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December 18, 2014

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Vegas-style baseball preview: Sports books’ view of the National League

Washington Nationals separating themselves in minds of bettors and oddsmakers alike

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Steve Marcus

A sports book cashier pays out a wager in Primm, Nev., on Monday, June 25, 2012.

Sports Betting Coverage

Throw away those losing NCAA Tournament tickets and stop counting down the days until preseason football magazines hit the newsstands.

It’s time for Major League Baseball. Opening Day is a mere 72 hours away and betting windows across Las Vegas are open to take last-minute wagers on the upcoming season.

Read below as the Las Vegas Sun presents all the odds and what you need to know about betting on every team. Part one features the National League, with the American League scheduled to follow tomorrow.

Last year’s record for every team is provided as well as how they fared against oddsmakers’ over/unders and what would have happened had someone bet $100 on them every game last season. The information comes from covers.com.

All the lines are provided by the LVH Superbook, as Assistant Sports Book Director and Baseball Specialist Chris Bennett offers his take on every team.

    • Atlanta Braves outfielder B.J. Upton (2) and his brother Justin Upton wait to bat during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla.

      Atlanta Braves

      2012 results: 94-68 (+$1,751, 67-88-7 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 87.5

      Odds to win NL East: +185

      Odds to win National League: 7-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 14-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “I think the Braves are the clear No. 2 in their division. I know last year Justin Upton didn’t have the best year and he’s not going to a better hitter’s park, but I do expect his numbers to get better because of how much talent he has. But the Braves do have some things that they have to replace.”

      Overview: The Braves, once a pillar of stability among major league franchises, have changed more than any other contending team in the National League in the past year. Their opening day lineup will feature five different players from those who filled the 2012 version. Atlanta’s starting rotation similarly contains three different pitchers. Some sharp minds, including Bennett’s, expect brothers Justin and B.J. Upton to bring the best out of each other. But it hasn’t translated at the betting window. Both the Braves' win total and future odds stayed dead stagnant since opening three months ago.

    • Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton bats against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla.

      Miami Marlins

      2012 results: 69-93 (-$2,471, 73-75-14 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 63.5

      Odds to win NL East: 100-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 125-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 300-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Everyone knows they gutted their whole team, and Giancarlo Stanton is all they have left. Looking at their lineup, it looks like a Triple-A team other than him. I actually think their pitching could be halfway decent, but they’re the worst team in their division. I think they’re better than the Astros, and they could win 70 games, but they’re a mess for the short-term.”

      Overview: A bona fide star, the Superbook posted Stanton as an 8-to-1 favorite to win the 2013 home run crown in early February. Bettors quickly drove his price further down to 7-to-1. The Southern California native finished with 37 home runs last season, second only to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. The problem is finding anyone else who can contribute. Catcher Rob Brantly and outfielder Justin Ruggiano, for instance, aren’t expected to provide Stanton with much protection in the batting order. At least no expectations burden the Marlins this year. That didn’t work out well in 2012, when the Fish finished a jarring 16 games under their Las Vegas win total.

    • New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud looks on while waiting to take batting practice before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Monday, March 4, 2013, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

      New York Mets

      2012 results: 74-88 (-$1,255, 82-72-8 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 74

      Odds to win NL East: 13-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 50-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 100-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “I don’t have much to say about the Mets. I didn’t like their offense last year and I don’t like it again this year. They look like a clear mid-70 win team to me.”

      Overview: Bettors forecast the Mets to play as lousy as they did last season. Well, the end of last season at least. New York actually cruised out to a fast start in 2012, and was one game back of leading the division in late June. It crashed from there. The Mets became one of the best teams in the league to bet against, going 31-52 over the final three months of the season. There’s little hope again this year beyond third baseman David Wright turning in another career year and complementary players like first baseman Ike Davis discovering more consistency. Most in Las Vegas is betting under.

    • Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard in action during an spring training exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Clearwater, Fla.

