As we leave the first milepost of the season behind, Memorial Day, this is an appropriate time to assess division by division, how the teams stand a quarter of the way through the season.
The American League East was considered to be the weakest of baseball’s six divisions, top to bottom, with no clear cut favorite. Preseason forecasts had Boston the most likely division winner and Tampa Bay the most likely team to finish last.
The New York Yankees were a surprise quick starter but have faded from first place and began play on Monday having lost 9 of their last 10 games.
Tampa Bay is the surprise division leader, up by 1.5 over New York. Boston appears to be making a run after a poor start but the biggest disappointment has been Toronto. The Blue Jays are in last place at 20-26 but just 4.5 games out of first.
No team yet shows signs of breaking out of the pack and we may not see teams fall by the wayside for several months. Last season, at the All Star break, Baltimore appeared the dominant team in this division. The Orioles, just 3 games out, may be the team that emerges by late July.
The AL Central has been baseball’s most interesting division. Kansas City, last season’s surprise AL pennant winner, was expected to fall back this season. But the Royals have been at or near the top of the Division since Opening Day and began this week in first place, 3 games in front.
Detroit, though with flaws, was expected to be the contender and, at 26-19, is in a virtual tie for second place with Minnesota. The Twins are a solid 25-18 and a major surprise.
The two teams thought to be real challengers to the Royals and Tigers – Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox – are each 3 games below .500 and 8 games behind KC. The White Sox had a brief flurry of success, winning 6 in a row a couple of weeks back, but have resumed their struggling ways.
The Indians are now the hot team and started this week on the majors’ longest current winning streak, 6 games. This division could turn out to be baseball’s strongest by the end of the season and could produce both AL Wild Cards in the process.
Behind Minnesota the two AL teams with the lowest projected season wins totals are in the AL West. Texas was projected at 75.5 wins and Houston a shade better, at 76.
The Astros have played far better than expected and at 29-16 are percentage points behind KC. They remain the only team with a winning record in the division although the Angels are at .500.
Texas starts the week in third, having won 5 in a row, with a healthy offense that adds Josh Hamilton to the lineup. Seattle was the pick of many experts to not just win the AL West but to make it to the World Series. At 20-23 the Mariners may be baseball’s biggest disappointment.
Oakland was expected to struggle this season and at 16-30 they have done just that. According to several key metrics the Athletics are the most underachieving team in baseball as despite that horrible record Oakland’s run differential is just – 7.
Houston will not be able to sustain its current pace and could be out of first place by the next major milestone of the season, the July 4th holiday, by which time both the Angels and Mariners have gotten untracked.
Form has a firmer grasp at the top in the National League where all three Division leaders – Washington, St. Louis and the LA Dodgers – all were preseason favorites to make the post season.
Overcoming early season struggles the Nationals have a 2.5 game lead in the NL East over the season’s major pleasant surprise, the New York Mets. But the Mets have played poorly over the past few weeks while the Nats have hit their stride.
At 26-18 Washington is now on pace to win 96 games, slightly more than their projected wins total of 94. After a surprisingly strong start Atlanta has faded yet remains a game above break even and ahead of Miami.
The Marlins did not fare well following their managerial change a week ago, losing their first 5 games under new boss Dan Jennings. But Miami finally broke that streak with a 1-0, 13 innings win over Baltimore on Saturday and won again on Sunday.
Philadelphia has played well over the past few weeks but are still on pace to win right around their projected season wins total of 67.5.
Washington’s talent suggests a division runaway. The Mets are in better position to mount a challenge for the Wild Card.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in their familiar position, perched atop the standings of the NL Central. At 28-16 the Redbirds have the best record in the senior circuit and a 3.5 game lead over the second place Chicago Cubs. This is baseball’s most stratified division with identical 3 game gaps separating the Cubs from Pittsburgh, the Pirates from Cincinnati and the Reds from last place Milwaukee.
Both the Cubs and Pirates have the talent to remain in contention, at least for a Wild Card, although both organizations believe the Cardinals are beatable. We’ll see. Despite the season ending injury to Adam Wainwright St. Louis has a solid and deep rotation, now anchored by perhaps the leading NL Cy Young Award candidate, Michael Wacha.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are atop the NL West. This was the season the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants were expected to take a step backwards while San Diego challenged the Dodgers. And for most of April such was the case.
The Giants got hot in May while the Padres were slumping and thus SF is just 2 games behind the Dodgers at 25-20 whereas the Pads have slipped down to fourth place where, at 21-24, they trail third place Arizona by a game. Colorado sits last at 17-25 and manager Walt Weiss can’t feel that secure after receiving that dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ from ownership.
The Dodgers have been in an ugly offensive slump over the past week or so. Ultimately they should make the playoffs and both the Giants and Padres contend for a Wild Card.
Depending on potential trades, either could give the Dodgers a real challenge, especially considering some of the pitching woes afflicting Los Angeles with projected starters Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy both out for the season.
Here’s a preview of three interesting series to be played this weekend.
Dodgers at Cards: This figures to be a low scoring series and will be their first meetings since the Dodgers ousted the Cardinals form last season’s NLDS in 4 games. In all the teams met 11 times last season with 8 games staying UNDER and just 3 going OVER as the teams combined to average just 6.5 runs per game. 16 of the 22 individual team runs were 3 or less.
PLAYS: UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup; UNDER 3.5 (first 5 innings) where the full game total is less than 7 in matchups of Wacha, Lynn or Lackey against Kershaw, Greinke or Bolsinger; Dodgers as underdogs of any price in a start by Greinke against any St Louis starter; St Louis -130 or less in a start by Wacha against any Dodgers starter; St. Louis +125 or more with any starter against Kershaw.
Tigers at Angels: Detroit has the more productive offense but not by a huge margin and their production is just slightly above average whereas the Angels have been slightly below average. Both teams have played slightly more UNDERs than OVERs, perhaps suggesting that average pitching is having an edge over average hitting in 2015.
PLAYS: Detroit as underdogs of any price in a start by Price against any Angels starter; Angels – 125 or less in starts by Weaver, Wilson or Richards against other than Price or Simon; OVER 7 or lower in any matchup; UNDER 8.5 or higher if Weaver, Wilson or Richards opposes Price or Simon.
Royals at Cubs: Despite the cozy confines of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are actually scoring and allowing more runs on the road than at home – and by a pretty significant margin. Although the season is relatively young, through 21 home games the Cubbies are averaging 3.7 runs per game scored and 3.5 rpg allowed. In 22 road games they are both scoring and allowing 4.9 rpg. The Royals have been slightly more productive on the road than at home (5.1 vs 4.9) but in allowing runs the Royals have been average on the road (4.1) but outstanding at home (2.9 rpg – the best in baseball).
PLAYS: Either team as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup; Cubs -125 or less with Arrieta or Hammel against any KC starter; Royals – 120 or less in starts by Volquez or Young not facing Arrieta, Hammel or Jon Lester; UNDER between 8.5 and 10.5 if Volquez opposes Arrieta or Hammel.
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]