Over the course of the next few days, pitchers and catchers will report to sun-splashed spring training sites across Florida and Arizona. Ten days from now, all position players will be in camp as well, and seven weeks from now, another Major League Baseball season will be upon us.
So it’s a perfect time to roll out 2017 season win totals – starting with the 2016 World Series champion.
The Chicago Cubs, who last year exorcised 108 years’ worth of demons by winning their first title since 1908, are favored to repeat this season. And Steve Mikkelson, sportsbook director at the Atlantis in Reno, has them favored to lead the way in regular-season victories, too, setting the Cubbies’ total at 95.5.
“That’s a really big total that I’ve put out there, compared to previous years,” said Mikkelson, a baseball savant in the bookmaking business. “Normally, my high has been right around 90, maybe a little above 90. The last time it was close to this high was the Phillies a few years back, when they had Cliff Lee, Roy Halliday and Cole Hamels in their rotation, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. They were a pretty stacked team.”
But the Cubs’ total this year was necessarily high coming off their futility-ending 2016. Chicago led the majors with a 103-58 regular-season mark last year (.640 winning percentage), and won the World Series in a thrilling, extra-inning Game 7 at Cleveland.
“Obviously, I won’t hang 103. That’d be crazy,” Mikkelson said, before explaining that with a great rotation, the acquisition of closer Wade Davis to replace Aroldis Chapman, and the rest of the roster loaded with talent, he couldn’t lowball the champs. “I thought 95.5 was a good place to start. It’s tough to bet the over, but man, do you really want to bet them under?”
Meanwhile, defending American League champion Cleveland had the second-highest win total at the Atlantis, at 92.5.
“To me, I actually like the Red Sox better, but it’s the division they play in,” Mikkelson said, noting Boston – which he opened at 90.5 wins – has a tougher challenge in the AL East, with the likes of the Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays and potentially even the Rays. “In the AL Central, the Twins are rebuilding, the White Sox are rebuilding. Kansas City is the hardest to pick, because you don’t know what they’re gonna do. Several players are free agents at the end of the year. If they go 10-20 in their first 30 games, they’re gonna sell the team off.
“There’s just not a whole lot of other teams that are gonna threaten Cleveland.”
Still, Mikkelson gives Boston a better chance of reaching the World Series and in fact has the Red Sox as the second choice to win it all, behind the Cubs.
“This team is built to win right now,” Mikkelson said. “The trade for Chris Sale … Dave Dombrowski traded off a lot of top prospects. Anything short of a World Series, and the Red Sox are gonna be disappointed. One of the reasons I like the Red Sox is because injuries are gonna happen, so you have to have depth. They go six starting pitchers deep.”
For similar reasons, Mikkelson opened the Los Angeles Dodgers’ win total at 91.5, third-highest in the majors. The Dodgers got to 91 wins and the postseason last year, losing to Chicago in the National League Championship Series, and that was despite superstar ace Clayton Kershaw missing significant time.
“Kershaw goes down, but because their starting pitching was so deep, they were able to continue to win, because they had major league-quality pitchers to fill in,” Mikkelson said of the Blue Crew, which has won four straight NL West titles. “They kept their team basically together, and I like the pick-up of (second baseman) Logan Forsythe. In Kershaw, they have arguably the best pitcher in baseball to lead the way, and look at last year. He was out six weeks. If he goes the whole year, that’s 20 wins or close to it.”
Then there’s the one team Mikkelson very much expects to struggle, with a win total that shows it. The San Diego Padres opened at 64.5, and to hear Mikkelson tell it, the under might be the play on this overmatched, under-talented squad.
“This San Diego Padres team is really, really, really bad,” Mikkelson emphasized. “There ain’t a chance in the world this team doesn’t lose 100-plus games. I can’t go to 58.5, because the only bets I’m gonna take would be on the over, but just look at the starting staff. They may have five guys who couldn’t start for any other team in the major leagues. Those guys couldn’t even start for bad teams in the majors, and the Padres will be marching them out there every day.
“This team’s gonna score the fewest runs in baseball and have the worst pitching staff in baseball. That’s a terrible combination.”
Here’s the full list of 2016 MLB season win totals, courtesy of the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa:
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.