MLB All Star break allows look at Division and Wild Card races

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Baseball takes a four day break from regular season competition to honor many of the game’s top current players, highlighted by Tuesday night’s All Star game in Kansas City.

While some of this season’s top stars won’t be competing, many will, including two of the game’s most promising players in quite some times.

An injury to Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton opened the way for Las Vegas native Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals to be named to the National League team, joining fellow rookie sensation Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who had already been named an American League All Star.

The mid season recess gives us time to pause and assess how the various Division and Wild Card races are taking shape with an eye towards projecting how teams will do over the balance of the season. More to the point, it may also give some idea as to whether teams are likely to be buyers or sellers as the end of the month trading deadline approaches.

The New York Yankees have the best record in all of baseball, 52-33, and are one of only two teams playing .600 baseball. The Texas Rangers are the other team winning at least three of every five games and are just a half game behind New York’s pace with a 52-34 record.

The Yankees have a seven game lead over second place Baltimore in the AL East while the Rangers are up by 4 over the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. The Chicago White Sox have a three game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central.

The surprising Washington Nationals are 49-34, a record that not only leads the NL East by four games over Atlanta, but is also the best mark in the senior circuit.

Another surprise team has the second best record in the NL. The Pittsburgh Pirates are 48-37 which leads the Central by a game over the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates are seeking to end a streak of 19 straight seasons with a losing record. They teased their fans last season when they were 47-43 at the All Star break and just a game out of first place.

This Pittsburgh team appears better constructed and with better balance and thus is not as likely to fade over the second half the season this season as they did last. The 2011 Pirates went 27-45 after the All Star break to finish 72-90, 24 games behind division winning Milwaukee and in fourth place.

The NL West has become very interesting after the Los Angeles Dodgers threatened to make it a runaway when they were 7½ games ahead of San Francisco with a 32-15 record after beating Houston on May 27. But the Dodgers have gone 15-25 since while the Giants have gone a modest 21-17 to trail their longtime rivals by just a half game heading into their mini vacation.

Atlanta and Cincinnati currently hold the NL’s two Wild Cards but three teams – the New York Mets, St. Louis and San Francisco – are just a half game behind.

The AL Wild Card race is almost as tight with Baltimore and the LA Angels currently in possession of those spots. Tampa Bay is just a half game back and five other teams within 2½ games of the Wild Card leaders.

Eleven of the 16 NL teams are within six games of either a Division lead or a Wild Card and must be looked at, at least until the end of the month, as being in contention for the playoffs. The other five teams, including the very disappointing Philadelphia Phillies, are at least 10 games behind both Division and Wild Card leaders.

In the AL only Seattle has a double digit deficit to overcome for a Wild Card. The other 14 teams are within 8½ games of either a Division lead or a Wild Card. None of the five teams in the AL East have losing records with both Boston and Toronto heading into the All Star break at 43-43.

In fact, only three teams in the AL – Kansas City, Minnesota and Seattle – have losing records at the All Star break!

As the Cardinals proved last year once you make it into the playoffs you have a shot to win it all. Pitching more often than not trumps hitting in the post season and with that in mind there are a couple of teams at double digit odds that may be worth taking a chance on to win it all. Both are currently in position to make the playoffs.

At the LVH the San Francisco Giants are at 12-1 odds while the Chicago White Sox are 15-1. Both teams have a trio of starting pitchers enjoying very good seasons and both have bullpens that have been reliable.

A strong case can be made for the Washington Nationals but the value in betting them is gone. The Nats are currently 7-1 to win the World Series and just under 3-1 to win the NL pennant.

Before the season started the prediction was for the Angels to defeat the Phillies in the 2012 World Series. And whereas the Angels are very much in the picture and carry current odds of 9-1 to win it all, the current odds of 75-1 to back the Phillies speaks volumes about their chances.

