisco, these teams appear to be headed in opposite directions just as things are starting to heat up.

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