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Smart money on Hanley Ramirez, Jay Bruce in prop bets

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Bovada released its player prop bets for the 2014 season on Wednesday, providing odds on the AL and NL MVP and Cy Young races, as well as MLB’s home run leader. Here’s a look at what I consider to be the best bets in each category. Please do note, though, all information here is for entertainment purposes only.

AL MVP

Mike Trout – 5/1
Miguel Cabrera – 6/1
Adrian Beltre – 16/1

This is one spot where I’d seriously think about going with the favorites. I’d say it’s better than 50-50 that Trout or Cabrera will claim the award, and the opportunity is there to bet both and still make some cash. Cabrera, of course, has won two in a row.

Since RBI remains king, Beltre, who has tied for the eighth best odds here, has the best chance to upset them. He’s in position to drive in a ton of runs behind Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder in the Texas order.

My favorite sleeper pick doesn’t get listed by Bovada, which probably means he’d get 50:1 odds. That’s Carlos Santana, who is also in position to drive in a whole bunch of runs behind Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis in the Cleveland lineup.

NL MVP

Hanley Ramirez – 25/1
Paul Goldschmidt – 9/1
Jay Bruce – 33/1

Ramirez was the NL’s best hitter in the half-season he was healthy last year, and his Dodgers are the clear favorites in the NL West. I see him making a run at a batting title and hitting about 30 homers. He’s my pick for MVP, long odds or no.

Goldschmidt has the third best odds here behind Andrew McCutchen (6/1) and Joey Votto (7/1). Because, again, RBI is king, I’d say he’s more likely to win than either of those two. However, for it to happen, he’ll need the Diamondbacks to make the postseason.

Bruce is going to have at least one 40-homer, 120-RBI season before he’s done. I doubt he’ll actually be a better player than Votto, but he’s the one of the two more likely to win an MVP, mostly because he gets to hit behind the guy with the .430 OBP.

AL Cy Young

Alex Cobb – 33/1
Justin Verlander – 12/1
Felix Hernandez – 15/1

Bovada and I agree: AL Cy Young is the most wide open of the four major awards. Their top choice here, Yu Darvish, has the highest odds (8/1) of the favorites. I don’t have a real favorite here, either. My projections call for Verlander, Hernandez, Darvish, David Price, Cobb and Chris Sale to all finish with ERAs in the 3.00-3.20 range, with no one lower than that. I’d be tempted to throw a couple of bucks on Cobb, but I’d probably otherwise shy away.

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw – 13/2
Madison Bumgarner – 15/1
Stephen Strasburg – 8/1

I’d go with the favorite here: Kershaw seems like he should be closer to 4:1 to repeat, in my opinion. If he doesn’t pitch up to his ability, that might open the door for Bumgarner. One sleeper pick who didn’t get odds from Bovada: Homer Bailey. He’d be really nice at 50:1 or 66:1.

MLB home run leader

Jay Bruce: 25/1
Chris Davis: 8/1
Giancarlo Stanton: 10/1
Justin Upton: 75/1

I have nine guys projected to hit at least 34 homers this season:

39 – Davis
38 – Stanton
37 – Bruce, Fielder
35 – Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Trumbo
34 – Pedro Alvarez, Edwin Encarncion

Bovada has Davis as the favorite at 8/1, followed by Cabrera at 9/1 and Stanton at 10/1. So we line up rather closely here. Bruce at 25/1 seems like the best bet to me: very good HR ballpark, very durable, three straight 30-homer seasons. Trumbo at 20/1 isn’t bad, either.

For a long shot, Upton is rather tempting. I have him at 30 homers, but he’s capable of doing better. Last year, he hit 12 in April alone, and he’s just now entering his age-26 season.

Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams today

Kyle Lohse
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Free agent starter Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams at the University of California, Irvine, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports.

Lohse, 37, remains unsigned into baseball’s second month on the heels of last season’s 5.85 ERA and 108/43 K/BB ratio over 152 1/3 innings. Although Lohse was quite good in the four seasons prior, teams are understandably reluctant to bank on pitchers in their late-30’s.

The Orioles, Tigers, and Reds have had reported interest in Lohse in recent months.

Majestic Athletic employees will protest at Coca-Cola Park on Friday

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Kris Bryant (L) of the Chicago Cubs and Anthony Rizzo #44 pose for a photo with their All Star jersey's before the game against the Chicago White Sox on July 10, 2015 at  Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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Anthony Salamone of the Morning Call reports that Majestic Athletic employees plan to protest at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA on Friday night. The employees are protesting Majestic’s owner VF Corporation’s attempt to undercut wages and medical benefits. VF Corporation acquired Majestic in February 2007.

Coca-Cola Park is home to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. Majestic has manufacturing facilities in Easton, PA, which is less than a half-hour from Coca-Cola Park. The IronPigs, as well as all 30 Major League Baseball teams, wear uniforms manufactured by Majestic.

Corporations affiliated with Major League Baseball taking advantage of employees isn’t anything new. Last year, when protests over police violence disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, some employees with the Orioles and Aramark almost lost out on multiple days of pay.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT