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What’s wrong with the Chicago Cubs?

Following their remarkable 2016 season in which they got off to a red hot start that culminated with their first World Series title in 108 years, the 2017 season is unfolding quite differently.

Through Sunday the Cubs were barely a winning team with a record of 22-20, avoiding falling back to .500 with a 13-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, the team currently leading the Cubs by two games in the NL Central. The Cubs are actually in third place, starting the week one-half game behind long-time rival St. Louis.

A significant part of the explanation for the Cubs’ relatively poor start can be attributed to a sharp decline in the quality of their pitching.

Through 42 games last season the Cubs had scored 232 runs while allowing just 122 for a runs differential of plus 110. Thus far in 2017 through 42 games the Cubs’ runs differential was barely positive at plus 16 (and that’s after Sunday’s 7-run win that nearly doubled that differential). The Cubs have scored 213 runs while allowing 197.

That increase of 75 more runs allowed this season translates into an average of yielding an extra 1.8 runs per game over the first quarter of the season.

While there is no reason to panic there is some cause to be concerned. The Cubs are likely exploring trading options to add at least one quality starting pitcher and perhaps another quality reliever at or before the July 31 trading deadline.

Still, the Cubs, the only team that opened at less than 10-1 odds to win the 2018 World Series last fall at the Westgate SuperBook, have seen their odds actually increase.

Initially priced at 3-1 to win the Fall Classic, the Cubs are now priced at 5-1 to win it all with four other teams now listed at less than 10-1. In fact, both the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros are now co-favorites at the same 5-1 odds as the Cubs. Also under 10-1 are the L.A. Dodgers at 6-1 and the Cleveland Indians at 7-1.

The Cubs opened as 3-2 favorites to win the NL Pennant but are now priced at 14-5, or 2.8-1. Washington is also priced at 14-5 with the Dodgers now the favorites at 11-4 which converts to 2.75-1.

These prices were current as of Monday morning. Let’s see what happens to these odds if the Cubs get on a roll at the end of May into early June and are playing .600 baseball by June 15.

Saving grace?

The save statistic came into being about a half century ago and while it had a reasonable purpose in giving some statistical recognition to the role of the reliever it has come under great criticism in recent years with much of it valid. There are many books and articles that detail the shortcomings of the save but, for now, the stat is here to stay.

Colorado closer Greg Holland is on a record setting pace for the most saves recorded in a season. Currently Francisco Rodriguez set the record of 62 saves while pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.

On Sunday, Holland recorded save number 19 in a 6-4 Rockies win at Cincinnati that improved the Rockies to their National League best record, 28-17. If Holland maintains his current pace through 45 games, he would record 68 saves for a full season.

And if Holland comes within a few saves of 68 it is quite possible Colorado would make the Playoffs. Currently two games ahead of Arizona and the Dodgers in the NL West, Colorado is priced at 9-1 odds to win the NL Pennant (opened at 30-1) and now at 20-1 to win the World Series after opening last October at 60-1.

As you enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, here are previews of three weekend series, none of which will overlap the weekend and actually include any games on Monday, although all 30 teams will be in action, starting a new series.

Cubs at Dodgers

This is the weekend’s most attractive matchup and a potential preview of a Playoffs series. The Cubs have not matched their hot start of last season that led a World Series title but at 22-20 starting the week they are only two games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central.

The Dodgers have started 26-19, two games behind Colorado in the NL West. The Dodgers do have MLB’s best runs differential, plus 64, and are allowing an MLB best 3.6 runs per game, a full run less than the average allowed by the Cubs.

Aside from Clayton Kershaw and fellow lefty Alex Wood, the rest of the Dodgers rotation has been basically average. The bullpen has performed well and the offense is averaging five runs per game. The Cubs have gotten very ordinary starting pitching with no starter posting a WHIP below 1.20 nor averaging at least 6.0 innings per start. Aside from Eddie Butler, who’s made just two starts, only Kyle Hendricks (3.36) and Jon Lester (3.56) have ERAs below 4.40. The Cubs have played 26 OVERs, 14 UNDERs and two pushes through Sunday.

With the exception of starts by Kershaw or Wood, OVER 8 or lower can be considered. Dodgers home games this season are averaging 9.0 total runs per game. The Cubs can be played as underdogs of +150 or higher against Kershaw or as underdogs of +125 or more in other matchups. The Dodgers can be considered for play as underdogs in any matchups or if favored by no more than -125 against any Chicago starter.

Orioles at Astros

Despite having been swept by Cleveland at home this past weekend, Houston has the look of being the best team in the American League. The Astros have a balanced and deep lineup, a decent rotation with a quality pair of hurlers at the top and a bullpen that has been more than adequate thus far. At 29-15 they start the week with the best record in baseball.

Baltimore was projected to be a .500 team with the Season Wins Total at exactly 81. Yet the Orioles are 25-17 a quarter of the way through the season despite a very modest runs differential of plus 12 (Houston, by comparison, is plus 54). Houston’s rotation is anchored by 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel who has been brilliant through his first nine starts but was just placed on the 10 day DL.

If the reports are accurate, he was expected to miss just one start and thus would be available for this series. Their other stud has been Lance McCullers Jr., who continues to develop.

The Astros are a combined 15-3 in their starts. The rest of the rotation has been below average with each averaging 5.6 innings per start or less with each having just two Quality Starts in their combined 27 outings. The Orioles’ rotation has struggled with only Dylan Bundy – finally healthy – showing the talent that had him a highly rated prospect before injuries interfered with the start of his career. The rest of the rotation has pitched poorly, including 26-year-old Kevin Gausman who appeared poised to become the staff ace following three encouraging seasons of consistency.

Houston figures to be favored throughout the series although with the exception of Keuchel and McCullers Baltimore can be considered for play as underdogs of +125 or more, except Bundy can be backed as an underdog of any price. OVER 8.5 or less is the preferred Totals play except in starts by Keuchel, McCullers or Bundy. Houston can be backed as favorites of -150 or less in starts by Keuchel or McCullers against any Baltimore starter, including Bundy.

Angels at Marlins

The lone interleague series of the holiday weekend is not an attractive matchup between contending teams but still presents betting opportunities. Neither starting rotation features a top flight starter, which immediately suggests this should be a high scoring series as both offenses have the potential for scoring runs in bunches. The key word here is “potential” as both teams are scoring about a half run less than the MLB average this season.

Starting the week at 23-23 the Angels are performing in line with projections that had the Angels as a slightly below .500 team. Miami was expected to have a poor season, especially following the tragic death of their ace Jose Fernandez last September. No Miami starter is averaging even five innings per start and that rotation, individually and as a whole, has a very low strikeout to walk ratio. The Angels have gotten only a slightly better performance from its rotation. The best way to approach this series would be to look at both the Angels and the OVER.

Considering the lack of any quality starters on either team, the Angels as Underdogs of any price can be considered in any matchup. By the same token, the OVER can be considered for play at Totals of 8.5 or lower throughout the three-game series. For the season the Angels have been a slightly UNDER team (24-19-4) whereas Miami has had a much stronger bias to the OVER (25-15-3).

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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