2021 MLB Betting Preview

Bryce Harper Phillies Betting Odds Stats Getty Images
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

“For me, it’s all about winning,” Bryce Harper said at his introductory press conference with the Philadelphia Phillies in March 2019 after signing a 13-year, $330-million deal. “That’s what you’re remembered for. That’s what it’s all about.”

At the time, Harper was a 26-year-old six-time All-Star joining an organization without a playoff appearance since 2011 and the fourth-worst winning percentage in baseball over the previous seven seasons. Two years later, the Phillies are without a playoff appearance since 2011 and own the fourth-worst winning percentage in baseball over the previous nine seasons. They haven’t finished above .500 or above third place in the NL East since capturing the division title with 102 wins in 2011. And they enter 2021 with the second-longest active playoff drought (nine years), only behind the Seattle Mariners (19 years).

Bryce Harper won’t be remembered, according to Bryce Harper, at this rate. Since joining the Phillies two years ago, the club is 109-113 with a run differential of minus-25. And if you believe the mediocrity will continue, the price is -400. In BetMGM’s MLB Team Season Specials, the Phillies have -400 odds to miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season. They are +280 to make the playoffs in a year that returns to normalcy with 2,430 scheduled regular-season games (up from 900 scheduled games in 2020, 898 of which were played) and 10 postseason teams. 

Here’s a division-by-division MLB betting preview for the 2021 season:

AL East

One of only two divisions with three 32-win teams, the AL East was highly profitable against the spread on the road. Only the New York Yankees posted a sub-.500 ATS road record en route to 33 outright victories and 32 ATS victories. 

AL East ATS REcords

With a 162-game schedule returning in 2021, the Yankees own the highest regular-season win total in the division (95.5), which sits behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball. The Baltimore Orioles, meanwhile, sit ahead of only one team, the Pittsburgh Pirates:

Yankees: 95.5
Rays: 85.6
Blue Jays: 85.5
Red Sox: 80.5
Orioles: 64.5

Since their last playoff appearance in 2016, the Orioles are 201-345 overall, only three wins ahead of the Detroit Tigers for the fewest. Their margin of victory since 2017 (minus-1.2 runs per game) also ranks 29th, also one spot ahead of the Tigers. And with only $45 million committed to their 2021 payroll, the Orioles’ entire roster is making $9 million less than one Yankees’ player Gerrit Cole. 

AL Central

Hopefully, you didn’t ride and die on overs in the AL Central last season. The division’s five teams combined for only 118 overs (on 288 opportunities), only 20 of which were contributed by the Minnesota Twins after hitting 82 overs during their power-infused 2019 run to another Divisional Round exit at the hands of the Yankees.

MLB ATS Standings

The Chicago White Sox were one of only two teams that posted at least 35 outright wins and 35 ATS wins last season (Dodgers) and have the division’s highest win total in 2021:

White Sox: 90.5
Twins: 88.5
Indians: 81.5
Royals: 73.5
Tigers: 69.5

New White Sox manager Tony La Russa has won at least 90 games 12 times in nearly three decades as a manager for three different clubs, including 99 wins and an ALCS appearance with the White Sox in 1983. He was fired three years later and now returns to the South Side as a controversial 76-year-old who hasn’t been on the bench in a decade. And he won’t have Eloy Jimenez on Opening Day after the outfielder ruptured his pectoral tendon and will miss 5-6 months. The loss didn’t move the White Sox’s win total, which was posted after they added Adam Eaton, Liam Hendriks, and Lance Lynn.

The White Sox are also favorites to win their first division title since 2008. At -125, they’re just ahead of the Twins (+150) and well ahead of the self-imploding Indians (+750), and rebuilding Royals (+4000) and Tigers (+6600).

AL West

For the better part of the Mariners’ 19-year playoff drought, they’ve been miserable on the field and miserable against the run lines. They were mostly miserable again in 2020, finishing with a negative run differential for the 16th time in the last 17 years, but they posted a .550 winning percentage against the spread, their best mark since 2014.

