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The 2014 season is shaping up as a season of great parity with no outstanding teams and few horrible teams.

San Francisco still has the best record in MLB even after dropping 6 of their last 7 games. At 43-27 the Giants are the only team in the National League winning at least 60 percent of their games (.614).

Despite the recent slump, the Giants still have a solid 6.5 game lead over the second place Dodgers whose 37-34 mark nearly halfway through the season has to be considered a disappointment.

Milwaukee continues to lead the NL Central with a 41-29 record, a respectable 58.6 winning percentage.

The real mediocrity in the senior circuit is in the NL East where Atlanta starts the week just four games above break even (36-32), just a game ahead of both Miami and Washington.

The Giants’ cross bay rival, Oakland, has the best record in the American League, 42-27, a 60.9 winning percentage. Toronto leads the AL East with a 41-30 record. Both the A’s and the Blue Jays have 4.5 game leads in their respective Divisions.

The American League counterpart to the NL East is the Central Division. Detroit starts the week just 36-29 (.554), only a game and a half ahead of surging Kansas City. Entering Monday’s start of a four game series at Detroit, the Royals had won seven games in a row, the longest current winning streak in MLB.

Cleveland, at 35-35 and just 3.5 games behind Detroit, can make up some ground as they host the Angels for a quartet of games while the Tigers and Royals square off.

There are still six weeks remaining before the trade deadline at the end of July and already there are rumors circulating about players potentially to be made available.

Two of the teams prominently mentioned as sellers are the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. There has been much speculation the Cubs are offering a pair of starting pitchers enjoying strong seasons thus far, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, in exchange for high minor league prospects.

The Phillies are likely to consider offers for starting pitcher Cliff Lee (currently on the DL) and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (who just broke Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt’s franchise record for hits).

One team to keep an eye on is Tampa Bay. The Rays have been one of baseball’s winningest franchises over the past six seasons. Known as the Devil Rays for their first decade of existence from 1998 through 2007, Tampa Bay won between 55 and 70 games with their 70-91 high water mark coming in 2004.

The team’s nickname was shortened to just the Rays following the 2007 season and perhaps some mysterious alien elements kicked in the following season as Tampa Bay improved by 31 wins, winning the AL East with a 97-65 record. It could more likely be to a core of young developing talent finally all breaking through at the big league level.

After dropping back to 84-78 in 2009 the Rays won between 90 and 96 games the following four seasons, making Playoff appearances in three of those four seasons.

The Rays are likely to finish in last place in the AL East this season and by a very wide margin. They start this week with the worst record in baseball, 27-43, the only team in MLB winning less than 40 percent of its games.

This sudden drop in performance is clearly attributed to a multitude of key injuries, especially involving starting pitching. Young Jeremy Hellickson is yet to make a start and Matt Moore was lost for the season after making just two early season starts.

The rotation is still led by lefty David Price, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner. He’s been the subject of trade speculation. But that might not be in the Rays’ best long term interests. Perhaps Tampa Bay should just consider writing off the rest of this season. They still have a solid nucleus of talent that, if healthy, will be a contender next season. But to not have Price at the head of their 2015 rotation would lessen their chances for success considerably.

In 2013 the Los Angeles Dodgers were languishing in last place in the NL West with a 23-32 record after a June 2 loss to Colorado. The next night a young outfielder, Yasiel Puig, made his Dodgers debut in a 2-1 win over San Diego.

Puig became an immediate sensation and sparked Hollywood to a 42-8 record over the next 50 games, saving the job of manager Don Mattingly and propelling the team to a 92-70 record and an NL West championship.

Could the same thing be happening this season in Pittsburgh?

Last Tuesday was the much delayed but highly anticipated debut of another outfielder, Gregory Polanco, for the Pirates. In his first 6 games he has lived up to the hype, going 12 for 31 with 1 homer and 5 RBI including a 5 for 7 night in the Pirates’ 8-6, 13-inning win at Miami last Friday.

The Bucs won 4 of those 6 games to pull within a game of .500 (34-35) through Sunday after struggling for most of the season’s first two and a half months.

After enduring 20 straight losing seasons from 1993 through 2012, the Pirates improved from 79 wins in 2012 to go 94-68 in 2013, earning a Wild Card spot and ultimately losing in the NLDS to St. Louis.

After improving by 15 games a regression was expected but the Pirates were still thought to be a possible Playoff contender with their projected season wins total pegged at 84.

Although it is all but certain the Pirates will not duplicate the 50 game success the Dodgers had after the debut of Puig last season, we might well see the Pirates make a run in the NL Central over the next couple of months, and they could be attractive as underdogs at the betting window in the short term.

Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.

