The first week of the 2005 season is in the books and the initial assessment after just seven days of play is the apparent parity that exists.
This has been especially true in the American League where no team has been able to streak out early in either direction. Ten of the 14 teams have opened 3-3.
Of course it is silly to even think about drawing conclusions based on just the first week of play, but it is not too early to notice disturbing or surprising things.
The Yankees need at least to be concerned about the struggles of closer Mariano Rivera. Now maybe it’s just a thing about the Red Sox in recent seasons. But Rivera has had injury problems in recent seasons and is in the latter half of his career. Unlike when Rivera took over for John Wetteland in the late 1990s, the Yankees do not have a closer-in-waiting. New York can win without a fully healthy Rivera for a full season, but he would be vital for postseason success.
Home teams held a slight 46-42 edge over road teams and there were just five more "overs" than "unders" (with one push). We have already seen several complete games turned in by starting pitchers, somewhat surprising considering all the attention paid to pitch counts.
Baseball is a very different game from two or three decades ago. That is what makes it so difficult to compare players or teams across eras. Baseball has always been evolving from the deadball era in the early part of the 20th century to the integration of the game in the 1950s to the introduction of the DH in the AL over the last 30 years.
As handicappers we must identify and react to the changes. We can’t continue to rely on techniques that may have been effective years ago.
Some techniques do hold up over the years. Baseball is a very unique sport to bet because it does not involve a pointspread. Rather a money line is used to equalize the differences between a pair of teams. You simply have to pick the straight up winner of the game rather than try to assess an expected margin.
Our goal is the same as the team we back — just win the game. But it is wrong to think we will fare well simply by backing the stronger team, even if it means laying a price. As with football and basketball, the dog generally represents your best value, even more when the road team is the underdog.
Keep in mind the best team will likely lose at least 60 — usually as a favorite. The worst team is likely to win 60, most likely in the underdog role. As with those other sports, the dog is often the first place we look in order to find winning plays.
Here’s a preview of four series this weekend.
Marlins at Mets: Both teams expect to contend in the NL East and are similar. Florida probably rates slight edges in most areas and a big edge in the bullpen. Both added outstanding players in the offseason with Florida signing Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran joining the Mets. Pitching likely will dominate the series. Preferred plays: Under 8 or higher. Florida as an underdog of any price even against Pedro. Mets at +125 against Josh Beckett or A J Burnett.
Padres at Dodgers: Both teams will contend in the NL West more on the strength of their pitching. The Dodgers appear to have downgraded their offense with offseason moves. Closer Eric Gagne is expected to be sidelined deeper into April than had earlier been thought. San Diego has a solid starting rotation and a proven closer in Trevor Hoffman. Preferred plays: Padres as a dog except if Dodgers start Odalis Perez if favored by -130 tops. Under if line is no lower than 8.
Twins at Indians: Considered the top two teams in the AL Central. Minnesota has won the division three straight seasons and has perhaps the best bullpen in the league. Boast a solid if not spectacular lineup but the starting pitching drops off sharply after Johan Santana and Brad Radke. Cleveland on the rise with an improving pitching staff. Offense figures to overshadow defense in this series. Preferred plays: Over if below 10, except in starts by Santana or Radke. Cleveland against any other Minnesota starter if not more than a -125 favorite. Twins if someone other than the Big Two faces Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook.
Yanks at Orioles: Baltimore took two of three in New York this past weekend and especially impressive was starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez. He made his second strong start of the young season and could face Yanks again Friday. This past weekend produced games totaling 17, 13 and nine runs in the series, with only that final game staying "under" the total. Preferred plays: Lopez even if made a small favorite, though he’ll probably be an underdog. Yankees if favored at -150. Over at up to 10.