Sportsbooks dodged a bullet when Gerrit Cole and the Yankees were eliminated Tuesday. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BETTING & FANTASY

This MLB Postseason, What if the House Doesn’t Win?

Sportsbooks were thrilled to see the Yankees lose the AL Wild Card Game — but a handful of remaining teams pose legitimate threats to Vegas.

The 2021 MLB Wild Card Games had more on the line than ever before. There’s a myriad of reasons why.

The Yankees fell to the Red Sox on Tuesday night in a loss that capped one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory and could change the complexion of their team for years to come. There could be significant turnover on the coaching staff and throughout the roster as a result.

Wednesday night, the defending champion Los Angeles Dodger came dangerously close to crashing out themselves despite winning 106 games; such is the case when you’re subjected to a one-game playoff just get into the NLDS. If the Cardinals had beaten LA, we would be having uneasy conversations about the wisdom of the win-or-go-home format going forward.

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And in the bigger picture, with plenty of money on the line this postseason given that legal, mobile sports wagering is getting implemented in more and more states, there is a handful of teams that the top sportsbooks absolutely do not want to see winning the big one. The Yankees were one of those teams; Vegas dodged a bullet after the Sox bounced the Bombers.

But the biggest liability on the board anywhere has to be the Houston Astros, who are very much alive.

Why, you may ask? Is the public picking up on something it believes could give it an edge? Well, no. There’s just one very, very large bet out there on the Astros to win it all.

That bet was placed by well-known Houston furniture store magnate and prolific sports bettor Jim McIngvale, better known as “Mattress Mack.” After apparently liking what he saw at the start of the season, he went to Caesars Sportsbook and put a $2 million bet on the Astros to win it all during the season at +1000 odds.

FanDuel odds to win the 2021 World Series entering the NL Wild Card Game

Houston opened the season at +2500 to win the World Series; they now stand at +450 at FanDuel to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy for the second time in five years. They kick off their postseason campaign with a five-game series against the White Sox in the ALDS.

If his team goes all the way, Mack’s $2 million bet would net him $20 million. It’s believed to be the biggest reported payout in US sports betting history if (or when?) it hits. And that doesn’t even take into account an additional total of $1.35 million he has wagered on the Stros across FanDuel, TheScore, and DraftKings.

On such an occasion — a reported $35.6 million payout, all told — do not expect grand celebrations in Vegas.

“Obviously, the Astros would be our worst-case scenario. We’d also like the Giants, Yankees, and Dodgers not to win,” said Craig Mucklow, Vice President of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook. “This is the first time I’ve seen something like this wager in a futures market. There’s plenty of six-figure bets, but not seven-figure bets. Most books don’t have the appetite to take seven-figure bets on a futures market. It’s an exciting bet to take, but it would be nice if they got knocked out early.”

Mattress Mack’s bet actually accounts for a whopping 69% of the money wagered on the World Series futures market at Caesars, but what about the other players in the space?

Well, the Dodgers losing on Wednesday would have certainly made the sportsbooks happy, too.

Though the FanDuel Sportsbook did take a $1,600 bet on the Cardinals to win the World Series at +3000, they would have happily accepted a St. Louis victory in the NL Wild Card Game. The Dodgers account for the third-most total dollars wagered on the World Series market at FanDuel, and the same can be said for Caesars. LA happens to be the biggest active liability at the DraftKings Sportsbook, leading the way with 20% of tickets and 18% of the total handle.

With all this in mind, it’s safe to say the books will breathe a huge sigh of relief if and when LA does get eliminated. For what it’s worth, the biggest liability on DraftKings to win the American League is already and the heaviest-bet team to win the World Series at FanDuel — those ubiquitous Yankees — are already out.

There’s a reason why “the house always wins” is such an utterly worn-out phrase — because it does. One game into the MLB Playoffs, the public was instantly a massive loser. A Cardinals victory would have graded a colossal number futures bets out as losers; it took nothing less than a dramatic walk-off dinger from Chris Taylor Wednesday to kill that possibility.

We will wait and see if Mattress Mack shocks Caesars. Perhaps the Dodgers really do repeat and send a shockwave through the betting ecosystem. For now, the most likely outcome remains a winning October for the house.

But this is postseason baseball. It only takes one swing of the bat to turn a prevailing narrative right on its head.