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From the Betting Window: Saturday’s Plays and a Quick Explanation of Baseball Betting

“I don’t understand how baseball betting works.”

I hear this a lot. While there is a runline (more on that in a moment), there is no point spread when it comes to betting baseball. Point spreads are easy to understand: ‘The Bears are +7 on Sunday? Cool, they can’t lose by more than a touchdown. Makes sense. But what the hell does Cardinals -135 mean?’

Baseball is one of the most challenging sports to bet because the value often lies with the worst team and/or the worst pitcher in a matchup. Let’s use a real example from Saturday’s slate of games. While he has struggled of late, Corey Kluber is the best pitcher on the board, so let’s say you want to wager on the Indians (who host the Angels at 6:10 p.m. CT).

The dilemma is that Cleveland is -240 on the money line, meaning you’d have to risk $240.00 just to win $100.00. (In that same Cardinals example from above, you’d have to risk $135.00 to win $100.00 since the Cards are -135.)

So let’s say Kluber continues to struggle or worse yet, he pitches well and the Indians’ pen struggles late and the Angels pull off the upset. If you lose, you’re down $240.00 on just one play. That means you’d potentially have to win two more games just to become whole following the Cleveland loss.

Okay, so what if we take the Indians in the first 5 innings, which is another option for MLB bettors? That more-than-likely eliminates the Indians’ bullpen from the equation but the same issue exists with the odds. Even if you take Cleveland in the first 5 innings, the Indians are still -240. If Kluber falters, you lose without even having a chance for the Indians to rally in the final four innings.

As a general rule, don’t take favorites over -150 on the money line. Another solid plan is to eliminate underdogs that are more than +150 because even though you’d win $150.00 on a $100.00 play, you’re taking an underdog at a serious disadvantage (either because they’re a bad team or facing an elite pitcher).

So where is the value in wagering baseball? Totals (over/unders) offer value because you don’t have to deal with extreme odds (totals are usually set between +100 and -120). Underdogs also offer value because even if you only hit 50% of your plays, you can still profit since you’re winning more per play than you’re risking.

Finally, don’t forget about the runline. The runline is essentially a point spread for baseball, where you either lay -1.5 runs or get +1.5 runs but the odds are different than on the money line.

Using our same Cleveland example from above, the Indians are -1.5 on the runline tonight but their odds are -125. Yes, the Indians have to win by at least two runs for you to cash, but you’re only risking $125.00. There are plenty of games where the runline offers plus odds, just like with underdogs. So you get the better team (and/or better pitcher) in a matchup, plus you win more if that team wins by at least two runs.

I went over that quickly but if any of this is confusing, feel free to ask questions in the comments section. I’ll always try to provide strategy when giving my predictions but I wanted to walk through how the MLB odds first.

Onto Saturday’s plays…

Cardinals (+107) at Pirates (-117), 6:05 p.m. CT

One factor that is often overlooked when it comes to betting baseball is the home plate umpire. Too many times bettors will look at the pitching matchup to determine whether or not they like the over or under but don’t’ factor in who is behind the plate. If the home plate umpire calls a tight strike zone, that benefits hitters, which gives you an advantage on the over. If the umpire’s zone is big, that benefits pitchers, which gives you an advantage on the under.

The home plate umpire in today’s Cardinals and Pirates game is Ted Barrett. The average ERA of pitchers in games that he calls is 4.70. Hitters are also averaging .275, are walking an average of 6.7 per game. In other words, he’s great for overs.

Even though PNC Park is a pitcher’s park, we saw these two teams combine for 13 runs on Friday night. The over is 9-2 in Barrett’s last 11 games behind the dish, is 5-2-1 in the Pirates’ last eight home games, and is 11-2 in the Cardinals’ last 13 games after allowing five runs or more in their previous contest.

Prediction: Cardinals/Pirates over 8.5

Tigers (+171) at A’s (-181), 8:05 p.m CT

These two teams combined for just one run despite playing 13 innings on Friday night. I don’t think they’ll suddenly break out the bats for their matchup on Saturday at spacious Oakland Coliseum.

In the last six meetings between these two teams, the under is 5-1. The under is also 4-1-2 in Edwin Jackson’s last seven starts and is 21-9-1 in the Tigers’ last 31 games overall.

Prediction: Tigers/A’s under 8.5

963 Giants (+132) at Diamondbacks (-142), 7:10 p.m. CT

Clay Buchholz turned out to be a nice bargain signing for the Diamondbacks. He has won three straight starts, all on the road, and four consecutive decisions entering play on Saturday.

Andrew Suarez, meanwhile, snapped his winless streak at four starts last Sunday but still allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings against the Brewers. He has a bright future for the Giants but faces an Arizona team that aims for its sixth win in eight contests.

After routing San Francisco on Friday night, I like the D-Backs to take Game 2 of this series tonight.

Prediction: Diamondbacks -142

Prediction Records

MLB: 0-0

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