Brewers could be Cardinals’ challenger in NL Central

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Teams have played barely 10 percent of the 162 game regular season schedule and there are a pair of surprise teams that hail from minor markets yet have the best records in their respective leagues.

With a nine game winning streak already to their credit the Milwaukee Brewers have received much acclaim for their early start. At 14-5 the Brew Crew has the best record in the National League and responded well once their long winning streak was snapped. As is often the case following the end of a lengthy streak – winning or losing – teams will repeat the result that ended the streak in that second game.

Milwaukee did just that.

After having that nine-game win streak broken with a home loss to St. Louis the Brewers lost the very next night as well. But then Milwaukee took the final game of that series before heading to Pittsburgh for a four-game series. After dropping the first game to the Pirates, Milwaukee then won three straight, thereby following that winning streak with a 4-3 record.

With a solid starting rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Marco Estrada and a much improved bullpen versus last season, we could see Milwaukee as the principal challenger to favored St. Louis in the NL Central. And with a lineup that boasts Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez among other up and comers the Brewers should be a fun team to follow this season.

In the American League one of the most solid franchises from a minor market remains the Oakland Athletics. Most of the nation became familiar with the baseball accomplishments of Oakland through Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball,” with even more widespread notoriety from the movie adaptation.

Operating on a more limited budget than their major market brethren and utilizing scouting concepts that were contrary to tradition, Oakland was able to develop young talent and establish a major league roster that has been productive for much of the new century.

Beset by injuries during the offseason and spring training there were many reasons to doubt if the A’s could be a challenger in the AL West this season. But with a starting rotation and bullpen that has performed better than expected and a lineup that is largely under the radar Oakland has gotten off to a 13-5 start, the best in the AL.

Part of the early season success of both Milwaukee and Oakland can be attributed to their fine play away from home.

Milwaukee has baseball’s best road record, 9-1, with Oakland second best at 7-2. Two other teams also have strong early season road records and, not surprisingly, both are also Division leaders. Atlanta leads the NL East and is 8-4 on the road. The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL West and are 8-3 away from home.

Of course we still have a very small sample of data with which to work and there will be wide swings over the course of the season, but a key factor indicative of success is the ability to win on the road.

In most sports the betting “value” will much more often than not be on the road team. In baseball, by looking to play on road teams with one of their top two starters on the mound – especially as underdogs – you should be able to turn a profit over the course of the season. Often the key is in identifying those top starters for those teams without established rotations. Those are the pitchers most likely to be attractively priced well before they get to the elite status of a Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander.

In next week’s column some of those potential emerging aces will be noted.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Cincinnati at Atlanta: Both teams are considered contenders for their respective Divisions and whereas the Braves sit atop the NL East Cincinnati sits third in the NL Central with an 8-10 record. Atlanta has gotten outstanding starting pitching. Of the combined 15 starts made by Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Ervin Santana and aging veteran Aaron Harang, 14 have been efforts of at least 6 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less!

Only young David Hale has struggled in his two starts. Cincinnati’s top two starters have been Johnny Cueto and converted reliever Alfredo Simon who are a combined 7 for 7 in Quality Starts. Only Homer Bailey has really struggled to start the season, however. Atlanta has shown the better offense and has been better at home than on the road (5.2 runs per game vs. 3.4). Cincinnati has been more balanced, scoring just about 4.0 runs per game both at home and on the road.

On the surface this handicaps as a low scoring series but an UNDER will be based on the Totals lines. Depending on the matchups we might see a posted Total of 6.5, which has occurred with some frequency in the season’s first three weeks. Already more than 10 percent of all games have had Totals of 6.5 and that is a dangerous number to play UNDER.

PLAYS: UNDER 7 or higher in matchups not involving Atlanta’s David Hale or Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey or Tony Cingrani; Cincinnati +125 or more in any matchup; Atlanta -120 or less in any matchup except in a start by Hale.

Pittsburgh at St. Louis: Pittsburgh won 2 of 3 games when the teams met in Pittsburgh earlier this month. Totals were evenly distributed with 1 OVER, 1 UNDER and 1 PUSH. St. Louis’ starting rotation has been anchored by veteran Adam Wainwright and youngster Michael Wacha. The best starter for the Pirates has been the surprising Edinson Volquez who was a bust with his three prior teams. But his 1.89 ERA and 1.00 WHIP lead Pittsburgh’s starter while both young Gerrit Cole and veteran Francisco Liriano are off to decent starts.

St. Louis has been much more productive at home, averaging nearly 2 full runs per game more at Busch Stadium than on the road. As such the Cardinals are 5-1 to the OVER at home but 8-3-2 to the UNDER on the road. Pittsburgh is 4-4 OVER/UNDER both at home and on the road. The Pittsburgh offense is more like the typical offense, averaging about a half run more per game at home than on the road.

PLAYS: St. Louis -150 or less in starts by Wainwright or Wacha against any Pittsburgh starter; Pirates +120 or more in starts by Cole, Liriano or Volquez not facing Wainwright or Wacha; UNDER 7 or higher in matchups of Wainwright or Wacha against Cole, Liriano or Volquez.

LA Angels at NY Yankees: The Yankees’ status as contenders in the AL East largely depends upon their starting pitching and the ability to replace Mariano Rivera, baseball’s greatest closer. A pair or newcomers to the rotation, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka, have been brilliant in their first few starts and have the best stats on the staff. Ace CC Sabathia seems to be settling down and should outperform last season.

The Angels have gotten rather ordinary starts from their rotation with their top duo of Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson seemingly in decline. The bullpen has been atrocious and largely responsible for the Halos’ 8-10 start despite an offense that is averaging over 5 runs per game both at home and on the road. New York’s offense has been below average, scoring 3.8 runs per game at home (and just 4.1 on the road).

PLAYS: OVER 8 or lower in starts not by Tanaka or Pineda; Angels +125 or more not facing Pineda or Tanaka; Yankees -150 or less in starts by Pineda or Tanaka not opposing Tyler Skaggs; Yankees -125 or less in all other situations.

Cleveland at San Francisco: Cleveland starts the week in last place in the AL Central but with a record of 8-10, which is hardly a disaster. The Giants, at 11-7, are in second in the NL West, a game behind the Dodgers. Cleveland finished just a game behind Detroit last season and is expected to contend again this season but have yet to get the kind of starting pitching expected of young Danny Salazar, Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber, all of whom have struggled thus far.

The offense has been pretty average although the Tribe has been more productive on the road (4.6 rpg) than at home (4.0). The Giants’ ace starting duo of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have had mixed results with Cain in decent form but the Giants going 0-4 in his starts. Bumgarner has been more of a concern with his high 1.80 WHIP through four starts. Veteran Tim Hudson has been San Francisco’s best starter.

The Giants have struggled at the plate over the past couple of weeks after a hot start and their 4-3 win last Sunday at San Diego ended a stretch of 5 straight games of scoring 3 runs or less. The Giants are averaging just 3.6 runs per game at home. Yet surprisingly, the Giants have played more OVERS (10) than UNDERS (8) this season, including 5-4 to the OVER at home.

PLAYS: Giants -150 or less in starts by Hudson, Cain or Bumgarner against any Cleveland starter other than Zach McAllister; Cleveland as underdogs of any price in a start by McAllister against any Giants starter; Cleveland +140 or more in a start by Kluber, Masterson or Salazar against Bumgarner or Cain; OVER 6.5 or less in starts not by Hudson, Cain or McAllister.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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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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