MLB

MLB Check-In: How Have Divisional Outlooks Changed Since Early This Season?

Are the early division leaders still smart bets moving forward? We're at the quarter pole of the MLB season and things have changed.

May 15, 2024

We took a look at MLB futures odds a little over a month ago with buy/sell recommendations for futures odds on division leaders, roughly two weeks into the regular season. Now that we’re at the pole of the way through the 2024 campaign, it’s time to revisit how those takes have aged and offer new recommendations for division races where appropriate.

AL East

Early Leader – Yankees: 28-15 record; now first in division

AL East Pick: Yankees

The Yankees are up only half a game on the Orioles (26-14), and these two teams are likely to remain neck-and-neck for the division title. These look like the two best teams in the entire AL.

The Yankees have a clear path to improvement moving forward considering 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge has an OPS of only .860 after posting a mark of 1.075 over the previous two seasons, and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole (elbow) could make his season debut in less than a month. It isn’t too late to jump on the Bronx Bombers’ bandwagon.

AL Central

Early Leader – Guardians: 27-16 record; now first in division

AL Central Pick: Guardians

The Guardians lead the division standings by 1.5 games over the Royals (24-17; +450) and two games over Minnesota (24-17). Cleveland continues to win games despite losing star pitcher Shane Bieber to Tommy John surgery, and the Guardians have shown nice balance, ranking in the top 10 in both runs per game and team ERA.

Come the postseason, it probably won’t matter which AL Central team gets the honor of being the annual sacrificial lamb to a team with actual World Series aspirations, but this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting regular season division races. Cleveland remains a strong bet to win the AL Central.

AL West

Early Leader – Rangers: 22-22 record; now second in division

AL West Pick: Rangers

It looks like the Rangers’ biggest competition for the AL West crown will actually come from the Mariners (23-20) rather than the preseason division favorite Astros (17-25). Seattle holds a slight edge in the standings at the moment, but the Mariners haven’t won a division title since 2001 and have just one playoff appearance since then, while the Rangers are the reigning World Series champions.

This Texas roster has a proven ability to step up when it matters most, and like the Yankees, they should welcome back key stars such as Jacob deGrom (elbow) and Max Scherzer (back). Look for the Rangers to play their best baseball down the stretch when the AL West crown is on the line.

NL East

Early Leader – Braves: 26-13 record; now second in Division

NL East Pick: Phillies (30-13)

The Phillies have eliminated the Braves from the last two postseasons, and this is shaping up to be the year that Philadelphia surpasses Atlanta in the regular season. The Braves are still favored after having won the NL East each of the past six years, but the Phillies currently sit atop the division standings with a 30-13 record.

With this race looking like a toss-up, Philadelphia offers much better value than Atlanta. The Phillies also make for a much more tempting World Series winner pick out of the NL compared to the Braves and Dodgers.

NL Central

Early Leader – Pirates: 19-24 record; third in Division

NL Central Pick: Brewers (25-17)

Pittsburgh’s 9-2 start at the time of the previous recommendation always looked like a flash in the pan, and the Pirates are just 10-22 since. The rebuilding Pirates’ future is bright with 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes looking like a regular Cy Young contender in the making, but Pittsburgh isn’t ready to compete for the division yet in 2024.

I liked the Reds to win the NL Central at +400 early in the year, but I won’t be doubling down now at higher odds. Cincinnati’s roster is young and exciting but flawed, as a recent 1-11 stretch has dropped Cincinnati into a tie for last in the NL Central at 18-24.

I’d rather have the Brewers than the favored Cubs, especially with Milwaukee (25-17) holding a 1.5-game lead over Chicago (24-19). The Brewers have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, with three division titles over that span, while the Cubs look like they’re in the early stages of another lengthy World Series drought. Chicago hasn’t won a playoff game since Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, with just one NL Central title in the interim.

NL West

Early Leader – Dodgers: 29-15 record; first in Division

NL West Pick: Dodgers

There isn’t much value to be had at this point, as this division race is already almost a foregone conclusion, with the Dodgers on pace to sail to an 11th division crown in 12 years. Hopefully you got your Dodgers bet in early at more favorable odds, as a star-studded lineup led by Shohei Ohtani (1.108 OPS) and Mookie Betts (1.004 OPS) has carried LA to a 7.5-game lead in its division.

If you’re going to bet on the NL West at this point, you may as well swing for the fences with a wager on the Padres, who are still somewhat within striking distance at 22-23 and recently improved their team by trading for reigning NL batting champion Luis Arraez.

Sasha Yodashkin
Sasha Yodashkin has been contributing NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and Tennis content to RotoWire since 2015, with an emphasis on DFS. He is a huge New York sports fan who has been playing fantasy sports since middle school.
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