While the roster is still loaded with talent, and ace Roy Halladay is scheduled to return within the month, the team has shown little spark. Their run of five straight playoff appearances looks to have come to an end. Management may make that assessment “official” if they unload some key players by the end of the month. The names most often mentioned are lefty starter Cole Hamels and versatile outfielder Shane Victorino.

Here’s a brief team by team assessment of what we might see over the second half of the season

AL EAST

New York: The Yankees have hit their stride and have the best record in all of baseball at the break despite starting pitcher issues. ‘Nuff said.

Baltimore: Lack of pitching depth suggests the Orioles will fade over the next 2½ months although a solid foundation is in place for the future.

Tampa Bay: Once Evan Longoria returns from injury the Rays will be a better offensive team. Their solid pitching keeps them in contention all the way.

Boston: Much like the Yankees, the Red Sox have pitching concerns but the offense will keep the Sox in contention although it will be for the Wild Card.

Toronto: Remote playoff chances were dealt a blow with three starting pitchers out for the season. They’ll struggle but should be a solid play OVER the Total.

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox: Surprise leaders at the break have an above average offense, three solid starters and a good ‘pen. They have enough to win Division.

Cleveland: Much like Baltimore their lack of depth should lead to a second half fade but there’s a decent nucleus in place that should pay dividends next year

Detroit: Five wins in a row have given the Tigers momentum but there are still too many issues that suggest they may fall just short of catching the ChiSox.

Kansas City: Another improving team but have too many pitching woes to make much noise. Will be attractive as dogs against lower parts of foes’ rotations.

Minnesota: As with KC, they have a decent offense but weak pitching which also means they make for good underdogs and OVERS against No. 4 and 5 starters.

AL WEST

Texas: Two time AL Champs are poised to make a run at first World Series title and should be a profit maker over the second half, especially when underdogs.

Los Angeles: Angels have overcome sluggish start and figure to contend the rest of the way, especially if they can acquire some bullpen help.

Oakland: Very much a surprise at 43-43 the A’s lead the majors, by a margin, in Quality Starts, making them a very attractive underdog the rest of the way.

Seattle: Scoring 1.9 runs per game less at home than on the road, Mariners should be a profitable road dog as well as an OVER play away from home.

NL EAST

Washington: Nats should remain in contention although lack of experience suggests they may be bet against when favored at minus 150 and higher.

Atlanta: Braves have balance and depth but do not excel in any area. They should stay in contention and should show a nice profit as underdogs.

New York: Mets have overachieved in first half largely due to pitching of Dickey and Santana and ability to score with two out. Don’t be surprised by a reversal.

Miami: Marlins still have the talent to contend but only four teams have scored fewer runs. Expect a late surge toward Wild Card and a profitable September.

Philadelphia: Barring something like a 12-3 run after the break, Phils might be sellers. If so, they’ll be a go against the rest of the way, especially as favorites.

NL CENTRAL

Pittsburgh: Though motivated to end drought of losing seasons streak, Bucs’ lack of depth has them fall from contention and a “go against” in September.

Cincinnati: Reds are most talented and best balanced team in Division and should ultimately distance themselves from foes. Should be solidly profitable.

St. Louis: Despite leading the NL in run differential Cards are tied with two others for sixth best record. They won’t fade easily but should be a bet against.

Milwaukee: Brewers’ disappointing first half could turn around with decent starting pitching, making them attractive underdogs down the stretch.

Chicago: Cubs have played better heading to the break (7-3) but still should be go against when favored with the exception of when Ryan Dempster starts.

Houston: Despite being on pace for over 100 losses, ‘Stros are 24-21 at home making them attractive when priced as large home underdogs.

NL WEST

Los Angeles: Chances depend on return of Matt Kemp and Andre Either but pitching drop off beyond Clayton Kershaw suggests Dodgers will tail off.

San Francisco: Giants are best team in the Division and will be worth backing in almost any situation as underdogs when their top three pitchers take the hill.