      Philadelphia Phillies

      2012 results: 81-81 (-$1,600, 83-73-6 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 83.5

      Odds to win NL East: 4-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 12-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 25-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Our manager here, Ed (Salmons), is a Philly guy and he’s very concerned about a couple things with that team. Roy Halladay has had a really rough spring. We had a prop on how many wins Roy Halladay would have for the season, and even though he’s made a bunch of starts, we actually took the prop down about a week-and-a-half ago because he’s been so bad. I think there’s a chance this could be a disaster. And, the other thing is, Ed thinks their defense is going to be God-awful. ”

      Overview: The sports book numbers attached to the Phillies this year indicate a rather sizable fall from grace for a team that oddsmakers favored to win the World Series in both 2011 and 2012. Those setting the lines may be down on the Phillies, but those betting into them think they have at least one more run left. Despite an aging core — best illustrated by an infield of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young — the Superbook has seen lopsided action on Philadelphia to win its division and eclipse 82.5 wins.

    • In this Oct. 3, 2012, file photo, Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper smiles as he sits in the dugout during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Washington. Harper was named the National League Rookie of the Year Monday, Nov. 12.

      Washington Nationals

      2012 results: 98-64 (+$2,421, 79-73-10 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 92

      Odds to win NL East: -125

      Odds to win National League: 3-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 7-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “They’re getting a lot of attention here because ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated picked them to win the World Series. I don’t disagree. I’d pick them to come out of the National League if I’m picking one team. They are just the most well-balanced and deep team in baseball.”

      Overview: Bryce Harper continues to show his hometown love, but he’s also gotten plenty in return. No player is as popular as the 20-year old former Las Vegas High student at the betting window. William Hill sports books alone posted seven proposition wagers on Harper. They’re undoubtedly expecting most of the action to come in pro-Harper. This is more than home cooking, though. The Nationals are really good. In addition to the breakout season many project for Harper, Washington’s got a healthy Ryan Zimmerman at third base and signed closer Rafael Soriano. The Nationals also snagged Dan Haren to add to a potent starting rotation that already boasted Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

    • This is a 2013 photo of Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs.

      Chicago Cubs

      2012 results: 61-101 (-$2,568, 74-82-6 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 72.5

      Odds to win NL Central: 20-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 35-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 70-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Everyone’s still down on this team. Usually we have a lot of Chicago people coming in to bet the Cubs, but we’re not even getting any of that this year.”

      Overview: Cubs fans probably deserve a plaque in all sports books across the valley. Their undying loyalty in the form of misguided dollars on their team probably helped build a good portion of the structures. After a seemingly endless string of failed years, the Chicago gambling contingent appears finally content to sit back and allow President Theo Epstein to build something of his own — a competitive franchise. There’s a reason bookmakers are calling for the Cubs to win more games than they have the past two seasons: Epstein might be on to something and has some young talent by his side. Led by ace Jeff Samardzija and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Chicago could start to inch closer back to respectability this season.

    • Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto throws to the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Mesa, Ariz. Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

      Cincinnati Reds

      2012 results: 97-65 (+$1,813, 60-89-13 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 90.5

      Odds to win NL Central: -140

      Odds to win National League: 4-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 9-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “I give the edge in this division to the Reds. Their lineup top to bottom is so strong. They’ve got solid starting pitching, and it looks like (Aroldis) Chapman is back to closer after they chatted with him in the rotation. He’s right up there with (Craig) Kimbrel as the best closer. I’m with the public on this team.”

      Overview: The public strongly believes Cincinnati will win the divisional pennant, but are hesitant to take it any further than that. Whether that’s because the franchise hasn’t won a postseason series in 18 years or manager Dusty Baker’s repeated failures in the playoffs is up for debate. But the fact remains, Cincinnati was one win away from having the best record in baseball last year and likely improved in the offseason. In addition to the rest of the lineup coming back, they traded for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to bat leadoff.

    • Milwaukee Brewers mascot Bernie Brewer during an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, in Phoenix.

