The Memorial Day holiday traditionally has been considered the first key point in the regular season at which teams take stock of how their seasons have unfolded and identify both their strengths and needs going forward.
The first two months of play, representing more than a quarter but less than a third of the season, feature both pleasant surprises and major disappointments relative to how teams were expected to perform coming out of spring training.
Perhaps the even bigger story has been the alarming number of pitching injuries that have resulted in the need for “Tommy John” surgery, which requires generally about 12 months from which to recover.
Already numbering in the dozens, several key pitchers have been lost for the season. Teams affected include Texas, the New York Yankees, Oakland, Tampa Bay plus several others. The biggest name thus far to be out for the balance of the 2014 season is the Miami Marlins’ sensational sophomore Jose Fernandez.
Many possible reasons are given for the great increase over the past few seasons in the number of pitchers needing TJS but there is no generally accepted consensus answer. Theories range from training and nutrition regimens to the vastly increased number of pitches thrown by kids in year-round youth baseball programs.
Their bodies are still developing to a change in follow through mechanics as compared to previous generations. The thought is perhaps the maximum amount of stress the human body can tolerate has been reached (if not exceeded). None of these theories have been shown conclusively and to the exclusion of the others to be clearly the main culprit.
Of course from both a handicapping perspective and an on the field performance standpoint the loss of a key starting pitcher has a great impact on a team’s chances going forward, both on an individual game basis and for the season.
The damage done to the pitching staff goes far beyond the rotation as not only is a planned-for reliever usually pressed into the starting rotation but that spot is often filled by a pitcher not accustomed to going deep into a game and thus puts added pressure on the bullpen.
Thus depth and the ability to have a solid farm system, especially at the AAA level, often determines the teams that are better able to cope with the uncertainty thrust upon them by the injuries that inevitably pop up during the season, to pitchers and hitters alike.
Teams entering the post Memorial Day weekend on a high note include San Francisco (baseball’s best record and winners of 7 of its last 10 games), the Los Angeles Angels (1.5 games behind Oakland in the AL West and also winners of 7 of 10), the St. Louis Cardinals (winners of 8 of 10 following a very sluggish start) and especially Toronto.
A fashionable pick in 2013 following an off-season full of high priced acquisitions, Toronto disappointed greatly. But things are different thus far in 2014 as the Blue Jays, winners of 9 of 10 through Sunday, have climbed atop the AL East and lead second place New York by 2 games.
Consider the low expectations held for Miami, whose 26-25 start through nearly a third of the season should be considered impressive.
Trending downward are the Boston Red Sox, losers of 10 straight games to start the week and just 20-29 overall, including a hard to fathom 10-17 at home. The defending World Series champions have suffered from a lack of offense over the past two weeks and that has put a strain on both their starting and relief pitching.
Tampa Bay’s 23-28 start, while disappointing, is understandable considering the magnitude of the injuries the Rays have suffered, especially to their pitching.
Pittsburgh’s 22-27 start is also disappointing considering the success of last season. But since that success followed a lengthy stretch of failure a sudden reversal cannot be all that surprising.And, finally, the Los Angeles Dodgers, considered by many the favorite to win the National League pennant and even the World Series, are off to a rather pedestrian 27-24 start. They have injuries to some key hitters and ace Clayton Kershaw missed over a month. The Dodgers got off to a slower start in 2013 before the team was energized by the arrival of Yasiel Puig. Don’t be surprised if the Dodgers turn things around and are sitting close to first place in the NL West come the next major milestone, July fourth.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
San Francisco at St. Louis: Winners of all three World Series between 2010 and 2012 the Giants and Cardinals meet for the first time this season. Both teams are more reliant on pitching than on hitting for their success and both have solid starting rotations and above average bullpens. San Francisco’s offense averages slightly more than 4 runs per game. St. Louis has been above average at home (4.6 rpg).
Plays: San Francisco as underdogs of any price in starts by Madison Bumgarner or Tim Hudson; SF -120 or less not facing Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha; St. Louis -150 or less in starts by Wainwright or Wacha not facing Bumgarner or Hudson; St. Louis +120 or more against Bumgarner or Hudson in starts not involving Wainwright or Wacha; UNDER 7 or higher if Bumgarner or Hudson oppose Wainwright or Wacha; OVER 8 or lower if none of those four starters are involved.
Pittsburgh at LA Dodgers: A decline in starting pitching explains much of Pittsburgh’s decline as the two starters putting up the best statistics, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, have been barely average at best. The offense has been especially weak away from home, averaging just 3.2 runs per game. The Dodgers have a solid starting rotation and a potentially explosive offense but an offense that has been more productive on the road (4.7 rpg) than at home (3.8 rpg). With the exception of struggling Paul Maholm all Dodger starters have put up better stats than the Pirates’ top duo (Cole and Morton).
Plays: Dodgers -150 or less with any starter other than Maholm against any Pittsburgh starter; Pittsburgh +150 or more in starts by Cole or Morton; Pittsburgh as underdogs of any price against Maholm; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any start not involving Maholm.
LA Angels at Oakland: The top two teams in the AL West meet for the second time this season. In mid-April Oakland won 2 of 3 games against the Angels in Anaheim. The OVER went 2-1. Neither of the Angels’ top two starters, Jered Weaver or CJ Wilson, started in that series. Nor did Oakland’s top duo, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. The Angels average 5.2 runs per game on the road and Oakland plates 4.4 rpg at home. Long known as a pitcher’s park, there have actually been more OVER results (11) than UNDER (10) at Oakland this season.
Plays: UNDER 7 or higher if Weaver or Wilson oppose Gray or Kazmir. In such matchups if the Total is 6.5 consider UNDER 3.5 for the first 5 innings; Oakland -130 or less if Gray or Kazmir oppose Weaver or Wilson; Oakland -150 or less with Gray or Kazmir against any other Angels starter; Angels -125 or less if Weaver or Wilson don’t face Gray or Kazmir; Angels +150 or more in any matchup.
Colorado at Cleveland: As with most teams Colorado’s offense is better at home than on the road but the Rockies’ contrast is quite extreme, averaging 6.8 runs per game at home but just 3.7 rpg on the road. Cleveland’s offense plates the same 4.4 rpg at home and on the road. Lefty Franklin Morales can be considered the lone “go against” Colorado starter. Corey Kluber has been the Indians’ best starter although veteran Josh Tomlin has performed well in his limited starts.
Plays: Cleveland -140 or less in a start by Kluber against any Colorado starter; Colorado +130 or more against with any starter other than Morales and not facing Kluber or Tomlin; OVER 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Kluber; OVER 9 or lower in a start by Colorado’s Morales.
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]