Nationals, Astros best after 40 games

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Within the next week most teams will have played at least 40 games, which would mark the first quarter of the season as being complete.

We are starting to see teams that struggled early begin to turn things around as well as teams that had gotten off to strong early starts begin to regress.

And still other teams have continued to play as well or as poorly in the first half of May as they did throughout April.

We see this phenomenon every spring. Some players, pitchers and teams are notorious for getting off to slow starts. For hitters it often takes 100 or so at bats for them to regain their timing from a season ago. Pitchers may need 50 innings or so to build up their arm strength and regain their edge and confidence.

Based on their performances to date, Washington appears to be the best team in the National League and Houston looks like the class of the American League.

Toronto was expected to be a contender in the AL East but got off to a poor start in April. Things have started to turn around for the Blue Jays and through Sunday they had won five straight and seven of eight. They’ve also had to deal with injuries to two of their starting pitchers (JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez), who have missed several starts, and a slow start by slugger Jose Bautista. But Sanchez just returned to the rotation and Bautista’s bat has been hot, which could signal continued improvement in the coming weeks.

The Yankees got off to a hot start and begin this week atop the AL East, a half game ahead of Baltimore. But the Yankees just lost three of four at home to Houston and their starting pitching has started to show signs their strong performance in April may have indeed given false hope to their fans. Entering the season the Yankees’ rotation was their major concern.

Now closer Aroldis Chapman is expected to spend a month on the DL and the ability of Dellin Betances to fill that role is uncertain given his struggled when in a similar position during a stretch last season.

Minnesota’s 19-15 start has the Twins atop the AL Central but it is unlikely that pace can be sustained. Aside from Ervin Santana, who has been brilliant through his first eight starts, the rest of the rotation is weak and the bullpen has been taxed, a situation that should only accelerate as the season wears on.

Perhaps the biggest surprise through the first month and a half has been the rather average start being fashioned by the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. At 18-19 the Cubs are greatly underperforming expectations, which included a projected Season Wins Total of 96. The major reason for the Cubs’ struggle has been their starting pitching. Their five-man rotation has made all but one start for the Cubs and none of the five has an ERA below 3.40.

Jake Arrieta has struggled and both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are not performing to last season’s levels. Of their combined 36 starts only 10 have been Quality Starts and only John Lackey has been able to average 6.0 innings per start. That lack of innings increases the workload of the bullpen, which as noted above, takes a toll throughout the summer.

Chicago is still the favorite to win the NL Central but pitching could remain a concern that prompts the Cubs to make some trades in July as the trade deadline approaches and other teams – perhaps their crosstown rivals the White Sox – unload high priced players as those teams are unlikely out of contention for the postseason.

Our challenge, as handicappers and bettors, is to avoid the ups and downs of passionate involvement while trying to anticipate and identify the wagering opportunities that accompany winning and losing streaks.

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

Colorado Rockies at Cincinnati Reds: Amir Garrett and Scott Feldman have provided quality starts in 9 of 14 combined starts for the Reds. Colorado youngsters Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have combined for 8 of 15 Quality Starts and the Rockies have won 12 of those 15 games. The theme of this series should be offense; look to play OVER 9 or lower in any matchup with OVER 9.5 also worth considering if such a matchup involves no more than one of the aforementioned four starters. Rockies are playable as +110 underdogs in any matchup. Should either team be underdogs of more than +125 play in any matchup.

Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros: Carlos Carrasco has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball early in the season with a 1.86 ERA and 0.76 WHIP through seven starts while averaging 6.9 innings per start. Houston’s rotation is led by Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr., who have combined for 12 Quality Starts in 16 starts; the Astros are 13-3 in those games. Houston can be played in starts by Keuchel or McCullers at up to -150 not facing Carrasco. In a matchup of Keuchel or McCullers against Carrasco UNDER 7.5 or higher can also be played. Cleveland can be played as underdogs of any price with any starter not facing Keuchel or McCullers, or as -125 favorites or less in a start by Carrasco not facing Keuchel or McCullers. All seven of Carrasco’s starts through Sunday have stayed UNDER the total.

LA Angels at NY Mets: Dating back to April 27 the Mets had scored at least four runs in 15 of their last 16 games through Sunday. The Angels have had starting pitcher issues with eight different pitchers making starts. The best plays would be OVER at less than 9. Of the 20 combined starts made by the Mets’ Robert Gsellman, Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler, 16 have gone OVER with 2 UNDER and 2 pushes. All seven of Gsellman’s starts have gone OVER. The Mets figure to be favored throughout the series and that sets up for plays on the Angels if underdogs of +140 or more in most matchups. Mets with deGrom would be playable at -150 or less and the Angels would be playable at +170 or more.

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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