      Milwaukee Brewers

      2012 results: 83-79 (-$918, 89-68-5 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 79.5

      Odds to win NL Central: +750

      Odds to win National League: 30-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 60-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “There is absolutely no interest in the Brewers. The public doesn’t care for them at all. I know they just signed Kyle Lohse, but no one has come in in the last day or two to bet them because they’re excited, and that usually happens.”

      Overview: The Superbook shaved two wins off of the total it posted for the Brewers earlier this year. Shops all around town have increased Milwaukee’s odds in the future book. It’s rare to see such lack of support on a team that’s led by one of the biggest stars in the sport. Ryan Braun, albeit amid constant performance-enhancing drug speculation, has arguably put together a better six-year stretch than anyone in baseball. The Brewers need to find consistent pitching behind Yovani Gallardo — something Lohse or Mike Fiers could potentially bring — if they want to get back to the level that saw them win the NL Central two years ago.

    • Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte loses his sunglasses after missing a fly ball during a baseball spring training intrasquad game, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla.

      Pittsburgh Pirates

      2012 results: 79-83 (-$258, 69-84-9 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 77.5

      Odds to win NL Central: 12-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 30-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 60-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “To win the division, we took one decent-sized bet on the Pirates. But there hasn’t been much other than that.”

      Overview: Two years in a row, the Pirates have dwarfed the win total sports books posted for them. They beat the number by six games last year, but got quite the over/under win test as a reward in 2013. Pittsburgh hadn’t pieced together more than 77.5 wins in 13 years before last season. The Pirates never had this much young talent either, though. Alongside Andrew McCutchen, who hit 31 home runs and stole 20 bases last season, the Pirates have three other starters age 25 or younger, including fellow promising outfielders Starling Marte and Travis Snider.

    • St. Louis Cardinals' Allen Craig watches his solo home run during the fourth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Miami Marlins Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla.

      Saint Louis Cardinals

      2012 results: 88-74 (-$423, 78-79-5 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 86

      Odds to win NL Central: +225

      Odds to win National League: 8-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 16-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Even though the Reds' season-win total is 4.5 more than the Cardinals, they should have a good shot. They have to deal with losing a couple pitchers —Chris Carpenter is out for the year and Kyle Lohse signed with the Brewers —but they have some guys who emerged last year.”

      Overview: Bennett reported an interesting betting trend with the Cardinals. The Superbook has seen more support on the Reds to win the division, but gamblers have backed the Cardinals to win the National League and the World Series more. Maybe it has something to do with the way they’ve ended recent seasons. A year after memorably overcoming 999-to-1 odds in sports books to win the World Series, Saint Louis rallied again last year to reach the playoffs and knock off Atlanta in the first-ever one-off wild card game. There’s some thought that no drama will be necessary this season behind a young lineup — starring first baseman Allen Craig and outfielder Matt Holliday in the middle — that produced the second-most runs in the National League in 2012.

    • Arizona Diamondbacks' Martin Prado throws during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

      Arizona Diamondbacks

      2012 results: 81-81 (-$1,134, 77-77-8 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 82.5

      Odds to win NL West: 5-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 20-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 40-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “What I read about this organization over the offseason — that they wanted guys who played a certain way or had a certain disposition — was strange. When I look at their lineup now, I don’t see any star hitters. We’ll see how this plays out. I’m skeptical of this team.”

      Overview: As Bennett’s tone suggests, oddsmakers aren’t buying Arizona’s front office pitch about making the team better by trading away outfielder Justin Upton and pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Martin Prado was a nice pick-up in the Atlanta deal, but he’s not a potential superstar like Upton. It’s easy to forget the Diamondbacks were favored to win the NL West before the start of last season. To get back to that status, they’ll need their battalion of in-their-prime pitchers, headlined by Ian Kennedy, to rise to the occasion.

    • Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez signs autographs before playing the Kansas City Royals in an exhibition spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Surprise, Ariz.

      Colorado Rockies

      2012 results: 64-98 (-$1,936, 84-73-5 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 71.5

      Odds to win NL West: 25-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 70-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 150-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Nobody likes the Rockies. The pitching looks to be as bad as it was last year. Other than Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the average baseball fan doesn’t know anything about the Rockies. No one expects them to do anything.”

