Through 60 MLB games, we still have parity

Jun 7, 2011 3:00 AM

More than a third of the way into the 2011 season, division races are starting to take shape as teams reach the 60-game mark.

Just over 100 remain on each team’s schedule. As the trade deadline nears teams will have to decide if they shall be buyers or sellers for the drive to the playoffs over the season’s final two months.

In a season that has continued to see low scoring games, reflected by the scores and validated by the lower OVER/UNDER totals posted by the oddsmakers, 2011 is developing as a season of parity with only perhaps a dominant team or two.

A look at the standings shows that through this past Sunday not a single team is playing at least .600 baseball, a rarity for this point of the season.

All six divisions have leads of three games or less. A total of 16 teams – more than half of MLB – are within five games of first place.

Whether this trend toward mediocrity continues or some teams get on a midsummer’s run remains to be seen. But there might be some attractively priced long shots that may have their best chances in years of making postseason play.

Over the past couple of issues the topic of betting the run line in baseball has been discussed with a slant toward the benefits of laying the run-and-a-half to often turn a favored team into an underdog.

A look at 2011 results through this past Sunday shows seven teams that have won at least 75 percent of those games by two or more runs.

Heading the list is Detroit. The Tigers have won 31 games this season and 25 of those victories (80.7 percent) have been by at least two runs. Following Detroit are Texas (27-7, 79.4 percent), the Yankees (26-7, 78.8 percent), the Mets and White Sox (each 22-6, 78.6 percent), Washington (20-6, 76.9 percent) and Pittsburgh (21-7, 75 percent).

Obviously some of those wins have come as underdogs when you’d not have had the option of laying the 1½ but would rather have been faced with the chance to take it and convert an underdog into a favorite.

But you might do well to keep these teams in mind for games in which they are favored and your handicapping suggests are in situations that make them worth backing.

There are just three teams that win less than 55 percent of their games by two or more runs – San Francisco, Minnesota and Florida. While not suggesting these teams should be played +1½, you might do well by avoiding the temptation to lay that number when your handicapping shows them to be worth backing when favored.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Cards at Brewers: St. Louis won two of three from Milwaukee at home in early May. All three games stayed UNDER the total as the teams combined for just 14 runs. The surprising maturation of Kyle Lohse and the settling down of veteran Jake Westbrook following a horrid start have stabilized the St. Louis rotation. A bigger surprise has been the offensive contributions of Lance Berkman.

Milwaukee has benefitted from a fairly consistent rotation and timely offense – having won three straight one-run games this weekend in Florida. Ace Zack Greinke has struggled for the Brewers following a late start to his season due to injuries.

Preferred plays:

• Brewers -130 or less in starts by Shaun Marcum or Yovani Gallardo.

• Brewers as underdogs against Chris Carpenter.

• Cards +125 or more in starts by Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia or Kyle McClellan.

• OVER 8 or lower in starts not involving either Marcum or Garcia; UNDER totals of 8 or higher in matchups involving Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo or Randy Wolf against Garcia, Lohse or McClellan.

Reds at Giants: The four-game series begins Thursday. First meeting. As expected, San Francisco has benefited from outstanding starting pitching that has enabled them to withstand injuries to a pair of their key offensive contributors, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.

Cincinnati has largely been winning as a result of their offense as their rotation has largely been ineffective with only Homer Bailey (on DL) and Johnny Cueto putting up decent stats. The Giants figure to be favored throughout this series with their number five starter, Ryan Vogelsong, having put up the best he has to overcome a shaky start to his season and is in excellent current form.

Preferred plays:

• Giants -140 or less.

• Reds +160 or more.

• UNDER 8 or higher.

• OVER 6 or lower.

Mariners at Tigers: The road team has won five of six with Seattle sweeping three at Detroit in late April. The OVER is 5-1 with the teams combining to average 10.3 total runs. All five Seattle starters have ERAs below 4.00 and WHIPs no higher than 1.30.

Aside from ace Justin Verlander, Detroit’s pitching has been mediocre at best with youngsters Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer not yet building upon strides made last season. The Tigers have played four more OVERS than UNDERs at home.

Preferred plays:

• M’s as underdogs in starts by Felix Hernandez or rookie Michael Pineda against Verlander.

• M’s +125 or more with any starter not facing Verlander.

• Tigers as dogs vs. Hernandez or Pineda.

• Tigers -130 or less against Jason Vargas, Doug Fister or Erik Bedard.

• UNDER 9 or higher.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Verlander opposes Hernandez or Pineda.

Indians at Yankees: The only true elite starter on either staff is CC Sabathia, an ex-Indian. Yanks have also gotten solid pitching from another ex-Tribesman, Bartolo Colon, in addition to Freddy Garcia and AJ Burnett. For Cleveland Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson have been the mainstays. In 23 combined starts Cleveland has gone 15-8.

New York has been a solid OVER team at home this season with 19 of 32 games exceeding the posted total and just 10 staying UNDER. The Tribe have scored two runs or less in 11 of 18 games through Sunday. New York, 7-3 in the last 10, should be favored throughout this series.

Preferred plays:

• Indians +130 or more in starts by Tomlin or Masterson.

• Yankees -1½ with any starter not facing Tomlin or Masterson.

• OVER 9 or lower not involving Sabathia, Masterson or Tomlin.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Sabathia opposes Masterson or Tomlin.