The MLB season is still on hold, so in the meantime, we thought we'd take a look at each team's best betting season over the past 20 years (based on one-unit bets).
American League East
2012: +36.49 betting units
The Orioles hadn't had a winning season in 14 years and finished last in the AL East four straight times coming into 2012. Nobody expected them to compete for a wild card, not even with franchise-fixer Buck Showalter in his second season in the dugout. That's because nobody should have counted on the improbability of the Orioles' winning 16 of 18 extra-inning games and finishing 29-9 in one-run games. When they fell to 55-51 in early August, more than a few analysts thought regression was finally pulling the Orioles back down, but a 38-18 kick down the stretch obliterated that expectation. The O's Pythagorean projection was for an 82-80 season, but their repeatedly coming out winners in coin-toss outcomes provides a reminder that sometimes the math doesn't add up, not even over 162 games.
It should come as no surprise that 2018 was the most profitable season in the past 20 years for the Red Sox, as the eventual World Champs won a franchise record of 108 games, the most in the majors since the 2001 Mariners' record. AL MVP Mookie Betts won the batting title (.346), with teammate J.D. Martinez right behind him (.330). Rick Porcello (17-7), David Price (16-7) and Chris Sale (12-4) paced a dominant rotation, and Craig Kimbrel was second in the AL with 42 saves.
The Yankees have the second-lowest units gained of all the "best" ATS seasons by franchises (behind only that of the 2010 Blue Jays), but that should come as no surprise, as they are a heavily public-bet team that is the favorite a large portion of the time. Last year's 103-win team finished close to 12 units up on the season, despite being riddled with injuries. Every Yankees regular reached double-digits in home runs (the team belted a franchise-record 306 homers). Domingo German led the staff with 18 wins, with Aroldis Chapman closing out 37 games. The Yankees advanced to the ALCS, losing in six games to the Astros.
Tampa traded longtime third baseman Evan Longoria to the Giants in the offseason. The Rays started the trend of using "openers," tabbing pitchers normally used in relief to start games. In turn, the Rays set an MLB record for no-decisions by starters (91) and wins by relievers (55). The Rays posted their first winning season since 2013 and were profitable for bettors, but they failed to make the playoffs with a 90-72 record.
The Blue Jays improved by 10 games, going 85-77, but finished in fourth place in the AL East. Power was not an issue for the Jays, who set a franchise record with 257 home runs. Jose Bautista hit a franchise-best 54 homers. Roy Halladay was traded to the Phillies prior to the season. The 2010 season also was the final one for manager Cito Gaston in Toronto.
American League Central
2000: +25.31 betting units
A big chunk of this might be tied to the lowered expectations for the Sox after Frank Thomas' injury-shortened '99 season. The Big Hurt roared back with a huge season in 2000, finishing among the top 10 in WAR for the last time in his career while putting up his only campaign with 40 doubles and 40 homers. Adding a big year from Jose Valentin to the young duo of Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko gave the Sox a lineup firing on multiple cylinders to back a young rotation mostly doomed to deliver heartbreak.
After the 2007 ALCS loss to the Red Sox, it took six seasons for the Indians to get back over .500 and into the playoffs. Terry Francona's first Indians squad went 92-70 in 2013 before losing to the Rays in the wild-card game. Four pitchers won at least 10 games, and Carlos Santana paced the offense with 20 HRs and 74 RBIs. The team finished 15 units up over 162 games.
Jim Leyland's 2011 squad started a run of four consecutive AL Central titles and was the best Tigers team to bet on in the past 20 years. Miguel Cabrera won the first of his four batting titles, and Justin Verlander won AL Cy Young and MVP, leading the league with 24 wins and a 2.40 ERA. The Tigers made it all the way to the ALCS, losing in six games to the Rangers a year before taking the pennant in 2012.
It should come as no surprise that the World Series championship team of 2015 was the best to bet on of all the Royals teams in the past two decades. There were only a few possible guesses, as the 2013-15 Royals (and 2003) are the only ones since 1994 to finish over .500. The champs did it with a balanced squad: six players with double-digit HRs and solid seasons from Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura and Chris Young on the mound.
In 2015, the Twins were coming off four consecutive losing seasons, and expectations were not high. But Minnesota scraped together 83 wins and won as a 'dog enough times to turn a 20-unit profit. It wasn't the flashiest Twins team, but Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Torii Hunter combined for 72 HRs and a second-place AL Central finish under first-year manager Paul Molitor.
