A headbangers ball

Aug 23, 2005 7:20 AM

The cliché. Part of what makes sports such a distinct aspect of our culture comes from the many clichés athletic competition generates. You know, "we play it one game at a time" or "offense wins games but defense wins championships."

Perhaps the one cliché that applies more to baseball than to any other major sport is that "the season is a marathon, not a sprint." Much can happen over the course of a 162 game schedule played over roughly six months. Perceptions are hard, or slow, to change.

As handicappers we must be able to go with the flow. We don’t want to change our opinions too hastily, but we also must be prepared to recognize changes of significance as they occur.

The linesmaker has a similar burden. He cannot afford to adjust too quickly less he risk an overreaction by the largely non-professional wagering public, putting his clients at risk. It is this lagging reaction time by the linesmaker — waiting until mass public perception has taken account of changes in team performance — that gives the ”˜early riser’ some edges.

In other words, records can be deceiving.

Oakland and Houston have received great attention from the media for their improbable rise from non-contenders on Memorial Day to Wild Card leads barely 2½ months later. Tampa Bay is 24-16 over the last 40 games. Only the A’s have more wins during that stretch in the AL.

In the NL, Cincinnati is 24-16 over its last 40. Only the Astros (25-15) are better. Yet, neither the Devil Rays nor the Reds are going to make the playoffs. Still, each might they present some profitable wagering opportunities the rest of the way, especially when priced as huge underdogs against contending teams. Tampa Bay is 9-4 against the Yankees and still has six games left with New York in the first half of September.

Here’s a preview of four series this weekend:

Marlins at Cubs: The Cubs are 4-2 in the season series, including a three-game sweep at Florida last month. All six went "over" the total, with the winning team scoring at least eight runs each game. The wind will factor in on the total, but fundamentally the matchups call for a low scoring series. Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher. MARLINS as an underdog. In starts by Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett or Dontrelle Willis, the Fish may be played up to a -140 favorite.

Cards at Nationals: In their only meetings this season, St. Louis took two of three at home in late May. Two games went easily "under" the Total and the third was a push. Preferred plays: UNDER 7½ or higher if St. Louis starts Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris or Mark Mulder against John Patterson or Esteban Loaiza. NATIONALS as underdogs in starts by Loaiza or Patterson. CARDS -1½ against Ryan Drese or Livan Hernandez, both perhaps suffering from the strain of too many innings. OVER 9 max if Drese or Hernandez face Jeff Suppan or Jason Marquis.

Indians at Blue Jays: Both the Blue Jays and Indians remain viable contenders for the AL Wild Card. Toronto has a four game midweek series with the Yankees. That, in fact, may give an edge to the Indians who, on balance, are better both on offense and on the mound. Preferred plays: INDIANS as -120 underdog behind any starter. The entire rotation has been solid all season. Use 9 as guide for totals. UNDER 9½ or higher, OVER 8½ or lower.

Angels at D’Rays: The Angels continue to fight off the challenge of Oakland for supremacy in the AL West. Going back 48 games, the pesky Devil Rays actually have one more win than do the Halos. Preferred plays: RAYS as at least +130 underdog except when lefty Scott Kazmir pitches. Kazmir can be bet as a -120 favorite. Acquired from the Mets a year ago, Kazmir has shown over the past six weeks that he may deliver on his highly touted potential. OVER 10 or less the entire series.