Three weeks into the 2005 season and the surprising play of several teams continues to make headlines. The 15-4 start by Chicago’s White Sox, their best in more than a century, has been largely due to the solid performance of the starting pitching staff.
White Sox starters are averaging more than 6Â½ innings per start which keeps the bullpen fresh. Last season the Red Sox broke a World Series drought that went back to 1918. The White Sox last won the Series in 1917. Back to the Future perhaps?
Baseball’s next best records belong to the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. Both were division winners last season and St. Louis is the consensus favorite to repeat as National League champions.
The early season success of Los Angeles is surprising to many after the offseason moves made by Dodgers management and seeing closer Eric Gagne placed on the disabled list all season. The NL West has started the season looking very weak, with both San Diego and San Francisco (the preseason division favorites) sporting losing records.
A good indication of the strength of a team (in all sports) can often be found by looking at how that team performs away from home. Through the first three weeks of the season, Baltimore has gone 7-2 on the road. Only the White Sox (9-2) have fared better in the AL.
The Orioles’ Eastern Division rivals, the New York Yankees, have been perhaps baseball’s biggest early season disappointment. The Yankees are just 3-5 on the road, but it is their 5-6 home record that has increased the cause for concern in the Big Apple. It’s still early with more than 140 games to be played. The Yankees will snap out of their early season doldrums but their sluggish start should be a signal to management that they need to infuse some young talent.
As expected, the AL West is baseball’s most competitive division. The four teams begin the week separated by just two games in the standings. Only one game separates the top four in the NL East with Philadelphia just two games further back.
Baseball’s worst record belongs to Kansas City (5-14) and the next poorest records belong to Colorado and Pittsburgh (each 6-12). It is not a surprise to see any of these three teams struggle and all were projected to win fewer than 74 games for the season.
Starting pitching continues to excel. Nearly one game in four has featured at least one of the starting pitchers go at least eight full innings. There have already been seven games in which both starters pitched at least eight.
It’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions about why things have changed from last season but we can at least get an idea of any general shifts from recent seasons. The ”˜under’ games hold a 144-126 edge and average runs per game is down only slightly from 9.64 in 2004 to 9.34 this season.
One reason why run production is down is that Barry Bonds has started the season on the DL. Of course a more plausible reason might relate to the offseason controversies surrounding steroids and the apparent drop in the number of beefed up batters this season.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Marlins at Phillies: Florida seemingly is the best balanced team in the NL East, but it is the pitching that separates the Marlins from the other four. The offense is above average, but has yet to show any consistency. Philadelphia in general has gotten better pitching than expected while the offense has tailed off following a strong start. After scoring at least five runs in four of the first six games, the Phils have plated at least five runs just twice in the 13 games since. Preferred bets: UNDER, especially at of 9 or higher. MARLINS at -120 except when Brett Myers pitches. Bet the PHILS with Myers as a favorite up to -130. Myers has been strong in his first four starts.
Cubs at Astros: Both teams believe they can challenge St. Louis in the NL Central. Both teams have excellent starting pitching and average offenses, suggesting the ”˜under’ being the best play throughout the series. Preferred bets: OVER if Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens do not start for the Astros and when Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux are out for the Cubs. UNDERDOG / UNDER in matchups involving any of these seven pitchers.
Red Sox at Rangers: This series should feature plenty of offense. Both teams averaging five runs per game and neither has an effective ace. Boston’s Curt Schilling has an ERA above seven over his first three starts and may still be feeling the effects of the injuries that plagued him during the post season. Texas pitching has shown improvement over last season but no starter has been much above average. Pedro Astacio has performed the best of the five Rangers starters. Preferred bets: OVER at 10 or less and the UNDERDOG should produce profits over this three game series with Boston likely to be favored at least twice.
Angels at Twins: Both teams have been solid contenders over the past few seasons and are playing winning baseball at the start of this season. Minnesota has the better starting pitching, while the Angels have the more potent offense. The Angels have gotten solid starts from Bartolo Colon, while Kelvim Escobar was strong in his first start. Preferred bets: ANGELS as underdogs if Colon or Escobar pitch. UNDER at 8 or less when Twins ace lefty Johan Santana starts against Colon or Escobar. OVER at 10 or lower with starters other than Colon, Escobar, Santana or the Twins’ Brad Radke. ANGELS at +125 except against Santana.