With the calendar turned to July, we’re just over halfway through the 2021 MLB season. With the All-Star break nearly upon us, it’s a good time to stop and evaluate where the values on pennant futures might exist ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
The first half has seen the Boston Red Sox surprise with the best record in the American League standings. Yet you won’t find them listed in this article among the best bets to win the 2021 American League pennant.
Let’s take a look at three picks from various positions in the standings—one favorite, one mid-level value, and one of the long-shot variety that was just too fascinating to ignore—to determine some intriguing ways to allocate your bankroll on futures bets for the remainder of the MLB season.
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Chicago White Sox (+330 at DraftKings)
When I previewed the AL back in February, I whiffed on the Yankees as a strong futures bet to win the league. I found their sheer amount of star power appealing several months ago. Though it hasn’t panned out for the Bronx Bomber, their star players remain an important tenant for consideration on long-range bets.
Following the stars also led me to the White Sox as a quality bet. My reasons for sticking with them now, though, are slightly different.
Their odds at the time were +380, which isn’t far off from where they currently stand at DraftKings Sportsbook (+330). What has changed, however, is the players expected to anchor their success this season.
Losing Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert to long-term injuries would understandably stifle most teams’ scoring output. The Sox boast just one qualifying hitter with an OPS greater than .800. That’s Yasmani Grandal, who was batting .188 before suffering a torn knee tendon expected to sideline him four to six weeks.
Despite the lack of a bright-shining star carrying the lineup to greatness, the White Sox haven’t missed a beat. Chicago ranks eighth in MLB in OPS, and only four other clubs have scored more runs this season. Stars or no stars, they’re getting it done on the South Side.
Perhaps more impressive than their short-handed offense cohesively trudging forward is the pitching staff forming an elite unit. Carlos Rodón has enjoyed a breakout campaign, posting the best numbers of his career and combining with Lance Lynn to create arguably the best one-two punch in the sport. Dylan Cease is living up to his former prospect hype with vast improvements to his strikeout and walk rates this season. Even with lesser numbers from Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, the starting five’s consistency is virtually unmatched across the league. The team has deployed a starting pitcher outside their main five only five times in 85 games.
The White Sox boast tremendous balance on both sides of the ball. They possess the kind of elite starting pitching that can serve a club well in October. They’re also led by a manager—for all of Tony La Russa’s shortcomings—who has thrived on this stage before. Among the current favorites for the AL pennant, the White Sox check all the boxes I’m looking for in a title contender better than any team.
Tampa Bays Rays (+750 at FanDuel)
Hopefully, you jumped on the Rays back in February when I wrote about them as a good value bet at +950 to win the AL. If not, don’t fret. Tampa Bay still represents a solid value at the halfway mark.
Before the season, I said trading Blake Snell didn’t mean the Rays won’t compete in 2021. Though the move arguably decreased their chances through a win-now lens, it wasn’t necessarily surprising given the way they have operated and built their organization for sustained success.
The Rays’ front office has a way of looking smarter than everyone else when it comes to roster construction. After winning the AL pennant during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Tampa Bay returned several key contributors, allowing manager Kevin Cash to exploit the matchups on any given day.
Although Randy Arozarena and recently promoted top prospect Wander Franco haven’t yet hit their stride, this team remains the epitome of being greater than the sum of its parts. Nowhere on the roster does the adage ring truer than in Tampa Bay’s relief corps, which ranks sixth in ERA and fifth in WHIP.
The average baseball fan may not be clued into each of the Tampa Bay bullpen members’ names. The results, however, speak for themselves. Andrew Kittredge, Collin McHugh, and J.P. Feyereisen each boast an ERA below 2.00. Diego Castillo and Peter Fairbanks have been strong contributors to the unit. And the early returns have been positive on Matt Wisler after Tampa grabbed him off the scrap heap.
We’ve seen the benefit of shortening postseason games with elite relief pitching, and the Rays possess an inherent ability to build an effective bullpen. Get them to the playoffs—even in a Wild Card Game scenario, as the standings currently dictate—and no club will look forward to finding the Rays in the opposing dugout come October.
Los Angeles Angels (+5000 at DraftKings)
I can’t be the only one thinking it, right?
Perennial underachievers over the past decade despite rostering the best player in the universe, the Angels have enjoyed a full-fledged breakout by Mike Trout’s possible successor as baseball’s next greatest star. Even with Shohei Ohtani’s emergence, the Angels haven’t made much of a dent in the standings. How crazy is that?
As of this writing, Ohtani’s club doesn’t appear as much of a threat for the American League pennant. Los Angeles sits at 43-42 and fourth in the AL West. The Angels’ starting rotation, aside from Ohtani, hasn’t put together much consistency. Patrick Sandoval has emerged as another capable arm of late, but the trio of José Quintana, Andrew Heaney, and Dylan Bundy has struggled mightily all season. None among them have an ERA better than 5.40 in 2021.
Then consider that Jared Walsh is the only healthy member of the Angels’ regular lineup besides Ohtani with an OPS better than Taylor Ward’s respectable .770 mark. Trout hasn’t played since May 17 due to a calf strain. Justin Upton has been out for a couple of weeks, too. Anthony Rendon was sitting on his worst offensive numbers since 2015 before once again landing on the IL.
The offense is ailing. The rotation is missing reliability. The bullpen ranks in the bottom third of MLB in ERA. Naturally, the chance to bet on a club with those kinds of descriptors is just too good to pass up.
For all of its problems, Los Angeles has hung around as a .500 ball club through 85 games. By comparison, the Yankees are just a half-game better than the Angels amid their own topsy-turvy first half. The prospect of the Angels as a value to win the AL comes simply from an odds discrepancy.
The 43-41 Yankees are +800 to win the AL pennant. With one more loss, the Angels are a whopping +5000.
This would absolutely qualify as a long-shot bet. The Angels probably aren’t going to win the American League pennant. But would it come as a surprise to anyone to see a team—already within striking distance of a playoff spot behind Ohtani’s incredible year—become further energized by welcoming back Trout in the coming weeks?
Thanks to Ohtani’s efforts, the Angels are already plenty of fun. Anticipating Trout’s return with a small flier on their AL pennant futures odds could make watching this team all the more enjoyable in the season’s second half.
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Brenden Schaeffer is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Brenden, check out his archive and follow him @bschaeffer12.
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