The official start of summer also means that baseball is approaching the halfway mark. So far, for a lot of teams, things haven’t exactly panned out the way that many people expected they would before the year began, but that has made for an exciting season. Could anyone have predicted that the Reds and Diamondbacks would lead their divisions at this point in the season? Or that the Padres, Cardinals, and Mets would be under .500? Part of the cause of these surprising turns is that we have seen a giant influx of young talent making an immediate impact while some players just look old.
The weeks leading up to the All-Star break is my favorite time to reassess the futures market. We now have a wide collection of stats that allow us to know who some players are. This will allow us to look back at what we believed in the preseason and use our new sample size of stats in order to find value within the current lines. Some teams can start off slow, but they gain traction and become who we all thought they could be. Plus, some teams can face bad luck early on but, when healthy, finally produce at a level that we all thought they were capable of.
I put together some picks for Division and Player Award winners, with some juicy unit plays, that could really net us some serious coin come October. The key thing to remember is finding the value and jumping at the right time. All of these bets I believe will only shrink in value and should be considered an ASAP move. All odds below are on FanDuel but if you can find a better line, jump on it and let us count the cash in a couple of months!
AL Central Pennant = Cleveland Guardians +180
The Guardians were the boring pick at the beginning of the year. They always compete, and you can pencil them in to finish about 6-10 games over .500, year in and year out. Yet this team has sputtered to start the year. Their lineup never seems to scare anyone, but they continue to churn out runs the hard way. José Ramirez took a little while to get himself going but once the calendar turned to June, he took off. He has doubled his combined homerun total from April & May and is hitting a modest .330 at the time of this article. Josh Naylor is quietly in the top 10 in the AL in RBI’s, and they are starting to see the production finally rear its head with Rosario and Gimenez.
The real horse pulling all of this success is the pitching factory that this organization has turned into. Reports of the organization trading Bieber have surfaced but that only means they are expecting top talent in return that will help them remain competitive. All the while they have guys like Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee, and the newly promoted Gavin Williams who all seem poised to shoulder this team’s success into the second half of the season. They have 13 games remaining against a quickly fading Royals team, 7 more games against the White Sox (Cleveland leads that series 4-2 on the year), and they still have home & away series against the Twins to control their own destiny. Luckily enough they also get the Dodgers, Braves, Orioles, and Reds at home. The Twins are -230, so I’m loving the value Cleveland provides.
AL East Pennant = Baltimore Orioles +1100
The Orioles are getting amazing value here, despite the fact that they are just 4 games behind 1st place. The Rays have been a dominant team, but the Orioles have not been playing badly enough compared to the division leader to warrant an 11-1 price tag. The Rays hot start may have inflated their price a bit. They still hold the division lead, but are currently dealing with a plethora of injuries to the pitching staff. Baltimore, meanwhile, has turned the corner. The rebuild is working well and they are no longer the cellar dwellers that we have come to know them as.
Their starting rotation does not exactly thrill you, but they are showing they can do enough to hand off a lead to one of the best bullpens in the league. Cano and Bautista are easily the best set-up/closer combination in baseball. Baltimore showed last year they can get hot late in the season, and if they stay around 5 games back after the All-Star break, this number will drop. Watching such a fun, young team win this division will make cashing this ticket even sweeter.
MLB 2023 Awards
NL MVP = Ronald Acuña -190
I would call this an urgent matter. Getting Acuña at any plus-price to win the award will only slip away as the days go by – if a plus-line is even still available anywhere. This is what some would call a “lock.” Acuña is second in the league with 23 steals, and a .331 average. Let us not forget that this man is also sitting top 10 in OBP, SLG, and OPS. There is a world where he hits for a .300 average, 25+ homeruns, 140 runs scored, and steals 50 bases. How is that not an MVP stat line? Not to mention he also plays on a team that will more than likely win their division and battle to win the NL. Run, and I mean run, to the counter now and enjoy one of the greatest seasons in the last 10 years.
AL Rookie of the Year = Hunter Brown +850
Now I will give all the credit in the world to Josh Jung. He has been hitting like a top 5 third baseman so far this year and is doing so on a team that seems poised to finish top 3 in runs scored. Yet I can get nearly 9 to 1 value on a pitcher to win Rookie of the Year who had better odds than Shane Bieber to win Cy Young? This is a spot where I just love the value.
Awards typically go to players who are on teams that win, and which has won more in the AL West than the Astros recently? Brown is pitching below a 4.00 ERA so far this season and has a chance to finish with 15 wins on the year. 15 wins would be the most a Rookie of the Year Award winning pitcher has had since Verlander won this award in 2006. That does not really work in Brown’s favor but once again, we are talking about value. Brown recovered from a down May where opponents hit .280 against him and now in June, his opponents average is .195. He has reduced his WHIP by 32 points and has shown swing and miss potential. There isn’t another pitcher more deserving of this award, so we could be one bad month or injury away from seeing these odds dip to 5 to 1.
AL Cy Young Winner: Kevin Gausman +480
Kevin Gausman seems like a perfect candidate to win this award. Gausman himself has been having a quietly dominant season so far. He has 7 double-digit strikeout games so far this season. Cole and Burnes led the league last year with 9. He currently sits 2nd in the league in strikeouts and has a ridiculous K:BB ratio of 5.35.
My favorite factor is the fact that his team is underperforming right now. Gausman has just 7 wins on the year. Who says this lineup does not wake up, and allows Gausman to finish with 18-20 wins? Plus, the team’s success will only aid his case as they climb up the Wild Card standings. Who knows, because nothing about the Jays have been inspiring but they have the talent, and a favorable remaining schedule. McClanahan has a bad injury history, Cole does not have his strikeout numbers, and you get +130 more value than Valdez. Maybe sprinkle a small amount on Framber for insurance but I believe in what Gausman has shown this season.
Best Record End of Season (DK Special)
Los Angeles Dodgers +2000
I understand that the Rays had a historic start, but I feel as if we should not forget that they play in the toughest division in baseball. As the season progresses, division games will only happen more often. I do not say this to sound down on the Rays, but they do not have the luck of playing against Colorado 11 more times.
The Dodgers are a proven powerhouse who currently have the 6th easiest strength of schedule remaining. They are also the proud beneficiary of playing the Rockies 11 more times as well as series with the Nationals, Athletics, and Royals. This is also one of the deepest teams in the league and one of the best hitting lineups in the NL. As a team they have a wOBA (Weighted on Base Average) of .331 which puts them at 6th in the league, but they are 2nd with a .344 xwOBA (Expected Weighted On Base Average). Not to mention their xSLG and xBA are both higher than their current team stats. The weather is getting warmer, so the ball is going to fly a little easier. The pitching is in clear disarray, but the wins are still piling up. The Dodgers also have a young and hungry team in Arizona who is pushing them for the division title. This is just another motivating factor as to why they won’t take their foot off the gas late and cash us some serious units.
Atlanta Braves -110
Let us enter Atlanta into the equation who is right behind the Dodgers in both xwOBA and xSLG, and basically neck and neck with the Rays and Dodgers in every statistical hitting category. That is in large part due to the fact that they have the runaway favorite for NL MVP, Ronald Acuña. Atlanta also has one of the hardest hitting lineups, with a league best Hard Hit % and the highest Average Exit Velocity. Not to mention they play in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in the Majors, so good things are bound to happen. The Braves also have the 7th easiest remaining schedule with 17 games spread between the Nationals and Rockies alone. The Phillies and a surprising Marlins team could push the Braves late and ensure they don’t mail in the last week.
The one place I think they separate themselves from LA and Tampa is pitching. That may sound shocking seeing as how the Rays have a possible AL Cy Young winner, but the Braves have a stud of their own, and their rotation is deep. Strider leads the majors in strikeouts and has looked like his dominant self for the majority of the season. Bryce Elder is defying all the underlying data and thriving. He limits hard contact while also inducing ground balls in an era that seems to favor that style of pitching. We have seen this team churn out quality young arms year after year, and it shouldn’t be a surprise for them to be the favorite. These odds will only get worse as the season progresses so place your bets quickly.