Slightly more than two weeks into the 2018 season Major League Baseball is being confronted by a pair of major concerns.
The one drawing most attention has been the weather that has forced the postponement of an average of one game per day, including the final three games of this past weekend’s series in Minnesota between the Twins and the Chicago White Sox.
Not much can be done to combat Mother Nature but the schedule makers can at least minimize the potential for so many early season postponements by considering a trio of options, none of which are mutually exclusive.
The first is to return to the practice of starting the season in April and avoid a repeat of this season’s March 29 start. MLB did want to allow for more time off during the regular season (which ostensibly could be used to make up some of the postponed games but that might require finding the limited number of common open dates for the teams involved and possibly also involve complicated travel considerations).
Option number two involves the scheduling of more doubleheaders during the regular season, which could also facilitate a later opening and earlier ending to the regular season. Doubleheaders were a staple of the MLB schedule a few decades ago but as player salaries increased and owners wanted to maintain and increase profit levels those “two games for the price of one” quickly faded from the baseball landscape.
Of course games that were postponed still needed to be made up and as a result the introduction of the day/night separate admission doubleheader came into vogue and is now routinely used as a means to make up postponed games. Why not simply incorporate those day/night doubleheaders into the regular season schedule, perhaps once per homestand, preferably on a Saturday and/or a Sunday?
The third option is the most realistic option and the easiest to implement. Why not schedule all games prior to April 15 at warm weather or domed sites to the greatest extent possible. With eight teams located in Southern California, Arizona, Texas and Florida and several domed stadiums it’s possible just a handful of venues in “questionable” climates such as St. Louis or Atlanta might be required to fill out a complete 15 game schedule on a daily basis for the first two weeks or so of the season.
Yes, it might delay the home openers of some teams but at least there’s a much greater likelihood those home openers would be played as scheduled. And for those teams who start on the road the home part of their schedule will be more heavily weighted going forward, preferably in June and July rather than in September when, from a competitive perspective, a home/road balance is desirable.
The second area of concern will be discussed in next week’s column, that of the changing role, or rather use of starting pitchers. There have been some rather interesting changes in their use that is being magnified in the early start of the 2018 season.
Here are thoughts on three series to be played this weekend.
Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies: This four game series begins Thursday and finds both Keystone State franchises enjoying unexpected early season success. The Pirates, expected to lose nearly 90 games, are off to an 11-4 start. The Phillies were expected to fare somewhat better but still finish a half dozen games below .500 have started 9-5.
Both teams have young and maturing lineups and although their starting pitching rotations are average at best each is anchored by an emerging ace. For Pittsburgh 26-year-old Jameson Taillon is developing very nicely in his brief MLB career. For the Phillies it’s 24-year-old Aaron Nola. Both have high potential barring key injuries and each is worth backing in this series if not opposing one another.
Nola can be backed up to -140 as a home favorite and Taillon can be backed if not laying more than -120. Should both be matched against each other the UNDER can be considered at 7.5 or higher. In matchups involving neither of those two look at either team as an underdog of +120 or more and OVER Totals of 8.5 or less.
Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics: Boston has gotten off to the best start in baseball, standing 13-2 through Sunday (a half game better than the 12-2 Mets). The Red Sox have gotten outstanding pitching that has been supported by an offense averaging 5.9 runs per game. Chris Sale has been brilliant with both David Price and Rick Porcello off to solid starts.
Oakland was considered by many observers as a team with a nice upside this season despite modest expectation but the A’s are off to just a 6-10 start. Lefty Sean Manaea has been their best starter although the rest of the rotation has struggled. The Red Sox figure to be heavily favored throughout this series, which suggests the preferred method to approach this series would be to play on Oakland in a start by Manaea against any Boston starter and if Manaea is opposed by Sale, Price or Porcello look as well to play UNDER Totals of 7.5 or higher.
Otherwise, against other than Manaea, look to back Boston laying a run and a half, provided the attached vig is no higher than -125. In matchups not involving Manaea, Sale, Price or Porcello look toward OVER Totals of 9 or less.
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Angels: The long interleague weekend series features one of the most surprising teams over the first few weeks, featuring a player who has been under intense scrutiny since spring training. The Angels are off to a strong 13-3 start and sit atop the AL West, three games ahead of the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros.
Shohei Ohtani is living up to his highly hyped billing as a dual threat as a pitcher and hitter, playing even better than hoped for following a rather disappointing spring. His play seems to have lifted the entire Angels team and although it is still very early in the season there are reasons for sustained optimism. The Giants were dealt a blow with the spring training injury to a pair of starting pitchers – ace Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija.
Now starter Johnny Cueto is also nursing an injury that’s had him miss a couple of starts. The Angels figure to come solid favorites throughout this series and can be backed in any matchup laying -130 or less or, in the case of an Ohtani start, -150 or less. The Giants can be considered only if underdogs of +150 or less against other than Ohtani. Use a Total of 9 as your guide, looking to play OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower and UNDER Totals of 9.5 or higher and passing on Totals of exactly 9.