MLB ATS Standings

The Mariners added a few arms over the winter–Chris Flexen, James Paxton, and Ken Giles–but were fairly quiet after several active offseasons for general manager Jerry Dipoto. It wasn’t a splashy offseason for the entire division as the Angels whiffed on Trevor Bauer and others added a few low-level pieces via trade and free agency.

Without Bauer, or any other notable additions to the rotation, the Angels’ win total sits at 83.5, third-highest in the division:

Athletics: 87.5
Astros: 87.5
Angels: 83.5
Mariners: 72.5
Rangers: 67.5

The Angels haven’t finished above .500 since winning 85 games in 2015, have just one playoff appearance in the last 11 years, and have finished fourth in the West in three of the last four years. In 14 full seasons as an MLB manager, Joe Maddon has won at least 84 games 11 times, with all 11 coming in his last 12 seasons. 

The Angels open the season with a four-game series against the White Sox at home before a pair against the Astros, whom they beat in six of 10 matchups last year. It was their first above-.500 record against the Astros since 2014.

NL East

One of the weirdest betting numbers of the last two years: The Miami Marlins covered the run line in 27 of 81 road games in 2019, the second-worst road ATS winning percentage in the league. In 2019, they covered in 25 of 34 road games, registering three more ATS road wins than any other team.

MLB ATS Standings

Forced to play 34 road games after a million postponements ravaged their early-season schedule, the Marlins finished tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second-most outright road wins in posting their first above-.500 season since 2009. They did nothing over the winter, only signing Anthony Bass to a two-year deal and acquiring several low-impact players via trade, leaving them with a win total of only 70.5, the sixth-lowest in baseball.

Braves: 91.5
Mets: 90.5
Nationals: 84.5
Phillies: 80.5
Marlins: 70.5

Elsewhere, the Mets re-signed Marcus Stroman, added Taijuan Walker, James McCann, and Trevor May free agency, and acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Indians. They limped to 26 wins last year, haven’t reached the postseason since 2016, and haven’t topped their 2021 total (90.5) since 2006.

NL Central

The NL Central had the league’s second-most profitable home team (Pittsburgh Pirates), least profitable home team (Milwaukee Brewers), and five teams that hit the over more often than the under. 

The Pirates’ nosedive continued with a 19-win season in posting the fifth-lowest outright winning percentage in franchise history. They were, however, unbelievable against the run lines, especially at home with an 18-12 ATS mark at PNC Park:

MLB ATS Standings

The only division without a win total of at least 87, the NL Central is home to futility and mediocrity as the Pirates’ tear-down continued, the Chicago Cubs became a small-market club, the Cincinnati Reds refused to make consequential moves, and the Milwaukee Brewers remaining stuck in limbo. With their acquisition of Nolan Arenado, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only team trying to win the division.

Cardinals: 86.5
Brewers: 83.5
Reds: 81.5
Cubs: 78.5
Pirates: 58.5

Aside from the Arenado trade, the Cardinals were quiet this offseason but are the only Central team with a top-10 payroll (No. 10). They’re also the only team in the top 12 of World Series odds, the only team in the top six of NL pennant odds, and the only team with more than 800 wins over the last 10 years. Even with Joc Pederson in Chicago, Jackie Bradley Jr. in Milwaukee, and some positive regression likely coming to the Reds’ lineup, this division is the Cardinals to lose.

NL West

The only division in which every team finished at least .500 against the run lines, the NL West was a goldmine for bettors crushing home games in 2020. The division had four teams with 17 home ATS wins, led by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the most undervalued team in baseball:

MLB ATS Standings

The Dodgers struggled to consistently hit the over but were one of the best ATS teams in baseball history while registering 43 outright wins. With Justin Turner back and Trevor Bauer added to an already-stacked rotation, their win total is an eye-popping 102.5:

Dodgers: 102.5 
Padres: 94.5
Diamondbacks: 75.5
Giants: 75.5
Rockies: 63.5

Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, and Mike Clevinger joined a San Diego Padres team that was already capable of winning 90 games, but the Dodgers are heavy favorites to win their ninth straight division title (-250). Since that streak began in 2013, they lead all teams in outright wins with 760. No other team has more than 685.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM