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Why the Reds are so hot right now — and why you might not want to bet on them

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Cincinnati’s Joey Votto

The Cincinnati Reds have emerged as baseball’s hottest team, compiling the sport’s best record over the past 10 games (8-2), the past 20 games (16-4) and the past 30 games (23-7) heading into this week’s action.

Las Vegas future-book odds have responded accordingly. The line on the Reds to win the National League pennant stands at 7-2 at the Wynn sports book, down from an opener of 12-1. The Reds are a 10-1 shot to win the World Series, down from an opening line of 45-1.

(As always, shop around at various casinos when checking odds. You might find some a bit better than those quoted here; you’ll certainly find worse.)

Although the substantial line moves are understandable, I want no part of Cincinnati at the current prices. The primary reason is that the Reds are No. 1 in another category, as well: winning percentage against teams with losing records. In other words, a particularly soft schedule has helped the Reds amass a gaudy but artificially inflated record. The next couple of weeks look easy, as well, though the going figures to get tougher for Cincy down the homestretch.

Among teams with longer odds, I prefer the St. Louis Cardinals to fellow wild-card contenders such as the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Orioles, in second place in the American League East behind the New York Yankees, are fairly easy to dismiss even at odds of 40-1 to win the World Series and 20-1 to win the AL pennant. Consider that the O’s are 21-6 in one-run games, far and away the best mark in baseball. That generally does not reflect some sort of mysterious, innate ability to win close games. It means they’re getting lucky. Baltimore could be headed for a fall.

The Pirates are 28-1 to win the World Series at Wynn, down from an opener of 100-1. They’re 11-1 to win the NL pennant, down from an opener of 35-1. Like the Reds, however, the Bucs have been beating up on weak teams and racking up wins at home. Pittsburgh is struggling against winning teams and on the road, a couple of key warning signs.

Instead give me St. Louis at 22-1 to win the World Series, up from an opener of 11-1. The Cards have been playing especially “unlucky” this season, with an actual record about six games worse than expected, considering their ratio of runs scored to runs allowed.

(By the way, the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, preseason long shots, are now favored to win the NL pennant at odds of 3-1. We explained in this April column, which now looks prescient, why the hot starts of Washington and the Los Angeles Dodgers were statistically significant.)

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