Early Surprises

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The first week of the 2010 season has been completed and as is usually the case there have been some one week wonders and some early disappointments.

Few expect Toronto to contend for the Playoffs, especially playing in the AL East where they figure to battle Baltimore to avoid the cellar behind Boston, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay. But the Blue Jays have started 5-1, getting solid starting pitching and timely hitting. What’s impressive about that start is that those games were played on the road. Their starting pitching may ultimately wear down but early indications are that the Blue Jays are playable over the next few weeks, especially as underdogs.

At the other extreme are the Houston Astros. Opening the season at home the ’Stros dropped all six games to San Francisco and Philadelphia. The offense has been virtually non-existent. Houston does have two quality starting pitchers in Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. That duo will give Houston their best chances for wins and in their starts the best plays may be the UNDER, especially in games when Oswalt or Rodriguez are favorites.

The AL West has provided a rather interesting start to the season as the spring training choices to do well, Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels, have started 2-5 while Oakland – considered by many to be by far the worst team in the Division – has opened 5-2.

Again, we don’t want to draw conclusions from just one week of play but we also don’t want to ignore what has happened either. Linesmakers are much more willing to make quicker adjustments than in the past. And certainly the wise guys are quick to react but not overreact.

Baseball is a long season, filled with hot streaks and cold streaks. Often teams that will contend in September struggle in April. As well, teams that get off to hot starts routinely fade as innings pitched and at bats take their toll in July and August.

As in most sports the greatest value is usually found in betting underdogs. Of course in football and basketball where pointspreads are involved you can cash a ticket on the underdog even when that team loses, provided they lost by less than the spread and thus get the cover. In baseball, where money lines are used to determine favorites and underdogs, the underdog must win on the field in order for you to win your bet.

But baseball also offers a way to turn a favorite into an underdog in many cases by using a concept similar to the pointspread used in those other sports. By laying a run and a half – asking the favored team to not just win but to win by at least 2 runs – a favorite is often turned into an underdog.

For example, say the Yankees are favored by minus 140 against Boston. If you think the Yankees will win convincingly you might prefer to bet the Yanks minus the run and a half. The price will vary depending upon where the game is played. At Boston the Yanks might be plus 115 on the run line while at home they might be priced at plus 145 or so. The difference is due to the road team guaranteed to have nine opportunities to score while the home team may only bat eight times. A home team leading by one run at the end of eight innings will not cash the run line ticket if the closer does his job in the top of the ninth.

Also, in extra innings, the road team can score as many runs as possible in the top half of an inning while the home teams can score only enough to win the game which is usually just by one run except in the case of a game ending home run.

More on run lines – laying or taking the run and a half – next week.

Here’s a look at four attractive series this weekend.

Florida at Philadelphia: Philadelphia is the class of the National League and the team to beat in the East. Florida had a surprisingly good season in 2009 and finished just six games behind the Phillies. The teams split their 18 games in 2009 which makes the Marlins an attractive underdog with some decent starting pitching and an underrated lineup. Both teams have gotten off to winning starts with the Phillies winning 5 of 6 on the road. The Phils have scored 43 runs in 6 games while the Fish have scored at least 6 runs in 3 of 6 games. New Philly ace Roy Halladay has already had a pair of brilliant starts.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Florida as Underdogs of plus 150 or more against other than Halladay or Cole Hamels; Phillies minus a run and a half in starts by Halladay or Hamels; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in starts by Halladay or Hamels if facing Florida’s Josh Johnson or Ricky Nolasco; OVER Totals of 9 or less in games started by other than Halladay or Hamels against any Florida starter.

San Francisco at L.A. Dodgers: The Giants were the last team to suffer their first loss of the season when they fell at home to Atlanta on Saturday winning their first four games. They’ve gotten solid starting pitching and more offense than expected, especially from veteran Edgar Renteria. The Dodgers have started 2-4. Both teams had yet to play at home. The Dodgers won 11 of 18 games last season. Their starting rotation is weaker in 2010 but there offense should be one of the league’s best.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Dodgers as Underdogs of plus 125 or more against Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain or as favorites of minus 130 or less against other Giants’ starters; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher with Lincecum or Cain facing the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley: OVER Totals of 8 or lower in games not involving any of these four starters.

Texas at N. Y. Yankees: This was a fairly even series in 2009 with the Yankees winning 5 of 9 meetings. Both teams have plenty of offense although Texas has gotten off to a slower start in 2010. The Yankees have one of the strongest pitching staffs in baseball while that is an area of major weakness for the Rangers. The disparity in the starting rotation is such that Texas’ supposed “ace,” Scott Feldman, would be competing for the five slot in New York. The Rangers have also suffered from poor relief pitching. Closer Frank Francisco has blown two saves already and is being replaced in that role by flamethrower Neftali Feliz. Texas split their first 6 games of season, all played at home while the Yankees were winning 4 of 6, all on the road.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Yankees minus a run and a half against all Texas starters except Feldman; Texas as underdogs of plus 150 or more in a Feldman start; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any matchup.

Tampa Bay at Boston: This has become one of the better rivalries in baseball over the past couple of seasons with Tampa’s ascension to contender back in 2008. The teams split their 18 games last season with the home team winning 12 times. Both teams are well balanced on offense with power and speed and both have solid starting rotations although Boston’s trio of John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Lester would each be the ace on Tampa. Both teams went 3-3 during the first week with each dropping 2 of 3 to the Yankees. The Sox have the edge in the bullpen.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Tampa as Underdogs of plus 150 or more in starts by Matt Garza or James Shields against Beckett, Lackey or Lester or if plus 130 or more against other Boston starters; Boston minus a run and a half with any starter against other than Garza or Shields; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in starts by Beckett, Lackey or Lester against Garza or Shield; OVER Totals of 10 or lower in starts by pitchers other than just those names.

 

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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