My earliest childhood memories of sports fandom involve the St. Louis Cardinals, a ballclub that I at-first loved because I was supposed to, and then grew to despise later on, also largely because I was supposed to love them.
Time has given me a more neutral POV on the Redbirds, along with more well-founded criticisms than “they’re always on TV.” I agreed with Skip Bayless that the Mark McGwire home run-record celebrations in 1998 had a touch of uneasy desperation, especially since I don’t think anyone was ever tacky enough to ferry Babe Ruth or Roger Maris around on a Budweiser cart in the 4th inning. Later when Barry Bonds out-juiced out-slugged McGwire in 2001, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed a lead that read “the home-run record doesn’t matter anymore.”
That kind of press hackery, comparable to “partisan” political bias and flip-flopping, was par for the course in the Gateway City at the time. In 2006, a Post-Dispatch author I won’t mention by name visited the Winter Olympics in Turin and wrote that the Italian people were “unwelcoming” to outsiders…while sitting in Olympic Village surrounded by athletes and journalists from all over the world.
They call baseball a “boy’s game,” but a boy’s game is more fun when it’s not covered by children. And so I avoided paying attention to St. Louis baseball for a long time.
But it’s hard to shake those first memories of hardball. Somewhere buried deep in my MLB handicapping brain, there are memories of banner seasons under the Arch.
Something about being a kid and following sports tends to compress everything into decades, eras, trends in hindsight. For all I know – it would dampen my thesis to even look up the numbers – the dominant “Runnin’ Redbirds” of the 1980s almost always started-out hot in March and April. After all, nobody had sprained an ACL trying to steal a base yet.
My recollection, though, is that the Cards didn’t mind posting a pedestrian record in spring. The modern-day World Series incarnation of the franchise was skippered by Tony LaRussa, a scientist. Whitey Herzog, who led the club to 3 pennants between 1982 and 1987, was a trickster.
Herzog would find ways to steal wins in April and May while the core of his lineup played its way into form. Rookie “sensations” would bat .325 for 2 weeks and then disappear back to the minors (once National League pitchers scouted them), only to be replaced by other, unfamiliar weapons. All the club really wanted to do was get to early June within striking distance of the NL East lead, and then its marquee players’ OBP and RBI total would begin to grind everyone else down.
Buddhists say a man is shaped in his first 5 years. I still like me a slow start from a baseball club.
You know that cyclist who breaks from his national team and shoots into the lead on the first hill? He gets on camera for 5 minutes or so. He never wins. It’s the same with almost any long race, and the 162-game marathon of Major League Baseball is like no other.
Futures gamblers want to pay close attention to slow-starting ballclubs, especially those loaded with pitching, power, and talent. The natural inclination of the betting public to overvalue current final scores could lead to value at those sportsbooks that offer “floating” MLB futures odds throughout the season.
Here are just a few clubs that could lag behind the pack in April…and make awesome 2019 World Series futures bets while May Apples blossom.
Dodge the Short Line
Manager Dave Roberts’ reign in L.A. has been an astounding success. The past 3 seasons have all produced 90+ wins, division crowns, and deep runs into the postseason.
Roberts has a bevy of talent at his disposal. Players like 2nd baseman Max Muncy (35 HR), outfielder Cody Bellinger (145 hits), and 3rd baseman Justin Turner (114 hits during an injury-muddled ’18 season) are expected to keep the club on top. An elite pitching rotation starring Clayton Kershaw (2.73 ERA) and Walker Buehler (2.62) serving as top aces will certainly not hurt the team.
MyBookie, which – unless I’m mistaken – loves to publish World Series odds at various points throughout the MLB season, is currently giving the Dodgers (+700) to win a world title in fall.
But it might not fall into place right away. L.A.’s starting rotation and bullpen are dealing with strenuous injuries in the short term, with Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Tony Cingrani starting the season on the 10-day injured list. The Dodgers have also been inconsistent in the Cactus League with a 12-15 record.
Watch for the line to jump into 4-digit land if the neighborly Los Angeles Angels post more wins in April and early May, causing pundits to snicker. That’s the time to strike at the sportsbook. The Dodgers will be in the headlines soon enough.
Yankin’ Our Chains
No baseball season in the Bronx begins without its share of fanfare. But don’t let the PA announcer make you think that the “Yankees” are taking the field on Opening Day. They’re not…at least not in the form they hope to appear in by October.
The New York Yankees had been less-than-stellar in the W/L column for several seasons but seem to potentially be on the cusp of returning to former glory, posting 91 and 100 win totals in 2017 and ’18. Manager Aaron Boone’s debut season produced the best win-loss mark for the franchise since the campaign of the 2009 World Champions.
Lineups will boast a group of dynamic hitters led by outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. MyBookie’s current line of (+600) on the Pinstripes reflects that.
But the Yankees are another ballclub that could start maddeningly slow in ’19, causing skeptical bettors to shy away and putting value on an expanded futures line.
Top hurlers Luis Severino and C.C. Sabathia will be missed early in the season. Severino suffers from a shoulder injury and has been nixed until at least May 1st, while Sabathia is working toward a mid-April return from a bad knee. Slugger Aaron Hicks has been cleared from a back injury but will probably sit out Opening Day.
It’s one thing to predict a slow start from an MLB club…it’s another when you can see that they’re practically planning on it.
Veteran manager Terry Francona led the Indians to another dominant run in the AL Central with a 91-71 record last year. Cleveland has out-classed its closest rivals for 3 years, but a (+1400) futures line-to-win the 2019 World Series could grow even longer if the club’s short-term injury issues take a toll in April.
The Indians’ offseason was volatile. Cleveland has lost LF Michael Brantley (.309 BA) and 1st baseman Edwin Encarnacion (107 RBIs). Fans hope the additions of 1st baseman Carlos Santana and LF Jake Bauers will fill the vacuum, and Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are coming back for another round of show-stopping home runs. The starting rotation boasts clever and talented Corey Kluber (2.89 ERA) and Trevor Bauer (2.21 ERA).
However, the club has looked a little bit disorganized in the Cactus League, and it could take a few weeks for Francona to start putting a winning formula together. The Indians could be without several key players on Opening Day, including Ramirez (knee), Lindor (calf), and 2nd baseman Jason Kipnis, also ailing with a calf injury.
That’s much better news – perfect news for the futures bettor, actually – compared to a trio of key players ailing from ligament damage. When planning to buy into an MLB market at a cheap April price, it’s always a good idea to make sure the bumps and bruises are only temporary.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.