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How to Bet on MLB

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Major League Baseball is called America’s Pastime and for many decades it was the most popular sport in the country. Americans love summertime and baseball is the only major sport going on during the summer – hence the famous song “Boys of Summer.”

And while MLB still rules the summer from a sports betting perspective, it has long been passed as America’s Pastime by the NFL and probably the NBA as well. MLB is very popular among ages 50 and up but younger fans find it too slow and boring. There is a glaring lack of action in the sport, especially these days when each at-bat seems to end one of three ways: home run, strikeout or walk.

The 2019 World Series was incredibly exciting with the Washington Nationals beating the Houston Astros in seven games. It was the first time in any best-of-7 series ever, including the NHL and NBA, where the road team won every single game. It was one of the biggest World Series upsets in recent memory because Washington opened as a +240 moneyline underdog – the biggest underdog since 2007 when the Colorado Rockies were about the same price and swept by the Boston Red Sox. 

Despite all the intrigue in the 2019 Fall Classic, it was one of the lowest-rated World Series of all-time. Many fans want MLB to end the season sooner as that way the World Series isn’t competing as much the NFL, college football, NHL and NBA.

But as noted above, MLB still rules the summer and if sports fans want to bet a live event in one of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues, well, MLB is all there is from about mid-June until the end of August.

There are many ways to bet on Major League Baseball, but to simplify there are three basic wager types: on the moneyline, on the run line and on the over/under total (usually just called the total). One thing to keep in mind when betting on MLB is that each team’s starting pitching is the most important factor as to how the sportsbooks set the odds on a given game. 

MLB Odds

Moneyline Betting

One reason that betting on football and basketball are so popular is because there’s a spread in each and those are easy to decipher. This team must beat this team by this many points for the bet to win. There is no spread in baseball because most games end by a margin of just one run. Thus, the most popular wager is on the moneyline. Here, bettors simply wager on which team will win, regardless of score.

However, the prices can be very different. For example, in one 2019 game the Houston Astros were record-setting -500 road favorites behind ace pitcher Justin Verlander in a game against the terrible Baltimore Orioles, who were +380 underdogs. And you know what? Baltimore won! That’s the crazy thing about baseball. In that scenario, a bettor would have had to wager $500 on Houston to return $100, while a $100 bet on Baltimore would have brought back $380.

Obviously, that’s a unique moneyline example. Let’s use Game 7 of the 2019 World Series as a better one. Here is how that would have looked on a wagering menu. The home team is always listed at the bottom in USA sports betting menus:

Washington (Scherzer) +120

Houston (Greinke) -140

If everything else is equal, the home team is going to be a moneyline favorite in baseball. The names are for the starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. They were the first-ever Cy Young winners to face off in any Game 7 of the playoffs. A $140 bet on Houston – which lost – would have returned $100 and a $100 wager on Washington would have returned $120.

Runline betting

Again, because there is no spread in baseball, sportsbooks offer a standard runline of 1.5 on each game. If a team is favored to win a game, then it would be a -1.5 favorite on the runline. However, usually the team favored on the runline is then an “underdog” on the moneyline attached because so many MLB games to end in a one-run margin.

In the World Series Game 7 example above, it looked like this:

Washington +1.5 (-185)

Houston -1.5 (+155)

Washington won the game 6-2 so a $185 bet on the Nationals on the runline would have returned $100. Any Houston bet would have been a loser because the Astros lost outright. They would have had to win by 2 runs to win that bet.

Total Betting

This is simply a wager on how many total runs the teams combine for in a game. This would include any game that’s deemed official after 4.5 innings played – a game is official once the visiting team bats in the top of the fifth if weather becomes a factor -- or one that goes 20 innings. Most run totals include a half-run so there are no ties.

In the World Series Game 7 example above, it looked like this:

Washington Ov 7.5 (-115)

Houston Un 7.5 (-115)

Because Game 7 was won by a score of 6-2 the over bettors were winners. There is a moneyline price attached to every over/under total simply as a way for the sportsbooks to get their cut of the pie regardless of what happens. Sometime the moneylines can be slightly different if the over or under are slightly favored but many times they are the same.


Once betting on the moneyline, runline and total are learned, there are variations of all in other types of wager like futures, prop bets, parlays and live-in game betting. For example, the sportsbooks put out odds to win the 2020 World Series before the 2019 Fall Classic even ended. The Astros and Yankees already are favored at +600. Parlays allow bettors to combine two or more bets on the same wager. Prop bets are too numerous to mention, but can be things like: Will Mike Trout hit a home run in the game? Over/under strikeouts for Clayton Kershaw. MLB is terrific for in-game live betting because there are so many breaks in the action.

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