MLB season still has early season surprises to show

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The 2013 season is still in its infancy with just over 10 percent of the schedule having been played.

There remain some early season surprises and a look at the standings shows several surprising Division leaders.

Boston leads the American League East with favored Toronto in last place at 8-11, 4½ games behind the 12-6 Red Sox. Boston’s pitching has been outstanding as the Sox are allowing just 3.0 runs per game and their plus 31 runs differential leads the AL.

The Yankees are hanging in there in second, keyed by big contributions by Andy Pettitte and Vernon Wells. Pettitte is off to a 3-0 start, while Wells has hit five homers and playing a solid left field.

Kansas City, at 10-7, leads the AL Central with favored Detroit a game and a half back at 9-9 following the Tigers’ losing 3 straight at the Angels over the weekend. The Royals have gotten surprisingly strong pitching, especially from the bullpen, although the offense, expected to be KC’s strength, has been just average.

Expected to retrench in 2013 with the departure of Josh Hamilton, Texas sits atop the AL West with a 12-6 record. The offense has been just average but the Rangers lead the AL in allowing just 2.8 runs per game. Their lead over Oakland is just a half game but the highly touted Angels have struggled to stand 7-10 as of Monday morning. And that is following 3 straight weekend wins over Detroit.

Perhaps the Angels are about to break out.

The fact that Atlanta leads the NL East is not terribly surprising as they were expected to be the leading contender to Washington. Despite losing the final 3 of their 4 game series in Pittsburgh, Atlanta’s 13-5 record has the Braves tied with another surprising team, Colorado, for the best record in all of baseball.

Washington is playing well and is 10-8, but has a -14 runs differential, nearly .8 runs per game. Pitching has been a major culprit as their 86 runs allowed is third worst in the National League.

Cincinnati has the early lead in the NL Central with an 11-8 record, a half game better than both St Louis and Pittsburgh. The Cubs are the only team in the division with a losing record (5-12).

The Reds are second in the majors in averaging 5.6 runs per game and the pitching has been above average. They may be the best balanced team in the NL, if not in all of baseball.

Colorado is the surprising leader in the NL West, tied with Atlanta for MLB’s best record at 13-5. The Rockies top all of baseball, averaging 5.8 runs per game. They are 8-1 at home but also have a winning road record (5-4) and their pitching has been better than expected.

San Francisco is also playing well at 12-7. But the high payroll Dodgers are just 8-10 and just ended a 6 game losing streak with Sunday’s win at Baltimore. The Dodgers may have it tough in the short term with two of their quality starting pitchers – Zack Greinke and Chad Billingsley – both on the Disabled List. But the real problem for the Dodgers has been an offense that is scoring just 3.0 runs per game, far below what the talent level suggests.

Both of the Los Angeles managers – the Angels’ Mike Scioscia and the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly – are considered to be on “hot seats” and could fall victim to the failure of their teams to live up to deservedly high expectations.

Memorial Day is generally considered the first of three critical checkpoints of the season and if the Dodgers and/or Angels don’t show signs of playing to their considerable potential by then, Mattingly and/or Scioscia might not make it to that second critical checkpoint, July 4th.

Here’s a look at four interesting series to be played this weekend.

Cincinnati Reds at Washington Nationals: Both teams are seeking to reprise their Divisional titles of a season ago and both are off to winning starts. The Reds have succeeded with a combination of hitting and pitching whereas the Nationals have been more reliant on their offense as the pitching. Starters Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler have fared well but both Gio Gonzalez and Dan Haren have struggled, putting added pressure on the bullpen which has also struggled.

The Reds’ rotation has been solid with Mike Leake’s 4.26 ERA the only starter above 3.60. But ace Johnny Cueto is sidelined with a tricep injury and is on the DL.

Recommended plays: Reds +135 or more against Strasburg, Gonzalez or Zimmermann or as underdogs of any price against other starters.

Nationals -130 or less in starts by Strasburg, Gonzalez or Zimmermann.

UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup not involving Leake or Haren; OVER 7.5 or less in starts by Leake or Haren against any opposing starter.

Colorado Rockies at Arizona D’backs: Both teams are playing winning baseball with Colorado leading the NL West and Arizona 3 games back, sandwiched around second place San Francisco. These teams just played a great weekend series in Colorado in which the Rockies took 2 of 3 games. Two of the games were 1 run games and third was decided by 2 runs. Despite being played in the altitude of Denver, all 3 games stayed UNDER with a total of just 20 runs scored.

Jhollys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa and veteran Jon Garland have been the studs in the Colorado rotation while Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin have fared well for the Diamondbacks. The Rockies have had the most productive offense in baseball but Arizona has also been above average. Yet Arizona starts the week having played 7 straight UNDERS.

Recommended plays: UNDER 9 or higher in matchups of Chacin or Garland against Miley, Corbin or Cahill; OVER 9 or lower if Colorado’s Jeff Francis or Juan Nicasio faces Arizona’s Ian Kennedy or Brandon McCarthy.

Rockies as underdogs of any price in a start by Chacin against any Arizona starter.

Diamondbacks as favorites of -130 or less against any Colorado starter other than Chacin.

Baltimore Orioles at Oakland A’s: Both teams were surprises to make the Playoffs last season, showing dramatic improvement from a season earlier. As such each is expected to fall back somewhat this season, a fact evidenced by Season Win Totals which had each team expected to win far fewer games in 2013 than they won in 2012.

Both teams are off to winning starts more than a tenth of the way into the season with Oakland’s 12-7 record having the Athletics just a half game behind Texas in the AL West. These are the top two teams in scoring with Oakland plating 100 runs in their first 19 games and Baltimore scoring 90 runs in 18 games. Both teams have gotten average, though not outstanding, starting pitching. 

Statistically WY Chen has been Baltimore’s best starter although the O’s are just 1-3 in his starts. AJ Griffin has been Oakland’s best starter and the A’s have his 3 starts, all of which have been Quality Starts in which he’s pitched at least 6 innings, allowing 2 earned runs or less.

Recommended plays: Orioles +120 in any matchup; Oakland -120 or less in any matchup; OVER 7.5 or lower in any matchup.

Atlanta Braves at Detroit Tigers: Atlanta is off to a strong start and even after dropping their final 3 games over the weekend at Pittsburgh, the 13-5 record is tied for the best in baseball. Detroit is playing .500 baseball and starts the weeks having lost 4 in a row. Atlanta has used a combination of hitting and pitching and their plus 33 runs differential is the best in baseball. 

Most impressively, the Braves have allowed just 44 runs in 18 games. Only rookie Julio Teheran is off to a slow start. He’s been bailed out by the offense as the Braves are 3-0 in his starts despite a 7.31 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. Rick Porcello has been the weak link in the Detroit rotation and it would not be a surprise if he is banished to the bullpen in favor of Drew Smyly. 

Detroit’s other four starters each have ERA’s below 3.35 and WHIPs below 1.20. On balance, both teams have benefited more from their pitching than from their bats. Even though Atlanta leads baseball with 29 home runs, the Braves are averaging just 4.3 runs per game. Detroit has hit just 12 home runs but is averaging slight more than Atlanta, 4.4 runs per game. 

Recommended plays: UNDER 8 or less in games not started by Porcello or Teheran; OVER 9 or less in starts by Porcello or Teheran unless the opposing pitcher is Detroit’s Justin Verlander or Doug Fister or Atlanta’s Paul Maholm or Mike Minor.

Atlanta +150 or more against Verlander (unless Teheran starts for the Braves) or +120 against other starters; Detroit as -125 favorites or less against any Atlanta starter except if Porcello starts for the Tigers.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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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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