Our World Series 7 not looking quite so sexy

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Prior to the start of the season there were only seven teams considered in the realistic mix of teams that would win the World Series. Beyond that group there was a considerable gap to a host of teams that were thought to be, at best, Wild Card contenders.

The “sexy seven” group consists of Boston, the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Houston, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Washington.

Of the seven, several have gotten off to strong starts with Boston starting this week 20-7, the Yankees 18-9 and Houston 19-10.

The Cubs have gotten off to a modest 15-10 start, which has largely been fueled by a 7-1 record against NL Central rival Milwaukee that’s included five shutout wins. This past weekend saw the Cubs sweep the Brewers at Wrigley Field, shutting out Milwaukee three times but scoring just 9 runs in the four-game sweep.

Cleveland has struggled to be barely above break even at 14-12 but the other two teams – Washington and the Dodgers – have not played winning baseball over the season’s first month.

Washington has started 12-16 with the Dodgers not much better at 12-15. Both teams have struggled at the plate with a lack of timely hitting. A good part of the explanation can be attributed to key injuries to both teams’ lineups.

Washington has been without Daniel Murphy all season and the Dodgers have also not had Justin Turner since spring training. Both have been key cogs in their respective offenses over the past couple of seasons.

Washington has also been without Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon for extended stretches.

Injuries are a part of the game, never knowing to whom they will occur, the severity of the injuries determining the time missed. In many seasons, regardless of the sport, a look at the teams that ultimately go deep into the Playoffs are those that have been the most fortunate in avoiding extended absences of key players, a factor that is difficult to anticipate but which must be compensated for by both the teams themselves and the handicappers and bettors in evaluating their likely impact in the short, or often longer, term.

Sometimes handicapping can be thought of in simplistic terms in that most wagers involve betting on a specific team and/or starting pitcher or betting against a specific team and/or starter.

Of course a myriad of factors underlie the determination of which teams and pitchers are the Bet On and Bet Against but those factors are almost always predicated on a full nine-inning game.

Last week some thoughts were shared about betting the First 5 Innings in a game as opposed to betting the full game. By betting the first five we effectively take the bullpens out of the equation – a factor that is certainly included in making the line for the full game.

There is often great uncertainty about bullpens as to how they will be used, when they will be used, who is or is not available and sequences and situations in which they will be used – if the score and situations even call for the starting pitcher to be pulled.

As shown last week, most starters still average lasting at least five innings in their starts but the percentage of starters making it to a full six innings or beyond has been decreasing noticeably in recent seasons, a trend that does not appear likely to reverse in today’s environment of pitch counts and various other sabermetric measures.

By wagering on the outcome through just the first five innings a good part of those uncertainties can be eliminated.

My preference has long been to focus on Totals, which generally will range between 3 and 4.5 for most games. A matchup between a pair of elite or above average starters will often be lined at 3 or 3.5 whereas a matchup of lesser starters will be lined at 4 or 4.5. A reasonable rule of thumb is the five inning Totals will be half or slightly less than half of the Total for the full game when that Total is 10 or less.

I also find it preferable to play against a struggling starter for the first five innings when facing a lineup that is average or better, provided the price is no higher than -140. Often, to back an elite pitcher facing an average or below lineup and/or a weak or struggling pitcher will require you to lay a higher price. In such matchups I often give consideration to backing that elite pitcher by laying the run and a half for the full game.

The point to be emphasized here is over the past decade or so there have been more and more betting options offered to the bettor and it is worth our while to check them out, do the research and consider them every bit as viable as “traditional” ways of play.

The sportsbooks still have the built in mathematical advantage as in the traditional 11-to-10 full game wagers. But bettors have advantages of their own in being selective and playing only when they perceive there to be a bettable edge.

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

Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals: These NL East rivals have had unexpected starts to their seasons. Philadelphia has started 16-11 with a solid lineup and maturing starting pitching. Odubel Herrera is having a breakout season at the plate and starting pitcher Aaron Nola is doing the same on the mound. Washington continues to have injury issues with its lineup but still has a trio of solid starting pitchers with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

The best spot to back the Phillies will be in starts by Nola and veteran Jake Arrieta. Look to play the Phillies as underdogs in their starts with the higher prices likely to be if the Nats start any of the trio of Scherzer, Strasburg or Gonzalez.

In such matchups also look to play UNDER Totals of 7 or higher. Against other than Arrieta or Nola look to back the Nats at -150 or less. And should there be matchups not involving any the five aforementioned starters look to play OVER Totals of 8.5 or less.

Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees: This is their first meeting since last season’s ALDS competition when the Yankees got by the Indians three games to two by being the lone team to win on the road, in Game 5. After a sluggish 9-9 start this season the Yankees have won nine in a row through Sunday to stand 18-9 and trail Boston by two games in the AL East.

Cleveland leads the AL Central with a very modest 14-12 record. The Indians have been miserable on offense, scoring an average of just 3.7 runs per game. But they’ve excelled in run prevention, allowing just 3.8 rpg. Cleveland’s starting pitching has generally fared well with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger each averaging over six innings per start with ERAs of 3.08 or lower and WHIPs between Kluber’s 0.77 and Clevinger’s 1.14.

The one weak link has been Josh Tomlin; if he is still in the rotation and gets to face the Yanks look to play OVER a Total of 8.5 or lower and on the Yankees at -150 or less against other than Sonny Gray. Otherwise look UNDER Totals of 8 or less in starts by other than Tomlin, Gray or Jordan Montgomery. Both bullpens are strong and deep.

Should the Yanks’ Luis Severino or CC Sabathia face Kluber, Carrasco or Clevinger playing UNDER Totals of 7.5 is okay. Look to back Cleveland as underdogs of +125 or more against other than Severino in starts not made by Tomlin. If the Yanks are priced at -125 or less in starts by other than Gray, Montgomery or Masahiro Tanaka look to back the hosts.

Houston Astros at Arizona Diamondbacks: The weekend’s lone interleague series matches a pair of Division leaders who could end up meeting in the World Series. Houston won it all last season while Arizona was swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS who ultimately lost to the Astros in the Fall Classic. Houston is off to a solid 19-10 start on the young season with Arizona even better at 19-8.

Houston’s best starters have been Justin Verlander and ex-Pirate Gerrit Cole, although Charlie Morton has also pitched well. Arizona’s de-facto ace has been lefty Patrick Corbin while supposed ace Zach Greinke has been average at best but is still formidable. Look to back the Astros in starts by Cole and Verlander, laying up to -125 on the road with either against any Arizona starter.

Arizona can be played against other than Cole or Verlander as up to -130 or as underdogs. Look OVER Totals of 8.5 or less in starts not involving Cole, Verlander or Corbin whereas in a matchup of Corbin against either Cole or Verlander can be played UNDER the rather low Total of 7.5 or higher.

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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