Look back on last quarter in assessing future

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As we head to the midpoint of the baseball season, bettors, fans and teams themselves have some honest and realistic expectations as to how the second half of the season is likely to play out.

For the most part, fans remain optimistic regardless of the standings but for the few teams playing .400 or lower baseball.

Teams tend to be more realistic as the July 31 trade deadline approaches to determine whether they will be buyers or sellers as they decide they either have a realistic chance at making the playoffs or are positioned to plan and shape their roster for next season.

As bettors, we try to adhere to a philosophy of not overreacting to what we saw most recently while at the same time not failing to react. That is, to strike a balance between current form and season-long performance in an effort to more accurately assess the likelihood of various scenarios taking place going forward.

Often this means looking for backing teams that are not at the top of the standings — often because of a poor start to the season — but have played well over recent weeks.

One of the tools I employ beginning at about this time of the season is to chart how teams have done over the past 40 games, roughly a quarter of the full 162-game regular season. Such a period equates to a team’s play over the past month and a half or so.

Through Monday, there had been much more volatility from American League teams than from teams in the NL over the past 40 games. Using a 60 percent guideline over the past 40 games (24 or more wins (16 or fewer wins) only two National League teams have played outside that range and both to the upside. The Dodgers are 29-11 and Atlanta is 27-13 over their past full quarter season.

In the American League 10 of the 15 teams have played outside the 60/40 range with five teams winning at least 24 games (the Yankees, Minnesota, Texas, Houston and Oakland). The Yankees have been the best at 27-13.

At the other extreme five teams have won 16 or fewer games (Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Toronto and Seattle). Baltimore has been the worst team in MLB over their past 40 games, going 9-31 with the Tigers right behind at 10-30.

The National League has also performed much better in interleague play over the first half of the season, going 39-26 at home and 37-31 on the road for a total record of 76-57 through Monday.

This weekend’s schedule is highlighted by a two-game series between the Yankees and Red Sox to be played on Saturday and Sunday in London. Although Saturday’s game will start just after 10 a.m. Pacific time, note that Sunday’s game will start at 7:10 a.m. PT, so if you want some baseball action with your Sunday breakfast you should consider making your wagers by the time your book closes on Saturday.

Here are thoughts on three other series this weekend.

Braves at Mets: These NL East rivals meet for their third series of the season but the first to be played in New York. In series played in mid-April and mid-June the Braves won four of seven home games.

Although the Braves outscored the Mets by just an average of a run per game (44-37), all seven games were decided by three runs or more. Four of the games went over the total with two staying under and another resulting in a push.

Through Monday night the Braves had a 5.5-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the NL East and were 9 games ahead of the fourth-place Mets, making this series a critical one for the floundering Mets if they are to work themselves back into contention and become buyers rather than sellers as July unfolds.

As we go to press Atlanta had won 27 of its last 40 games, second only to the Dodgers (29) over that span. Much of that success has been generated by the offense. The starting pitching has been slightly better than average although youngsters Max Fried and Mike Soroka have not been as strong lately as they were for much of April and May.

Given the current state of the Mets and the issues surrounding their play on the field and their locker room dynamics it would make sense to expect the Braves to win at least two of three games in this series. Fried, Soroka and veteran Julio Teheran can be backed as underdogs of any price against any Mets starter (including Jacob deGrom) or as favorites of -120 or less against other Mets starters. Teheran has had success at Citi Field in recent seasons as the Braves have won five of his seven starts there since 2016 with Teheran pitching to an ERA of 1.34 and WHIP of 0.83 over 47 innings.

For the Mets, DeGrom can be backed as a favorite of -140 or less against other than Fried, Soroka or Julio Teheran. Consider playing over totals of 8.5 or lower, including a start by deGrom whose 15 starts have produced nine overs and six unders and an average of 9.1 total runs scored.

Rangers at Rays: Both teams are more realistically contending for Wild Cards rather than Division titles, especially Texas in the AL West. Tampa has started to slide in the AL East, starting play Tuesday five games behind the Yankees.

Whereas the Rays effectively created the concept of using ‘openers’ to pitch the first inning or two of games last season Texas has adopted that approach this season. Tampa actually has five starters averaging at least five innings per start, including the injured Tyler Glasnow.

Their most frequent opener has been Ryne Stanek who has opened 22 games but is averaging just 1.5 innings per start. He’s been effective with a 1.86 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 3.2 strikeout to walk ratio but his departure still leaves an average of more than seven innings still to be played.

Texas has the much better offense and averages roughly one run more per game than Tampa Bay, both at home and on the road. Tampa is even better in runs prevention, allowing more than a run per game than the Rangers both at home and on the road. Thus this series could present parlay potential in playing the Rangers with the over or the Rays with the unders.

Of Tampa’s ‘normal’ starters Charlie Morton and Yonny Chirinos have been clearly the best statistically and each can be backed as favorites of -140 or less against any Texas starter other than Mike Minor. The Texas lefty has been solid through 16 starts this season (2.52 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) while averaging 6.5 innings per start (only five pitchers with at least 10 starts are averaging more).

If Minor opposes Chirinos or Morton look under a total or 8 or higher. Otherwise look to back Minor as an underdog or if favored by -120 or less against any other Tampa starter or opener. His start should give Texas its best chance for a win in this series although the Rangers can be backed as an underdog of +150 or more against anyone other than Morton and Chirinos, along with over totals of 9 or lower on the strength of the Texas’ offense and weakness of its pitching.

Nationals at Tigers: The weekend’s lone interleague series features a Detroit team long out of contention against a Nationals team that still has designs on making the playoffs but has played below its talent level over the season’s first half.

Detroit has baseball’s second worst offense, averaging a paltry 3.6 runs per game. Only Miami is weaker (3.5 rpg) and just one other team is averaging under 4.0 runs per game (San Francisco, 3.9). The Tigers have been more inept at home (3.3 rpg) than on the road (3.7) yet are 16-14-5 to the ‘over’ at home while going 21-15-2 to the ‘under’ on the road.

The Nats have been above average at the plate, averaging 5 runs per game both home and away. Washington also has the better starting pitching with former Cy Young Award winner (and ex-Tiger) Max Scherzer fashioning another strong season with both Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin also having excellent first halves. All three are averaging at least 6.2 innings per start.  And those innings are needed as Washington’s bullpen has been a major weakness. Detroit’s best starters have been Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull although neither has pitched to the level of the Nats’ trio with both averaging under 6 innings per start.

The strategy I shall pursue will be to back Washington for the First Five Innings in starts by Corbin, Scherzer or Strasburg in addition to playing the First Five Innings under the total if matched up against Boyd or Turnbull. I would look to back the Tigers as underdogs for the full game if getting at least +125 against other than the aforementioned Washington trio. 

 

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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