Most MLB ballclubs figure to be buyers

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Within the next 10 days the figurative, if not literal, midpoint of the regular season arrives with the July Fourth holiday.

The actual midpoint of the season, Game 81, will have occurred for most teams a few days earlier but Independence Day has long been considered the second main milepost of the season and perhaps the most important.

With fewer games remaining to be played than having already been played teams will be taking stock of their position in the standings. Their potential going forward to making the postseason is based on the current composition of their roster and the non-waiver trade deadline is on the horizon in about four weeks at the end of July.

Often some of the first wave of trades will occur shortly after July 4 with the majority taking place within the last few days leading up to the July 31 deadline.

This deep into the season several things appear clear in both leagues.

In the American League the five teams that would currently qualify for the Playoffs have separated themselves from the other 10.

Through Sunday the 50-25 New York Yankees are percentage points ahead of 52-27 Boston for the lead in the AL East. The 52-27 Houston Astros lead 47-31 Seattle by 4.5 games in the AL West. And 43-33 Cleveland has opened up an eight game lead in the AL Central over both Detroit and Minnesota.

This scenario would have the Yankees, Astros and Indians as Division winners with Boston hosting Seattle in the Wild Card game. The Mariners started this week with a six game lead over the LA Angels for the second Wild Card.

While clearly there is much baseball still to be played, a six game lead for the second Wild Card at the midpoint of the season is rather large. Aside from the five teams that currently would be Playoff-bound only two others have winning records – the Angels at four games above .500 and Oakland just two above.

All three races in the National League are extremely competitive and 9 of the 15 teams are within six games of being the top seed. Milwaukee has the best record at 45-32 while San Francisco is 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card with its 40-39 mark. In between are seven teams all within a handful of games of either being the top seed or, as in the case of the Giants, the fourth team out of the second Wild Card.

These standings suggest at least half of baseball’s 30 teams will be buyers rather than sellers as the trade deadline approaches. Starting pitching will be at a premium and there may be some highly sought after veterans who may view their next few starts as auditions in efforts to be traded to contenders.

Such pitchers may be worth backing at reasonable prices, especially in First 5 Inning wagers so that bullpens are removed from the equation.

It may be worth visiting (or “googling”) for websites that track reliable sources of trade rumors. Among the AL starting pitchers tied to rumors over the past few weeks are Cole Hamels of Texas, J.A. Happ of Toronto and Dylan Bundy of Baltimore. There are fewer such pitchers in the National League since more teams are still realistically in contention. San Diego has a pair of capable starters in Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross.

Perhaps some, all or none will be moved but each might view an upcoming start as an opportunity to attract the attention of teams looking to add a middle of the rotation starter capable of giving six quality innings that keep his team in the game while also lessening the workload of the bullpen, which takes a greater toll as the season progresses into August and September.

Scoring has been down this season and overall offensive production is on pace to potentially set a record for there being more strikeouts than base hits for the entire season, something that has never before occurred in MLB history.

Scoring is down a half run per game compared to last season as games are averaging a total of 8.8 runs per game.

Through Sunday the UNDER was 573-526 with 54 pushes. There have also been two games with no totals result due to a suspended game and a game this past weekend that featured a change in starting pitchers after the game had gotten underway.

Not surprisingly there are not many teams that have played significantly more OVERS than UNDERs. In fact, Oakland leads the majors in net OVERS at 39-33 with six pushes.

Contrast that with the number of teams that have played at least 10 more UNDERs than OVERS. There are seven, led by Milwaukee at 46-30-1.

Kansas City has played 15 more UNDERS than OVERs followed by the Cubs (13), Washington and St. Louis (both 12) along with Baltimore and Detroit (both 10).

While the public at large tends to look OVER before UNDER these results suggest it may be better to look UNDER, especially for those teams showing that tendency.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series.

Atlanta at St. Louis

The Braves and Cardinals meet for the first time with each contending for the Playoffs. Atlanta started this week with a 2.5 game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East while St. Louis sits third in the NL Central, 4.5 games behind leader Milwaukee and two behind the second place Cubs. Neither team has a true ace although the Cards’ Carlos Martinez has demonstrated that capability prior to injuries.

Both teams have a nucleus of developing starters with solid upside. Atlanta has gotten strong seasons from Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran (the “veteran” of the trio) are each in the mid 20s. St. Louis has Martinez, Jack Flaherty and Michael Wacha (currently on the DL), also in their mid 20s.

A true surprise has been the performance of Miles Mikolas, who, after pitching the past three seasons in Japan has fashioned an All Star caliber season through 15 starts (2.69 ERA and 0.97 WHIP). Both teams have been average to below average on offense over the past month, which suggests this should be a lower rather than higher scoring series. In matchups involving two of the just named pitchers look to play UNDER 8.5 or higher along with the underdog if getting +120 or more.

Boston at NY Yankees

These longtime rivals meet for their third series but first since early May when the Yankees took 2 of 3 at home. A month earlier Boston took 2 of 3 at Fenway Park so the series stands tied at three wins apiece The OVER is 3-2 with one push. Of the six games, five have produced at least nine total runs.

Both teams bring high powered offenses into this series with each averaging over 5 runs per game and ranking second and third in runs differential behind Houston. With the exception of starts by the Yankees’ Luis Severino or Boston’s Chris Sale, look to play OVER 9.5 or lower. In starts by other than Severino or Sale look to play the underdog if priced at +125 or more.

In a start by Sale not facing Severino, or by Severino not opposing Sale, play either at no more than -150. Should Sale or Severino be priced as high as -180 or more against a lesser starter on the other staff the underdog would be worthy of a play.

Minnesota at Chi. Cubs

Back in the spring it was thought Minnesota would be the AL Central team most likely to challenge Cleveland for the Division title. The Twins were off a surprisingly strong 2017 season in which they earned the second AL Wild Card, losing to the Yankees in their one game showdown. But the season has not unfolded in a manner that suggests the Twins will be able to reprise that Playoff appearance.

Jose Berrios at age 24 is establishing himself as the ace of the Twins staff with veteran Kyle Gibson also showing improvement. Lance Lynn has also started to perform at a quality level after having not signed on as a free agent until mid-March, which contributed to his slow start. The preferred play in this series would be on Minnesota in a start by Berrios as an underdog against any Cubs starter.

Otherwise look to play on Gibson as an underdog of at least +140 against any starter other than the Cubs’ ace Jon Lester, who is having another solid season (2.10 ERA, 1.09 WHIP through 15 starts). Gibson would have to be +160 or more. Lester can be backed if not facing Gibson or Berrios at up to -150 or, if higher, minus a run and a half.

With the Cubs a decidedly UNDER team this season look that way in starts involving Berrios or Gibson for the Twins if facing Lester, Kyle Hendricks or Mike Montgomery. Hendricks and Montgomery may also be backed not facing Berrios or Gibson if priced no higher than -140.

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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