Although the All Star break is traditionally considered the midpoint of the regular season, within the next week most teams will have reached the mathematical halfway mark by playing game number 81.
It’s human nature to attach more significance to first impressions than they usually deserve going forward and thus in baseball many are under the impression the Chicago Cubs are far and away the best team in all of baseball.
And by several metrics such a case can be made.
But not all the key numbers support that contention that was clearly the case throughout April and well into May. At one point during May the Cubs were on a pace to the major league record of 116 regular season wins.
But as all teams do, often several times a season, the Cubs have been in a slump over the past week and have been just slightly better than average for more than a month. In fact, through this past Sunday the Cubs had gone just 22-18 in their prior 40 games, standing 48-26.
While that is still the best record in baseball, the Cubs are now on pace to win “just” 105 games. They still have the best runs differential in baseball and by a wide margin. At +155 runs the Cubs are 74 runs better than Cleveland whose+81 runs differential is now second best.
Although the Cubs continue to get a tremendous amount of attention for what they have accomplished nearly halfway into the season, several teams are also deserving of attention.
San Francisco, Texas, Cleveland and Houston have been the hottest teams in baseball for more than a month.
The Giants have been the hottest of the quartet, going 30-10 over their prior 40 games through Sunday. But Texas has been almost as hot with its 29-11 record over that same stretch. And Cleveland’s last 40 games have produced a 27-13 record. Houston has been 10 games above .500 over its last 40 games, going 25-15 to finally get above .500 for the season. At 39-37 the Astros are within a game and a half of the second AL Wild Card.
Over the next month teams will determine their realistic chances of making the Playoffs and trades will be made between contenders and teams looking toward the future.
Teams use different criterion in determining whether they will be buyers or sellers and as we prepare to enter July most teams are still within distance of making the Playoffs.
Although much likely will change as the July 31 trade deadline approaches, through last Sunday 11 of the 15 AL teams were two-and-a-half games or less from making the Playoffs, either as a Division winner or as a Wild Card. In the NL only 7 teams were within two-and-a-half games of the Playoffs but 4 other teams were within a half dozen games of the second Wild Card.
How much of an impact can these July trades have? For one of the more dramatic impacts we need look no further than 2015.
The New York Mets, Texas and Toronto each had mediocre records at the trading deadline last season. All three went on to not just make the Playoffs but did so by winning their Divisions.
The key trades were the Mets acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from Detroit, the Rangers getting Cole Hamels from the Phillies and Toronto getting David Price from Detroit.
As trade rumors heat up and trades are consummated over the next month there may be some opportunities to find some value in the futures market regarding pennant and World Series odds. Some sportsbooks continue to offer odds to win each of the six Divisions.
Of course you will need to act quickly once you determine the veracity of the rumor and the likelihood of the projected trade being consummated as the books are quick to adjust.
One interesting team to watch might be the Chicago White Sox. Their hot 24-13 start is a distant memory as they’ve gone 14-25 since. Cleveland appears to be best team in the AL Central but Chicago can still contend for a Wild Card if the organization is willing to spend the bucks, something they declined to do several seasons ago when they were very much in contention at the end of July.
Another team that might be an interesting play is Miami. The Marlins started this week in a virtual tie with the Mets in NL East, just 3 games behind Washington and dead even with the Mets for the two NL Wild Cards. In starter Jose Fernandez, Miami has a true ace but there is not much behind him. If the Marlins can land another front line starting pitcher they could remain in contention well into September.
Here’s a preview of three weekend series.
Cubs at Mets
This attractive four game series starts Thursday and will be their first meeting since the Mets swept the Cubs in four games to win last season’s NLCS. Both teams have struggled lately, each going just 9-11 in their last 20 games through Sunday. The Mets have gotten the solid starting pitching that led them to the World Series last season but the offense has been rather anemic, scoring 2 runs or less in half of those 20 games.
The Cubs have also seen a drop in their run production and the bullpen has not been as effective when not protecting the large leads they were handed back in April and early May. Both teams have outstanding starting pitching. Both staffs have been healthy as only one pitcher, the Mets’ Logan Verrett, has had to fill in for an injured starter in either rotation, and he’s made just four starts.
Chicago’s rotation is very well balanced. All five starters have WHIPs below 1.10 and John Lackey’s 3.29 ERA is their only starter above 2.66. And Jason Hammel is the only Cubs starter averaging less than 6 innings per start (5.8). Excluding Verrett the Mets’ rotation stacks up almost as well with Matt Harvey and Steven Matz posting the weakest stats.
The best way to approach this series is to look towards the underdog in any game when getting +120 or more. Regardless of the matchup, each lineup will be facing a quality starter. As such, the UNDER is also the preferred way to look, including UNDER in the First 5 Innings. The most attractive UNDER would be at Totals of 7 or higher and at 3.5 or higher for the First 5 Innings.
Indians at Blue Jays
The teams meet for the first time this season in a four game series beginning Thursday. Cleveland’s fine play over the past month or so has vaulted the Indians into the lead in the AL Central, 5 games ahead of Kansas City. Toronto sits third in the AL East but in control of the second AL Wild Card, a half-game ahead of the Royals. Cleveland has the pitching edge, especially in their starting rotation. The Blue Jays have the edge on offense.
This makes for an intriguing matchup as Cleveland’s offense has been better than average as has been Toronto’s pitching. Of the 134 starting pitchers who have pitched enough for me to rank them, all 5 of Cleveland’s starters rank in the top 40, as do 3 of the Blue Jay starters. That suggests a lower than expected scoring series as the Totals may be influenced by the two offenses.
Although a Total of 9 or higher would be preferred, even at a Total of 8.5 the UNDER is the way to look with the exception of starts by Toronto’s Marcus Stroman or R.A. Dickey or Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin. Stroman and Dickey have struggled and although Tomlin has pitched very well he has gotten excellent offensive support and his 14 starts have resulted in 10 OVERS, 2 UNDERS and 2 pushes.
Cleveland as an underdog of+120 in any game is also worthy of consideration with one exception. If Marco Estrada starts for Toronto, he can be backed at -130 or lower and the UNDER can also be played in his start. Estrada’s 14 starts have produced 11 UNDERS and 3 OVERS thus far. Should Toronto be priced at +140 or more, even in a start by Stroman or Dickey, the Blue Jays would be the play.
Yankees at Padres
This is one of three interleague weekend series, each of which involves a contender facing a team out of contention and quite possibly a trading partner, perhaps even during this series. The Yankees have only two starters worth backing, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, although Michael Pineda is starting to pitch with more consistency.
The best starter for San Diego has been Drew Pomeranz, once a highly touted prospect who has battled injuries. He’s clearly been the Padres’ best starter with a solid 2.76 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 15 starts. Sabathia, Tanaka and Pomeranz have combined for 28 UNDERS, 12 OVERS and 2 pushes.
If Pomeranz faces Sabathia or Tanaka the UNDER should be considered, especially at a Total of 7 or higher. If none of the three is involved, the OVER should be considered. Although long known as being pitcher friendly, Petco Park has seen more OVERs (23) than UNDERs (16) this season, with 1 PUSH. An unusually high 9.2 runs per game have been scored in San Diego’s home games thus far, ranking in the upper half of all 30 stadiums.
The Yankees are likely to be favored throughout the series and can be played in starts by Sabathia or Tanaka at -130 or less. Otherwise San Diego can be played as underdogs of +115 or more against other Yankees starters or as favorites of -125 or less if Pomeranz doesn’t face eitherSabathia or Tanaka.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]