Phillies got things underway trading slugger Jim Thome

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Kansas City will play host to this season’s All Star game on July 10. Unlike years past, rather than resuming regular play a couple of days later, the diamonds will be silent for both Wednesday and Thursday with games resuming a week from Friday, on July 13.

By the time recess occurs all teams will have played slightly more than half a season (game 81). By the time the trading deadline arrives at the end of the month teams will be approaching 100 out of 162 games and will be making decisions as to whether they will be buyers or sellers.

The “Phading” Phillies got things underway by trading slugger Jim Thome to Baltimore in exchange for some prospects. Whether this signals a decision on the part of Philly management that the season has been lost is unclear. The Phils might merely be doing a favor to Thome, who is more of a liability in the field but as a DH can play every day in the AL.

Philly “phinally” got back 2B Chase Utley last week, who promptly homered in his first at bat of the season. Slugger Ryan Howard has started getting back in game shape after missing the entire first half. And “ace” Roy Halladay is scheduled to return in early August.

The Phils start the week last in the NL East, 11 games behind first place Washington and 7½ out of the Wild Card. There’s still plenty of baseball to be played and no team in the NL has more recent playoff experience than does Philadelphia. Their 9-19 record in June was the second worst in baseball.

Texas became the first team to 50 wins and their 50-30 record is the best in baseball. Only one other team, the New York Yankees, is winning more than 60 percent of its games (48-30).

The Washington Nationals have the best record in the NL (45-32) as they continue to lead the East by 3½ over the surprising New York Mets.

The collapse of the Los Angeles Dodgers is complete. The once high flying Dodgers have dropped to second place in the NL West, trailing San Francisco by a game after Sunday’s action.

The Dodgers did end the week with an 8-3 win over the Mets that ended a prolonged streak of futility that included having been shut out in five of their prior six games and scoring just two runs in the other contest. Los Angeles is just 2-8 in its last 10 and 12-18 in the last 30 after starting the season 32-18.

Baseball’s best division remains the AL East where all five teams have winning records. Last place Toronto is 40-39, including 5-5 in the last 10. The Blue Jays are still playing winning baseball even through three of their five starting pitchers went on the DL in mid-June and both Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are out for the season. Their best starter, Brandon Morrow, is likely out until sometime in August.

In future columns the subject of betting baseball on the run line will be discussed.

This is a topic on which there is some disagreement among professional bettors, many of whom prefer to play regular underdogs and take a run and a half, often converting those underdogs into favorites. This strategy effectively protects against a one run loss by the underdog.

This contrasts to the preference of others who will lay the 1½ with the favored team, often converting that favorite into an underdog. The risk in this approach is that when that favored team wins by exactly one run, the bet is lost even though the favored team wins. Suffice it to say that both camps have valid arguments in support of their positions.

A look at the statistics surrounding one runs games might surprise many readers. Thus far in 2012, just over 71 percent of all games have been decided by two runs or more.

Through this past Sunday every major league team had won more than half of its games by more than one run. The weakest team has been Minnesota with 51.5 percent of its wins (17 of 33) by at least two. The top team in the category percentage wise is Toronto with 35 of 40 wins (87.5 percent) by at least two.

In fact for four teams, more than 80 percent of their wins have been by more than a single run. Eleven clubs have seen at least 75 percent of their wins by more than a run.

Of course, some of those multiple run wins have come in the role of underdog but the overall stats may surprise many observers, casual or otherwise, as to the relatively scarcity of one run games. This topic shall be picked up again in two weeks.

Next week’s column will contain brief team by team midseason assessments and the outlook for each over the second half of the season following the All Star break.

Here are previews of four series of interest on this final weekend before the All Star Break.

Braves at Phllies: Philly took two of three games in the only other series between the teams, played in Atlanta at the start of May Lefty Cole Hamels has been the Phils’ best starter although none of the starters has an ERA below 3.00. Vance Worley has also been effective for the Phillies, but Cliff Lee continues to be winless and his performances have been getting progressively worse over his last few starts.

 The Braves are in no better shape now that Brandon Beachy has been lost for the season. The current rotation is ordinary at best with only veteran Tim Hudson averaging more than six innings per start. 

Stamina has been a strength for the Phillies, however, as all starters other than Kyle Kendrick have averaged at least 6.2 innings per start. Both bullpens have solid closers. Atlanta’s offense has been the more productive through the first half of the season.

