Rangers and Dodgers have best records in baseball at 16-6

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Almost one full month is in the books as the calendar turns to May and teams have played roughly 20 games, slightly more than 10 percent of the season.

Texas and the LA Dodgers have the best records in baseball at 16-6 with no fewer than six teams standing at 14-8 through Sunday. That record is good enough for St. Louis to sit atop the NL Central.

Both Atlanta and Washington are tied for the NL East lead at 14-8 but the surprising New York Mets are just a game behind at 13-9. The preseason overwhelming favorite to win the NL East, Philadelphia, continues to struggle and starts the week at 10-12 and with many questions and concerns although injuries are the major factor behind their struggling start.

The tightest Division is the AL East with Baltimore and Tampa Bay at the top of the standings with their 14-8 records. Boston’s fine play over the last week still has the Red Sox in last place but just three and a half games behind the co-leaders with the Yankees and Toronto in between. The Sox still have serious concerns with their pitching but their lineup is starting to heat up.

The unthinkable is unfolding as Los Angeles’ American League entry, the Angels, have struggled to a 7-15 record. Expected to be a contender following the off season signings of Albert Pujols and lefty starter C J Wilson their start is somewhat shocking. Pujols has gone through the longest homerless drought of his career, still seeking his first dinger of the season after 88 at bats and a .216 batting average.

But the unthinkable part is that there are rumblings that manager Mike Scioscia is starting to squirm. Although it’s early the Angels are in last place in the AL West, 9 games behind Texas. Only Kansas City and Minnesota have won fewer games (6) in all of baseball. The bullpen has been ineffective and the offense is averaging under 3.5 runs per game. Oh, and their backers at the betting windows are already down over 14 units for the season.

Another early season disappointment has been the Miami Marlins. Ace starter Josh Johnson has struggled in April as he seeks to reclaim the outstanding form that marked his career prior to last season’s injury. The off season signing of Jose Reyes was supposed to provide a bolt of lightning at the top of the order but that has yet to materialize. Miami is averaging just an average 4.1 runs per game at home and only Pittsburgh is averaging fewer than Miami’s average of 2.5 runs per game on the road.

On a positive note the Washington Nationals made news over the weekend by calling up Las Vegas native Bryce Harper. Considered by many as the top prospect in the game the 19 year old made his MLB debut this past Saturday. He went 1 for 3 both on Saturday and Sunday and make a fine catch against the outfield wall. His debut was spoiled as the Nats lost both games and return home for Bryce’s debut in the nation’s capital riding a four game losing streak.

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

Phillies at Nationals: The Phillies continue to struggle at the plate as the bats of injured Ryan Howard and Chase Utley continue to be misses. But perhaps of equal if not greater importance is the loss of lefty ace Cliff Lee to an injury that is expected to keep him sidelined. Roy Halladay is still at the top of his game and both Cole Hamels and Vance Worley had solid Aprils.

Relying on Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick in the four/five slots should provide some good “bet against” opportunities in the short term. Washington is starting to field its team of the future with Stephen Strasburg anchoring a fine young rotation and Bryce Harper getting his first taste of the big leagues. Both offenses have gotten off to slow starts which suggests this is more likely to be a low scoring series than one that sees plenty of runs. 

Although the Phillies have been Totals-neutral with 11 OVERs and 11 UNDERs Washington has been a strong UNDER team to date, playing just 7 OVERs but 15 UNDERs through Sunday. The Phillies and Nationals lead the majors in Quality Starts (6 innings pitched while allowing 2 earned runs or less) with 15 and 16 respectively

Potential plays:

• UNDER 7 or higher if Halladay, Hamels or Worley oppose Washington’s Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Russ Detwiler or Jordan Zimmermann.

• Underdog in a matchup involving two of these 7 starters.

• Nationals -140 or less against Blanton or Kendrick.

Brewers at Giants: Both teams have gotten off to weaker than expected starts with Milwaukee starting the week at 10-12. Co-ace Zack Greinke has started off nicely but Yovani Gallardo has struggled. Actually, Gallardo has been brilliant in 3 of his 5 starts. But in his pair of starts against rival St Louis he has been torched. Against the Cardinals Gallardo has allowed 14 runs, 15 hits and 7 walks in just 5 2/3 innings. In his other three starts Gallardo has allowed just 4 runs, 18 hits and 4 walks in 21 innings.

The rest of the rotation has been more like Gallardo has been against St Louis. Only Sean Marcum is averaging 6 innings per start. San Francisco has started 12-10 despite ace Tim Lincecum having struggled. Young lefty Madison Bumgarner has been the most effective starter but Matt Cain and Barry Zito have also pitched at high levels.

The Giants play in a pitchers park and that is evidenced by their averaging just 2.9 runs per game at home (2 OVERs, 7 UNDERs) while tallying 4.9 runs per game on the road (8 OVERs, 5 UNDERs).

Potential plays: 

• Brewers +140 or more against Lincecum or +120 or more against Ryan Vogelsong.

• Giants -150 or less in starts by Bumgarner or Cain against any Milwaukee starter.

• Giants -125 or less in a Lincecum start not facing Gallardo or Greinke.

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• OVER 7 in starts not involving Bumgarner, Cain or Lincecum. 

Athletics at Rays: Oakland has performed better than expected over the first month of the season, largely due to some excellent starting pitching. Although the A’s have gone just 8-8 in starts by the trio of Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Tommy Milone each of the three has an ERA of lower than 3.25 and are averaging at least 6.5 innings per start. Colon and Milone have WHIPS below 1.00. The record behind those three starters would be better than .500 but for a lack of offense. 

In the 16 games started by this trio the A’s have played 3 OVERs and 13 UNDERs. For the season Oakland is averaging fewer than 3.0 runs per game. Tampa Bay is playing as expected, tied with Baltimore for the second best record behind Texas in the AL. Their offense has been about a run and a half per game better than Oakland’s but pitching is still the key to the Rays’ success. 

James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson have put up solid though not outstanding starts with their success based largely on limiting the number of base runners. Only rookie lefty Matt Moore has a WHIP greater than 1.30 among the five Tampa starters. 

Potential plays:

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Colon, Milone or McCarthy oppose Shields or Price.

• Athletics +150 or more in starts by that trio against any Tampa starter.

• Rays – 150 or lower against other than Colon, Milone or McCarthy.

Orioles at Red Sox: Baltimore’s dramatic 4-3 win over Boston on the final night of the 2011 season eliminated Boston from the Playoffs and perhaps set the tone for the Orioles’ fine start in 2012. This series will feature a pair of former New York managers match wits as ex-Mets skipper Bobby Valentine now leads the Red Sox while ex-Yankee manager Buck Showalter is in his second full season on the bench in Baltimore. Baltimore’s early success cannot be pinpointed to any specific area. 

The offense has been pretty average and only Jason Hammel has put up strong starting pitcher stats, although rookie lefty W Y Chen has shown promise. The bullpen has been above average and that’s been a major shortcoming of the Orioles for more than a decade. Boston has recovered from its 0-3 and 1-5 start to pull within a game of .500 as the week begins largely because the offense has come around. 

The starting pitching has been bad with only Daniel Bard sporting an ERA below 4 (3.85). John Lester and Josh Beckett have been barely adequate while Clay Buchholz has been downright awful, with an 8.88 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in four starts, allowing at least 5 earned runs in each.

Potential plays:

• OVER 9 or less in any matchup.

• Orioles +140 or more against Buchholz.

• Orioles +120 or more in a start by Hammel against any Boston starter.

• Red Sox -130 or less not facing Hammel.

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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