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Here’s a quickie quiz. Which of the 30 teams had the best record in all of major league baseball through this past Sunday?

You get three guesses.

We know it’s not the Boston Red Sox whose well chronicled struggles at the end of the 2011 season largely have continued at the start of this season.

If you guessed the Texas Rangers you would be close but not correct. At 18-10 the Rangers have built a 3½ game lead in the AL West but have just the league’s third best record.

If your second guess was the Detroit Tigers – the team expected to run away with the AL Central – you wouldn’t even have guessed the division leader! Considered MLB’s weakest division in terms of depth, the Tigers have played nearly half of their 27 games (11) against their Division rivals but are just 14-13 and trail Cleveland by 1½.

If your final guess was the Los Angeles Dodgers you’d have made a pretty good one, but wrong. The Dodgers are 18-10 and are tied with another early season surprise, Washington, for the best record in the National League.

If you thought long and hard you might have considered guessing either the New York Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays. Both good guesses but wrong. Though Tampa Bay is very close to the correct answer. In fact, the Rays have the second best record in all of baseball at 19-10.

The correct answer is . . . drum roll please . . . The Baltimore Orioles!

Yep. A season after manager Buck Showalter was expected to turn things around for this once proud but long struggling franchise, the Birds are showing signs of significant improvement.

Baltimore’s 19-9 record is the best in all of baseball and what’s most impressive about their start is their performance on the road. The Orioles are 11-5 on the road, a record that includes winning two of three from the Yankees followed by a three game sweep in Boston, all within the past week.

The series win in New York was especially sweet after the Orioles had been swept at home in a three game series by the Yankees in early April. Despite that sweep the O’s are a fine 8-4 at home.

It’s still early, barely a sixth of the way into the season, and the Orioles are still favored to finish fifth in the five team division (their projected season win total was 70) but there are reasons for their fans to be encouraged. They have a top flight manager and a core of talented young players both on the mound and at the plate.

They have the misfortune of playing in the AL East where the Yankees and Red Sox are perennial contenders with Tampa Bay joining that duo in recent seasons and Toronto on the improve. It may be a stretch to expect Baltimore to be able to sustain this early season success but with the addition of an extra Wild Card spot for the playoffs at least their chances for the post season are increased.

Rookie sensation Bryce Harper concluded his first week in the majors with an exclamation point. In Sunday night’s nationally televised game against the Phillies, the Las Vegas native was deliberately by a Cole Hamels pitch in his first at bat and ultimately made it around to third base. He then proceeded to steal home as Hamels attempted a pickoff at first base.

The 19 year old is batting .308, albeit through just 26 at bats. And it’s only a matter of time before he hits his first major league home run. And it might come in less than 110 at bats!

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

Braves at Cards: Of the starters only young Brandon Beachy has pitched consistently well, putting up excellent stats. Tommy Hanson has been ok but the rest of the rotation has struggled. St. Louis has gotten surprisingly strong pitching.

Only Adam Wainwright has been having issues as he returns from injury although his start this past Sunday at Pittsburgh was his best of the season and gave reason for encouragement. The offense has been steady, especially at home where their average of 6.9 runs per game in 12 games is the best in baseball.

Recommended plays:

• UNDER 7 or higher in a game with Beachy against any St. Louis starter.

• OVER 8 or lower if St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia does not oppose Beach.

• Braves as underdogs or -120 in a start by Beachy against any Cardinals starter.

• Cards -140 or less against any Atlanta starter other than Beachy.

Giants at D’backs: These are the last two winners of the NL West and they faced one another in Arizona to start the season. Arizona won all three games but each was decided by one run. Both teams have been hit by significant injuries with Arizona currently without starting pitcher Daniel Hudson and outfielder Chris Young. The Giants are without Pablo Sandoval who represents a key component of an otherwise limited offense.

The Giants do have the overall better pitching with both Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner off to outstanding starts. Whereas ace Tim Lincecum has been struggling the Giants have gotten much better than expected pitching from Barry Zito. Arizona’s best starter has been lefty Joe Saunders whose 1.24 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 5 starts – all Quality – mirrors the hot start by Zito.

Wade Miley has also been sharp in replacing the injured Hudson. But both Trevor Cahill and last season’s sensation, Ian Kennedy, have been average at best. Arizona’s run production has been right at the league average and pretty much the same at home as on the road. The Giants have averaged just 2.9 runs at home, third lowest home production in the majors.

Recommended plays:

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Miley or Saunders oppose Bumgarner or Cain.

• D’backs +150 or more against Bumgarner or Cain.

• D’backs +120 or more against other Giants starters.

• Giants as -150 or less in starts by Bumgarner or Cain.

• Giants -120 or less not facing Miley or Saunders.

Rays at Orioles: The top two teams in the AL East meet for the first time this season. Both Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta have pitched extremely well as has rookie lefty W Y Chen.

The Rays have better pitching depth but their top starters, James Shields and David Price, have not been outstanding but merely just very good. The Rays have lost star Evan Longoria to injury. Both teams are averaging about 4.5 runs per game, slightly better than average. Not surprisingly given their fine start, Baltimore has been baseball’s most profitable team at the betting windows with more than 14 net units.

Despite their success over the past several seasons, Tampa Bay has also been a money maker, second only to Baltimore in all of baseball, plus 8.5 net units. Clearly these have been two “play on” teams over the first month or so.

Recommended plays:

• Either team as +125 underdogs in any matchup.

• UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup not involving Baltimore’s Brian Matusz, Tampa’s Jeff Niemann or Tampa rookie lefty Matt Moore.

• OVER 9½ or lower if Matusz opposes Niemann or Moore.

Angels at Rangers: Angels star Albert Pujols has been abysmal thus date, hitting his first home run of the season just this past Sunday after 110 homerless at bats. His troubles seem to have affected the entire lineup as the Angels are averaging just 3½ runs per game, third worst in the AL. At the other end of the spectrum, Texas is second in the league at 5.2 rpg. Both teams have gotten excellent starting pitching.

Only the Angels’ Ervin Santana (in whose starts his team is 0-6) and the Rangers’ Matt Harrison have gotten off shaky and have posted poor stats. The Angels’ Jered Weaver is putting up Cy Young stats and ex-Ranger C J Wilson has also been solid. Texas’ Colby Lewis has been their most effective starter although rookie Yu Darvish continues to improve.

Recommended plays:

• Angels -140 or less in starts by Weaver or Wilson against any Texas hurler.

• Angels +125 or more with Dan Haren against any Texas starter.

• Rangers -140 or less against Santana or Jerome Williams.

• Rangers +140 or more against Weaver or Wilson.

• UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup (these teams are a combined 38-18-1 to the UNDER).



About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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