With Pittsburgh’s dramatic tenth-inning come-from-behind win over St. Louis Sunday night the figurative first half of the season is complete with the All Star break taking place from Monday through Thursday. Most teams enter the break having played between 85 and 90 games.
Were the playoffs to begin based upon the standings at the All Star break Major League Baseball would be subject to some big time criticism.
The teams with the two best records reside in the same division, the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals would already be assured a spot in the NL Divisional Series whereas second place Pittsburgh would be forced to play that silly single Wild Card elimination game against, interestingly enough, a third NL Central Division team, the Chicago Cubs.
The one game Wild Card format, introduced a couple of years ago to generate additional meaningful games at the end of the regular season is blatantly unfair and MLB will realize that if the season plays out as just described.
At 53-35 the Pirates trail St. Louis by 2.5 games. The other two NL Division leaders, Washington in the East and the LA Dodgers in the West, each have records weaker than Pittsburgh’s. If the standings were listed in a single column the Dodgers would be 3 games behind the Pirates and the Nationals would be 4.5 games back.
Arguments can certainly be made that division races still matter and carry great weight. Teams play nearly half their games against Division rivals. Perhaps it’s the scheduling dynamics that need to be changed to achieve more balanced schedules within each league.
Or baseball could simply eliminate that second Wild Card team and go back to what worked so well for the two decades since each league was split into three divisions.
Pittsburgh should not see its season come down to a one game playoff with the second best record in all of baseball while a pair of teams get free passes into the best of five divisional series.
Things are not much different in the American League although the contrast between division leaders and the Wild Card teams is not as great. Kansas City, leader of the AL Central, has the best record in the league at 52-34. Second place Minnesota has the second best record, 49-40, a game better than both the AL East leading NY Yankees and the AL West leading LA Angels, both at 48-40. Houston currently holds the second AL Wild Card at 49-42.
With just three teams playing .600 baseball or better (St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Kansas City) the first half of the season has been one of parity. As noted in previous weeks this could result in an overabundance of buyers at the trade deadline.
Every team in the AL will start post-All-Star-break play 8 games or less out of Wild Card contention. The worst team in the AL, Oakland, is just 9 games below .500 (41-50). Yet over their last 40 games – a quarter of the season – the A’s have a winning record (22-18).
Beginning on Friday there will be just over 10 weeks until the regular season ends Oct. 4. That is plenty of time for teams to make up plenty of ground. Oakland can make up those games over that stretch of time although they would have to pass nine tightly bunched teams. Not an easy task, but not impossible either, especially with so many mediocre teams in the chase.
It’s considerably different in the NL. Three teams are 10 or more games out of the second Wild Card (Miami, Milwaukee and Philadelphia).
And whereas just one game separates the two teams currently in control of the AL Wild Card (Minnesota and Houston) Pittsburgh’s lead over the Cubs for the top NL Wild Card is 5.5 games.
Thus in the AL a dozen teams are within 9 games of the first Wild Card and just 8 behind the second Wild Card. Only three teams are within 7.5 games of the first NL Wild Card and just 7 teams are less than 8 games out of the second WC. San Diego, Cincinnati and Colorado are each more than 6 games behind the Cubs for that second Wild Card.
Depending on what happens over the two weeks heading up to the July 31 trade deadline we could see few, if any, AL teams trading away significant talent while as many as a half dozen NL teams may be involved in dealing away major league talent to contenders.
Along these lines there are five teams currently on pace to exceed their projected season win totals by more than 10 games, ranging from Kansas City (currently on pace to exceed their projection by 16 games) to Houston (on pace to exceed their projection by 11 games). In between are Minnesota, St. Louis and Pittsburgh).
At the other end of the spectrum are 6 teams currently on pace to fall short of their season win projections by at least 10 games. The most disappointing team is Philadelphia – which tells you just how bad a team this edition of the Phillies is.
Projected to win just 67.5 games, at their current record of 29-62 the “Phloundering Phils” are on pace to win just 52 games, a shortfall of 15.5 wins.
Close behind is Miami, followed by Seattle, Milwaukee, Boston and San Diego. Of this sextet the most interesting team is Boston. The Red Sox were the team projected by most to win the AL East and their season win total was 86. Boston enters the All Star break in last place in the Division but just 6.5 games out of first. The Sox are also just 6 games out of the second Wild Card.
Boston opened last fall with 25-1 odds to win the World Series and with 12-1 odds to win the AL pennant. Those odds are now 60-1 and 25-1 respectively.
At the Westgate late last week four teams were held at less than 10-1 to win the World Series (Kansas City at 9-2, St. Louis and Washington both at 5-1 and the Dodgers at 6-1). There is little to no value in any of those teams at such short odds with so much time remaining.
There are rarely bargains at this time of the season but we did see a pair of Wild Card teams make the World Series last season. One team that is very interesting is Cleveland. The Indians have a solid five man starting rotation and are currently at 50-1 odds to win the World Series after opening at 20-1 last fall. They start play on Friday 5.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card and are managed by two-time World Series winner Terry Francona.
The Tribe can use another bat or two to bolster an offense that has been slightly below average to date. The Mets remain a long shot with odds of 40-1. Their offense has been below average, especially on the road. But their starting rotation is strong with each of the six current starters averaging more than 6 innings per start, putting less stress on the bullpen. Bullpens often wear down in the heat of July and August from being overused earlier in the season.
It would be interesting if a sportsbook would put up a prop involving the following: Will either of the teams with the best record in each league at the All Star break (Kansas City and St. Louis) make the World Series? Will any of the six Division leaders at the All Star break win the World Series?
Those would be interesting props to debate and also to root for (or against) over the balance of the season with the props involving either two or six possible winners.
Here’s a look at three series coming out of the All Star break, each of which shall be played Friday through Sunday.
Dodgers at Nationals: Washington ace Max Scherzer has pitched even better than expected with Jordan Zimmermann pitching his best ball of the season. Both offenses have been rather average in terms of run production although Washington has been much better on the road than at home.
PLAYS: Dodgers as underdogs of any price with Kershaw or Greinke against any Washington starter; Dodgers -125 or less with Kershaw or Greinke not facing Scherzer or Zimmermann; Nationals -125 or less with any starter other than Greinke or Kershaw; UNDER 6 or higher if Kershaw or Greinke oppose Scherzer or Zimmermann; UNDER 7 or higher if only one of the four is involved.
Red Sox at Angels: Boston took 2 of 3 when the teams met in Boston in late May. Two of the three games went OVER the total. The Angels are averaging a full run per game more on the road than at home. Boston is more typical, averaging more at home than on the road.
PLAYS: Angels +125 or more in any matchup; Boston -120 or less in any matchup; OVER 8.5 or lower in any matchup except when Wilson starts for the Halos (12 UNDERs, 6 OVERs this season).
Indians at Reds: Cleveland swept the first part of this interleague series, taking all three home games in late May. The Indians and Reds averaged just 6.7 runs per game. The current dynamics of both teams suggest the Indians may be in the better collective frame of mind as a number of Reds may be unsettled by the uncertainty of where they will be in two weeks.
PLAYS: Indians +140 or more against Cueto; Indians +120 against any other Reds starter; Reds +120 or more against any Cleveland starter; UNDER 7.5 or higher if Cincy’s Cueto or Leake oppose Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or Cody Anderson; UNDER 8.5 or higher in other matchups.
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]