Memorial Day enough time for forecasts

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Memorial Day has historically been viewed as the first major milepost of the baseball season – a time to assess the current condition and future prospects for each team with roughly one third of the regular season having been played (54 games).

There are teams that have clearly established themselves as legitimate contenders to win the World Series with different supporting reasons. The American League remains top heavy with Boston, Houston and the New York Yankees and, barring key injuries, it is easy to envision any of the trio winning the World Series.

Cleveland was thought to be the fourth team towering above the rest of the AL but that 26-25 start has raised concerns. Much of that relates to a very disappointing bullpen – an area considered to be a major strength considering the results of the past few seasons. The Tribe plays in the AL Central and is currently the only team in the Division with a winning record. Detroit and Minnesota are tied for second place, six games below .500 and the entire Division, sans Cleveland, is a combined 47 games below break even!

The Indians are still solid favorites to win the AL Central but unless those bullpen issues are addressed and resolved their postseason presence figures to be brief.

Houston is favored to win the AL West but Seattle has been playing almost even with the Astros over the first two months and started this week just a game behind. The Mariners and Astros had lost just 20 games through Sunday with Houston’s lead resulting from having played, and won, two more games. Note that Seattle will be without Robinson Cano for another couple of months as he serves his PED related 80-game suspension and will not be eligible for any post season play.

The National League was supposed to be a three team battle for the top seed with the Chicago Cubs, LA Dodgers and Washington considered far superior to the other dozen teams. But a third of the way through, none of the three even leads its Division much less dominates the league.

Washington has started to play better baseball and the depth of their starting rotation gives them the nod over the Cubs and Dodgers to emerge with the best record of the trio.

As to the Dodgers and the Cubs, both are still favored to make the postseason but both will face challenges within their Divisions.

Keep an eye on Milwaukee. The Brewers started this week with the best record in the National League and the only NL team playing .600 or better baseball. Milwaukee likely stays in the race into September and could hold off the Cubs for the Division title.

The Dodgers will get a boost from the impending return from injury of ace starter Clayton Kershaw. The future Hall of Famer could return in time for this weekend’s series at Colorado.

Perhaps the most interesting race that could develop will be between Atlanta and Philadelphia for a Wild Card. Both the Braves and Phillies are ahead of schedule in terms of rebuilding with each starting the week just ahead of Washington in the NL East. Both have nicely developing offenses with some young and maturing starting pitching.

There are still holes to fill and if each is still contending by the trade deadline at the end of July moves to improve could be made. Blindly playing home teams has produced a very solid profit of 51.4 net units. That means a disaster through the first third of the season with home teams down a whopping 92.5 net units.

Historically home teams in baseball win about 53 to 54 percent of all games, but the results thus far in 2018 are almost exactly 50/50. Home teams winning 388, while losing 390. One game between Washington and the Yankees was suspended.

It will be interesting to follow the home/road breakdown as the season progresses. On the one hand, a “regression to the mean” can be expected in which home teams start to win a greater percentage of upcoming games to move closer to that historical percentage. Yet at the same time we are likely to still see home teams overpriced as “home favorites” continue to make for popular public plays.

The contrarian argument would concern the potential for a shift in the historical results due to the modern managerial environment that, as we noted several weeks ago, features a new way of handling pitching staffs with starters averaging shorter outings and relief pitchers being used in greater numbers and situations in what has become even more an age of specialization.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s use of reliever Sergio Romo as ad one to two inning starter worked well in his first two starts at Anaheim but not nearly as well a week later in two starts at home against Baltimore.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series that kick off June.

Washington at Atlanta: The Nationals have the deepest starting rotation in the Senior Circuit with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark each performing at high levels through April and May.

Look for the Nats to be favored throughout the series with the possible exception of a start by Hellickson. The Nats can be played at -140 or less in any matchup with Atlanta playable at +150 or more against Gonzalez, Roark or Jeremy Hellickson. Surprisingly, Scherzer and Strasburg have each made 11 starts. Scherzer’s starts have resulted in 7 OVERs, 3 UNDERs and one push while Strasburg is 7-4 to the OVER.

Thus consider playing OVER Totals of 7, or even 7.5, or lower if either of the aces starts Brandon McCarthy or Julio Teheran. Roark and Hellickson may be played UNDER 8 or higher if not opposed by McCarthy or Teheran.

Boston at Houston: Houston has the top performing starting rotation in all of baseball while Boston’s is led by a pair of lefties – Chris Sale and the returning-to-form David Price. The Red Sox and Astros also have two of the most potent offenses in baseball and are numbers 1 and 2 in runs differential.

Houston has outscored its foes by a whopping 122 runs through 54 games, averaging 5.0 runs per game at the plate while allowing just 2.7 (plus 2.3 RPG). Boston is averaging 5.3 RPG while allowing 3.8 RPG (plus 1.5 RPG). Look to play on Houston in starts by Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel or Charlie Morton as Underdogs of any price against other than Chris Sale or if +125 or more against Sale. Boston’s most favorable spot would be against Lance McCullers if laying no more than -140 behind any starter other than Sale.

If Sale starts the Sox can lay up to -160. Verlander’s 11 starts have produced 9 UNDERs and just 2 OVERs. If he faces Sale UNDER 7 or higher can be played. Otherwise look for UNDER 8 or higher in matchups of Verlander, Cole or Morton against Price or Rick Porcello. If McCullers doesn’t face Sale or Price consider OVER 9 or lower.

Milwaukee at Chicago White Sox: The Brewers have played well enough to lead the NL Central with a 34-20 record through Sunday, leading the Division by four games. Chicago is last in the very weak AL Central at 16-34, the worst record in MLB. Reynaldo Lopez is pitching well and will be the only White Sox pitcher to back in this series, but only as a home underdog. I’d like to be able to lay up to -125 with Lopez who sports a solid 2.94 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while averaging 6.1 innings per start. But the Sox are just 3-7 in his 10 starts. Look OVER 8.5 or lower in any matchup except when Chicago’s Lopez, Dylan Covey or the Brewers’ Junior Guerra make a start. If Guerra opposes Lopez or Covey look UNDER 8 or higher.

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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