Atlanta at Washington: This four game series between the leaders of the NL East begins Thursday. This is the first meeting between the rivals since they met for a pair of series a week apart in early April. Atlanta won 5 of those 6 games, including all three home games. Four of the six went OVER the Total with two staying UNDER as the teams averaged a combined 8.0 runs per game.

The Braves continue to rely more on pitching than offense for their success, although they can hit the long ball. Still, Atlanta averages just 3.7 runs per game – both at home and on road – while the average runs per game across MLB is 4.2. Washington also has an outstanding pitching staff, especially with its starting rotation.

The offense is better than Atlanta’s although still pretty much mediocre, averaging 4.3 rpg at home. Despite the earlier results this season this series handicaps as low scoring, especially with Bryce Harper still sidelined for the Nationals.

Plays: Either team as +120 underdogs or more in any matchup; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup except in a start by Atlanta’s Ervin Santana; UNDER 7 in matchups of Atlanta’s Julio Teheran or Gavin Floyd against the Nats’ Jordan Zimmermann or Tanner Roark.

Detroit at Cleveland: The Indians have won 4 of the 5 games this season against the Tigers. Four went OVER the Total with one staying UNDER as the teams averaged a combined 11.0 runs per game that included Cleveland’s 11-to-10 win in their most recent meeting on May 21.

Depending upon what happens in midweek, this could be a series for first place in the AL Central with the Indians just 3.5 behind Detroit through Sunday and the Tigers facing second place Kansas City for four games while Cleveland hosts the Angels, also in a four game series. Part of the reason Detroit has not been able to compile a better record has been an atrocious bullpen, in addition to the struggles of former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Through 14 starts Verlander’s ERA is 4.61 with an even more disturbing 1.50 WHIP.

Only Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are posting above average stats, putting even more pressure on that weak pen. For the Tribe only Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber are pitching well as starters. Both offenses are slightly better than average and both teams have played more OVERs than UNDERs this season.

Plays: OVER 8.5 or lower in any matchup not involving Scherzer or Kluber; Cleveland +140 or more against Verlander; Cleveland as underdogs of any price not facing Scherzer; Detroit -130 or less with Scherzer not opposing Kluber; Cleveland -125 or less with Kluber not facing Scherzer.

Baltimore at NY Yankees: This is only the second series this season between the Orioles and Yankees. Baltimore took two of three games, also at Yankee Stadium, when the teams met in early April. Two of the three games went OVER the Total with one staying UNDER as the teams averaged a combined 11.3 runs per game.

Baltimore’s starting pitching is down from last season, no starter has an ERA below 3.70 and only Bud Norris is averaging greater than 6 innings per start (6.3). New York’s rotation has been led by “rookie” Masahiro Tanaka who has been outstanding through his first 13 starts, averaging 7.2 innings per start with a 2.02 ERA and 0.94 WHIP.

The Yankees have won 11 of his 13 starts. The rest of the rotation has been average at best although true rookie Chase Whitley has shown promise. Surprisingly the Orioles are averaging just 3.2 runs per game at home but 5.1 rpg on the road. The Yanks have also been more productive on the road than at home where they are averaging just 3.7 rpg.

Plays: OVER 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Tanaka; Yankees -150 or less in a start by Tanaka against any Baltimore starter; Baltimore +120 or more not facing Tanaka or Whitley.

Toronto at Cincinnati: The lone Interleague series this weekend is most interesting as it pits a pair of teams expected to contend for the post season with opposite strengths and weaknesses. The Reds rely more on pitching than hitting for their success while the reverse is true for Toronto. The Blue Jays average 4.7 runs per game, almost evenly balanced at home vs. on the road. Cincy averages just 3.6 rpg at home (3.7 on the road).

Toronto’s rotation has been led by veteran lefty Mark Buehrle, who leads the starters in ERA (2.28) and innings per start (6.8) with a 1.22 WHIP. He’s gone at least 6 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less in 10 of his 14 starts and the Jays have won 11 of those starts. Cincinnati’s rotation has been led by Johnny Cueto whose stats of 7.3 innings per start, 1.85 ERA and 0.78 WHIP are among the best in baseball.

Converted reliever Alfredo Simon has also been a revelation and 10 of his 13 starts have resulted in UNDERs. And after spending all of the season on the DL, Mat Latos’ 2014 debut went well as he tossed 6 shutout innings in Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Milwaukee, allowing just 2 hits and zero walks. The Reds bullpen has generally been a strength.

Plays: UNDER 7.5 or higher in a matchup of Toronto’s Buehrle or Drew Hutchison against Cueto, Latos or Simon; Toronto +150 or more against Cueto; Toronto +130 or more against Simon or Latos; Toronto as underdogs of any price against other Cincinnati starters; Toronto -120 or less in a start by Buehrle not opposing Cueto, Simon or Latos.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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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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