More than Ray of hope for MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays

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Baseball celebrates its annual mid-summer love fest in Minnesota this week with Tuesday’s All Star game the centerpiece.

And while much of the public attention will be directed towards the on-the-field festivities much will be taking place behind the scenes as teams gear up for the next few weeks in which decisions will be made on a team by team basis whether to be buyers or sellers.

“Buyers” will be those teams that seek to bolster their rosters in an attempt to make a legitimate run at the Playoffs. “Sellers” will be those teams that have all but tossed in the towel for 2014 and have adopted the mantra of the old Brooklyn Dodgers of “wait till next years.”

A look at the standings suggests that there may be more buyers than usual this season as a result of several contentious Divisional races and the fact that there have been few truly outstanding teams this season.

In the American League the top two teams are in the West where Oakland’s MLB best 59-36 record has them just a game and a half ahead of the second place Angels. Those are the only teams playing better than .600 baseball.

Third place Seattle (51-44) currently controls the second AL Wild Card with a lead that ranges from 2½ to 8 games over eight challengers. That leaves just Houston and Texas as the teams who have little realistic chance of making a run at the postseason. The Astros and Rangers are the only AL teams currently more than 9 games below .500.

Even defending World Series champion Boston, 43-52 and 8 games out of the Wild Card and 9½ behind AL East leading Baltimore cannot be written off although their realistic chances are remote. Their odds of winning the AL pennant are currently 30-1 with 67 games remaining.

Detroit appears as if it will win the AL Central with ease. The Tigers have the biggest lead of any first place team, 6½ games. But the Tigers do have some issues with Justin Verlander much more often than not looking like just an average starting pitcher, in addition to the bullpen.

Baltimore enters the All Star break with a four game lead over Toronto in the AL East with the Yankees one game further back. But Boston and Tampa Bay are both 9½ back and in a division that is bereft of outstanding starting pitching that great a deficit can easily be made up over the next 2½ months given the recent track records of both organizations.

Considering all the injuries they have had to endure dating back to spring training, Tampa Bay could be a team to watch over the balance of the season as they are playing their best baseball. Over the past month the Rays are playing at a pace similar to that of Oakland and the Angels and 30-1 to win the AL pennant and 60-1 to win the World Series might be worth a flyer if looking for a longshot.

The contentiousness in the NL revolves largely around the three divisional races. Atlanta and Washington are in a virtual tie atop the NL East and the leaders in the Central and West are up by just a single game.

San Francisco’s June swoon enabled the Los Angeles Dodgers to catch and overtake the Giants for first place in the NL West. The Giants appear to have bottomed out and will start post-All Star play just a game behind their longtime rivals. Arizona, Colorado and San Diego are too far back to challenge for either the division title or a Wild Card and likely to be sellers come the end of July.

Milwaukee’s slump over the past month has enabled the NL Central to become a four team race with only the 40-54 Chicago Cubs out of contention. The Brewers enter the All Star break with just a 1 game lead over St. Louis with Cincinnati just a half game behind the Cardinals and Pittsburgh just 3½ out of first.

The one with the best balanced roster would appear to be Cincinnati although a pair of key injuries could keep the Reds from seizing control of the race. Both Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are on the DL with Phillips likely out until September. But the combination of a deep starting rotation and an excellent bullpen make the Reds an attractive option at 15-1 (pennant) and 30-1 (World Series).

Atlanta and Washington enter recess virtually tied atop the NL East with the Braves having both won and lost one more game than the Nationals. Most observers expect that Washington will ultimately take control of the division with Atlanta relegated to challenging for a Wild Card.

The Nats do have the better starting pitching and a better balanced offense. The Braves rely way too much on the long ball and a starting rotation that is, at best, slightly better than average.

Considering that the season is approaching the 100 games played mark and that no NL team is more than 11 games above .500 a reasonable case can be made for perhaps a half dozen teams as ultimately reaching the World Series.

The 1½ run option: The only time taking the +1½ works to your benefit is when the favored team wins by exactly 1. And that is the only situation in which laying 1½ works against you.

In all other situations, taking the 1½ works against you by costing more in vig when the underdog loses by more than 1 or by giving you a smaller payoff when the underdog wins outright.

