Top MLB division teams starting to extend leads

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With the Cleveland Cavaliers having just won the NBA Title and football still two months away from the start of the regular college and NFL seasons baseball will be the major focus of the sporting world in the intervening time.

Each baseball season unfolds and plays out differently from ones that precede it. In some seasons multiple Division races go down to the wire. Other seasons some Division leaders get out to comfortable leads and are barely challenged over the second half of the season.

This season is taking shape more along the lines of the latter as four of the six Division leaders have leads of more than five games as the end of June approaches, including all three leaders in the National League.

The Chicago Cubs got off to a hot start and remain hot with a 12.5 game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central. San Francisco – with three World Series Titles since 2010 – lead the Dodgers by 6.5 games in the NL West. And the Washington Nationals lead the NL East by 5.5 games over Miami. The Marlins have overtaken the defending NL champion New York Mets by a half game as of Monday morning.

Texas starts this week with an 8.5 game lead over Seattle in the AL West. The only two competitive Divisions are the AL East and AL Central.

Cleveland leads Kansas City by a half game in the AL Central and there is just a 4.5 gap between the first place Indians and the fourth place Chicago White Sox.

Baltimore has a one game lead over Boston in the AL East. Last place Tampa Bay is 8.5 games behind the first place Orioles, the only last place team less than 15.5 games out of a Division lead.

In some seasons the Divisional races are tight and take center stage in September. In some seasons the Wild Card races draw most of the attention as the regular season winds down. This could be a season in which the Wild Card races produce most of the drama. Even with the recently adopted one game Wild Card team Playoff we can see one win it all come October.

Last week’s column included an introduction to betting baseball on the run line. In a typical run line wager you can either lay a run and a half with the favorite or take the run and a half with the underdog. In effect, this type of wager is related to pointspread wagering used in betting on basketball and football.

In baseball when you lay the run and a half your team has to win the game by two runs or more. When taking the run and a half your team must either win the game or lose the game by exactly one run.

You might be surprised to learn that more than two thirds of all baseball games are decided by more than two runs. Between 2010 and 2015 almost 15,000 games have been played. Of those games 70 percent were decided by two runs or more with 30 percent decided by exactly one run.

For games decided by two runs or more the annual percentages ranged from a low of 68.9 percent in 2013 to a high of 71.4 percent in 2012). By definition the percentage of games decided by exactly one run ranged from a low of 28.6 percent in 2012 to a high of 31.1 percent in 2013.

Thus far in 2016, through this past Sunday, 72.5 percent of the 1,038 games played have been decided by two or more runs and 27.5 percent of the games have been decided by exactly one run.

Of course, some of those games were won by the underdog. In those games taking the run and a half cost backers money as the payoff is less when taking the run and a half than when playing the underdog straight. As emphasized last week, the only time that taking the run and a half benefits the bettor is when that team loses by exactly one run.

Conversely, the only time laying the run and a half hurts is when that favored team wins by exactly one run.

Of course a further consideration would be to look at the multi-run wins and one run wins by level of favoritism such as the splits when a team is favored by -150 or -200 or more. That will reduce the sample size that is analyzed but would tend to refine the above cited global results.

One way to use the above data is to focus in on those teams that have shown an overwhelming tendency to win their games by more than a single run. Those teams would make for good candidates to lay the run and a half when favored if your handicapping suggest a play on one of those teams in the first place, rather than laying the much higher price for a win be it by one run or multiple runs.

There are six teams whose wins have been by two runs or more at least 80 percent of the time. The leader has been St. Louis with 31 of their 35 wins by two runs or more (88.6 percent). The Cardinals are followed by Boston (33 of 39, 84.6 percent), Colorado (27 of 32, 84.4 percent), Arizona (26 of 32, 81.3 percent), the Chicago Cubs (38 of 47, 80.9 percent) and Baltimore (32 of 40, 80.0 percent).

Four other teams’ wins have been by two or more runs between 75 and 80 percent of the time – Toronto, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Detroit. Of this group the vast majority of Atlanta’s wins have come as underdogs as the Braves began this week with a record of just 23-46.

The next major milepost of the season is July Fourth, which occurs two weeks from this past Monday when this issue went to press.

Here’s a look at three weekend series.

LA Dodgers at Pittsburgh: This is a four game series that concludes Monday as the teams meet for the first time this season. Both teams are realistically contending more for a Wild Card spot than a Division title barring major runs combined with collapses by the Giants and Cubs. The Dodgers have the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, and “rookie” Kenta Maeda has also fared well. But no other Dodgers starter has an ERA below 4.00. Gerrit Cole has been Pittsburgh’s best starter but there is a significant drop off with rookie Jameson Taillon showing promise through his three big league starts.

With the exception of starts by Kershaw, Maeda or Cole the OVER may be the best way to look. Especially if John Locke starts for the Pirates as Pittsburgh has played 11 OVERS and just two UNDERS when the lefty takes the bump. Kershaw is worth backing up to -150 against any Pittsburgh starter. Maeda is worth backing against any Pirates starter but only as an underdog. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is playable if priced at -125 or less.

Boston at Texas: Boston is averaging 5.5 runs per game on the road while Texas is averaging 5.3 rpg at home. Boston’s most effective starter has been knuckleballer Steven Wright although ace lefty David Price has pitched up to expected form over the past month. Texas’ best starters have been Cole Hamels and Colby Lewis. Still, OVER Totals of 9 or lower can be considered for play.

Boston’s best situations would be in starts by Price or Wright as underdogs of +125 or more against Hamels or Lewis or as favorites of -130 or less against other Texas starters. Texas’ best situations would be in starts by Hamels or Lewis as favorites of -125 or less against Price or Wright or as favorites of -140 or less against other Boston starters. Otherwise, Texas is playable as favorites of -130 or less in matchups not involving Price, Wright, Hamels or Lewis.

St. Louis at Seattle: St. Louis is one of just a handful of teams that has relied on just five starters all season, the best of which has been Carlos Martinez. His 3.17 ERA is the only starter’s ERA below 3.93. With ace Felix Hernandez sidelined lightly tested Taijuan Walker and James Paxton have pitched best. With no truly outstanding pitcher on either team the underdog may offer the best value throughout this series.

Look to play either team when getting at least +125. If St. Louis is favored by -120 or less the Cards would be playable against any Seattle starter. Look UNDER the Total in starts involving Seattle’s Walker or Paxton or St. Louis’ Martinez provided the Total is at least 7.5 or higher. In games in which none of those three starters gets the assignment look to play OVER Totals of 8 or less.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

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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