“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.
As the Mets get ready to tangle with the only other team in the National League that has played anywhere close to as well as them so far, this is a good time to pause and reflect on what they’ve already accomplished.
Few teams have taken such a firm grip on a playoff spot this early in a season. The Mets are testing the old baseball saw that you can’t win a division in the first couple of months.
Have they already won the NL East? No, of course not. The Braves made up five games and passed two teams after Aug. 1 of last season, ensuring that Mets fans will continue to keep a nervous eye on the reigning champs, especially considering we’re not even at the one-third point of the MLB season.
But few teams have put themselves in this kind of position this early. The Mets’ 10.5-game lead in the division is five games clear of the next-biggest division lead in baseball. Since 1960, only seven teams have built at least a 10-game lead by June 1. All seven won their divisions. Two of those teams, most recently the 2017 Houston Astros, won the World Series.
Mets appear to be a good World Series bet
Per FanGraphs, the Mets have an 80.7% chance of winning their division, a 96% chance of making the playoffs, and an 11.6% probability of winning the World Series, behind only the Astros and Dodgers.
And yeah, the bookmakers have taken note. The Mets now are the fourth choice to win the World Series at most mobile sportsbooks, with their odds set at or around +800. Those odds imply a probability of 11.1%, which isn’t far off the FanGraphs projection and suggests the the Mets remain a good World Series ticket to buy and hold.
Only the Dodgers, who host the Mets for three games starting Thursday night, have shorter odds in the NL.
If you bet the Mets to win more than 87.5 games before the season, you’re sitting pretty. They need only go 53-57 the rest of the way for you to cash that ticket.
How their futures line has shrunk
We’ve already discussed what a liability the Mets are to the sportsbooks, but consider for a moment how the perception of the team has changed among bookmakers and bettors just in the past seven months.
Their World Series odds went from +1800 to +1200 immediately after signing three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer last November. By the start of the season, the odds had crept down to +1000.
Only the similar success of the Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros has kept the Mets’ odds from ticking down even more the past two months.
And just think, both Scherzer and homegrown ace Jacob deGrom could be back from injuries before the All-Star break.
Handicapping the Dodgers series
What would the odds have been on the woeful Pirates sweeping the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine over the past three days? Few, if any, sportsbooks offer series odds in baseball, but the guess here is that it would have been somewhere north of 50/1.
Well, guess what? Weird things like that happen all the time over the long course of a baseball season. Still, the Dodgers are likely to shrug it off and be just as stern a test for the Mets as they would have been prior to those three games, when they had taken six of seven from the Diamondbacks and Nationals.
Taijuan Walker opposes Tony Gonsolin Thursday, with the Mets listed as high as +155 underdogs (at DraftKings) at the New York books. East Coast teams often struggle to adjust to playing so late on the West Coast, so it’s worth considering the approach of watching one game in the series before jumping in with a bet.
Still, one wager to look at Thursday is the run total, set at 8.5. Walker has pitched to a 1.88 ERA in his past four starts and Gonsolin (5-0, 1.80 ERA) is among the most underrated starting pitchers in the NL. Plus, the Dodgers have scored more than four runs just once in their past five games. Unders have worked out well this season and that certainly looks like the play from here.
Rangers change the narrative
New York teams tend to be liabilities for the sportsbooks, and the Rangers certainly have them in a bit of a pickle once again.
After beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference finals series Wednesday, the Rangers now are favored in the series over the two-time defending champs. The Rangers are consensus -120 favorites to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals after opening as +150 ‘dogs.
The series has been billed as the battle of the two best goaltenders left standing. Even though the total went over 5.5 in Game 1, both goaltenders went over on their save props. Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers blew past DraftKings’ save total of 26.5, blocking a whopping 37 shots. And Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning surpassed his total of 26.5 by blocking 28 Rangers shots.
Game 2 is Friday night at Madison Square Garden and the Rangers remain individual game underdogs, getting odds as good as +110 (at DraftKings). Win that one and they’ll have taken command of a playoff series for the first time this postseason. (They had to rally from deficits to get past each of their previous opponents.)
Yankees keep it together
Giancarlo Stanton (ankle) could return from a stint on the injured list some time this weekend, which will be welcome news for a Yankees team that has held up well under the strain of a rash of injuries lately.
They’re really going to need to be at or close to full strength by next week, when their schedule takes a turn for the brutal. From next Wednesday through June 26, the Yanks play nothing but AL contenders, with the exception of a three-game interleague series with the Cubs. Of those 17 games, six are with the 29-21 Tampa Bay Rays and four are with the 33-18 Astros.
The bookmakers have never lost the faith, keeping the Yankees as their No. 2 World Series choice behind the Dodgers at a consensus price of +600. The Astros are next at +700.
Photo: Brad Penner/USA TODAY