While it’s still early Royals and Giants don’t look recognizable

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With the calendar turning to May the baseball season is one month old. Teams have played between 23 and 28 games and most starting pitchers have made at least five starts.

The first of several key mileposts is less than a month away with Memorial Day representing roughly the one-third point in the season. Slightly more than 50 games will have been played and we are able to assess which teams’ early season performances have been true indicators of their ability and which teams’ unusually strong or struggling starts may have been more of an aberration that caused some to have unrealistic glee about strong starts or unfounded gloom about poor starts.

As I’ve remarked often, including over the past few weeks, the old adage says: whereas you cannot win a pennant in April, you can lose one.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, with the point being we should not get too excited if a team gets off to an unusually strong start but there are reasons to at least have some cause for concern about teams that struggle at the start of the season. Often, though not always, April sets the tone for the season. Whereas a quick early start is encouraging, April accounts for only one sixth of a team’s schedule.

The 2014 World Series was one of the most exciting Series of the past quarter century, going the full seven games with Game 7 featuring an outstanding relief pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner and the game ending with the tying run at third base. That World Series saw the San Francisco Giants win their third Title in five seasons as they defeated the upstart Kansas City Royals who were making their first trip to the Playoffs in 29 seasons.

Despite that bitter loss the Royals returned to the Series the following season and captured their second World Series title, defeating the New York Mets in five games.

That 2014 World Series seems like a very distant memory considering the struggling starts fashioned by both the Giants and Royals this far in the still young 2017 season. The old adage goes: you can’t win a title in April but you can lose it (or, more realistically, dig a big hole), and both teams are off to miserable starts.

At 7-16 Kansas City is tied for the worst record in the American League with another team accustomed ro recent success, 8-17 Toronto.

At 9-17 San Francisco has the worst record in the National League, a game-and-a-half behind NL West rival San Diego. The Padres were projected to win the fewest games of any team this season with a Season Wins Total of 65.5. The Giants were projected at 89 wins that, if realized, would be enough to earn at least a Wild Card.

It’s a long season but fans of the Blue Jays, Giants and Royals have to be concerned.

As do their financial backers at the betting windows.

Those three teams are off to such horrible starts they have cost bettors a small fortune in just the first month of play. No team has been more costly than Toronto whose 8-17 start has cost backers 12.0 units through Sunday. Just as bad has been San Francisco. Backers of the 9-17 Giants are down 11.6 units. And not far behind are the Royals. At 7-16 Kansas City has cost its backers 9.9 units.

The New York Mets have started 10-14 and have cost backers 7.9 units. But making matters worse has been their 4-10 start at home that has resulted in a loss of 10.3 units by backing the Mets at home. With a home record of 4-8 Toronto has cost bettors 7.4 units by backing the Blue Jays at hosts.

In contrast to the heavy losses sustained by backing the aforementioned teams off to poor starts a few teams have shown nice overall profits with the most profitable team thus far, Colorado, up 8.1 units. Close behind are the Chicago White Sox at 8.0 units of profit. Four other teams have shown profits of between 5.2 and 6.7 units – Arizona, Baltimore, the New York Yankees and Washington.

For Totals players three teams have produced significantly more OVERS than UNDERS through the first month of the season. Milwaukee is 17-9 to the OVER with both the Mets and Detroit an identical 15-7-2 to the OVER.

Three teams also made for nice UNDER plays in April with the Dodgers 16-9-1 to the UNDER, the Angels 16-9-2 to the UNDER and – perhaps surprisingly given their historical profile – Boston has played 14 UNDERS with just 7 OVERS and 3 pushes to start the season.

As for the Mets, their strength the past few seasons has been their starting pitching but the rotation has been plagued by injuries with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler each missing more than a full season due to injury, and Steven Matz currently sidelined with his return possible before the end of May. Even Jacob DeGrom had injury issues earlier in his minor league career. Only their acknowledged staff ace has remained healthy since his career got under way.

Until now, that is.

