How to Bet on Baseball: Run Line Betting

 The MLB season is a long and winding road with jam-packed slates of games to enjoy every step of the way. The excitement begins on opening day and stays strong right through to the World Series.

Sports betting has been legalized in a growing number of states, including right here in Illinois. That means for each game on the docket, bettors have their choice of several ways to get in on the action.

One of the most popular options is the run line bet. This wager functions like the point spread that’s prominent in other sports, but there are some distinct nuances that you need to understand.

We have all of the bases covered right here, from how this bet works to what to watch for on the odds board and how to handicap it. Let’s begin by taking a closer look at how the run line works.

What is a run line bet in baseball?

The run line bet is one of the featured ways to bet on MLB games on sportsbook apps and websites. It is listed for each of the individual games, along with moneyline and totals wagers.

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When betting the run line, bettors can choose between the favorite minus a designated number of runs or the underdog plus the same amount. The default number used for run line bets is 1.5 runs.

To win the bet, the side you choose must cover the run line. If you bet on the favorite, that means it has to win the game by two runs or more. The underdog covers the run line by keeping the margin to one run or by winning the game outright.

How to read MLB betting odds

For each MLB game on the docket, IL online sportsbooks will release odds for bettors to sort through. The individual game listings will have odds for the three main bet types front and center with additional wagering opportunities to be found once you click through. The typical game listing will look something like this.

TeamRun lineMoneylineTotal
Minnesota Twins-1.5 (-120)-130O 7.5 (-110)
Chicago White Sox+1.5 (+100)+110U 7.5 (-110)

Listings are presented with the road team on top and the home team on the bottom, but there is the occasional oddball neutral site matchup. Next to the team names are the odds and lines for the three bet types: run line, moneyline, and total.

The Twins are favored by 1.5 on the run line. We can tell this by the negative number next to the name. In sports betting odds, negative numbers point to favorites, while the run line is positive on the underdog side.

Next to the 1.5 in parentheses is the actual odds for the run line wager. As we continue moving to the right, we find that the Twins are also favored on the moneyline in a game.

Odds for MLB run line bets explained

When sportsbooks release odds for spread bets, the general standard is for -110 to be used as a starting point on both sides. After bettors begin to weigh in, there may be some fluctuation in the numbers.

Generally, the shifts are pretty slight, such as one side rising to -115 with the other side dropping to -105. The run line is very different from a spread bet in that respect. There can be much larger gaps between the odds on both sides.

For example:

Cincinnati Reds+1.5 (-120)
Chicago Cubs-1.5 (-150)

In this case, the Cubs have emerged as the clear choice of the public on the run line. As such, sportsbooks have adjusted the number.

It’s important to remember that the odds on the run line won’t necessarily be the same at each operator. For example, DraftKings Sportsbook in Illinois could be offering -125 on a team, but FanDuel Sportsbook may be at -135 for the same choice.

When getting set to bet on the run line, it’s always a good idea to shop around. If you engage in some simple line shopping, you can spot discrepancies such as this at the different sportsbooks. While the differences may seem minor, they can add up.

How to place a run line bet in Illinois

Leading online sports betting operators have platforms that are very user-friendly, so placing a run line bet is very simple. To begin, you have to locate the listing for the game you are interested in.

Sportsbooks will have odds posted for each game on the docket. Let’s go back to our standard game listing for a second:

TeamRun lineMoneylineTotal
Minnesota Twins-1.5 (-120)-130O 7.5 (-110)
Chicago White Sox+1.5 (+100)+110U 7.5 (-110)

To place the bet, you simply have to click on the box that represents your choice. If you like the Twins minus the runs, you click that or click on the White Sox plus the runs if you prefer that side.

Once you make your choice, the bet is added to your slip right away. From there, you just have to add in your wager amount and verify everything is correct before clicking submit.

What are alternate run lines?

While the standard for run line bets is 1.5 runs, operators will offer alternate run lines for bettors to consider. Naturally, the odds will be adjusted based on the direction of the movement. For example, you may see a line set at 2.5 runs.

Washington Nationals+2.5 (-170)
Atlanta Braves-2.5 (+200)

For this contest, the Nationals would just need to keep the margin to two runs or fewer or win the game outright to cover the run line. The Braves have their work cut out for them, as they would need to win by three runs or more to cover.

Alternate run lines can make sense if you have a good read on a game that you view as a potential blowout. They can also provide some extra cushion for underdogs, but as you can see from the odds in our example, returns may be minimized.

Online rules for run line betting in Illinois

Leading sportsbook operators in Illinois follow the same general rules for the most part, but differences can pop up in certain cases. When it comes to wagering on the run line, here are the basics of what you need to know.

  • Bets with a listed pitcher option will be canceled if there’s a change from the listed starting pitchers.
  • All bets are considered action once the game gets underway.
  • Games that are delayed or postponed because of weather could remain live if they are expected to be completed soon thereafter, but they’ll be voided if pushed to a later date.
  • Settlement of wagers is based on official league data.

That’ll cover most situations, but unusual circumstances may arise here and there. Sportsbooks may have different interpretations on how situations in this category are handled. For complete details, it’s good practice to review the MLB house rules at the books you are playing on.