Similarly laying 1½ provides you with a larger payoff when the favorite wins by 2 runs or more and results in you losing less when that favored team loses outright.

My data base goes back over 25 seasons and covers more than 50,000 games. Looking at games in which there was a clearly defined favorite (one laying – 110 or more), in which case such a team was most likely to be laying the 1½, reveals some interesting facts.

Slightly less than 30 percent of all games are decided by exactly 1 run. In those cases the favored team wins slightly more than 56 percent which, on the surface, would lead to a conclusion that taking the 1½ is a clear cut winner.

But that is only part of the story.

Over the past quarter century favorites have won between 57 and 58 percent of all games whether by exactly 1 run or by 2 runs or more. Breaking down this data we find that when favorites win, they win by 2 runs or more 72 percent of the time. With home favorites occurring much more frequently than road chalk this split shows home favorites winning by 2 runs or more 69 percent of the time and road favorites winning by 2 runs or more 79 percent of the time.

In other words, in 83.7 percent of all games the underdog wins outright (42.5 percent) or the favorite wins by more than 1 run (41.2 percent).

That’s not to say taking the 1½ is always a poor choice. Situations involving a pair of light hitting teams facing a pair of aces would present one of the favorable times to consider such a play.

In general, the above statistics show that the percentage of time in which taking the 1½ works out better than either laying it or playing the underdog straight is much less than is generally perceived.

Here’s a look at four series that start the figurative second half.

Brewers at Nationals: In their only prior series this season Washington won two of three games in Milwaukee in mid-June. The UNDER is 2-1 with the teams averaging a combined 6.7 runs per game. Milwaukee’s rotation was a strength early in the season but both Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta have struggled over the past month or so as the Brewers have slumped. Yovani Gallardo has been Milwaukee’s best starter with veterans Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza also faring well. The Brewers have been 27-18-2 to the OVER on the road.

Plays: Washington -125 or less in any matchup; Milwaukee +150 or more in starts by Gallardo, Garza or Lohse not facing Doug Fister or Tanner Roark; UNDER 7.5 or higher in starts by Fister or Roark; OVER 7.5 or lower in starts not involving Fister or Roark.

Dodgers at Cardinals: In their first series the Dodgers won 3 of 4 home games in mid-June, outscoring St. Louis 17-4. The UNDER was 3-1 with the teams averaging 5.3 rpg. The Dodgers have been a strong OVER at home and UNDER on the road. St. Louis has have been virtually neutral as regards to the total.

Plays: Dodgers +140 or more against Adam Wainwright; LA +120 or more against other Cardinal starters; St. Louis -120 or less not facing Clayton Kershaw; UNDER 7 or higher if Kershaw opposes Wainwright; UNDER 7½ or higher if just one of that duo is involved; UNDER 8 or higher if neither Kershaw nor Wainwright is involved.

Mariners at Angels: These AL West rivals are meeting for their fourth series. Seattle swept their first series, winning 3 games in Anaheim in early April and owns a 6-3 edge thus far. The Angels have caught fire, winning 27 of 41 games since their most recent series including a remarkable 17-2 record at home! The OVER is 6-3 in this matchups with the teams averaging combined 8.4 rpg.

Garrett Richards has a 2.55 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and the Angels have won in 15 of his 19 starts.

Plays: Seattle as underdogs of any price in starts by Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma against any Angels starter; Seattle -120 or less not facing Richards; Angels -140 or less not facing Hernandez or Iwakuma; Angels +125 or more against either one; OVER 8 or lower in games not involving Richards, Hernandez or Iwakuma; UNDER 7 or higher if Richards faces Hernandez or Iwakuma.

Orioles at A’s: In their only prior series this season Oakland took 2 of 3 games in Baltimore in early June. The teams averaged a combined 9.3 rpg. The OVER is 2-1.

The A’s strengthened their roster with the recent trade with the Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel who, combined with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, give Oakland one of the deepest rotations in the American League.

Plays: Oakland -140 or less in any matchup; Baltimore +150 in any matchup; OVER 7.5 or lower in any matchup.

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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