Arizona: In winning Division in 2011 Arizona improved by 29 games over 2010 so drop off is not surprising. Expect ‘Backs to show a loss over the second half.

San Diego: Infusion of young, developing talent suggests Padres will be a profitable team the rest of the way, especially as hefty road underdogs.

Colorado: Lack of pitching and but an offense that is second in NL in runs scored suggests best strategy the rest of the way is to play the OVER.

Here’s a look at four of the more interesting series as play resumes on Friday after taking both Wednesday and Thursday off this season.

Nationals at Marlins: The home team has won all five prior meetings this season. The UNDER is 3-1-1, Washington is led by the trio of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, all of whom has ERAs below 3.00 and WHIPs below 1.15 as they pass the 100 innings pitched mark. 

Miami best starter statistically has been lefty Mark Buehrle but Josh Johnson has started to regain his old form and more than 50 percent of Anibal Sanchez’ starts have been quality in which he’s gone at least 6 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less. Miami’s will be hampered for the next month or so with Giancarlo Stanton sidelined.

Potential plays:

• Washington as underdogs of any price in starts by Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann or Edwin Jackson.

• Washington -125 or less in starts by Strasburg, Gonzales or Zimmermann not facing Buehrle or Johnson.

• Marlins +120 in starts by Buehrle or Johnson.

• Marlins -140 or less against Washington’s fifth starter.

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Buehrle or Johnson face Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jackson or Zimmermann.

Cardinals at Reds: – St. Louis has a 4-2 edge. The UNDER is also 4-2. The Reds are one of only two teams that have used the same five starting pitchers all season (Miami is the other). The Reds have been much more potent offensively at home where they average more than a run per game (5.0) than on the road (3.8).

The Cardinals have averaged the same 5.0 runs per game both at home and on the road. Johnny Cueto is having a breakout season for the Reds and has become the ace of the Reds’ solid staff. Veteran Kyle Lohse has put up the best stats for St Louis. 14 of Cueto’s 18 starts have stayed UNDER as have 12 of Bronson Arroyo’s 17 starts.

Potential plays:

• Cincinnati -140 or less against other than Lohse.

• Cincinnati -125 or less against Lohse.

• St. Louis +150 in any matchup.

• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Arroyo, Cueto or Lohse.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Lohse opposes Arroyo or Cueto.

Angels at Yankees: The home team has won 2 of 3 in both prior series. The Yanks’ CC Sabathia may be back for this series after spending time on the DL. Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda have also been solid for the Yanks. The Angels have a pair of elite starters in Jered Weaver and C J Wilson.

Since calling up rookie Mike Trout from the minors, the Angels have been one of the better offensive teams in the game. The Yankees continue to pound the ball and in all but a couple of their wins the Bronx Bombers have hammered at least one homer.

Potential plays:

• LA Angels +150 or more in any matchup.

• LA Angels -120 or less in starts by Weaver or Wilson.

• Yankees -140 or less not facing Weaver or Wilson.

• OVER 9 or lower in games not involving Weaver, Wilson or Kuroda.

• UNDER 9 or higher if Weaver or Wilson faces Kuroda.

Tigers at Orioles: First meeting. The Orioles have already bolstered their roster with their acquisition from Philadelphia of Jim Thome. Baltimore’s post season sights are more realistically set on winning a Wild Card. Detroit is just 3½ games back in the AL Central and their defense leaves much to be desired.

Justin Verlander remains one of the elite pitchers in the game while both Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have shown signs of becoming solid starters. Baltimore’s best starting pitcher has been Jason Hammel but the rest of the staff is just ordinary. Rookie lefty W Y Chen has shown potential but may be tiring

Potential plays

• Detroit -150 or less in a start by Verlander.

• Detroit as underdogs of any price in starts by Porcello or Scherzer.

• Baltimore -125 or less not facing Porcello, Scherzer or Verlander.

• OVER 9 or lower in any game not involving Verlander.

 

 

 

 

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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