Noah Syndergaard – off to a very strong start prior to Sunday’s poor outing in which he lasted just an inning and a third – will be shut down indefinitely after an MRI disclosed a partially torn right lat muscle. Bothered by biceps tenderness last week that pushed his start back several days “Thor” is likely to miss at least the same amount of time Matz missed with a similar injury in 2015.

And to make matters worse for the Mets their offensive leader, Yoenis Cespedes, is also sidelined with a hamstring issue that, according to team sources, “is not considered serious.” Time will tell.

Here’s a preview of three series to be played this weekend.

Arizona at Colorado

Colorado starts this week at 16-10 and atop the NL West, a half game ahead of 16-11 Arizona. Both teams have potent offenses but have also gotten better than expected starting pitching. The Rockies took two of three games in Arizona this past weekend and what may have been most surprising was not that two of the three games stayed UNDER the Total but that they stayed UNDER with scores of 3-1 and 2-0 with the series finale going 13 innings before Arizona broke the scoreless tie.

Even the middle game of the series needed a late Colorado rally for the game to go OVER as the Diamondbacks were unable to protect an early 6-1 lead, allowing the Rockies to score six unanswered runs, including three in the top of the ninth, to send the game OVER the Total of 9. This series should feature higher scoring and the Totals in Colorado will reflect that expectation with Totals in the 10.5 to 11.5 range likely.

A pair of youngsters – Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela – have pitched well for the Rockies and can be backed in their starts if favored by -125 or less unless they are opposed by Arizona’s Robbie Ray or Zack Greinke, in which case whichever team is an underdog of at least +115 can be played. Should either team be an underdog of +140 or more that team would be the play regardless of the pitching matchup given the high scoring nature of Coors Field.

For Totals the OVER can be considered at 10.5 or lower although OVER 11 can be played if the matchup does not include Greinke, Ray, Freeland or Senzatela. If two of that quartet oppose one another UNDER a Total of 10.5 or higher can be played.

Houston at LA Angels

In their first series Houston took three of four from the Angels in a very low scoring series that averaged just 4.8 total runs per game with each game staying UNDER. The Angels have had starting pitching issues in the early going with eight different pitchers making at least one start during April. Of the five making more than one start only J C Ramirez has been close to effective, although as a staff only eight of the 27 starts would qualify as quality.

Houston’s rotation has been equally as ineffective with the major exception of lefty Dallas Keuchel. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner, who battled injury issues last season, has been brilliant through his first six starts of 2017.

This series should be higher scoring. Both teams are playing well and sit 1-2 in the AL West with the 16-9 Astros three games ahead of the 14-13 Angels, who entered this week having won six of seven. With the exception of a start by Keuchel look toward either team as an underdog of +120 or more. Keuchel can be backed as a favorite of -130 or less, which could be the price in a road start.

Look to play OVER Totals of 8 or less in any matchup not involving Keuchel. If there is a Keuchel vs. Jesse Chavez matchup the UNDER may be played at 7.5 or higher.

NY Yanks at Chi Cubs

The Cubs play one of baseball’s most storied franchises in a second straight interleague series after losing two of three in Boston this past weekend. Back home they welcome the Yankees who are off to a surprising 15-8 start, which has the Bronx Bombers tied with Baltimore atop the AL East after taking two of three from the Orioles this past weekend. And the Yankees are bombing the baseball with Aaron Judge tying a rookie record with 10 home runs in April.

Chicago is off to a disappointing 13-11 start largely due to starting pitching that has not pitched close to the level of last season up and down the rotation. As a staff, only seven of their 24 starts can be defined as Quality Starts. In contrast nine of the Yankees’ 23 starts meet that definition.

Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have put up the best stats. This series is likely to be priced based on the established form of the Cubs starters and their powerful lineup. But the Yankees’ lineup has also been potent. In fact, the Yanks are second only to Washington with a plus 43 runs differential and are averaging 5.6 runs per game. Look to play the Yankees as underdogs of +140 or more in any matchup or if at least +120 in starts by Severino or Pineda.

Wind is always the major factor in setting Totals, and if they are in the fairly neutral range of eight to nine look to play the OVER in any matchup.

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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