Nearly one fifth of the way into the 2005 season several early surprises and disappointments remain at the forefront of discussion.
The early struggles of Colorado and Kansas City should continue. Each team is barely winning one quarter of its games and on a pace for between 40 and 45 victories. While both should exceed those levels, each will remain risky betting propositions.
The problem with such teams is that when you feel comfortable backing them, it will usually be after they’ve won two or three in a row. It’s at that time they begin yet another lengthy losing streak. The Rockies might actually provide the better value in predicting a winning streak by playing them at home where they have historically played very well. At 5-6, the Rockies are nearly break even. Going against them on the road (2-15) has been very profitable.
But the Rockies do not possess the worst road log in the majors. That distinction belongs to the Houston Astros. At 1-14, their road start is shocking for a team with just one losing season since 1991.
As the weather warms up, keep an eye on the Astros. The team is still good enough to approach .500 for the season and there will be good value in backing the ”˜Stros at least in the short run. Their 10-5 home record is one of the best in the League, indicating the talent is still there.
The New York Yankees continue to struggle, although they ended the weekend with back to back shutouts of Oakland in which both Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown looked sharp. Whether those efforts were indicative of a turnaround or merely a blip in a continuing downward trend remains to be seen.
There have been a few Sports Books that have posted a prop that favors the Yanks to miss the playoffs. Getting the Yanks at even money or better to make the playoffs remains very attractive.
On the positive side, the early season performances of Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox remain in the headlines. The White Sox may have the best one to five starting rotation in the American League given the early season efforts of their three, four and five starters. Baltimore has gotten better pitching than expected to complement their potent lineup.
The strong NL starts by division leaders Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles are not truly surprising. The Dodgers, though, were expected to fall back after winning the West last season. The offense has been the big surprise and the Dodgers are about to get healthier on the mound with the season debut of closer Eric Gagne expected within the next week or so.
The NL East may be the best division in baseball top to bottom with four of the five teams having winning records. Last place Philadelphia is 14-18, the best mark of any cellar dweller.
The NL Central is arguably the weakest division in baseball with only St. Louis sporting a winning record among six teams.
Long time readers know the emphasis placed in this weekly column is geared heavily to the quality of the starting pitching. As such, in the previews that follow, reference shall be made to ”˜key and ”˜non-key’ starting pitchers, looking to play "ON" key pitchers in appropriate situations and "AGAINST" non-key starters in others. Often a matchup of key pitchers will point to "UNDER" and non-key pitchers point to "OVER.’’
Here’s a look at four attractive series this weekend.
Marlins at Padres: Both teams have offensive potential, but clearly rely more on pitching to make each a contender. In matchups involving Florida’s Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett or A.J. Burnett against the Padres’ Jake Peavy, Adam Eaton or Brian Lawrence, scoring should be at a premium.
Preferred plays: Bet UNDER at 7, but no lower. In matchups involving any two of these named pitchers take UNDERDOG. If one of these hurlers opposes the number four or five starters, play FAVORITE at -140. In a matchup of two pitchers not among this group of six, go OVER at 9.
Braves at Dodgers: Both teams are playing well with pitching largely responsible. Both teams have shown enough offense to look for at least a total of eight runs before considering the under, unless two of the following key starters oppose one another. The cutoff total is seven or higher. The key starting pitchers to consider backing as underdogs are Atlanta’s John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and John Thomson. For Los Angeles their top trio is Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez.
Preferred plays: UNDERDOG at +110. In matchups involving two non-key starters, bet UNDERDOG at +130 and OVER no higher than 8. In a hybrid matchup (key starter vs non-key) go with FAVORITE at —140. Play key starter as a —140 FAVORITE or +160 DOG.
Orioles at White Sox: Baltimore is built on offense, Chicago on pitching and a preference to play ”˜small ball.’ The Orioles prefer to look for the big belt. At Chicago, the setup is more conducive towards lower scoring games. Chicago’s rotation is deep with only ”˜ace’ Mark Buehrle having an ERA greater than 3.00 (his is an acceptable 3.79). Baltimore’s rotation is not nearly as impressive with lefties Eric Bedard and Bruce Chen showing the most effectiveness thus far. Both have been very stingy in allowing base runners.
Preferred plays: The only exception to playing UNDER 9 would be if either matches up against Buehrle or Freddy Garcia. In that case UNDER 8 still provides some margin for error. With no ”˜dominant’ or dog of a starter, bet UNDERDOG at +120.
Rangers at Twins: Both teams had good starts to their seasons. Aside from the Twins’ Johan Santana, neither team will send an outstanding pitcher to the hill. Preferred plays: In games not started by Santana, bet OVER at 10 or lower. Bet Texas ace Kenny Rogers at EVEN if matched up against Santana. Avoid Texas against Santana even at the likely +200. Otherwise, play the DOG at +125. That’s likely Texas twice.