It was one year ago when Americans stood in limbo, unsure if or when life would return to normal. At the time, Baseball’s 2020 season was far from a certainty, although eventually come to fruition after weeks of heated exchanges between Major League Baseball's owners and players. The result was a "strange," to say the least, 60-game sprint of a regular season, followed by a wide-open playoff field from July through October, almost exclusively in empty ballparks. It wasn’t ideal, but it was baseball. And for folks like me - and many of you - it was a reprieve from the world, and it allowed for a comforting passage of time.
As the 2021 MLB season now begins, with fans once again entering ballparks (albeit in limited capacities), I wouldn’t blame you for smelling hints of normalcy in the air, and enjoying it. And as more of our nation gets vaccinated and the spread of COVID-19 hopefully continues to decline, I personally can’t help but be giddy at the idea of the year that lies ahead. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a L.A. Dodgers fan, either. Now on to some best value bets for opening day. If you missed our primer of best season-win total bets and my strategy for attacking the new 2021 regular season, just click here. Happy MLB Opening Day to all.
Blue Jays @ Yankees, Opening Day (4/1): Hyun-Jin Ryu vs Gerrit Cole
Yankees -1.5 (+115)
Generally, betting baseball successfully does NOT mean betting chalk night in and night out. It’s about identifying matchups, inefficient lines, or situational spots that present an advantage worth targeting. In this particular case, however, the result happens to be… betting the chalk, a.k.a. the Yankees run line.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was as advertised for the Blue Jays in 2020. Aside from a few clunkers, he took the ball every fifth day, ate innings, and limited runs. I’m not anticipating much different from him this season, but the Yankees have been a nightmare for the southpaw in limited exposure to them over the past few seasons.
In four career starts, Ryu is 1-2 with an ERA of 6.04, and he has surrendered seven HRs over 22 innings of work. The New York Yankees boast a lineup full of power-hitting righties, and they’ve all seen success against him in that limited time (Voit, Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez are a combined 9-for-24 with 3 HRs).
Gerrit Cole, meanwhile, has pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP over 25 innings against the division rival Toronto Blue Jays, having never lost in four total starts. I believe that New York jumps ahead early and cruises to an opening day win here, so give me plus money at +115 for the Yanks to cover.
White Sox @ Angels, Opening Day (4/1): Lucas Giolito vs Dylan Bundy
White Sox -113
Lucas Giolito and Dylan Bundy both looked like aces for much of the 2020 season, each providing a glimpse of the prospect that the former first rounders were expected to become. How they each went about doing this was radically different, however, for the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels.
In the case of Giolito, it was a matter of finally commanding his elite off-speed offerings while adding velocity to his fastball to bolster the Chicago White Sox pitching staff. The change for him really began in 2019, when he posted a ridiculously low DRA of 57 (100 is average, and the lower the better) over 29 starts and saw his fastball average velocity jump from 94.8 MPH to 96.4 MPH. His whiff rate rose with it as well, jumping from 21.6% in 2018 to 32.5% in 2019 - in 2020, it ballooned as high as 36.6%.
In Bundy’s case, on the other hand, I’m less sold on the sustainability of his strong 2020 campaign with the aforementioned Los Angeles Angels . He has watched his fastball velocity dwindle for several consecutive seasons now despite reinventing himself effectively as a junkballer in the process. Bundy also throws his fastball 13.9% less often than he did as an Oriole in 2018, and it has worked well for him. Quietly though, he finished 2020 on a sour note - his last two starts yielding eight earned runs over 7.2 innings to terrible offenses in the Diamondbacks and Rangers. While this could surely represent a blip on the radar not worth digging into, there’s reason for concern here, especially with an approach that’s evolved into mostly smoke and mirrors against a potent White Sox offense to open the season.
At -113 the oddsmakers are telling us this game is a toss up, but I’m just not buying it. The White Sox have the superior lineup and bullpen here, and they have the better overall starter on the mound. Chicago is projected to win roughly 10 more games than Los Angeles during the 2021 season for a reason.