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This is one of the quietest weeks in the sports world as Major League Baseball takes time off to celebrate its All-Star festivities, thus greatly reducing the day-to-day betting options at sports books for more than a half week.

This brief hiatus gives those of us who bet, handicap and write about baseball a few days to not only devote more time preparing for the upcoming college and pro football seasons but to also plot out a strategy for the balance of the baseball season.

At the All-Star break only the NL West involves a runaway division race as the Los Angeles Dodgers held a mammoth 13.5 game-lead over second- place Arizona. And that’s even after the Dodgers dropped the final three games of their four-game home series against San Diego.

The other five Division leaders held leads of 7.5 games or less, leads that can be easily overcome if the second-place team makes up basically one game per every two weeks over the balance of the season.

Of course, teams that get on a hot streak can make up ground at even a faster pace such that a team that can make up a game every week to week and a half can close a 10-game gap by the middle of September.

Thus there might be some value in looking at teams currently trailing in the division races as attractive future plays at the current prices.

In the AL East, for example, the Yankees held a 6.5-game lead over second-place Tampa Bay with Boston 9 games behind the Yanks. The odds as of Monday at the Westgate SuperBook have the Yankees at 1-40 to win the Division (wager 40 to win a buck) with both Tampa and Boston at 20-1.

With Boston quite likely to seriously make bids to add a starting pitcher before the July 31 deadline the Sox might be worth a look at those odds. The offense has come around nicely and the Yankees continue to deal with injury after injury.

Reports circulated on Monday that the Red Sox were in talks with the Mets on a trade that would send Zack Wheeler to Boston. Despite some shaky efforts this season the soon-to-be free agent has authored a number of brilliant starts this season and is one of just 14 pitchers with 10 or more starts to average at least 6.3 innings per start.

It was not long ago that Minnesota had a double-digit lead over second-place Cleveland in the AL Central. Yet the Indians have made up six games on the Twins over each team’s last 20 games to trail by just 5.5 games at the break.

In mid-June – facing that double-digit deficit – Cleveland was 10-1 to win the AL Central. But on Monday they were down to 4-1 and given their experience and their quality pitching – both starting and relief – they are worth a wager although you should shop around and you might be able to find them at higher than 4-1.

Which brings up a key point to keep in mind. This deep into the season may present opportunities to find different odds on the same team at different books based on the amount of exposure specific books will have on certain teams. There probably are some books who are heavy on Minnesota, having taken bets on the Twins as their lead over the Indians grew during May and June. Such books might welcome some action on the Indians and may offer better than 4-1 odds to draw it.

Houston once held a similarly large lead in the AL West but both Oakland and Texas have made strides over the past month. At the break, Houston led Oakland by 7.5 games and Texas by 9.0. The Astros were still prohibitive 1-60 favorites to win the Division with Oakland at 18-1 and Texas, along with the Angels, at 60-1. That is interesting since the Angels are 3.5 games behind the third-place Rangers and have a losing record.

Of those three American League divisions I would rank the combination of both attractiveness and probability of cashing a ticket on one of the teams not currently holding a division lead in an order of Boston, Cleveland and Oakland.

In the NL East, the Mets are pretty much out of contention for not just the division title but a Wild Card as well with their 40-50 record. They are likely to be sellers as the trade deadline. Atlanta led the Division at the break by 6 games over Washington and by 6.5 over Philadelphia.

Monday’s odds had Atlanta as the 1-4 favorite with the Nationals at 9-2 and Phillies at 10-1. Washington opened the season at 9-4 odds to win the Division so more than halfway through the season their odds have doubled – from plus 225 to plus 450.

With three solid starting pitchers in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each averaging at least 6.3 innings per start and with WHIPs below 1.15 the Nationals are very attractive to overtake the Braves and fend off the Phillies. The bullpen has improved since the first third of the season and should be one of the freshest down the stretch given that those three starters average going so deep into games.

The NL Central is the most contentious of the six division races with the first-place Cubs and fifth-place Reds separated by just 4.5 games. The Cubs have the weakest record of any of the division leaders at 47-43, a record that would have them no higher than third in four of the other five divisions. Yet the Cubs are even money to win the division with second-place Milwaukee – a half-game behind the Cubs – at better than 2-1 odds at plus 224.

St. Louis is at 17-4 and then the odds drop off significantly to Pittsburgh at 14-1 and Cincinnati at 20-1. Perhaps the Cubs remain so heavily favored because of their plus-55 runs differential. St. Louis is just plus 2 and Milwaukee is actually minus 17.

