What the Tampa Bay Rays just did was impossible to ignore.
Getting off to the fastest start in a Major League Baseball season in a few decades has prompted major changes in the team’s odds as it looks to win a rugged AL East and try to qualify for its second World Series appearance since 2020.
The Rays, who started the season at odds of +2000 (at BetMGM and others) to win the World Series, are now down to +900 at most places (but +1100 at Caesars Sportsbook). In less than three weeks, the Rays went from the 12th-best odds to win it all to the No. 6 choice. That’s what going 13-0 to start your season — tied for the longest season-opening win streak in the modern era — will do to perceptions.
Incidentally, fans of the St. Louis Maroons will be pleased. Their team still has the all-time record, having won its first 20 games in the Union Association two decades after the end of the Civil War.
The Rays’ impressive start came to a halt Friday when they lost 6-3 in Toronto. They lost again Saturday before rebounding Sunday with an easy 8-1 win to improve to a remarkable 14-2.
Approach will depend on the bettor
And yet has anything really changed when it comes to handicapping the AL East or even the overall picture in Major League Baseball? It’s worth noting that the Rays were favored in all 13 of those wins. They swept series against the Tigers, Nationals, Athletics, and Red Sox. It’s impressive to sweep any series in MLB, but it’s easier when three of the four teams you play are expected to vie for the worst record in baseball.
And the Rays haven’t exactly left the rest of their division in the dust. The Blue Jays and Yankees are 10-6 and just four games back. The improving Orioles are five behind the Rays. One good week or so could put any of those teams on top or near the top of the division. There are 24 weeks left in the season.
Then again, the Rays didn’t just eke by during that 13-game romp. They dominated in most of their victories. They still lead MLB in runs, home runs, OPS, and ERA. They have outscored their opponents by 72 runs, easily the best run differential in the game (next is the Brewers at +28).
So, depending on what kind of bettor you are, the Rays either proved they’re a great bet to have an outstanding season or offer a great fading opportunity.
“It’s always a surprise when a team has a streak like the one we saw with the Rays,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of the sportsbook at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. “In the wagering world, you see both sides of the spectrum. Some like to jump on the wagon and ride the streak. On the other side, you have those that wager the streak will end. Most prefer the wagon, but you do see both sides. I would say those streaks are good for business.”
Other futures odds move sharply
If you’re looking to fade the Rays, one option is to bet on them not to make the playoffs (+400 at DraftKings), but at least one major analytics site would caution against that wager. At FanGraphs, the computer pegs the Rays with just a 7.7% chance to miss the playoffs, which projects to odds of nearly +1200.
Kornegay’s group of sportsbook traders reacted to the Rays’ hot streak in a holistic manner, adjusting several teams’ odds as early games began to produce evidence that would impact late-summer pennant races. The Rays’ title odds went from +1600 to +900 at Westgate during the streak, while the Yankees and Astros — still the American League chalk — each saw their odds lengthen slightly from +700 to +800.
The only team to approach the Rays when it came to shortening their odds was the Brewers, who went from +2500 to +1600 as they got off to a strong start and the NL Central favorite, the Cardinals, struggled last week.
The Rays now are the betting favorite (+125 at FanDuel) to win their division at most books, but Caesars continues to be slightly less bullish, listing them as co-favorites with the Yankees at +160. The Jays, who also have the potential to be a powerhouse, offer good value with odds as long as +275 (at BetMGM).
Just before Opening Day, the Rays were +350 (at BetMGM) to win the AL East, a distant third behind the Yankees (+100) and Jays (+220).
Before the season, the Rays were behind the Astros, Yankees, and Mariners (who have never been to the World Series) to win the American League. They were tied with the White Sox at +1200 to win the pennant. At consensus odds of +410 now, they’ve slipped ahead of the Mariners, who have fallen all the way to sixth. Caesars, though, pegs Tampa Bay’s odds to win the AL at +600.
The beauty of a win streak, apparently, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images