With the passing of the non-waiver trading deadline last Monday there is a clearer picture of what may transpire over the nearly two months of the regular season that remain.
Many baseball observers believe the biggest winner at the trade deadline was a team that has clearly shown it is in a rebuilding mode. The New York Yankees traded away two thirds of their elite bullpen – Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman – and their best offensive player this season, Carlos Beltran, in exchange for a host of highly regarded prospects from Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs and Texas respectively.
Over the weekend Mark Teixeira announced his retirement at the end of the season and Alex Rodriguez agreed to be released following his final game as a Yankee this Friday against Tampa Bay.
One team thought to be in contention was a seller rather than a buyer and the prospects for making the playoffs have declined. Pittsburgh traded away its closer, a starting pitcher and some prospects in all but waving the white flag for this season.
In reassessing the division races after considering roster composition on Aug. 2 (the day following the deadline) not all that much has changed in the NL with Washington, the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco remaining the favorites.
The Nationals start the week with a 7 game lead in the East and the Cubs are up by 11.5 in the Central. There is a race in the West where the Giants’ poor play since the All Star break (6-15) has enabled the Dodgers to pull within a game of the lead.
The Wild Card race involves Miami, the New York Mets, St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pittsburgh figures to fall further out of contention and the team that had surged over the past few weeks, Colorado, was dealt a major blow when Trevor Story, their rookie shortstop who was likely to earn Rookie of the Year honors, was injured and is expected to miss the balance of the season.
Of the Wild Card contenders Miami and the Mets seem to have the best overall rosters, especially with Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw out until at least the last week of August as a result of being on the 60 day DL. His return after that still remains questionable.
The Dodgers’ rotation is a mess but did start this week with a 3 game lead for the top Wild Card spot. Just over 50 games remain to be played. St. Louis can never be written off but this season’s edition does not have the look of a playoff team, showing little consistency from game to game or week to week. Still, it would not be a surprise if the Cards make a September run and take advantage of a stumble by any of the other three contenders.
The AL is much more contentious with two of the three divisions having tight battles. Baltimore, Toronto and Boston are separated by just 3 games in the East and Cleveland started this week with a 2 game lead over Detroit in the Central. Only West leading Texas has a comfortable lead, up by 7 games over Seattle and 7.5 over Houston.
Most books adjusted their World Series and pennant odds following last week’s deadlines. Books that still offer divisional odds also made some adjustments. With more than two thirds of the regular season now completed it may be hard to find a longshot team to make enough of a move to make the playoffs but every season it seems there is at least one team that goes on a September run.
One candidate that comes to mind for this season plays in the AL West. The Mariners have gotten some very solid starting pitching since the All Star break and started this week 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card. With pennant odds of 40-1 and World Series odds of 80-1, Seattle might be worth a small wager to be that team that makes the late run. Starting Aug. 25 they play 26 of their final 32 games against division rivals, so the opportunity will be presented.
Here’s a look at three series this weekend.
St. Louis at Chicago Cubs: This four game series begins Thursday. These long time rivals have played a trio of three game series this season and in an oddity the road team is 7-2. The Cubs took 2 of 3 in each of the first two series in St. Louis before the Cardinals swept their three game series in Chicago in late June. The OVER leads 5-4.
The Cubs have outstanding starting pitching, great defense and a balanced lineup. The Cubs should have the starting pitching edge in each game of this series. But that will be reflected in the price. As such the guideline will be a price of 150, laying that or less with the Cubs and taking that price or more with the Cardinals.
Forecasting Totals plays at Wrigley Field is always problematic as Totals are often based more on expected wind conditions than on the quality of the starting pitching matchup. For this series that issue is further compounded by the quality of the rotations. All five of Chicago’s starters have more than 50 percent of their starts meeting my definition of a Quality Start – pitching at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or less. None of St. Louis’ starters has met that 50 percent threshold.
Houston at Toronto: The only prior series between the Astros and Blue Jays was last week in Houston where Houston won the series opener but Toronto took the next three games. All four games stayed UNDER the Total. Toronto does have the pitching edge with Marco Estrada, Jay Happ and Aaron Sanchez each having very solid seasons. Houston’s best starters have been Doug Fister and Lance McCullers Jr., although their stats are ordinary at best.
McCullers’ standout stat has been: 12 of his 14 starts have stayed UNDER the Total with just two going OVER. Toronto will be the preferred play in starts by Estrada, Happ or Sanchez, laying up to minus 140 with any of that trio against any Astros starter. In starts by Fister or McCullers the Astros can be played as underdogs +150 or more against the aforementioned Blue Jays trio or as -120 favorites or less against other Toronto starters. Play OVER 8.5 or lower and UNDER 9.5 or higher.
Baltimore at San Francisco: This is the most attractive of the three interleague series this weekend. The Giants have a huge edge in starting pitching with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto both among my top 10 rated starters. Even Jeff Samardzija rates higher than Baltimore’s top starter Chris Tillman. The Orioles have the more potent offense, which makes this an intriguing matchup of strength vs. strength.
At prices of -150 or less the Giants can be backed behind Bumgarner and Cueto but the Orioles would be playable as +160 underdogs or more against that duo. The Giants can be played as -125 favorites with other starters and Baltimore is playable at +130 or more. In games involving Bumgarner or Cueto UNDER Totals of 7.5 or higher is playable with UNDER 7 acceptable if Baltimore starts Tillman or Kevin Gausman. In games not involving any of these four starters consider OVER Totals of 7.5 or lower.