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Teams try to firm up their rotations

The 2010 season is a month old and the surprising play of teams not expected to be contenders continues as the teams have played 25 games or just under a sixth of their schedules.

San Diego leads the NL West with the second best record in the league while their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, struggle, tied for last place with Arizona. At season’s, end, however, the San Francisco Giants remain the projected winner with their pitching staff having already shown its strength with four of their five starting pitchers having enjoyed a strong April.

The New York Mets have performed better than expected despite a lineup that has more than a fair share of other teams’ castoffs. Led by David Wright and Jose Reyes the offense should continue to support some fine pitching with rookie first baseman, Ike Davis, a star on the rise. Perhaps the disappointments of the past few seasons, which led to minimal expectations for 2010, shall be reversed this season with the Mets becoming surprise contenders in a Division all but conceded by most observers to Philadelphia.

St. Louis has opened an early four and a half game lead in the NL Central and could wind up with the largest margin of any Division winner provided they stay reasonably healthy. That means a complete season from ace pitchers Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Lefty Jaime Garcia has been a most pleasant surprise through his first four starts. And veteran Brad Penny is off to a sensational start working with pitching coach Dave Duncan. Through Sunday this quartet had made a total of 20 starts and each of the hurlers has an ERA below 3.00 and WHIP below 1.25. Those are staggering stats and could be the precursor of a runaway. And that’s before even considering the contributions of an offense led by Albert Pujols!

In the American League Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees have had the best starts with the Rays owning baseball’s best record, 18-7, a game and a half ahead of the Yanks. Right now Boston is the odd team out in the AL East, behind Toronto in fourth place, seven games behind the Rays. The Sox have had troubles both on the mound and at the plate although their starting pitching appears to be rounding into form. It’s a long season and the Sox will be a factor but a look at the three rosters would suggest the Rays and Yanks are both better balanced teams.

Minnesota is off to a somewhat surprising 16-9 start, a half game better than Detroit in the AL Central. Ace lefty Francisco Liriano appears fully healthy once again and when at the top of his game is one of the best pitchers in the game. And the Twins have a somewhat underrated offense that seems to have taken a liking to their new outdoor stadium.

The AL West has no clear cut favorite one month into the season as first place Texas (13-12) leads last place Seattle by just two games with Oakland and the Angels in between. With the Angels showing early season effects of several key offseason losses (Vlad Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins) this Division might remain the most competitive Division all season with the winner perhaps winning no more than 87 or 88 games. Seattle has the best pitching in the Division, especially now that Cliff Lee is off the DL. But the Mariners have the weakest lineup in the Division, although Oakland is not far behind.

We continue to see greater volatility in line moves compared to seasons past with more books putting up overnight lines the day before games are to be played. Astute handicapping can create many more opportunities for free rides for both sides and totals as line moves of 20¢ to 30¢ on sides and a half run on Totals are becoming more commonplace.

More on this topic in coming weeks.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

San Francisco at New York Mets: Both teams have started several games above break even through their first dozen games, largely due to some fine starting pitching and decent relief. Although the Mets were hammered in their final two games in Philadelphia over the weekend, those two losses followed an 8 game winning streak that featured several outstanding mound efforts. The Giants have one of the best, if not the best, starting rotations in all of baseball with only Todd Wellemeyer, their fifth starter, struggling. The other four starters each have ERAs below 3.00 and WHIPs below 1.25. You don’t have to score many runs when you get that kind of pitching.

PREFERRED PLAYS: Giants as favorites of up to -150 in a start by Tim Lincecum or of up to -125 in starts by Barry Zito or Matt Cain; Mets as favorites against other Giants starters or if underdogs of plus 120 or more against Zito or Cain; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Lincecum, Cain or Zito faces the Mets’ Johan Santana or Mike Pelfrey.

San Diego at Houston: Through last Sunday only St. Louis had a better record than San Diego’s 16-9 in the National League while the Astros were the worst team in the senior circuit at 8-16, having three fewer wins than any other NL team. While Houston was expected to contend for the National League cellar the Padres were expected to be right there with them. Both teams have light hitting offenses. The ’Stros are a combined 2-7 in their starts as they have ERA of 7.23 and 5.39 and WHIPS of 1.96 and 1.66 respectively.

PREFERRED PLAYS: UNDER Totals over 8 or higher in starts not involving Mat Latos, Bud Norris or Felipe Paulino; Houston as favorites of -150 or less in starts by Roy Oswalt or Wandy Rodriguez; Padres as Underdogs of any price against Norris or Paulino

New York Yankees at Boston: The Yankees opened the season by taking two of three in Fenway from their arch rivals who have struggled ever since. The Red Sox had their first losing April in more than a decade and start this week at 11-14 after being swept at home by Baltimore. Perhaps the big intrigue in this series will be whether any of the games will be played in under 3 hours.

PREFERRED PLAYS: Yankees as underdogs of any price in any matchup except at least +140 in a start by Javier Vazquez; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any matchup except OVER 10 in a start by Vazquez; Boston as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup or if favored by -130 or less against Vazquez

Tampa Bay at Oakland: Tampa swept the two game series at home last week, outscoring Oakland 18-9 as both games went OVER the Total. But it’s been their pitching that’s been truly outstanding as all five starters have ERAs below 3.40 and WHIPs below 1.40. Those stats keep teams in games deep into the middle innings even when the offense is struggling. Oakland has been competitive largely because they’ve gotten some fine starting pitching from the likes of Dallas Braden and Justin Duchscherer in addition to the currently injured Brett Anderson with their offense slightly better than expected but average at best.

PREFERRED PLAYS: Tampa Bay as underdogs in any matchup or as favorites of up to -130 when facing Oakland’s Ben Sheets or Trevor Cahill; Oakland as underdogs of any price in a start by lefty Braden; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup except under 8½ if Sheets or Cahill starts for the Athletics.

 

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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