Back when I covered the Padres, my brother visited in the midst of spring training, and this is how it came to pass that a couple of Vermonters from a town of 400 people rolled down The Strip in Las Vegas, where San Diego was to play a couple of exhibition games.
“This place is great!” he said, amazed by the lights. “I know I’m coming back here again.”
Fast-forward two hours. My brother’s gambling money was gone, having been drained by a particularly unlucky slot machine. “This place [stinks],” he said. “I’m never doing that again.”
A moment such as that requires empathy from an older brother. But I just laughed in his face. “How do you think they built all those casinos?” I asked pointedly.
All those lights suggest the House has a pretty good idea of what it’s doing, which is why the betting lines and over/unders for Major League Baseball are always fascinating. The underlying logic has to be sound; lots of cash rides on it.
But every year, some over/under numbers seem ... off. Among those generated recently by CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, here are some that seem off to me.
Remember those bright lights and big buildings and where they came from.
Washington Nationals: 91½ wins
Last year, the Nationals piled up 97 wins, and all of the most important players are back for this season: the late-inning relievers who will follow Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez; and mashers Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon. Additionally, left fielder Adam Eaton has fully recovered from his knee injury. The National League East has improved since the start of 2017, with the Phillies, Braves and Mets all making progress, but the Marlins could be terrible. It would be a shocker if the Nationals failed to win 92 games.
Baltimore Orioles: 77½ wins
The Orioles probably haven’t gotten as much credit as they deserve for what they accomplished from 2012 to 2016, for how they plugged holes and overcame a lack of starting pitching depth. But that all seemed to catch up to them last season, when their rotation performed terribly and the Orioles won 75 games.
As camps open this week, the Orioles haven’t added any starting pitching; they haven’t fixed the problems. Meanwhile, the Yankees have gotten better, and the Red Sox's offense will almost certainly improve, especially if Boston adds J.D. Martinez. Baltimore is also likely to trade Manny Machado before the July 31 deadline. As a result, 78 wins seems like a stretch.
Milwaukee Brewers: 81½ wins
The Brewers surged to 86 wins last season, staying in the playoff race until late in the season, and since then, they added Christian Yelich in a trade and spent $80 million on Lorenzo Cain. Meanwhile, the Pirates have taken a step back, and the Reds haven’t taken a big step forward yet. They still need a starting pitcher, and they’ll probably land one, and they feel good about the chances of their young arms augmenting the staff this year. A performance of at least 82 victories seems more than probable.
Texas Rangers: 78½ wins
The Astros landed Justin Verlander for a couple of months and won the World Series, then dealt for Gerrit Cole. The Angels got the golden ticket called Shohei Ohtani, then picked up Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler for a lineup that’ll include Mike Trout and Justin Upton. The Mariners made a move for Dee Gordon. The Rangers, on the other hand, have had a very quiet winter, other than adding Mike Minor. Given the strength of the rest of the American League West, you wouldn’t blame the Rangers if they saved their financial and prospect ammunition for another time, when the conditions for contending in the division could be more favorable. The Rangers won 78 games last season, and given the strength of the division, it’ll be difficult for them to reach that again.
Miami Marlins: 64½ wins
The Marlins traded away almost all of the best part of their team: their offense. Giancarlo Stanton, Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Gordon are gone, and it seems more than likely that catcher J.T. Realmuto will follow. The run production will be terrible this year, in all likelihood, and the pitching probably won’t be much different than in 2017, when Miami finished 26th in ERA. It’s a terrible team, by design, and if the Marlins avoid 100 losses, Don Mattingly should be in the running for NL Manager of the Year.