As we go to press on Monday the calendar has turned to June and by the time next weekend is complete all teams will have reached the mathematical one third mark in the season.
For much of the first two months of the season the Houston Astros were the biggest surprise. Jumping out to a strong start the ‘Stros have continued to play well and start this week in first place in the American League West, 11 games above .500 at 31-20.
The best record in the AL belongs to Minnesota at 30-19, percentage points better than Houston. Picked by virtually every ‘expert’ to finish last in the AL Central, the Twins are second only to the St. Louis Cardinals for the best record in all of MLB.
Despite a rather ordinary pitching staff and a lineup that is good but not great the Twinkies have used both timely hitting and clutch pitching to ascend to the top of what many of those same ‘experts’ forecast as the deepest of baseball’s six divisions.
The San Francisco Giants, last season’s World Series champions and winners of three of the last five titles were expected to fall back this season and finish well behind NL West favorites, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Some experts had the Giants finishing even behind San Diego, a team that made many major offseason moves to become a challenger to the Dodgers.
The Giants did struggle for most of April, but things clicked in May and they start June just a half game behind the Dodgers in the NL West with a 30-22 record.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been NL contenders for most of the last decade and expected to be so again. But few thought the Cards would have the best record in baseball – and by 2.5 games – after nearly the first third of the season. Yet at 33-17, winning nearly 2 of every 3 games, that’s exactly where the Cardinals are.
What makes this even more remarkable is that staff ace Adam Wainwright made just 4 starts before being injured and lost for the season. It’s been stated before and will likely be stated many times again that the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the best franchises not just in MLB but in all of professional sports.
Other mild pleasant early season surprises are the New York Mets and, to a lesser extent, the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta was expected to challenge Philadelphia for last place in the NL East but has managed to play .500 baseball for nearly a third of the season. The Los Angeles Angels have started to play as many expected. Following a four game home sweep of Detroit, they have finally gotten above .500 (27-24), closing to within 4 games of Houston.
The list of disappointments is also lengthy but two teams, both in the AL, warrant mention. Both Boston and Seattle were considered favorites to win the AL East and West respectively. Seattle was held in such high regard that may experts picked the Mariners to win the AL pennant. Yet nearly a third of the way into the season the Mariners are mired in fourth place in the AL West, two games below .500 at 24-26, despite the presence of early season AL MVP Nelson Cruz and the early leader for the AL Cy Young Award, Felix Hernandez.
The pick of Boston to win the AL was not quite as strong as it was known that the Red Sox had major pitching concerns. The offense was expected to carry the team but that has not been the case thus far. Hence, they are last in the AL East but with a disappointing 22-29 record. Yet because the division is so mediocre Boston is just 4 games out of first. A 6-1 week would put them in contention for the division lead where the Yankees and Tampa Bay are perched in first with 26-25 records.
There are still over 100 games to be played. Much can – and will – happen over the next four months that will either confirm what the first third of the season has shown us or show that some of these early season performances were not indicative of destiny. It happens every season.
Part of the charm of baseball is that the season plays out over six months and there are plenty of twists and turns – known as winning and losing streaks. Things really start to get interesting after the All Star break as teams have just a couple of weeks to determine if they are buyers or sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
It would make for an interesting proposition wager for the Sports Books to post at the All Star break how many of the six division leaders at that time will (a) end up winning their divisions or (b) go on to make the playoffs either as division winners or a Wild Card.
It is all but certain that the 10 teams that make the 2015 postseason will not be the same that are in position to do so after a third of the season has been played.
Here’s a look at three series to be played over this weekend.
Cubs at Nationals: Remarkably, despite the hitter friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are averaging a full run and a half more on the road than at home, tallying just 3.4 runs per game at home while scoring 4.9 rpg on the road. Washington has a similar profile in scoring more on the road than at home but their remarkable statistic is in allowing 4.8 rpg on the road while allowing just 3.5 rpg at home.
PLAYS: Cubs as underdogs of any price in starts by Arrieta, Hammel or Lester against any Washington starter; Washington -140 or less with any starter not facing Arrieta, Hammel or Lester; UNDER 7 or higher if Arrieta, Hammel or Lester oppose Max Scherzer or Jordan Zimmermann.
Orioles at Indians: Cleveland has the better starting pitching whereas the Os have the better bullpen. Both offenses are above average but both have underperformed. Both teams are well managed and last season Baltimore did not start its run in the AL East until the All Star break was approaching. This has the makings of an entertaining series as these teams meet for the first time this season.
PLAYS: Against any Baltimore starter, Cleveland -150 or less in a start by Corey Kluber or -130 or less in a start by Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar; Either team +125 or more in any matchup not involving Kluber, Salazar or Bauer; UNDER 8.5 or higher in starts by Kluber, Salazar or Bauer; OVER 8 or lower in games not started by that trio.
Brewers at Twins: The lone interleague series of the weekend handicaps as producing more offense than outstanding pitching although veteran Mike Pelfrey has performed on a par with Kyle Gibson giving the Twins more of a one-two punch than can be said about the Brewers whose best starting pitcher ERA is Wily Peralta’s 3.98.
PLAYS: Minnesota -140 or less in starts by Gibson or Pelfrey against any Milwaukee starter; Milwaukee +150 or more not facing Gibson or Pelfrey; OVER 8.5 or lower in games not started by Gibson or Pelfrey.
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]