MLB run line betting examples

As with any other bet type, the run line can take a little getting used to, so let’s walk through some examples on how it all works. We’ll begin with a matchup of NL Central rivals in which the Milwaukee Brewers are traveling to take on the Chicago Cubs.

Milwaukee Brewers+1.5 (-130)
Chicago Cubs-1.5 (+110)

For this matchup, the oddsmakers have the Cubs as the favorite on the run line. To cover, Chicago has to win the game by two runs or more. A score of 5-3 gets it done, but a tight 3-2 decision does not.

Milwaukee has to keep the margin under 1.5 runs. If the Brewers lose 4-3, all is well, but if they get shellacked to the tune of 7-2, they’ve failed to cover. As you can see by the odds in our example, the numbers point to the Brewers forcing a tight game as the more likely choice.

Next, we’ll move over to the AL Central for an intriguing matchup of two division rivals. The Cleveland Indians are hitting the road to square off with the Chicago White Sox for this one.

Cleveland Indians-1.5 (+120)
Chicago White Sox+1.5 (-140)

The road team has been deemed the favorite here, but the odds tell us that more money is favoring the White Sox to keep the margin to a single run or to win outright. A 5-3 win for the Indians is good for Cleveland bettors and bad for those on the side of Chicago.

If the White Sox lose by a score of, say, 6-5, or win the game outright, the run line has been covered and bettors on that side can cash winning tickets. Unlike the moneyline in which it’s all about who wins and loses, the run line forces bettors to factor in a margin of victory.

Like a point spread, it can help to level the playing field between mismatched teams to make things more interesting.

Calculating payouts for run line bets

The potential return for a winning run line bet is based on what the odds board says. Once you click on your choice and plug in a wager amount, the sportsbook will display the potential return for a winning bet.

This is a quick way to see what you could get back, but be careful that you don’t click submit before you’re ready. For another simple way to see returns, there are plenty of handicapping calculators to be found on the internet that are free to use.

Additionally, you can do some quick math to figure out ballpark figures. When the odds are negative, such as -120, the amount of the odds also tells you how much you need to wager to get back a profit of $100 for a win. In this case, you’d have to wager $120.

For positive odds, the number on the board also indicates how much you would profit on a winning $100 bet. If the odds are set at +125 and you bet $100 and went on to win, the profit coming back your way would be $125.

Last but not least, there are formulas you can use to quickly figure out the returns. While they work in the same fashion, there are two different ones to use based on the direction of the odds. Negative odds use the absolute value of the odds figure in the equation.

  • Negative odds: Wager amount / (Odds/100) = Return
  • Positive odds: Wager amount * (Odds/100) = Return

In both cases, you have to take the amount of the odds and divide it by 100. Once you have that result, you would multiply it by the wager amount when the odds are positive. When the odds are negative, you take the amount of the wager and divide it by the result in step one.

How to handicap the MLB run line

Placing a bet on the run line goes much deeper than figuring out which side is going to win or lose. You also have to factor in the potential margin of victory, and it can take some doing to get used to that. Here are some tips to lean on as you work toward finding consistency with run line betting.

  • Understand what the odds are telling you: As bets continue to come in, odds for run line bets will adjust. If you see big moves, pay attention to what’s happening for clues on where the money is going. For example, if a book makes one side really attractive while lessening the appeal on the opposite side, there’s a good chance it would like to see more action on the former.
  • Review recent runs scored and allowed on both sides: The MLB season is a long one. Teams will go through hot and cold streaks both with the bats and arms. In addition to season-long stats, be sure to examine what the team has been producing and giving up over the last three to five games. This is a solid indicator of the current lay of the land and can also be useful for pinpointing potential upsets.

Once you have a solid system in place, it’s normal to feel pretty good about things. However, it’s important to remember that the work isn’t done. Additionally, there are some pitfalls to watch out for that can really set you back if you fall into them. Here’s a trio to avoid.

  • Don’t bet with your heart: There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite squad, but there’s no place for loyalty at the betting window. Cheers don’t translate into profits but winning more often than you lose can. Your wagering decisions should be based on the most likely outcome and that alone. If you can’t bet against your team, pass on that game and focus on the others.
  • Don’t overestimate your skills: While it’s certainly possible to build up your handicapping skills to a top-notch level, be careful not to let that metastasize into overconfidence. There isn’t a bettor on the planet who’s going to be right every single time. That includes you. Confidence is awesome, but temper your enthusiasm and know that you will take some lumps along the way
  • Don’t try to bet every game: During the lengthy MLB campaign, there are plenty of days in which every team is in action. Even if you happen to have lots of time at your disposal, breaking down each game on the docket is a big task. As opposed to trying to bet on every game, take a measured approach, and focus on the contests where you can find an edge.

What to remember about run line betting

The run line bet is one of the featured offerings for MLB betting. It functions like the point spread bet that’s common in other sports. You can take the favorite minus a designated number of runs, or go with the underdog plus the line.

The side you choose has to cover the run line for you to have a winning bet. Unlike spreads, the run line is set at a standard of 1.5 runs. However, operators can offer alternate run lines under the “more wagers” listing for individual games.

Odds are attached to both sides of the run line, and the numbers will move based on betting action. You can always shop around to find the best price. Handicapping the run line can take some getting used to, but it’s a wager that can fit in nicely with an overall MLB betting approach.

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