Potential plays:

• Braves +140 or more against Hamels.

• Braves +130 or more against Lee or Worley.

• Braves as underdogs of any price against other Philly starters.

• Phillies -130 or less in starts by Hamels, Lee or Worley.

• OVER 8 or lower in starts not involving Hamels or Worley.

• OVER 9 or less if Atlanta’s Mike Minor opposes Kendrick or Joe Blanton.

Giants at Pirates: In their only meeting this season, the Giants took two of three games at home in mid-April. All three games stayed UNDER as the teams combined for just 17 total runs James McDonald is having a breakout season (2.43 ERA and 0.98 WHIP through 15 starts) for Pittsburgh and veteran AJ Burnett is flourishing now that he has left the spotlight of New York. The Pirates are a combined 21-7 when those two hurlers take the mound.

Starting pitching is also a strength for the Giants. In starts by Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco is 33-14 with all three posting ERAs below 3.00 and WHIPs of 1.11 or better. The SFr offense is just average although Melky Cabrera is having a very strong season in his first year in the NL.

Giants ace Tim Lincecum continues to struggle although he has started to perform better of late and is off of his best effort of the season last week against the Dodgers. He could be poised for a strong second half. The Pirates remain the strongest UNDER team at 26-9 with one push.in 36 home games through Sunday. 

Potential plays:

• Pirates +125 or more in starts by Burnett or McDonald against Bumgarner, Cain or Vogelsong.

• Pirates +150 or more in any matchup.

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Cain or Vogelsong opposes McDonald.

Yankees at Red Sox: The Yanks took both home games when the teams met back in mid-April. The teams are second and third in run differential in all of baseball with New York +61 and Boston +57. With both teams currently featuring patchwork rotations this should be a high scoring series.

The Yanks are hitting just a modest .260 as a team but their 124 home runs are the most in all of MLB. Other than Franklin Morales, who has made only three starts, no Boston starter has an ERA below 4.00. With CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both sidelined, Huroki Kuroda is the best current Yankees’ starter statistically although the Yankees are 12-3 in Ivan Nova’s starts despite his rather ordinary stats (4.03 ERA and 1.37 WHIP).

However, note that Phil Hughes has pitched extremely well of late for the Yankees. The Red Sox have won 11 of Felix Doubront’s 16 starts despite the lesser of the AL’s pitching Felixes posting a 4.52 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

Potential plays:

• Either team at +125 or more regardless of the pitching matchup.

• Yankees as underdogs of any price.

• Yankees if favored by no more than -120 in a start by Nova against any starter other than Doubront.

• Red Sox as underdogs of any price.

• Red Sox if favored by no more than -120 in a start by Doubront against any starter other than Nova.

• OVER 10 or lower in any matchup not involving the Yanks’ Hughes or Kuroda or Boston’s Jon Lester or Josh Beckett.

• UNDER 9 or higher if Hughes or Kuroda oppose Beckett or Lester.

Orioles at Angels: The Angels have won four of the five previous games between the teams this season, including a two game sweep in Baltimore just last week. In that mini-series sweep, the Halos outscored the O’s 20-4 and included a 13-1 win against Baltimore’s most effective starter, Jason Hammel. Baltimore’s offense has averaged nearly a run per game more at home than on the road. Their overall numbers should increase after acquiring slugger Jim Thome from Philadelphia this past weekend.

The Angels have been a much better team offensively since calling up Mike Trout. The combination of Trout and Mark Trumbo has lessened the pressure on Albert Pujols, who had a solid June following poor months of April and May. Starting pitching remains a strength, but the bullpen has been fortified since acquiring Ernesto Frieri from San Diego in early May. As a closer, Frieri is 10 for 10 and yet to allow a run in 24 appearances spanning 24 1/3 innings

Jered Weaver and C J Wilson have been the rotation’s stalwarts as both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have struggled. Yet both Haren and Santana have still performed better than all but the top two starters for Baltimore – Hammel and rookie W.Y. Chen.

Potential plays:

• Orioles +150 or more in starts by Hammel or Chen against Weaver or Wilson.

• Orioles +125 or more with Hammel or Chen against other Angels’ starters.

• Angels -150 or less with any starter other than Weaver or Wilson not facing Hammel or Chen.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Weaver or Wilson face Hammel or Chen.

• OVER 8 or lower in games not involving Weaver or Wilson.

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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