Several paths to betting the Fall Classic

Oct 23, 2007 2:07 AM

October memories shine the brightest in baseball lore. Bobby Thompson’s 1951 home run, Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the ’56 Series, Bob Gibson’s 17-strikeouts in Game 1 in 1968, Carlton Fisk’s home run in ’75, Kirk Gibson’s blast in ’88, Joe Carter’s Series ending three-run dinger in 1993. While home runs mostly dot the top of the memorial landscape, October baseball can also feature memorable defensive plays and great pitching performances from starters and relievers.

This is important from a betting perspective and is a key factor the Colorado Rockies surprised the oddsmakers. They were 100-to-1 to win the World Series before the season started. The Rockies’ pitching improved from 13th in 2006 to 8th this season in the NL, and they are also tops in the Majors in team defense with the fewest errors allowed.

The Yankees spent $210 million dollars, but got smoked in four games by the Indians. Why? The Cleveland pitching was better. Much better, ranking fifth in team ERA, while the Yankees were 17th. The ALCS between Boston and Cleveland matched the No. 1 and No. 3 pitching staffs in the AL.

Taking a content analysis of the last 11 years of the World Series, you’ll notice that pitching and defense shine a bit more on the October stage than offense. Over that time there have been 37 unders, 26 overs and two pushes in World Series play. Is this a fluke? Or are there reasons for more low scoring games?

There are plenty of reasons for it. Since the World Series is the last battle of the season, managers aren’t going to go with their worst pitchers, but the best of their best. This is why you see three and four man rotations in the World Series, whereas in the regular season teams employ a five and sometimes six-man rotation. Simply put, the No. 4, 5 and 6 starters during the regular season aren’t going to see much (if any) important action in late October. The same is true for relief pitchers: A team generally has two or three quality relievers and three or four marginal/below average arms. Naturally, a manager is going to use his best often and go to his weakest arms only if necessary.

The Yankees spent millions on an offensive lineup for the ages the last two seasons, leading the Majors in runs scored. They scored 76 more runs than the next best team (Phillies). However, offensive teams are built for the regular season. Teams stocked with a balanced line up and excess pitching, both starting and in the bullpen, are built for October.

In addition, defense is a subtle, often overlooked aspect of baseball. There’s an old adage that teams win with pitching, hitting and defense, and that’s true. This is why you often see teams with outstanding center fielders, shortstops and catchers in the World Series because a team needs to be strong up the middle. Good defense helps your pitchers, turning double plays and keeping the other team from scoring.

Finally, the weather is far colder in October than in July and August, and it’s tougher to hit a baseball when it’s cold. When the World Series takes place in northern cities (Boston, New York, Cleveland, Detroit) it can be very cold in late October. Last season, the A’s and Tigers hooked up for Game 3 in Detroit. It was 42 degrees at game time, the lowest for a postseason game since it was 38 in Cleveland at the 1997 World Series. The final score? It was 3-0 Tigers, far under the total. This year will be the first time the World Series has ever visited the high altitude of Denver in late October, which should find some frigid conditions.

Last year, the under went 3-2 as the Cardinals topped the Tigers in five games. Three years ago, the Cardinals and Red Sox combined for 20 runs in Game 1 of the World Series, in a sloppy, mistake-filled, walk-fest, sailing over the total.

The next three games, however, went under the total in 6-2, 4-1 and 3-0 Red Sox wins. In the 2003 World Series between the Yankees and Marlins, five of the six games went under the total as pitching and defense excelled, capped by Josh Beckett’s 2-0 clincher at Yankee Stadium in game 6.

So don’t be surprised if pitching and defense shine a bit more than offense, especially with this season’s games are contested in cool climates.