How to Bet the Divisional Races and Pennants for the 2021 MLB Season

Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable breaks down all six divisions across the AL and NL

April 1, 2021 8:09 am
Fernando Tatis Jr. flips his bat
Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres hits a grand slam and flips his bat.
Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty

Originally scheduled for March 26, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in 2020 didn’t come until July 23 thanks to the pandemic shutting down sports and locking down much of the county in mid-March.

When MLB’s strange 60-game season finally began after months of contentious negotiations between the league and the MLBPA, there were masks on the players in the dugouts and no fans in the stands. While the former will likely be true when the 2021 season opens later today, the latter will not be, as the majority of ballparks are allowing a certain amount of socially distanced spectators to attend games. It won’t be normal, but it’ll be a lot closer than it was.

That sense of normalcy, in some cases, should also extend to the product on the field, as the Los Angeles Dodgers project to be great, the Oakland Athletics project to be mediocre and the Miami Marlins, after somehow qualifying for the playoffs last season, project to bad once again.

At least that’s how the bookmakers at the BetMGM Sportsbook at the Borgata in Atlantic City see it based on the odds they have set for winning the division, the pennant and the World Series for all 30 teams in the MLB.

To help break down those odds and identify some strong bets across the American and National League, we reached out to Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable for some insights into the 2021 season. Below you’ll find a division-by-division preview of the season from a wagering perspective, along with some pro tips about season-long bets to make. Batter up. Bettor up.

(Note: Teams are listed with their 2020 regular-season record followed by odds to win division in 2021.)

NL Central

  • Cardinals, (30-28), +110
  • Brewers, (29-31), +300
  • Reds, (31-29), +375
  • Cubs, (34-26), +500
  • Pirates, (19-41), +6500

Breakdown: I think it’s kind of a three-team race in the NL Central with the Cardinals, Brewers and the Reds. Take the Cubs out of the mix, and the Pirates are going to be one of the worst teams in baseball. It is a three-team race, but the Brewers are a team I personally think could do something this year, and not only within their division. They certainly have the offensive talent with Christian Yelich leading the way. They’re going to be able to score runs. Their pitching is so-so, and I think their rotation’s probably going to be the main issue of whether or not they can get over the hump. It’s a tough division with the Reds and the Cardinals. They’re both good squads. It’s a toss-up between those three for me. If we’re just going by price, I would probably take the Brewers.

Best Bet: I would certainly look to fade the Cubs as a team. They lost Yu Darvish to San Diego. They have Jake Arrieta back from the Phillies for a second tour of duty. He hasn’t shown anything for the Phillies the last couple of years. When the Cubs realize they’re not really in the race, there’s speculation they could trade Kris Bryant. They could be holding a fire sale by the trade deadline. Their season-long win total is 78.5. I think that’s something to look at taking the under on.

NL East

  • Braves, (35-25), +130
  • Mets, (26-34), +150
  • Nationals, (26-34), +650
  • Phillies, (28-32), +850
  • Marlins, (31-29),+2500

Breakdown: This is going to be an interesting division. The Mets are under new ownership and they spent some money in the offseason. They acquired Francisco Lindor, an All-Star shortstop, along with Carlos Carrasco and James McCann. They already have Jacob deGrom, who might be the best pitcher in baseball. They have Pete Alonzo. They are certainly built to compete right now. The Braves have one of the best starting pitching rotations in baseball with Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka, their older ace, coming back soon from rehabbing a torn Achilles. Their lineup is also potent with Freddie Freeman, who won the MVP last year, Marcel Ozuna and Ronald Acuña, who could be in the MVP conversation this year. I think the Braves should be favored to win it. You also have the Phillies, who are a quality team and will certainly win their share of games. The Nationals are two years removed from winning the World Series and Stephen Strasburg should be back healthy. The Nationals will be able to compete. If you wanted to take a shot at the Nationals at +650, there might be a little bit of value there. But I think the Braves are certainly going to be the front-runner with their rotation and their offensive potency. There’s no question in my mind they should win this division.

Best Bet: If you look at the win totals for this division, the Braves are at 90.5, the Mets are at 90.5, the Nationals are at 84.5 and the Phillies are at 80.5. I would look to take the under on the Mets because I believe that they’re going to get beat up a little bit in the division. The Phillies are going to win some games against them. The Nationals are going to win some games against them, and the Marlins will probably steal a couple as well. I don’t think the Mets are on the same level as the Braves.

