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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)


Mike Shara

The season starts in about a week and things are starting to shake down as Spring Training winds down. With a few injuries to key starting pitchers already (Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale, Shane Baz, Luis Castillo), things are becoming a little clearer. With that clarity there are a few bets that have revealed themselves to look better than they might have when the odds were set initially. Here are a few I like best:

MOST STRIKEOUTS IN MLB: Dylan Cease, Chicago (AL) +2000 at Caesar’s

Last season at age 25, Cease reconfigured his arm angle, which added spin to his pitches and diversified his entire arsenal of pitches, making all of them more effective. The results were deeply impressive – almost to the point of appearing impossible. He finished the season with 226 strikeouts in 166 innings pitched, which equates to 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched to lead the American League. The White Sox were a little careful with him – he averaged just over 5 innings per start – which was the only reason he didn’t win the AL’s overall strikeout crown. If he can extend himself for a few more outs per start in his age 26 season, he’ll push himself among the elite strikeout artists in all of MLB. He doesn’t walk batters very often (witness the 3.32 K/BB rate last season) so his chances of getting to that point are better than most young pitchers. 

Justin Verlander, Houston  +1800 at PointsBet

He’s 39 years old and is coming off Tommy John surgery, so frankly I understand why you’d make a Jim Halpert face at this suggestion. In fact it makes me wonder why the odds aren’t longer for him to win the A.L. Cy Young. The reasons I still like the bet are (1) he looks great this spring and is more than 18 months removed from surgery – more than long enough for proper recovery (2) he was utterly dominant in his three seasons previous before surgery (52 wins, 643 K’s), so age wasn’t a problem and now he’s rested his arm for two seasons and (3) he’s pitching for a good team with a good bullpen, meaning inherited runners are more likely stranded and potential wins are more likely to be preserved. He’s a future Hall of Famer and a bit of an Old School throwback who could defy the current trend of innings restrictions and pitch counts to succeed. If his numbers are similar to a guy 10 years younger than him at the end of the year, do you have any doubt who those old, crusty writers will want to vote for?

Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia  +2000 at Caesar’s

Last season Wheeler led all of MLB in innings pitched and was second overall in strikeouts, finally having his breakout season at age 31 during his first year in Philadelphia. While it’s always difficult to bet on a career season repeating, his increased velocity, elite control and top-notch ground ball percentage also make it tough to argue against him. There are only three pitchers with lower odds than him on the board – Jacob deGrom (who’s 32 and already hurt again), Corbin Burnes (who threw over 120 innings for the first time in his career in 2021) and Max Scherzer (who turns 38 in July and has missed time with back troubles in each of the last three seasons). He received as many first place Cy Young votes last year as Burnes did, so obviously a lot of writers think he should have won one already. If he’s in the thick of the discussion again this year, some extra first place votes may go his way to reward him for two straight seasons of excellence.  

Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland  +900 at Caesar’s 

Last season Clase – he and his 102 MPH moving fastball – assumed the Guardians’ closer role from James Karinchak during the 2021 season. He finished with 24 saves, a 1.29 ERA, 0.962 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 69 innings. This year there is no debate who Cleveland’s closer will be and their team will likely be a little better, too. Their ace Shane Bieber returns from injury and their young starters are very good and improving. Their offense will struggle to score runs in bunches again this season, meaning they will be involved in a lot of close games. His ultra-low walk rate and stingy home run suppression mean that his numbers last season weren’t a fluke and that all he’ll need is a few more opportunities. When he gets them, he won’t blow them. That’s a big factor, too. 

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