The interesting team is Cincinnati. Despite being in last place with a 41-46 record, the Reds have outscored their opposition by 27 runs. Their starting rotation is well balanced with no outstanding starter (Luis Castillo comes close) but also no horrible starter that many teams have for their No. 4 starter, much less a No. 5.

They also have one of my higher ranked bullpens. Those 20-1 odds are attractive considering that they are 4.5 games out of first in a division with no formidable team. Reflective of the mediocrity of the division over their last 40 games none of the five teams have a winning record with just two teams at .500 (20-20) – Cincinnati and St. Louis.

As noted earlier, the Dodgers should run away with the NL West. It is interesting to note, however, that despite having the best record in baseball at the break (60-32), the Dodgers have played just three games against the teams with the next four best records (Yankees, Houston, Minnesota and Atlanta).

Post-All-Star break play begins with several interesting and meaningful series, including one of the most eagerly anticipated interleague series to be played this season. Most teams are likely to arrange their rotations such that their top two or three starters see action this weekend. Here are thoughts on three of those series.

Nationals at Phillies: By winning eight of its last 10 games prior to the All-Star break Washington has overtaken the Phillies for second place in the NL East. After splitting their first eight games this season the Nationals swept all three games of their most recent series, winning at home in mid-June.

The teams have averaged a combined 10.8 runs per game with six games going over the total and five staying under. Scherzer was brilliant in June as he’s been most of the season and Strasburg and Corbin have helped form baseball’s best trio of starters.

The Phillies have not been as fortunate on the mound. Ace Aaron Nola has struggled much of the season but has been at the top of his game over his last four starts. He gives the Phillies their best chance for a win in this series and can be played as a favorite of up to -125, even against Scherzer and up to -150 against anyone other than Scherzer, Strasburg or Corbin. In a matchup against Scherzer not only can Nola be played (hopefully as an underdog) but also consider under a total of 7.5 or higher. The Phillies can also be played against other than the Nats’ trio as underdogs of any price.

In starts not involving Nola or the Nats’ trio consider over totals of 8.5 or lower. Strasburg and Corbin can be played against other than Nola if priced at -140 or less.

Astros at Rangers: This is the lone four-game weekend series that begins on Thursday. Houston has won six of 10 meetings with the home team having won eight of 10.

These AL West rivals last met in mid-May. Totals have been evenly split with five games going over and five staying under as the teams have averaged a combined 10.4 runs per game. Both teams have plenty of offense, averaging at least 5.0 runs per game both at home and on the road.

Houston has been much better at run prevention, allowing barely 4.0 runs per game both at home and on the road, more than a run less than the Rangers allow.

Houston’s starting pitching is led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. They are an outstanding duo but the Texas duo of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are having seasons not far below those of Verlander and Cole. In a matchup of Verlander or Cole vs. Minor or Lynn look to play the Rangers if getting at least +135 against Verlander or at least +125 against Cole.

In the unlikely scenario of Verlander or Cole as underdogs of any price look to Houston. Also in such matchups look to play under totals of 8.5 or higher and even consider a First Five Innings play under a total of 4.0 or higher as all four of these starters average at least 6.1 innings per start. Texas can also be played as an underdogs if Jesse Chavez gets a start. Texas began using Chavez as an opener for his first few starts but in his last three starts – all on the road – Chavez pitched 6.1, 6.0 and 5.0 innings. In games not involving any of these five named pitchers look towards over totals of 10.0 or higher.

Dodgers at Red Sox: While this is a rematch of last season’s World Series it has become less likely that it will also serve as a preview of the 2019 Fall Classic. But while the Dodgers are huge favorites to win the National League pennant (6-5 odds as of Monday with no other team less than 6-1) the Red Sox are 15-1 to win in the American League. 

Boston’s top two pitchers are Chris Sale and David Price but the Dodgers would be the play if made underdogs in starts by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler against Sale or Price. If any of that Dodger trio is favored Boston would be a play as an underdog of any price in a start by Sale and as an underdog of +120 or more in a start by Price.

Games in Fenway Park have been unusually high scoring this season, averaging 11.1 total runs per game and producing results of 25-16-1 to the over. One of the strongest results this season involves Boston lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez. His 18 starts have produced 15 overs, two unders and a push with those starts averaging 12.4 total runs per game.


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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