Jay Kornegay, who runs one of the largest casino bookmaking operations in Nevada at the Las Vegas Hilton, recalled how he found out about the Phillies reacquiring pitcher Cliff Lee on Monday night.
"We got a text message telling us that the Phillies had just signed 'C. Lee,' and I'm thinking, 'Why in the world would they want to sign Carlos Lee?"
Honestly, it was really that far-fetched that the Phils would land the free-agent superstar pitcher after trading him last off-season. Until Tuesday's stunning development, Texas and the New York Yankees were considered most likely to snag Cliff Lee.
But, if it took a few seconds for the Hilton sports book operation to straighten out that indeed it was Cy Young Award-winning Cliff and not aging Houston outfielder Carlos, it took less time for Kornegay and his counterparts in the wagering world to adjust the odds on the Phillies to win the NL pennant and the World Series - and dramatically.
At the Las Vegas Hilton's Superbook, the odds on the Phillies - with a starting rotation of Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels - to win the World Series shrank from 6-1 to 9-5, making them the new World Series favorite. To win the NL pennant, the odds adjustment was even bigger: from 3-1 to a stunning minus-130. In other words, to wager on the Phillies to win the National League crown, a bettor has to risk $130 to win $100.
"I can't ever remember having something like that to win the league," said bookmaking veteran Kornegay.
When the Yankees were considered a front-runner to land Lee, the odds on New York to win the Series were in a range of 2-1 to 5-2, according to Tony Sinisi, the odds director at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which provides odds to casinos. Boston was No. 2 among short-odds teams, and the Phillies were third.
In fact, Kornegay said he took some money on the Phillies to win the Series at 7-1, well before the Lee announcement.
Sinisi said that LVSC didn't move the Phils as much as the Hilton, taking them from 6-1 to 3-1 to win the Series and from 3-1 to even money for the NL pennant. The Red Sox are 9-2 for the Series, in part because of their signings of all-star outfielders Adrian Gonzales and Carl Crawford. The Yankees are at 5-1.
After the top three, the World Series odds soar on the rest of the field. Defending champion San Francisco is at 15-1; St. Louis is a 15-1 to 20-1 pick, and teams such as Texas and Minnesota have 20-1 prices.
Todd Fuhrman, the sports analyst at Caesars Palace, pointed out that the line for the total number of wins could approach historic highs for the Phillies. Last year, the top number was 98 for the Yankees, and they finished with 94. In 2009, the Phillies had an over-under total-wins number of 901/2 and eclipsed that with an MLB-high 97.
Fuhrman said that it's possible the Phillies will have a triple-digit preseason over-under, perhaps as high as 1011/2.
That type of wagering mark would be similar to the preseason win total that was established for the NBA's Miami Heat, 64 wins, when the Heat put together their dream lineup led by LeBron James.
Despite the Heat's recent long winning streak (nine going into Wednesday night's game against Cleveland), a sluggish start may have doomed Miami's chances to beat those lofty expectations. They had 18 victories after 26 games.
"But baseball is different than basketball," Fuhrman said. "You don't have the issue of team chemistry and guys blending. In fact, with those four Phillies pitchers, they might wind up creating some sort of synergy . . . with each one of them trying to be the No. 1 guy."