Saturday, November 26 2022

By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst

Despite what you think about the Houston Astros, it’s impossible to ignore the success they’ve experienced over the last five seasons.

Houston has reached the American League Championship Series every year since winning the World Series in 2017. The Astros are still churning butter and racking up wins even after losing George Springer and Carlos Correa in back-to-back offseasons.

They’re currently leading the AL West with a 29-16 record thanks to a potent offense and one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. And while it’s clear the Astros have very good players, the organization certainly deserves some credit for keeping the ship afloat.

“It’s definitely a combination of the two,” Westgate SuperBook senior baseball trader Randy Blum told FOX Sports. “The organization didn’t overreach for Correa because they had this kid Jeremy Peña ready to take over at shortstop. Decisions like that aren’t easy, and that’s a credit to scouting and development.

“Houston has quality players all over the roster, too. And getting [Justin] Verlander back and having him do what he’s doing is incredible. Some of the other starting pitchers are still on the come up, but Verlander’s veteran presence in the rotation is a huge deal.”

Verlander is the odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young [+450 at FOX Bet], and he’s pacing a staff posting a collective 2.80 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers have better numbers in both categories.

We could very well be destined for a 2019 ALCS rematch between the Astros and New York Yankees for a chance to play in this year’s Fall Classic. The Bronx Bombers have already pounded 63 homers in 44 games, and ace Gerrit Cole has the highest ERA [3.31] in a surprisingly dominant rotation.

I wonder what that seven-game series price would be on a neutral field.

“The Yankees are a slight favorite, but it’s a long season,” Blum said. “Just knowing how the public would bet it helps you make that assessment. A lot would depend on who is healthy in October, but if you had me make a number on it right now, the Yankees are a slight favorite.”

Born and raised a Yankee fan in New York, I always wonder how guys like Blum balance fandom with reality. Do things like a white-hot start this season or 13 years without a World Series title affect his numbers?

“I can’t let that happen,” Blum said after a laugh. “Sometimes I’ll put on my brave face when we’re talking ball in the office, but then I have to make the real numbers. [SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons] keeps me in check, too. You can’t let that stuff affect your numbers.

“You force yourself to put emotion to the side when you’re putting numbers up for betting purposes. Say you make a bet on your White Sox and lose your personal bet; you move on. If I did the same thing on our side and we take a hundred bets on other teams and lose money, that’s not good.”

Speaking of my Chicago White Sox, what the hell is going on?

Chicago is treading water at 22-21 after 43 games, and the South Siders are bottom-five in baseball in runs scored, walks, RBIs and on-base percentage. They’re currently 4.5 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central.

“Big picture, they’ll be fine,” Blum opined. “They still have enough offense and the pitching has been great. Eloy [Jimenez] seems to get hurt every year, so he’ll be out for a while. Other guys have been injured like [Yoan] Moncada and [Luis] Robert. Lance Lynn hasn’t even thrown a pitch yet.

“The surprise in the division through seven weeks has been the Minnesota Twins. I didn’t expect them to be playing as well as they have. Can they keep it up for the rest of the season? I would lean towards the ‘No’ on that.

“I still think the White Sox are the clear favorite to win the AL Central, just not as heavy a favorite as they were before the season.”

The reigning champion Atlanta Braves are another team that hasn’t met preseason expectations so far. They’re 21-23 with mostly middle-of-the-pack hitting and pitching numbers, but they’re far from out of contention.

Atlanta’s divisional deficit is already a touchdown, but the gap is half that in the NL Wild Card race. Odds are good that superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. will heat up and catapult his club into the contender conversation before we know it.

Besides, slow starts are nothing new after a celebration-filled offseason.

“There’s always a little bit of a hangover with the team that wins the World Series,” Blum explained. “That’s something we always talk about in the preseason when we do the numbers. We never go too high on the team that won it all because there always tends to be that slow start the following year. I expect the Braves to get better as the season goes along; they’re not as bad as they’ve played out of the chute.

“That said, the Mets are a very good baseball team. They obviously have a lot of depth in the rotation, and that’s being tested right now with the injuries to [Jacob] deGrom, [Max] Scherzer and [Trevor] Megill. [Francisco] Lindor has had moments. He’s still trying to find himself a bit, but Pete Alonso looks like an MVP candidate, and [Brandon] Nimmo has been amazing for them. The offense is much improved.

“The Braves will make a push, but the Mets have a real shot to hang on throughout the year. It should be a good race. The real question mark is deGrom and when he’ll return. It’s of my favorite things to read about daily. On Twitter, you’ll see that the Mets will give an update on deGrom. I wait hours for these updates, and then they say nothing. It’s comical.

“I’m going to assume he’ll be back after the All-Star break, and Scherzer will eventually rejoin the fold. The Mets just need to stay the course and avoid those painfully long losing streaks before those two guys return.”

Last but certainly not least, the NL West is shaping up to be an absolute juggernaut, with two teams projected to win 100 games on the high side per Baseball-Reference.

Los Angeles was my preseason pick to win the World Series at +500 — real bold, huh? — but I’ve been super impressed with San Diego’s start and San Francisco’s resiliency. And even Arizona is having a winning season.

Even Will Smith would appreciate this wild, wild West. 

“The Diamondbacks are obviously the real surprise,” Blum admitted. “I didn’t expect them to be a .500 team this year. There’s a long way to go, but they’re playing solid baseball, winning games and hanging around.

“We expected the other three teams to be in the postseason mix. Heading into this season, I had the Giants a notch below the Dodgers and Padres. The Giants were due for some regression given how they finished last season, and there weren’t any great additions to the roster. They’re five games off the division lead right now, which you expected.

“The Padres, on the other hand, are playing better than we thought. After a disappointing 2021, they’ve taken a step up and outpacing our preseason number. It looks like the Padres will be in it for the long haul this year and give the Dodgers a run.

“The Dodgers are still the team to beat on paper. When you look at their roster from top to bottom, they have the pitching and hitting and are solid in all facets of the game. Barring a lot of injuries, I just don’t see them losing that division.” 

Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He’ll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.


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