Red Sox top Memorial Day MLB grading

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Although much of the season remains to be played and teams will continually evaluate their strengths, weaknesses and likelihood of being in to make the playoffs come September, Memorial Day is an appropriate time to make an assessment of what has taken place so far.

This gives us an eye toward identifying teams that may continue on the path traveled thus far or be showing signs of reversing direction in the coming months. The next key milepost is the July Fourth holiday, which this season is a week or before the annual All Star break.

The AL East has been the most competitive of baseball’s six Divisions with just 7 games separating first place Boston from last place Tampa Bay. At 22-26 the Rays have the best record of any last place team. Boston and Toronto were projected to lead the East with win Totals of 87.5.

Boston is exceeding that pace by about 10 games while the Blue Jays start play on Memorial Day at exactly .500. The surprise team in the Division is second place Baltimore. Picked to finish last in the Division with a win Total of 78, the O’s are on a pace to win 94, standing 28-20 through Sunday.

Boston is likely to continue its solid play – their runs differential of plus 71 is second in all of MLB. Baltimore may be on the verge of regressing. Their pitching has been better than expected while their offense has not performed to expected levels. It would not be surprising if Baltimore drops back to around .500 by the time July 4 rolls around.

The story in the AL Central for the first month of the season was the fine play of the Chicago White Sox. Projected to be barely a .500 team with a projection of 82 wins, the Sox started 16-6 but have gone just 11-18 since April 28. The offense has declined and the pitching – especially the bullpen – has been largely responsible for the turnaround.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been stellar but the rest of the starters, who have accounted for 30 starts to date, all have ERAs above 4.00 and WHIPs above 1.40. Mat Latos’ strong start was a mirage. His first four starts were his best of the season. His next five have each been below average. Right now the Sox can only be played in starts by Sale or Quintana but they are likely to be overpriced.

Kansas City has battled injuries and rather ordinary starting pitching but finds itself 27-22 and in first place on Memorial Day, a half-game ahead of Cleveland. Both Cleveland and Detroit should provide profits during the month of June. The Tigers started slowly but have crept to within a game of .500. The offense has come alive, especially at home where the Tigers scored 5 or more runs in 8 of 9 games on their last homestand.

Texas leads Seattle by a half game in the AL West with the Angels 7 out of first and both Houston and Oakland 7.5 back. Houston has been a major disappointment following last season’s surprise run to the Playoffs, but a regression this season is not a surprise considering the magnitude of the improvement the Astros showed in 2015. They may take a step backward this season but should be in position to contend in 2017. Texas appears to be better balanced than Seattle and the starting pitching has been solid. Derek Holland has been the only weak link in the rotation and with Yu Darvish making his first start since 2014 last Saturday, the Rangers may be poised to take control of the Division over the next month.

Seattle may be a bit overpriced due to the reputation of their pitching which has performed well but not at levels previously established by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle could be an attractive underdog but unattractive chalk over the next month.

The NL East is unfolding as predicted with Washington and the New York Mets creating some distance from the rest of the division. The Nationals start the week leading the Mets by one game. Miami is tied with Philadelphia 3.5 games out of first and whereas the Marlins were expected to contend for a Wild Card the Phillies have been a complete surprise and something of a fluke.

Despite their 26-24 record the Phils, projected to win just 67 games, have a runs differential of -43 and lead all of MLB with a 14-4 record in one-run games. That hardly seems sustainable and the Phils should end up close to that projection of 67 wins. Atlanta was also projected to win just 67 games but their current record of 14-35 has them on a pace to fall well short of that number, equating to just 46 wins, worst in MLB.

The Chicago Cubs are threatening to run away with the NL Central, leading second place Pittsburgh by 6.5 games, which is a pace that would result in winning the division by about 20 games. Their 34-14 record is the best in baseball with their .708 winning percentage nearly 100 points higher than second best San Francisco (32-20, .615).

The Cubs pitching and defense has been outstanding and largely responsible for the Cubs allowing an MLB low 142 runs – 24 less than second best Washington. Their runs differential of plus 131 is outstanding and their 34-14 record – which includes a mini slump over the past two weeks – still have the Cubbies on pace to win 115 games.

Pittsburgh appears better than St. Louis although neither should threaten the Cubs for the division title. Neither the Pirates nor the Cardinals have pitched as well as last season and each is allowing roughly a run more per game than last season. Of the two, Pittsburgh may be the better bet over the next month.

Cincinnati continues to have a historically poor bullpen and can be considered for an OVER play for the foreseeable future. To date the Reds have played 28 OVERS, 17 UNDERS and 5 pushes with nearly identical results both at home and on the road.

San Francisco leads the NL West with baseball’s second best record, 4.5 games ahead of the second place Dodgers. The other three teams in the division have losing records, including Arizona. The Diamondbacks are 23-29, a pace that has them falling short of the 83 games win total by 11 games. The Giants have outstanding starting pitching, and let’s not forget San Francisco has won the World Series in each of the last three even numbered seasons (2010, 2012, 2014).

The Dodgers appear to be the main challenger to the Giants, but keep an eye on Colorado. The Rockies have shown improvement in several areas since the start of the season and one of their starting pitchers – Tyler Chatwood – finally pitched a solid game at home. He has been brilliant away from Coors Field. In five road starts covering 33-2/3 innings Chatwood has a 0.53 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Consider him for play on the road during June.

Here’s a preview of three weekend series.

San Francisco at St. Louis: San Francisco has gotten outstanding starting pitching from their two key off-season additions, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija who, along with Madison Bumgarner, give the Giants one of MLB’s top starting trios. The Cardinals have not gotten the consistent starting pitching they expected but St. Louis still finds ways to win games because they are so fundamentally sound. This handicaps as an intriguing matchup with the Giants’ pitching facing a Cardinals offense that has scored more runs than only Boston, averaging 5.4 runs per game.

The old adage says good pitching stops good hitting, which suggests the UNDER and the Giants may cash the most in this series. UNDER Totals of 7.5 or higher should be considered as may the Giants if favored by minus 125 or less in starts by Bumgarner, Cueto or Samardzija. St. Louis can be played as favorites of -140 or less against other Giants starters, most likely Jake Peavy and whoever will replace Matt Cain in the rotation with Cain now on the DL.

Kansas City at Cleveland: Cleveland has the better starting pitching with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin all enjoying solid seasons and Carlos Carrasco still on the DL. Kansas City has suffered key injuries that have Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon sidelined with Moustakas out for the season. Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy have been the best of the KC starters but neither rates ahead of the aforementioned Cleveland quartet.

The Indians should be favored throughout this series and can be backed in starts by other than Trevor Bauer or Mike Clevinger if laying no more than -140 against any KC starter. The Royals can be played if facing Bauer or Clevinger as underdogs of +120 or more or if favored by -110 or less in starts by Kennedy or Volquez. Based on the prior series and the potential matchups 8 will be the key Totals number, looking to play OVER 7.5 or lower but UNDER Totals of 8.5 or higher.

LA Angels at Pittsburgh: The Pirates’ rotation has been largely ineffective with the exception of ace Gerrit Cole, who’s been rounding into top form over the past few weeks. Lefty Jon Niese has also had three straight quality starts as he continues to benefit from the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage. The Angels’ Matt Shoemaker is off of his two best starts of the season but both came at home. Other than Cole and perhaps Niese and Shoemaker there are no other starters to even consider backing.

Hence the best approach in this series will be to look OVER the Total, especially at Totals of 8 or less. The Pirates may be backed when Cole starts if laying -140 or less and Niese can be backed at -125 or less. The Angels can be backed against other Pittsburgh starters if getting at least +130.

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]

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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