Within the next week the baseball season will reach its first milepost, Memorial Day, with most teams having played about a third of their schedules (54 games).
The great number of early season postponements has led to inconsistent and choppy play as those affected teams have found it hard to establish the rhythm that comes from day to day play with an occasional day off. We’ve seen many teams off to surprisingly sluggish starts with several big name players and pitchers performing at well below established levels.
As the weather warms up and the threat of rainouts decreases to more historic levels we can expect turnaround from many, but not all, of the slow starting teams and players.
One candidate that comes first to mind is the LA Dodgers, winners of 104 regular season games last season before losing in Game 7 in the World Series. Prior to last Thursday’s series-ending game in Miami the Dodgers were a woeful 16-26 and on a pace to lose 100.
LA had been plagued by injuries, including the loss of ace Clayton Kershaw who remains on the DL. Justin Turner, one of the Dodgers’ most productive hitters the past few seasons, had just made his season debut two nights earlier. His bat had been greatly missed and the return seemed to give that offense a much needed jolt.
The Dodgers shut out Miami last Thursday and then swept a three game series in Washington to enter this week on a four game winning streak, tied for their longest this season. It was around this time last season the Dodgers began their historical run of 43 wins in 50 games. That stretch began on June 7 and lasted through Aug. 5.
With Arizona in a prolonged slump, losing 10 of its last 11, the Dodgers are just five games out of first place in the NL West. It’s unlikely they can come close to repeating that 43-7 run but with still more than 100 games to play there is plenty of time to move up in the standings and make the Playoffs.
After opening as 5-1 favorites to win the World Series, the Dodgers are now 14-1. And after opening as 9-4 favorites to win the NL pennant they are now 7-1. This might be the time to make such a play as a month from now it would not be a surprise if the Dodgers are atop the NL West even with the injuries that have befallen them.
Here are thoughts on three weekend series.
St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates: Pittsburgh’s best starter has been Trevor Williams whose 10 starts have produced a 3.05 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, by far the best numbers among the pitchers who have made at least five starts. With ace Carlos Martinez on the DL the Cardinals’ best starters have been Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty, who have made eight and four starts respectively. Pittsburgh’s offense has been about a half run per game more productive than St. Louis’.
Despite both team being six games above .500 both have been only marginally profitable at the betting windows this season, with Pittsburgh up 3.5 net units and the Cardinals up 1.3.
Pittsburgh can be playable at -125 or less in a start by Williams. St. Louis can be played as underdogs in starts by Flaherty or Mikolas not facing Williams. Pittsburgh has been an OVER team this season while St. Louis has been more prone to UNDER. Thus, in starts involving Williams, Mikolas or Flaherty look UNDER 8 or higher otherwise look OVER 8 or lower.
Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians: This is a quick rematch of the series played this past weekend in Houston in which the Astros took two of the three games. A total of just 18 runs were scored over those games with two staying UNDER. Shockingly, the Indians are below .500 at 22-23. Amazingly, that record is good enough to lead the AL Central by a game and a half. Collectively, the Division is 46 games below .500!
Meanwhile the defending World Series Champion Astros, overshadowed by the brilliant starts of the Red Sox and Yankees, have baseball’s third best record, 30-18. With arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, the bullpen is improving and should be even more effective as the season goes along.
Four of their five starters are averaging at least 6.2 Innings Per Start and the fifth, Lance McCullers, averaged 5.9 IPS. Three have WHIPs between 0.71 and 0.93 (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton) with McCullers and Dallas Keuchel sporting solid 1.14 WHIPs. Overall, Houston is allowing just 2.6 runs per game! Cleveland’s rotation has also been solid with four of their five having ERAs between 2.36 and 3.64 with WHIPs between 0.84 and 1.16 with only Josh Tomlin the very weak link.
Both offenses have been somewhat better than average but each has also been prone to extended droughts. A time tested adage suggests good pitching defeats good hitting; that has proven true more often than not.
The preferred way to look in this series is UNDER 7.5 or higher with the exception of a start by Cleveland’s Tomlin. Houston is also the preferred play throughout the series except in a start by Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. Look to play Houston as underdogs or if favored by +125 or less except against Kluber, who can be played at -135 or less versus any Houston starter. If Tomlin gets a start the play would be OVER 8 or less as his starts have produced five OVERs and just one UNDER.
Atlanta Braves at Boston Red Sox: Boston was expected to be a legitimate World Series contender with the Braves considered a team on the rise that was a season or two away from contending for the postseason. But through Sunday the Braves had the best record in the National League, 28-17. Boston ace Chris Sale has been pitching extremely well with Rick Porcello also pitching well as he seems to do every other year.
Atlanta has no outstanding starter but Mike Foltynewicz and especially Sean Newcomb have pitched very well. Veteran Julio Teheran has been either very, very good or has struggled over his 10 starts.
Against other than Sale, Atlanta is playable as underdogs of +130 or more in starts by Foltynewicz or Newcomb or at +150 or more with Teheran starting.
Boston’s best spot would be in a start by Sale not facing the aforementioned three Atlanta starters. In such a spot the Sox will be so heavily favored they would be playable laying a run and a half. Otherwise, look to play OVER 8.5 or less except in starts not involving Sale, Foltynewicz or Newcomb, in which case OVER 9 or less is playable.