      Overview: Gamblers have taken shots on an identically priced American League team — the Minnesota Twins — to win the World Series at 150-to-1 at the Superbook. But the Rockies are totally ignored. It’s hard to back a team without a modicum of pitching. After finishing last in most pitching categories last year, Colorado’s rotation this season is, well, pretty much the same with Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis at the top. The Rockies don’t have the lowest win total in the National League, as they edge out the Marlins. Still, it speaks volumes that Colorado’s over/under is 2.5 less than the Cubs and 4.5 behind the Padres.

    • This is a 2013 photo of Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp.

      Los Angeles Dodgers

      2012 results: 86-76 (+$274, 71-82-9 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 91

      Odds to win NL West: -110

      Odds to win National League: +350

      Odds to win World Series: 8-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “They’ve made so many signings and moves in the last year, but when you look at them on paper, they don’t quite match up to the level of the Nationals or the Tigers. They have a lot of guys who, at their best, have been great players. But are they all going to be great this year for the Dodgers? Probably not.”

      Overview: The group Bennett is referring to includes shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Josh Beckett. Those are names that woo the recreational bettor, but fail to get professionals to even turn their heads. Sure enough, the Dodgers have attracted a lot of action in terms of tickets but not an overwhelming amount of money. Tourists cruising up I-15 Friday afternoon are interested in stashing away future bets on the Dodgers. Mostly everyone else is indifferent, as neither Los Angeles’ win total nor its odds to win the World Series has shifted at the Superbook.

    • San Diego Padres starting pitcher Edinson Volquez reacts as he leaves the field while playing the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning in a baseball game in San Diego, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. The Giants won 7-5.

      San Diego Padres

      2012 results: 76-86 (+$448, 85-73-5 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 74

      Odds to win NL West: 10-to-1

      Odds to win National League: 50-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 100-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “Padres have had a lot of things go wrong for them in the spring. They’ve got a lot of injuries, which is unfortunate after they got to where they were pretty good at the end of last season. There is optimism around them, but they don’t have any star power, especially with these injuries.”

      Overview: When San Diego cut its deficit to seven games in the wild-card race late last season, Bennett reported a stream of money coming in on it to win the World Series. The enthusiasm hasn’t carried over to the new year. It doesn’t help that the Padres' best pitcher, Cory Luebke, and best hitter, Chase Headley, will start the year on the disabled list. Their clean-up hitter, Carlos Quentin, also perennially misses time and potential starting pitcher Casey Kelly is undergoing the same Tommy John surgery Luebke is recovering from. On the upside, the Padres finished second in the majors in steals last season behind a combined 70 swipes from healthy shortstop Everth Cabrera and outfielder Cameron Maybin.

    • San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws to the Cleveland Indians' Michael Bourn during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

      San Francisco Giants

      2012 results: 94-68 (+$1,999, 86-70-6 over/under)

      Over/under season win total: 88

      Odds to win NL West: +180

      Odds to win National League: 6-to-1

      Odds to win World Series: 12-to-1

      Bennett’s thoughts: “I will always doubt a team to repeat, especially in a sport like baseball where so many teams have a chance. The Giants had a ridiculous run last year. They were down 2-0 going back to Cincinnati in that playoff series and then down 3-1 in the Cardinals series and needed Barry Zito to save them. They arguably shouldn’t have won the World Series last year, so it’s certainly understandable they’re not the favorite this year.”

      Overview: Anyone brave enough to bet $100 on the Giants to win the World Series before the year in each of the past three seasons must feel confident. That approach would have yielded a profit of $4,500 as San Francisco was 16-to-1 before the 2012 season and 30-to-1 ahead of their first World Series run since the 1950s. They’re somewhere in the middle as far as support at the betting window leading into 2013. Pitching remains a strength while scoring remains a concern. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are entrenched at the top of the rotation, but the Giants may need Tim Lincecum to recover from a season in which he fell apart in order to keep pace in an improved division.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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