NL West

  • Dodgers, (43-17), -250
  • Padres, (37-23), +200
  • Diamondbacks, (25-35), +5000
  • Giants, (29-31), +5000
  • Rockies, (26-34), +5000

Breakdown: I don’t think the Padres are going to win more games than the Dodgers this year. The Dodgers have the highest win total set in all of baseball at 102.5. It’s outlandish. We have the Padres at 94.5. I don’t think the Padres can necessarily compete in the division, but I think there’s some value on them when you get to betting the pennant. They’re +425 to win the pennant because if they get into the playoffs, they can certainly put some people away. As long as the Padres stay healthy, they have the makings of a serious contender with Fernando Tatís Jr. and Manny Machado on long-term deals and Darvish and Blake Snell added to the pitching rotation. But they still won’t be able to win as many games as the Dodgers. They just have so much offensive firepower. They already had great pitching and they added the NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer. The Giants and Diamondbacks just have no ability to compete with the Dodgers or Padres and I think the Rockies are probably going to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year. They’ll probably finish last. None of the three have a chance in the division.

Best Bet: Colorado’s season win total is 63.5. I realize that’s low, but I’d still take the under on that. I think they’re going to be the worst team in the National League. The Pirates might give them a run for that and they look like they’ll be the second-worst team in the NL. Also, the -250 on the Dodgers is a lot of money to lay, but it is almost a sure thing they’re going to win the division.

AL Central

  • White Sox, (35-25), -125
  • Twins, (36-24), +150
  • Indians, (35-25), +750
  • Royals, (26-34), +4000
  • Tigers, (23-35), +6600

Breakdown: To me, this is going to be a two-team race between the  White Sox and the Twins. We have the Twins at 88.5 and the White Sox at 90.5 for their over-under win totals. If the Twins can split their season series with the White Sox, they should be right there in contention. I definitely feel there’s some value there at +150. They’re a very good team overall. The White Sox have a great lineup as well. They’re going to be able to score a lot of runs. They were a team that was being talked about two years ago. Even last year, a lot of sharps were betting on them. Maybe they were a year away, I think this is their year now. They should be right in the thick of things. Not that I give them much credence, but the Royals are getting a little bit of play from some people. They’re at 66-1, but for whatever reason, some people are betting them to win the pennant. It is a little odd to me because I don’t even think they can sneak into the playoffs.

Best Bet: I’d take the Twins to win the division because I could get plus money there. I don’t think there’s that much difference between them and the White Sox. That’s probably the only play I would make with any team in that division.

AL East

  • Yankees, (33-27), -200
  • Blue Jays, (32-28), +400
  • Rays, (40-20), +450
  • Red Sox, (24-36), +2000
  • Orioles, (25-35), +6600

Breakdown: The Yankees are the heavy favorite to win the division for a reason. They have a great lineup. They have pitching. They have a bullpen. It’s a matter of health for them. If they can stay healthy, they should have no problem winning the division. If they can’t, there are two teams that can compete with them in Tampa Bay and Toronto. While Tampa lost two key starting pitchers in Snell and Morton, they still have that deep bullpen. They got to the World Series last year and they’re also excellent at developing talent within the organization. They also have most of their position players returning from last year’s team. Tampa’s a team that, if they can get into the playoffs, can win the pennant and make it to the World Series. There’s definitely some value there. The Blue Jays may still be a year away. My concern with Toronto is the seeming lack of consistency in their starting rotation. They have Hyun-jin Ryu and not much else. I think the Red Sox will probably be slightly better than last year, but I don’t think they’re going to be in contention.

Best Bet: I would take a shot on the Rays to win the AL pennant at 10-1 because of the price. If the Yankees catch the injury bug like they did last year, the Rays will be right there in the race to win the division again. I would place probably two wagers on the Rays: one to win the division and one to win the pennant. I would not look to lay the -250 price with the Yankees like I would with the Dodgers, because I think there’s a little bit more danger when it comes to this division.

AL West

  • Astros, (29-31), +130
  • Athletics, (36-24), +150
  • Angels, (26-34) +340
  • Mariners, (27-33), +2500
  • Rangers, (22-38), +5000

Breakdown: You have the Athletics and the Astros at the top of the division. The Astros have the experience and have gotten there before, but they’ve lost some pieces too. Should they be the favorite to win the division? Yes, but I don’t really see them making too much noise past that in the playoffs. There’s too much talent in the AL for them to get anywhere. The Angels have the best player in baseball with Mike Trout. But they’ve had him and never been able to achieve anything with him and wasted quite a few good years of his along the way. Let’s see how Shohei Ohtani does this season as a two-way player pitching and hitting. If he can get somewhere between 13-15 wins and then hit well on top of that, I think you have to look at him as an MVP candidate. But as a team, it’s tough to back them because of what they’ve done. Their last winning season was 2015 where they won 85 games.  The Mariners, forget about them. The Rangers are my pick for the worst team in baseball.

Best Bet: With the win total for the Rangers at 67.5, I’d take the under for that. I think they’re going to struggle to win 65 or even 64 games. They’re just going to be so bad. I would look to the Astros. I think they’re rightfully favored. If you could still get them at plus money, which you can at +130, I’d take them. I certainly wouldn’t take them any further than just to win the division.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!