There is one city in America that follows professional sports quite keenly even though it has absolutely no chance of landing a professional team. That's right, it's time for Las Vegas to once again take an interest in the goings-on in Major League Baseball, and the first example of the particular form that Sin City's interest generally takes comes to us from Steve Mikkelson, the Sports & Race Book Manager for the Atlantis Casino, in the form of over/under win totals for every club in the league. The fine folks at ViewFromVegas Forums have posted those numbers for us.
Quick primer on how to read them: obviously, bettors are placing bets on whether or not a team will win more games (over) or fewer (under) than the listed number. For teams with half-wins in their line --Seattle's somewhat optimistic 76 ½, for instance -- the bet either has winners or losers; Seattle either wins 77 games for the over or 76 for the under. For teams with whole numbers in their line -- the Cubs' 72, which seems about right -- then there's the possibility of a tie, in which case all bettors get their money back. The numbers following "over" and "under" are the house's cut, or the vig. Let's say you're in the Atlantis and you see that the book on the New York Mets is 74 wins, which you think they can easily beat. You bet the over. That "110" next to the over on the Mets' line means that to win $100, you have to bet $110, $100 of which will be used to pay off the winners of the bets and $10 of which goes into the house's pocket. If the Mets win 75 games or more, you make your original bet plus $100: $210. If the Mets win 73 games or less, you get nothing. If the Mets win 74 games exactly you get your money back.
With all that in mind, a few things stand out here, one which is touched upon by the first poster in the ViewFromVegas Forums thread: it's been a while since the most wins any team had in a season was 90. It happened in 1994 and 1981, but of course it did: Those seasons were strike-shortened and teams only played 114 and 108 games, respectively. It's actually never happened in a regulation-length season (the closest anyone comes is the 1924 New York Giants with 93 wins), and that's perfectly fine because Mikkelson is not trying to accurately predict the standings, but rather get you to bet on them. Who would honestly take the over on the Nationals at 97 wins? (My father might, but he's not a gambling man.)
So yes, for this exercise's purposes 90 wins is an elite team and 65-70 is a disaster, but even then we have some strange outliers, odd comparisons and soft bets. The 90 win teams are all reasonable: the Nationals look like a juggernaut, and won 98 games last year; the Dodgers will get a full season out of their Boston acquisitions and have a rotation featuring two of the best pitchers in baseball the past four years; and the Tigers, who just went to the World Series, are returning a full cast and play in the American League Central.
Notably missing from the list of teams slated to hit this already-modest threshold, however, is the Tigers' opposite number in the National League: the Cincinnati Reds. The line on them is at 88 ½, lower than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (89 ½ and, by these "rankings," projected winner of the American League West). There are a number of likely reasons for this, foremost among them the St. Louis Cardinals and the fact that they'll no longer have the Houston Astros to beat up on, but the Cincinnati Reds won 97 games last year and got better over the offseason with the addition of Shin-Soo Choo. The only question marks on the entire team are whether Jay Bruce is so bad at centerfield that his bat doesn't justify playing him there, and whether Zack Cozart will develop his hitting well enough to continue being a 600 PA-a-season kind of guy. Their fifth starter might be Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates are not so substantially improved, nor is the loss of divisional games against the Astros so important, that they should cost the Reds nine wins.
Speaking of the Houston Astros: they're all the way at the other end of the spectrum, pegged at 59 ½ wins. It's obvious that Mikkelson wants bettors to think this is far too low and easy money -- the vig is $20 on the over here and just $10 on the under -- but the Astros won 55 games last year, just traded their best hitter by a wide and clear margin to Oakland, and are reportedly shopping Bud Norris around as we speak. They also moved from the NL Central to the AL West, and while I'm no big believer in the Mariners, even they're well-enough equipped to steal Houston's lunch money, to say nothing of the Rangers, Angels, and Athletics. Houston GM Jeff Luhnow isn't too concerned about this, as he's taking the team through the most painful part of a full organizational rebuild, but that doesn't change what's going to happen on the field in Houston next season. This Astros team looks committed to winning the fewest games in baseball since the 2003 Tigers, and bettors should act accordingly.
Two of the largest marks for regression in the lines are the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles, who won 94 and 93 games respectively last year but whose lines put them at 83 and 76 ½. In a general sense, yes, both of those teams played over their heads last season and some falling back to earth should be anticipated. But for the Athletics, 83 wins seems a tad low. The Texas Rangers got markedly worse in the offseason with the departure of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, and didn't do much of anything to address the situation. The Angels gained Hamilton's services but lost Zack Greinke's to the Dodgers, which, combined with allowing Dan Haren to walk, leaves them with Jered Weaver, Joe Blanton, and a whole lot of question marks in their rotation (Can CJ Wilson be better than league average? Is Tommy Hanson still alive?). The Mariners will probably still be the Mariners, celebrating one amazing pitcher but not having anyone else who can do much with a baseball, and the Houston Astros will be far worse than that. Even a relatively disappointing season for the A's should have them around 86-87 wins, especially considering that due to their activity on the trade market this offseason, they're better equipped than most to deal with position player injuries thanks to Chris Young and Jed Lowrie.
The Orioles, on the other hand, won 93 games and have more or less stood pat. Their biggest offseason acquisition was Jair Jurrjens, a scrapheap pickup whose contract isn't even official yet. Everyone's been saying they're due for a severe regression because, well, they're due for an extremely, spine-joltingly unpleasant regression. The team still has no second baseman, has plans for left field that hinge on either Nolan Reimold staying healthy (nope) or Nate McLouth's season in Baltimore last year being his performance going forward (slightly more likely), and has a rotation filled with guys that were good last year but didn't pitch many innings, were good last year but didn't have much tape on them, and Wei-Yin Chen. As far as I'm concerned 76 wins is an optimistic projection for Baltimore's 2013, but I'd stay away from any bets concerning those guys next year. They got three home runs from Lew Ford in 79 PA last season; who knows what they'll do next.
The over on the Indians at 77 ½ looks like a good bet, assuming that number takes into account the Bourn signing Monday night and hasn't shifted already. You might also want to take the under on the Royals at 79 wins while doing so; that team won 72 games last year and might be the first I've seen to go into all-in win now mode and actually make themselves worse in the process. And the way the Diamondbacks are handling their roster an 81-win season looks like a high-end, everything-works-out goal not a median, especially if the Dodgers are as good as they could be next year—take the under on 81 ½.
And note, of course, that these are the opening lines of Spring Training, before even the first intrasquad games. Get your bets in now, before the injuries start.