The MLB has never really nailed down this concept of “Opening Day,” having teams play their first games of the season over the span of two days – or in some rare cases, more. Not that I’m complaining; the quicker meaningful baseball returns, the happier I am. Just know that when I say I’m looking for value bets on Opening Day, that includes Sunday and Monday.
You know what? Maybe I’ll just include the dates to avoid confusion. Anyway, here’s three bets I really like for the triumphant return of the MLB.
Sunday, April 2
St. Louis Cardinals (+115) vs Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are going to be favored wherever they go this season, but to see them -125 at Busch Stadium still feels weird. Sure, 2016 was a disappointing season for St. Louis, which by their standards, means missing the playoffs by one game and going 9-10 against their hated rivals.
But there’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into the season, as well as this game. The Cardinals had the third-highest scoring offense in the National League last year, and added to it by taking Dexter Fowler from the Cubs. They’ll send 25-year-old phenom Carlos Martinez to the mound, who is coming off a 3.02 ERA in his first two full seasons as a starter. The Cubs have been able to get to him in the past, but he continues to improve each year, and could frustrate their lineup this time around.
For Chicago, we’ll see Jon Lester adjusting to life without David Ross behind the plate, after his personal catcher retired last season. As for the rest of the lineup, they’re no doubt feeling good coming off a World Series win and favored to get another. But the defending champs aren’t a lock on Opening Day, going 4-6 in the last 10 openers.
In a tight rivalry game, getting a home team with extra value on the moneyline is worth looking into.
Monday, April 3
Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles (UNDER 8.5 runs)
Once Jose Bautista re-signed with Toronto this offseason, it guaranteed this rivalry would stay as heated as your grandparents condo in springtime. The last meeting came in a thrilling Wild Card game that the O’s seemingly gave away after Buck Showalter kept shutdown closer Zach Britton stapled to the bench in a 5-2 extra-innings loss.
Since 2014, these are the league’s two best teams at crushing the long ball, so it’s understandable that the game total is so high right out of the gate. But in the last eight meetings between them, the total has stayed below nine runs. For the Jays, starter Marco Estrada has been excellent against the O’s in his career (4-1, 3.22 ERA); and for Baltimore, Showalter won’t be hesitant to use anyone from last season’s AL-leading bullpen (this time around).
Whenever these teams you meet you can expect fireworks, but don’t look for them to come on the scoreboard on Monday.
Seattle Mariners (+125) at Houston Astros
The beauty of early-season betting is that all the teams anointed as heavy division favorites come out overvalued. Obviously Houston has the potential to be a great team, but it starts with their pitching returning to 2015 form, rather than last year’s awful showing.
At the forefront of those struggles was Dallas Keuchel, whose ERA ballooned up to 4.55 after losing velocity on nearly all of his pitches. Coming off a shoulder injury to close the season as well, it’s tough to know what we’ll get from the former Cy Young winner on Opening Day.
As for Seattle, you have a pretty good idea of what Felix Hernandez gives you. Making the tenth Opening Day start of his career, Hernandez has always come out of the gate hot. Last year against Texas was the first time the Mariners lost an Opening Day game with King Felix on the mound, having gone 8-0 prior to that.
Houston was 11-8 against Seattle last season, but finished two games back of them in the standings. These teams are pretty close, and this line doesn’t accurately reflect that.