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When handicapping baseball games most of us take a quick look at the current streaks of teams and starting pitchers chart. Rarely do we ever sit down and take a hard look at what a team’s bullpen is doing.

Part of that is because it’s not a stat line that is quickly offered or readily found as a stat online. This is something that has to be accounted for as a mental note based on daily occurrences.

With starting pitchers still on a short leash of 100 pitches regardless of how well they’re doing, the bullpen is almost as important as the starter. I found myself being talked into a few plays last week just because of a terrible bullpen situation by the opposing team and in each case was fortunate to cash.

Last Friday the Tampa Bay Rays were getting +145 against the White Sox. Through their first six games, the Rays had only scored eight runs and just one in five of those losses. It’s never a good strategy to bet a streak to stop, but the line seemed to be a little inflated due to the Rays hitting woes.

There was value in a game that I had personally made Chicago a -140, but I couldn’t pull the trigger until I started looking at the White Sox bullpen numbers from their first six. Chicago’s pen had given up 16 runs and was overworked. Closer Matt Thornton, had already had his confidence shattered a couple times and was coming in scared.

So I had thrown all conventional wisdom regarding poor hitting teams on a losing streak out the window and made the wager on the Rays with the Sox bullpen being the main factor. Whether I got lucky or just tapped into an area I had not given much thought to, the move paid off. The Rays won their first game of the year, 9-7. Not only was it the first lead of the season for the Rays, but the five runs in the ninth inning all came off Thornton.

Thus far we have four teams that have matched the White Sox futility in not being able to close out games. The Angels, Cubs and Cardinals haven’t given up as many runs as the White Sox, but they have all blown three save opportunities.

In St. Louis, Ryan Franklin can’t get anything positive going with his three blown saves and four runs allowed in 3.2 innings and is on the verge of being replaced by 40-year old journeyman Miguel Batista.

Pitchers rising

The days of getting plus money on Baltmore’s Zach Britton, Toronto’s Kyle Drabek and Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin may be gone soon unless they face an ace, but you still have to ride them for a while as their teams have won both games they have started this season.

All three having been dazzling, but the standout is Britton who shut down the red hot Rangers bats Saturday. He’s got a killer sinker that is worth riding to the bet window every game he pitches.

Beckett sooths ‘Nation’

Between seven losses, only Dustin Pedroia hitting and only one solid start from their pitching staff, Red Sox Nation was in a bit of a panic mode heading into Josh Beckett’s Sunday night start against the Yankees. After eight strong shutout innings, Beckett – perhaps the biggest question mark of the 2011 season, showed he is capable of being a dominant pitcher again.

Things should get better for prized free-agent pickup Carl Crawford, who has struggled miserably at the plate. He faces his old team, Tampa Bay, this week.

Hughes in trouble

In two starts this year, Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes has allowed 11 earned runs in six innings of work. The 18-game winner from last year didn’t have a great spring and his fastball’s velocity is off 3 mph from last season, which has essentially allowed opposing hitters to tee off on him.

I know it’s tough to bet against the powerful lineup of the Yankees, but until Hughes shows he’s better, he’s a great one to bet against. The one positive for the Yankees if Hughes doesn’t return back to normalcy is that former Cy Young award winner Bartolo Colon looks close to being like his old self coming out of the pen.

In Friday’s loss to Boston, Colon was throwing some heat in the mid-90’s that Boston had trouble with.

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