American League West
2008: +18.77 betting units
The Astros have won at least 100 games in each of the past three seasons, but they were heavy favorites in a lot of them. It was the 2008 Astros who paid off the best for the bettors, to the tune of nearly 19 units. The 86-win Astros finished third in the division and 11 games out of first place but were underdogs more times than not after a 73-win campaign in 2007. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence each hit 25-plus HRs to pace one of the league's best offenses, and Roy Oswalt won 17 games for the 'Stros.
There was a stretch on Mike Scioscia's long watch in which the Angels were routinely bettering their expected records (as measured by Pythagorean projections) by several wins. The 2007 Angels were four games better, having gone plus-6 in one-run games; if you expected that to even out, it didn't, because with much the same personnel, the Angels topped that in '08, winning 100 games to go plus-12 on their expected record, in part by going plus-10 in one-run contests. Hallmarks of these Angels teams? Strong bullpens -- highlighted by Francisco Rodriguez in his record-setting K-Rod heyday -- deep rotations and an efficient offense that maximized its opportunities.
If 2012 provided an even bigger upset than the Orioles, it was the A's. At the end of June, they were five games under .500, 13 games behind Texas and not too far ahead of their preseason expectations. That was before the A's second-half blitz through the schedule, going 57-26 over the final three months to catch the Rangers and win the AL West on the last day of the season. A large number of Billy Beane's salvage projects delivered. Bartolo Colon had his best year since his 2005 Cy season, but journeymen such as Brandon McCarthy, Travis Blackley and Brandon Moss broke through, joined by Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup.
Between 1999 and 2000, the Mariners made a 12-win jump to earn a wild card, so some anticipation that they'd slide back, even before they lost Alex Rodriguez to free agency and aging slugger Jay Buhner for most of the season when he got hurt in his first spring at-bat? Mathematically reasonable but completely wrong. Adding Ichiro Suzuki from Japan and free agent Bret Boone helped power the league's best offense to back a deep pitching staff on the way to an MLB-record 116 wins. Ichiro won the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year awards with an MLB-record 242 hits as a first-year player, not to mention 56 steals, and Boone belted a career-best 37 home runs.
After seeing the Rangers bounce from a 67-win last-place finish to an AL West title in 2015 by adding 21 wins, expecting some backsliding wasn't a bad idea. However, the Rangers did better, thanks in large part to a deep bullpen that helped set up an astonishing 36-11 record in one-run games. In-season reinforcements also played a part, with the return of Yu Darvish to the rotation for the second half after he missed all of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and the additions of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez in-season to a lineup keyed by Adrian Beltre.
National League East
2018: +17.99 betting units
The 2018 Braves flipped the script from the 2017 season, going from 72-90 to 90-72 and a division title thanks in large part to Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. pacing the offense and Atlanta's having four starters with sub-4.00 ERAs. Acuna Jr. burst onto the stage with 26 homers, and Mike Foltynewicz earned 13 wins in an All-Star season, finishing sixth in the league with a 2.85 ERA. The Braves ran away with the NL East but failed once again to advance past the divisional round of the postseason.
The 2000 Marlins were three years removed from their championship and on the way back up after the dismantling before and during the 1998 season. After 54 wins in 1998 and 64 in 1999, the Marlins increased by another 15 wins for a 79-82 campaign, building toward the 2003 title. Derrek Lee and Preston Wilson, both acquired in post-1997 trades, paced the offense with a combined 59 HRs and nearly 200 RBIs, and 23-year old Ryan Dempster led the pitching staff with 14 wins. The Marlins also got contributions from A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny and a league-high 62 stolen bases from Luis Castillo. All three players were cornerstones to the 2003 championship.
It won't take Mets fans long to guess which was the most profitable team of the past 20 seasons, as the 2006 squad won the AL East for the first time since 1988, picked up 97 wins and came within one game of the World Series. The Mets were in first place for all but one day of the 2006 season, jumping out to a 10-2 record. Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright were a formidable middle of the order, combining for 105 HRs and 346 RBIs, and Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel each won 15 games as the Mets advanced all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS vs. the Cardinals.
Coming off back-to-back World Series appearances, the Phillies finished with the best record in baseball (97-65) but fell to the Giants in the NLCS. During the offseason, the Phillies traded former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and traded for another Cy Young winner in Roy Halladay. After holding the best record in the NL at 26-15, the Phillies went on a 22-31 stretch that saw them fall seven games out of first place. However, Philly went an MLB-best 49-19 the rest of the way.
