Surprising starts for Mets, Astros

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Both franchises entered the National League in the same season, 1962.

One of the franchises was among the worst in the entire history of baseball for the first seven seasons of its existence before stunning the world with a World Series title in season 8, followed by a second Title 17 seasons later.

The other franchise also got off to a struggling start and has not enjoyed nearly the same degree of success in its 53 seasons of play, making one World Series appearance – a loss – and just a handful of trips to the post season save for a fairly successful decade from the mid-90s to the mid-oughts.

But both franchises are off to surprisingly strong starts in 2015 and each has already fashioned the season’s two longest winning streaks even though one of the teams is no longer a member of the National League.

Yep. By now you know the teams in question are the New York Mets and the Houston Astros.

The Mets, who went 40-120 in their 1962 debut season and went on to win the World Series in 1969 and again in 1986, have emerged from the hibernation in which they were stuck since their last winning season, 2008. A roster built on the foundation of solid starting pitching enabled the Mets to start the season 13-3 and tie their franchise record with a fifth 11 game winning streak (including a 10-0 start at home).

At the time it was the best record in baseball. And although the Metsies have gone 3-7 since their crosstown rivals the Yankees ended that streak, the Mets still lead the NL East one month into the season, up by 3.5 games over both Atlanta and Miami and 4 games ahead of expected Division winner Washington.

The Nationals have had the Mets’ number in recent seasons, especially at Citi Field, the new home of the Mets since 2009. The Mets started the season by winning two of three games in Washington but this past weekend – at home – lost three of four to the Nats, including a pair of 1-0 losses to close the series.

Houston was expected to be improved this season as a stocked minor league system continues to provide talent to the major league team. But their 18-7 start is a major shock to most observers who feel the ‘Stros are a season or two away from being a Playoffs contender. Still, Houston is the only team in the AL West with a winning record and starts this week with a 7 game lead over the second place Angels. Seattle, the Division favorite, sits fourth with a disappointing 10-15 record.

Houston has already set some early season records for a team that lost at least 90 games in the previous season and starts this week as winner of 10 straight games. But what is most remarkable about their start is they are an astounding 10-2 in road games while going just 8-5 at home.

The Astros also last had a winning season in 2008 and in the six seasons since were a whopping 208 games below .500 prior to this season. That six season stretch includes three seasons of at least 106 losses!

It’s early and not quite a sixth of the season has been played. To repeat that overworn cliche, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Still fans of both teams have reasons to be encouraged about their teams’ starts following more than a half decade of futility.

Fans of the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres can also be enthusiastic about their teams’ starts. Perhaps the silliest sentence in the nearly two decades of this column is about to be penned. If the season were to end today the Padres and Cubs would be the two National League Wild Card teams.

Actually, the first month of the season has resulted in much parity in the senior circuit. The Mets, St. Louis and Los Angeles Dodgers lead their respective Divisions but San Diego and the Cubs are the only other NL teams with winning records. That’s right. Ten of the 15 National League teams have losing records four weeks into the season.

The team with the worst record, not just in the National League but in all of baseball, is Milwaukee. Even after winning 2-of-3 at the Cubs this past weekend the Brewers are just 7-18. As speculated last week, manager Ron Roenicke was the most likely candidate to be the first manager to lose his job this season. And that occurred on Sunday night as Roenicke was let go and replaced by Craig Counsell. Roenicke led the Brewers to three winning seasons in his four full seasons, including one trip to the Playoffs, in 2011, his first season in charge.

The hottest seat may now belong to Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura. Expected to at least have a winning 2015 season, if not contend for the Playoffs, the ChiSox start this week 8-15, losers of 5 straight and owners of the worst runs differential in the American League – minus 38 (third worst in all of MLB).

Through the first four weeks of the 2015 season home teams have won 53.5 percent of all games (199-173). There have been 186 OVERs, 161 UNDERs and 23 PUSHes, using closing lines from the Westgate. That’s 53.6 percent OVERs ignoring the PUSHes. Two games resulted in “no action” for Totals.

After a slow start to the season scoring has picked up over the past couple of weeks. There has been an average of 8.45 runs scored per game. That’s up slightly from the full season 2014 average of 8.13 runs per game.

Here’s a look at three weekend series:

St. Louis at Pittsburgh: St. Louis starts the week with the best record in baseball at 18-6 and has been almost as good on the road (7-4) as at home (11-2). The Pirates have started slowly at 12-13. This is a rematch of their remarkable series in St. Louis this past weekend.

In one of the most competitive series in recent years the Cardinals swept the series, winning each game by a single run with each game going extra innings. All three games stayed UNDER the Total with just 11 runs scored in the entire series. The most runs scored in any game was the 3 scored by the Cards in winning Sunday’s finale and that game was actually tied at 1-1 after nine innings. It’s almost impossible for this series to produce as little offense as was seen in St. Louis but the fundamentals suggest pitching should again be the dominant aspect. At least unless or until the silent bats of the Pirates’ Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen begin to heat up.

Recommended Plays: Pittsburgh as underdogs in any matchup or as favorites of -120 or less against other than St. Louis’ Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez; Cardinals as underdogs in starts by Wacha or Martinez; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher in any matchup not involving a start by Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke.

Boston at Toronto: In contrast to the Pittsburgh/St. Louis series this has the makings of a high scoring series. The starting pitchers for Boston and Toronto rank at the bottom of MLB in key statistics. Only one of their combined 10 starters has an ERA below 4.50, Daniel Norris (3.86). And on Monday he was optioned to Triple A to work on his control! Norris is also the only starter on either team to have been involved in more UNDERs (4) than OVERs (1).

Only one starter on each staff – Toronto’s R A Dickey and Boston’s Rick Porcello – is averaging more than 6 innings per start. That puts an ever bigger strain on already questionable bullpens. Boston took 2-of-3 from the Blue Jays when the teams met in Boston at the end of April with two of the games going OVER the Total. The teams combined to score 35 runs in the three games and the lineups are the strength of both teams.

Recommended Plays: Totals of 9 in any matchup; Boston as underdogs of plus 125 or more in any matchup; Toronto as favorites or -120 or less in any matchup.

Cincinnati at Chicago White Sox: Both teams are off to disappointing starts this season with Chicago manager Robin Ventura on the hot seat according to some observers. The Sox spent heavily in the off season in hope of being a contender in the deep AL Central but they are off to a disappointing 8-14 start.

Cincinnati’s loss on Sunday dropped the Reds to 12-13, 6.5 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central. White Sox ace Chris Sale is off perhaps the worst start of his career in which he was blasted in Minnesota last Thursday, which now has off-season acquisition Jeff Samardzija leading the rotation with a 4.78 ERA and 1.38 WHIP.

The Reds have the stronger rotation with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Anthony DeSclafani off to solid early season starts. Each has a WHIP under 1.00 and Leake’s 3.03 ERA is the highest of the trio, which suggests that whereas the Sox have been pretty awful the Reds have simply underachieved and not taken advantage of that solid starting pitching. A lack of timely hitting must be the reason as the Reds are right at the National League average in runs scored per game both at home and on the road.

Recommended Plays: Cincinnati in starts by Cueto, Leake or DeScalfani as underdogs of any price against any White Sox starter or as favorites of – 120 or less against other than Sale, Samardzija or Joel Quintana; White Sox as underdogs of plus 125 or more against Cueto, Leake or DeSclafani; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup except those involving the Reds’ Jason Marquis or Chicago’s Hector Noesi or John Danks; OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower in any game involving Marquis, Noesi or Danks.

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]oday.com

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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