The 2019 baseball season is barely a week and a half old and while it is way too early to form any definitive conclusions. there are developments that are worth both mentioning and monitoring over the next few weeks.
A look at the early division leaders in the National League suggest that the season is unfolding as many have predicted. Philadelphia, at 7-2, leads the NL East while Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers, each 8-3, lead the Central and Western Divisions respectively.
The Chicago Cubs have started 3-7 and were one of the teams projected by many to show a decline this season after four straight seasons of more than 90 wins. The Cubs did very little during the offseason to improve their roster, which happens to include a pair of starting pitchers – Jon Lester and Cole Hamels – who each turned 35 within the past six months.
One team that was very busy this past winter, bolstering both its pitching staff and lineup, was Cincinnati. The Reds, who have not won more than 68 games in any of the past four seasons, were projected to show significant improvement this season.
Following 67 wins last season, the Season Wins Total for Cincy this season was aggressively set at 79. But after starting just 1-8 those projections are looking a bit too optimistic. However, the Reds have a chance to show improvement with their three-game home series this week against Miami.
The Dodgers are performing as expected but the play of San Diego has been a pleasant early surprise. After going 4-3 at home to open the season, the Padres then took two of three in St Louis this past weekend and followed that up with a series-opening win in San Francisco Monday night.
With an offense bolstered by the signing of free agent Manny Machado, a budding star in Fernando Tatis Jr. and a pitching staff that has plenty of potential, the future appears bright. Their Season Wins Total was bet up from 76.5 to 78.5 despite the Padres not having won more than 77 games since winning 90 games in 2010.
Perhaps those who bet the over saw something similar in these Padres to what was seen with the Astros and Cubs over the past few seasons. En route to their 2017 World Series title, Houston jumped from 70 wins in 2014 to 88 in 2015. The Cubs, who won the World Series in 2016, jumped from 77 wins in 2014 to 97 a season later.
In the AL, the early-season performance of Detroit would be considered a surprise considering their Season Wins Total was bet down from 69.5 to 68. After starting the season winning 4 of 7 at the Blue Jays and Yankees, the Tigers swept their opening three-game home series against Kansas City.
Tampa Bay’s early 8-3 start is not all that surprising for a team that won 90 games in 2018. What many consider surprising, though, is the 3-8 start of the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. To be fair, all of those games were on the road. But the performance of the pitching staff in Seattle, Oakland and Arizona is an early cause for concern. Especially with last season’s closer, free agent Craig Kimbrel, still without a team.
And speaking of Seattle, the Mariners, who opened the season with a pair of wins in Japan over Oakland, carried that momentum back stateside with wins in eight of their next 10 games. At 10-2, the Mariners have the most wins of any team and are tied with the Phillies for the fewest losses. Despite improving from 78 wins a season earlier to 89 in 2018 Seattle’s off-season moves seemed to signal a rebuild with multiple key departures, including 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, SP James Paxton and closer Edwin Diaz.
Again, it’s early. Let’s keep an eye on the early season surprises and see where the Cubs, Cincinnati, San Diego, Detroit, Boston and Seattle stand come the first major checkpoint, Memorial Day, at the end of May.
Here are thoughts on three series this weekend.
Brewers at Dodgers: It’s been six months since the Dodgers defeated the Brewers in seven games to win the NL pennant and advance to the World Series and based on both teams’ starts we could see a rematch this fall.
Both lineups have plenty of star power. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger is off to an MVP-like start with seven home runs and 19 RBI through 11 games. And last season’s NL MVP, Christian Yellich, has slugged five homers with 13 RBI through his first 11 games.
But this series comes down to pitching. The Dodgers have the edge in starting pitching with Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda having edges over any Brewers starter (and Clayton Kershaw is yet to make his 2019 debut). But the Brewers have one of the game’s better bullpens.
My approach to this series will be to back the Dodgers over the first five innings if laying no more than -150 while looking to back the Brewers for the full game when getting +125 or more.
Astros at Mariners: Houston has had some early-season struggles at the plate. But last weekend’s home sweep of Oakland may have signaled the offense is about to break out.
Seattle’s 10-2 start has been a surprise. Lefty Marco Gonzales has become the de facto ace of the staff and Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi will be counted on to make major contributions. I’ll be looking to back both in this series if laying no more than -125 or as underdogs against Verlander or Cole. If that duo faces other than Gonzales or Kikuchi, I will be willing to back Verlander or Cole at -150 or less.Should that duo be matched against Gonzales or Kikuchi, look under totals of 7 or higher while also looking at the first five innings under 3.5 or under 3 at a plus price.
Angels at Cubs: Both teams have struggled out of the gate and while not much was expected of the Angels this season, the Cubs are considered one of the top teams in the game.
Whether that assessment will have been based more on reputation than reality may well be revealed by how the Cubs fare against the lesser teams they face. Aside from Mike Trout, the Angels’ lineup does not strike fear into opposing pitchers. But the Halos’ bats could have some success bats in this series.
Chicago’s pitching, both from starters and relievers, has been horrible thus far with the exception of Lester and he may be out with a hamstring injury. The Angels’ arms have not fared much better, although Trevor Cahill has been relatively effective in his first two starts.
Wind conditions play a major part in the making of totals at Wrigley Field and I use the range of 8 to 9 as being the ‘neutral zone.’ It’s hard to find a pitching matchup in this series that would favor a play on the under. Note that through their first 10 games the Cubs are 8-1-1 to the over, which will be the preferred way to approach this series.
Should the Angels be underdogs of +160 or more with Trout in the starting lineup, a play on them at such a hefty price can be justified.
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