After finishing 80-81 the previous season, the Nationals went an MLB-best 98-64. It was their first winning season since they moved to D.C. in 2005. This season marked the franchise's first postseason berth since 1981 and the first for a Washington-based team since the Senators won the AL pennant in 1933. The Nationals were eliminated in five games in the NLDS. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond were elected to the All-Star Game. Bryce Harper, 19, served as an injury replacement and became the youngest position player and third-youngest player to be named an All-Star.
National League Central
2015: +13.03 betting units
The Cubs, one of the more public teams that bettors love, have one of lowest "best" seasons of the past 20 years. Many would point to the 2016 championship squad that won 103 games as the one with the most profit, but it was the year before that finished up 13 units. Jake Arrieta had a lot to do with that, as the Cy Young winner went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA.
It seems like a long time ago, but the 2012 Reds won 97 games, the most since the Big Red Machine days, and ran away with their second NL Central title in three seasons. Paced by 19-game winner Johnny Cueto and a staff that was third in the majors with a 3.34 ERA, the Reds took the division lead right after the All-Star break and never gave it up. Bettors were rewarded with nearly 14 units of profit, the best of any Reds team in the past 20 seasons.
On the 163rd game of the season, the 2018 Brewers won in Chicago to clinch their second division title in three seasons and tie a franchise record with their 96th win. It made that team the most profitable Brewers team in the past 20 seasons, at close to 20 units up. Christian Yelich took home the NL MVP with 36 HRs, 110 RBIs and a league-best .326 average. Jhoulys Chacin paced the Brewers staff with 15 wins.
The Pirates posted their first winning season since 1992 and finished second in the NL Central with a 94-68 record. They had endured 20 straight losing seasons, the longest stretch in North American professional sports history. Pittsburgh earned a wild-card spot and beat the Reds in the wild-card game before falling to the Cardinals in the NLDS. Andrew McCutchen took home National League MVP honors, and Clint Hurdle was named NL Manager of the Year in what was a profitable season for bettors of the Pirates.
The Cardinals won their most games since 1944, going 105-57 and reaching the World Series, in which they were swept by the Red Sox. It was the Cards' first trip to the Fall Classic since 1987. St. Louis bolstered its rotation in the offseason, adding Chris Carpenter as a free agent and trading for Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals also traded for Larry Walker during the season, adding to a lineup that already had Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.
National League West
2011: +24.07 betting units
The 2011 Diamondbacks put together a remarkable worst-to-first season, winning 29 more games than they did in the 2010 campaign. They were boosted by four pitchers with sub-3.70 ERAs, including Cy Young finalist Ian Kennedy, with his 21-4 record. Justin Upton's 31 homers paced an Arizona offense that was fourth in the NL in runs scored as they ran away with the NL West in a 94-win campaign and rewarded bettors to the tune of 24 units.
The Rockies' lone pennant-winning season certainly surprised some, but how could anyone anticipate the stretch run that made "Rocktober" a thing? Winning 13 of their last 14 regular-season games to force a one-game playoff (which they won) was epic, and then they swept their NLDS and NLCS rounds. Cramming the lineup with as much offense as they could get out of the corners helped, and the arrival of Ubaldo Jimenez in the rotation helped, but there was an element of seeming impossibility that made the Rockies' run pure magic.
The Dodgers have made 11 postseason appearances (all division titles) in the past 16 seasons. It was the first of those division titles, in 2004, that made the most money for bettors (15.27 units). Adrian Beltre's career year of a league-leading 48 HRs to go with a .334 batting average and 121 RBIs helped lead the Dodgers to 93 wins. Jeff Weaver, Kaz Ishii and Jose Lima all had 13 wins to pace the staff. The success was short-lived, as the Dodgers' first postseason appearance in eight years ended in four games to the Cardinals.
The Padres went 90-72 but missed the playoffs after blowing the 6 1/2-game lead they held in the division in late August. The Padres were 76-49 and in first place but then went on a 10-game losing streak. San Diego led the NL West for 148 days in 2010 but was officially eliminated from postseason contention in the final game of the season.
The Giants posted 100 wins to win the NL West but lost in four games to the Marlins in the NLDS. Barry Bonds recorded his 500th steal to become the first major leaguer with 500 career home runs and 500 stolen bases. He finished the season with a .341 batting average, .749 slugging percentage, 45 home runs, 90 RBIs, 111 runs scored, 148 walks and 58 strikeouts while playing in 130 games.