The 2014 season is just one week old and, of course, it is way too soon to draw any conclusions about the fates of any team based on a sample of less than 10 games.
But the first week of play can at least alert us to some potential red flags or surprises to which we should pay attention.
Perhaps the most glaring concern was the horrible performance of the Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen in dropping all three games of their opening series to Seattle.
After losing both games in Australia to the Dodgers, Arizona returned to the mainland and lost five of seven to start some chatter about manager Kirk Gibson’s job being in early season jeopardy.
Lefty Wade Miley has been the one bright spot in the starting rotation after which there is a sharp drop off. No teams are unbeaten or winless after one week of play and whether that portends a season of parity remains to be determined. More than likely we’ll see one team approach 100 wins and another approach 100 losses over the 162 game regular season.
As is the case each season, the number of key injuries, both in their frequency and duration, will have a great impact on which teams will be successful. Depth has become a more significant factor than ever, especially when it comes to pitching. Several pitchers have already been lost for the season since the beginning of spring training, needing Tommy John surgery that requires, on average, more than a calendar year for full recovery.
Through Sunday a total of 94 games have been played and there have already been 13 shutouts. Games have averaged just 8.1 total runs per game although OVERS and UNDERS are evenly split.
Streaks can provide some solid wagering opportunities in baseball and in next week’s column this topic will be discussed.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Pittsburgh at Milwaukee: Pittsburgh is seeking to build upon its success of last season when making the post season for the first time in more than 20 seasons. Milwaukee is considered by many a team that can duplicate the Pirates’ success of last season. Many, as well, are looking for a regression from the Pirates who improved from 79 wins in 2012 to 94 last season.
Pittsburgh did little in the off season to address some key needs on offense. Milwaukee has a solid lineup, now that Ryan Braun is back after serving his PED-related suspension, and a nice starting rotation that combines youth and veteran leadership. The bullpen is a concern but the Pirates appear to lack the offensive depth to take full advantage.
Recommended plays: Milwaukee as 125 or less favorites in any matchup except against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole.
• Pittsburgh as underdog of any price in a start by Cole against any Brewers starter.
• Pittsburgh +120 or more against Yovani Gallardo or Kyle Lohse;
• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.
• UNDER 7 or higher if Cole opposes Gallardo or Lohse.
Chicago Cubs at St. Louis: The Cardinals have had much more success than the Cubbies for most of the last, er, century, but the pieces are in place for the Cubs to be a challenger in the NL Central albeit not for a few more seasons. Chicago has a solid minor league system that is starting to produce. St. Louis is favored by most to win the Division this season, largely on the strength of a solid starting rotation and a lineup that was able to adjust to the departure of Albert Pujols a couple of seasons ago.
Starters Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood had fine seasons in 2013 for the Cubs. Samardzija, the ex-Notre Dame footballer, has already had two quality starts this season. Adam Wainwright and young Michael Wacha have also had strong initial outings. Chicago’s offense has been slow out of the gate, scoring three or fewer runs in five of its first six games. The Cards have not been much better, scoring two or fewer runs in four of its first six games. We could see pitching outperform hitting in this series depending on the pitching matchups.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7 or higher in matchups of Wainwright/Wacha against Samardzija/Wood.
• OVER 8 or lower if none of those four starters are involved.
• St Louis -140 or less not facing Samardzija or Wood;
• Cubs +130 or more against not opposing Wainwright or Wacha.
Boston at New York Yankees: These longtime rivals meet in an important early season series. The Yankees opened the season on the road and split those first six games. After winning two of three in Baltimore to start the season Boston dropped all three games of last weekend’s home series to Milwaukee, scoring just eight total runs against the Brewers. The Yankees got solid starting pitching from a pair of hurlers making the pinstripes debut – Michael Pineda and Japanese import Mashahiro Tanaka.
Boston has a solid starting rotation, which when healthy, rivals that of key Division rival Tampa Bay. Despite their poor showing against Milwaukee, Boston has a potent lineup and that is an edge over the lineup the Yankees are trotting out. The Red Sox have most of the edges in this series and will make for attractive plays as underdogs throughout.
Recommended plays: Red Sox +125 or more in any matchup;
• Red Sox as underdogs of any price not facing Tanaka;
• Red Sox -120 or less in starts by Jon Lester, John Lackey or Clay Buchholz against C C Sabathia;
• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati: This is the most attractive of three Interleague series played this weekend as it matches a pair of contenders, both of whom have excellent starting pitching. Cincinnati has the better offense although Tampa’s is somewhat underrated. With closer Aroldis Chapman still sidelined for the Reds the Rays offset Cincy’s edge on offense with the much better bullpen. The Reds’ top starters are Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.
Tampa’s rotation is anchored by David Price with Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer, each capable of being a number two starter on most staffs. The Cincy offense did not have a good opening week, scoring three or fewer runs in five of six games. Tampa Bay played its first seven games at home and the Rays’ offense was feast or famine, scoring 29 runs in its four wins (at least five runs in each game) but just two runs in its three losses (two of which were shutouts). Fundamentally this handicaps as a series, like many in the opening month, in which the pitchers have the edge over hitters.
Recommended plays: UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.
• UNDER 7 or higher if Price or Archer oppose the Reds’ Cueto, Cingrani or Bailey.
• Cincinnati-125 or less not facing Price or Archer;
• Tampa Bay +120 or more not opposing Cueto or Cingrani;
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]