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NL Playoff Races
The same pennant-driven sentiments can be found in the National League too. Here’s a look at how those divisional and wild card races may pan out.
NL West: The Padres continue to dazzle as the surprise team of the National League. Although their hitting has been average at best, they are led by one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, one that leads the MLB with a glistening 3.27 ERA.
Mat Latos is the best of the team’s young hurlers and has his squad leading the San Francisco Giants by three games. The Giants are another pitching-heavy team with a 3.37 ERA that is third in baseball. The Dodgers ran away with the division last year and have shown an ability to get hot. It’s not likely they’ll prevail but at six games out, it’s not over yet.
The biggest question mark is whether or not the Padres’ pitching will be able to hold up. Nobody saw this performance coming and they aren’t like the Giants, who have several pitchers who have proven themselves capable of remaining dominant for an entire season. In the end, I see the Giants winning this division. Not only do they have great pitching depth and proven commodities, their offense will only continue to reap the rewards of recently promoted catcher Buster Posey. The line at www.sportsbook.com has the NL West wide open, besides the Dbacks all the teams have a shot. The Dodgers at +1000 could be a great bet to win the division.
NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals have dominated this division in recent years and find themselves in a two-team race with a surprising team, the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals have a half game lead behind an excellent combination of pitching and hitting. Their 3.29 ERA is second best in baseball and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday continue to form a formidable power duo at the plate. A surprising cast of characters leads the Reds. Joey Votto has come from practically nowhere to be near the league lead in batting average, home runs, and RBI; Scott Rolen, previously considered done by some, has resuscitated his career in Cincinnati. Although the Reds’ pitching has been average, it has been bolstered by rookie Mike Leake, who skipped the minor leagues altogether.
The overall skill of the Cardinals can’t be overstated. In addition to having one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in baseball, they have perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia. With the exception of Garcia, all of these players have won pennants and excelled in clutch situations. Cincinnati is a nice story but I don’t expect their inexperienced roster to be able to stay with the Cardinals for the course of an entire season.
NL East: After a couple of down seasons, the Atlanta Braves are trying to return to their perch atop the NL East. Behind a balanced offensive attack and outstanding team pitching, the Braves have built a four and a half game lead over Philadelphia, the preseason favorite to win the division. Although Roy Halladay has been absolutely brilliant, the Phillies have largely failed to live up to expectations as they’ve struggled with consistency, especially on offense. The Mets and Marlins are both within eight games but neither seems capable of mounting a charge strong enough to supplant the two front-runners.
To be fair, a main reason the Phillies have underachieved is injuries. Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have all been on the DL. There’s no reason to think this team won’t regain its continuity though. They’ve made the World Series the last two years and have kept largely the same lineup. They have the overall team power and experienced pitching that will enable them to get past the Braves and win the NL East.
Wild Card: This will ultimately be the most congested race in baseball and will be decided by the teams that narrowly miss winning their own divisions. If my divisional predictions hold up, that leaves Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the LA Dodgers as the primary contenders. Depending on how they finish their seasons, Colorado, Florida, and the New York Mets may play themselves into contention as well.
At this point, a prediction may end up being no more useful than a coin flip. However, out of the seven teams mentioned, I see the Braves prevailing. Knowing this is Bobby Cox’s last year and likely Chipper Jones’s as well, they are playing with a definite purpose. They have a perfect combination of motivation, experience, and outstanding pitching; one that I believe will clinch a playoff spot for them.
Oakland A’s vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Looking to stay on top a little while longer, the Oakland A’s take on the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. The A’s have their work cut out for them considering the Angels are playing the White Sox, likely adding to their win column. Finding the big game to bet on each weekend is easy at www.sportsbook.com where everybody bets.
The Jays, fresh off their disappointing series against Boston, are probably seeking a little redemption. Eveland, who was riding high, came crashing down giving up seven earned runs in a mere three innings. This dropped his ERA from 1.93 to 4.57 in just one night, I am sure he would like to see some recovery in that number. Early season stats are much easier to manipulate, not to mention the game is against his former team.
On the other side you have Gonzalez is looking to continue his current hot streak. Pitching a seven-inning shutout puts spark in his fastball. His last matchup against the Blue Jays was in 2008 and ended in a loss, so I am sure he would like to even out the stats there.
While no one seems to be sure who will be on for Sunday’s game from the A’s bullpen, Shaun Marcum is likely to take the field. Having not won a game since 2008 despite extremely strong starts all season, Marcum will be out for blood. No matter what he says, he would like to see a few more W’s under his name, but he is right, it takes the team showing up.
At the beginning of the season, strength in batting order is just being assessed, unless you have a tried and true lineup. The move of Jose Bautista from the lead off spot in favor of Fred Lewis might just up his RBI numbers, and he’s already second on the team.
Eric Chavez, having just broken his slump, is looking to make it a streak. With a batting order in seeming constant rotation, there has been no real consistency with Oakland. Chavez is looking to turn his two-run double into a regular occurrence. Now that Davis has been underperforming the season, Patterson is getting a chance to show his stuff. Denied regular play last season, Patterson is looking to leave an impression. He’s already clocked a homer, sure to be looking for more.
This early in the season standings are kind of mute. With tons of games to go, it is difficult to predict what slumps, injuries, or team shake-ups might cause huge shifts in the rankings. For now, this is a time for Oakland to enjoy beating out Los Angeles. Oakland has many hurdles to overcome given the weakness in their lineup and early season injuries, but at least their bullpen remains pretty intact.
Toronto needs to take an opportunity to put themselves back on track if they want to keep pace with Boston. Tampa Bay seems to still be ruling the roost, so keeping ahead of the Sox should be of paramount importance to the Jays. They did not make the best of their series against them, so they need to log a few more wins where they can.