Baseball's "World Series" has always raised an eyebrow and put a wry smile on many a sports fan’s face all around the rest of the world where baseball hardly even registers. But in today's environment, perhaps for the first time, all eyes really are on the MLB as events unfold.
Those events are being led by the Miami Marlins, shutting down for a week after being struck by a rash of CV-19 cases - at last count, 17 players and two staffers testing positive. The Phillies, having played Miami earlier, have just cancelled their series against the Toronto Blue Jays, while the Nationals aren't travelling this weekend to play Miami either. The knock-on effects are clearly evident to see, and how this plays out for the remainder of the truncated season is anybody's guess - but it could mean different teams playing different numbers of games, and - how very baseball - play-off berths being decided by mathematical winning percentages . As Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo put it, "... whatever MLB tells us to do next, that’s who we’re going to play."
How the MLB as an organisation decides to deal with these logistical problems could either incur much more than a raised eyebrow from onlookers, or provide a blueprint for a host of many other sporting competitions around the globe.
With great change comes great opportunity. This is what MLB bettors have been telling themselves up to this point, even though some are hesitant to fully immerse themselves in their betting models this early as they prefer to wait and see just how much has really changed.
The framework in which this shortened season - 60 games versus the normal 162 - is being played means that whatever sharp edge and knowledge bettors traditionally have and use has to be adapted, and adaptive. Road stats will be challenged as each team plays 10 games against its four divisional opponents - a measure taken to limit travel time and distance under the circumstances, while 20 games will be played against the opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (e.g., the AL East will play the NL East, etc).
That said, with baseball being so analytically driven, that does tend to mean that a lack of crowds won't affect players in a big way. Maybe some back-of-the-rotation pitchers who would aim for that strikeout a pitch too early will now take their time without the encouragement of the stands, but by and large, baseball players tend to be creatures of habit, so we can discount a seismic shift in in-game dynamics like we've seen in soccer, for example.
So just how exactly can we make use of these extraordinary times to grow our bankroll? Here are some changes that you need to be aware of.
Home comforts? Not quite
Home advantage in baseball is quite unique. In no other sport can the playing environment differ so greatly in its layout than in an MLB ballpark.
Look at Toronto’s Rogers Center and Chicago’s Wrigley Field - they couldn’t be more different. Knowing there’s a difficult corner down the right-field line for defenders to gather their bearings and having the muscle memory of just how to hit a certain pitch so it stays fair before nestling into an advertisement board to get an extra base for your side is a big, big advantage.
But that rings true more so when you’re playing teams you’re not used to seeing; teams from across the other side of the country and teams you may only play once or twice at home in a given regular season. Due to the travel issue that the pandemic presents, MLB has made a conscious decision to limit travel and increase the percentage amount of games made up by intra-division clashes - which should make it easier on the players. Familiarity is key: the Phillies know every corner of Citi Field; the Diamondbacks know Dodgers Stadium.
So the sharp move is to take any road value you stumble upon, because the reality is that the extra focus and the familiarity or neighbouring ballparks, along with the lack of crowd noise should mean that many games are played in all but neutral venues anyway.
The one thing that can't be compromised with Major League Baseball is the associated egos of the bigger names and how much they’ll still need to have their stats padded.
In a shorter timeframe in which to achieve those biblical percentages, chances are many are going to hope to get hot early and swing their way to asterisk-filled heaven. Remember, hitting 20 home runs this season would equate to notching up 54 in a regular full season - tying you for 20th of all-time.
Of course, the problem here is that it ain't easy to get that hot that early in a season. Red streaks normally occur after the first 60-odd games - meaning this year, the season will be done before it hots up... If you get what we mean.
Big hitters will be swinging for the fences early, even on two-strike pitches, and chances are they’ll end up being overzealous and swinging miles outside the strike zone.
While in one way that's hardly conducive to bettering overall team performance, it is worth noting that over half the teams in the competition will be qualifying for the post-season for the first time, which provides an extra level of security in knowing you could still win a World Series even if you choose to be selfish mid-season.
The five best bullpens in Major League Baseball belong to the Yankees, Padres, Brewers, Rays and Twins.
Through those clubs' opening games, they have a combined record of 18-9. The reason for this is because of the severe lack of off-days afforded to teams and the expectation that some bullpen aces can pitch multiple innings on consecutive nights.
With the above teams, they don't have to add this level of stress to their pen, affording members of those more well-balanced units time off between innings pitched. By having an array of viable bullpen options, you don’t bring fatigue or the danger of overexposure to opposition pitching staffs.
In the middle of a 15-game run without a day off, look to give extra margin to sides with larger bullpens if they're facing teams who haven't been too strong from the pen when called upon.
Rookies done homework
If prop markets are available on rookie batters this year, consider backing the overs. Simply put, for whatever AAA affiliate time they've missed out on, they'll be making up for it in big-league film study, learning how to hit certain pitchers they'll be facing.
Traditionally, this has usually been an on-the-job type of learning curve, rather than being offered the chance to spend time dissecting this stuff before the season even begins - but, off the back of a season where Pete Alonso had each one of us stunned, don't be surprised to see rookie bats popping hot this year, too.
Especially as they'll likely find themselves in the clean-up spots nice and early.
Something to monitor as the season progresses, but watch out for teams on the edge of play-off qualification trying to return their opening day aces to the bigger intra-divisional games late in the season on short rest.
This almost never works, despite the fact that ball clubs seem happy year after year to sacrifice their ace and end up getting four innings out of him before he's retired after giving up three runs and not having his location consistently.
Think of a mid-division team with a particularly weak back-end in a four-man rotation. There are plenty of candidates, and make sure to take advantage when books shorten once the pitching change is made that morning.
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