Diamondbacks making an elite statement

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On average, teams have played about 32 games, representing 20 percent, or one fifth, of their regular season schedules.

In last week’s column we looked at how the early season has unfolded for the handful of teams that were projected to be far and away the teams to beat in 2018. Of those “sexy seven” teams Boston (25-9) and the New York Yankees are at the top of the list as they prepare for their three-game series this week at Yankee Stadium.

Arizona is right there with that pair of AL East frontrunners with a 23-11 record that leads the NL West. Houston has played wel with its 21-15 start.

Washington has played better of late and is finally back above .500 through Sunday (18-17). The Chicago Cubs had shown signs of finally breaking out and hitting stride, standing 16-10 following a win over Colorado last Monday. But after losing the next two games to the Rockies and then being swept in a three-game series over the weekend in St. Louis, the Cubs are back to just a game over .500, 16-15, through Sunday.

Perhaps the biggest early season disappointment remains the Los Angeles Dodgers who started Monday 15-19 and ahead of only 13-22 San Diego in the NL West. The other LA area team, the Angels, has been among the more pleasant surprises with their 21-13 start that has them starting the week a game ahead of the defending World Series champion Astros in the AL West.

Four teams in the NL East have winning records. The fifth, Miami, was expected to have the worst record in baseball. But even bad teams have their good stretches and the last place Marlins have played better over the past two weeks and started this week 13-20 after winning 8 of their last 11 games.

As generally high priced underdogs when a team such as the Marlins get on what will be expected to be an infrequent winning streak, that’s the time to consider backing teams of that ilk.

There’s still plenty of baseball to be played – four fifths of a season – so need to panic has not set in. But the cause for concern has, especially for the Dodgers who just placed ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list. We don’t know how long he will be sidelined but Kershaw has become an injury concern over the past several seasons.

On a more global basis here are some notes on how the first 5.5 weeks of the 2018 season have unfolded. Historically in major league baseball, home teams win roughly 53 to 54 percent of all games. Thus far in 2018 home and road teams are virtually even with home teams winning 252 games and road teams 253.

That has resulted in a huge loss of 59.4 net units by blindly playing the home team thus far, and a very profitable 32.8 net units by blindly backing road teams. Totals results, which tend to be much closer to 50/50, have followed that norm with 238 OVER, 242 UNDER and 25 pushes through last Sunday.

Scoring is down from last season with nearly half a run less as compared to the average for all of 2017. Last season the average game produced 9.3 total runs while thus far it’s down to 8.9.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series.

Washington at Arizona: This four-game series begins on Thursday. At the start of the week Arizona had a 3.5 game lead over Colorado in the NL West while Washington, by winning 7 of 8 (all at home) had crept to within two games of the lead in the NL East. Anthony Rendon has returned to the Nats’ lineup but Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy remain sidelined. Their starting pitching trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez remains a strength.

Arizona’s best starting pitcher has been Patrick Corbin while Matt Koch has also impressed in his four starts. Robbie Ray is now on the DL and veteran ace Zack Greinke has been slightly better than average to date at best. The Diamondbacks’ bullpen has been a surprising strength and could be the difference in this series. Underdogs should fare well and would be the way to look, especially if Arizona is +125 or more against any of its aforementioned trio.

If Washington is an underdog against Greinke, the Nats would be playable. Against other than Scherzer, Strasburg or Gonzalez, Arizona can be played at -125 or less if Corbin, Koch or Zack Godley starts. Given the overall quality of the pitching, UNDER Totals of 8.5 or higher can be considered.

Boston at Toronto: Of the four Boston pitchers who have made at least six starts through Sunday, both Chris Sale and Rick Porcello have pitched very well while both David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez have struggled. For the Blue Jays only J.A. Happ has posted solid stats with the other starters being from mediocre to bad with much of the problems stemming from high WHIPS (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched) with each hovering around allowing a runner and a half per inning. That could be especially dangerous against a lineup as potent as Boston’s. Leading early candidate Boston’s Mookie Betts injured his shoulder on Sunday but it is not considered serious and Betts should be in the lineup for this series.

 Boston can be played as underdogs in this series against any Toronto starter or as favorites of -150 or less in a start by Sale or -130 or less in a start by Porcello. Toronto can be played as underdogs of +125 or more against Price or as favorites of -120 or less in starts by Happ or Aaron Sanchez not facing Sale or Porcello. Look for OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower in starts by other than Sale.

White Sox at Cubs: For the White Sox, of the pitchers who have made more than one start, only Reynaldo Lopez has an ERA below 5.00 (a respectable 2.43 in six starts) and is the only starter averaging at least six innings per start (6.2). Consider laying a run and a half with the Cubs against other than Lopez in starts by Lester or Hendricks if the straight price is higher than -150, or laying up to -150 straight in starts by other Cubs starters against other than Lopez. It would likely be best to not consider UNDERs in starts by other than Lopez, Lester or Hendricks. And given the struggles of the White Sox lineup, it’s hard to make a case for the OVER.

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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