The opening week of the baseball season was not without its share of surprises as is often the case each spring.
Keeping in mind that it’s a long season and in reference to the oft quoted and trite "it’s a marathon, not a sprint" we should not get carried away with the surprising starts of certain teams and players based upon the first week or so.
At the same time, we want to be aware of such starts that seem to go against the collective conventional wisdom spewed forth during the offseason and spring training. Often early results give clues as to what might unfold over the course of the six-month season, especially when it comes to young players.
For everyday players this can often occur in a player’s early 20’s. For pitchers these breakthrough seasons can occur much later, often in the 25 to 27 age range.
It’s also important to keep an eye on how players who missed much of last season due to injury start the new campaign. This is especially true of pitchers, the most noteworthy of which might be St. Louis righty Chris Carpenter. He was brilliant in his first start last week against Pittsburgh and a good follow up effort this week at Arizona could be a reason to consider futures plays on the Cardinals.
That the Washington Nationals have started 0-6 is not a surprise. The Nats opened the season on the road at division rivals Florida and Atlanta. They enter week two as baseball’s only winless team. No team managed to win every game in their first two series although both Florida and Atlanta managed to go 2-1 in the other series aside from sweeping Washington.
Cleveland’s 1-5 start is a disappointment and manager Eric Wedge must be on the hot seat, having presided over the Indians’ several inconsistent seasons. Part of Cleveland’s first week’s woes are attributed to the very poor outings by defending Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. It may well be that Lee’s performance in 2008 was a major fluke as his career was rather undistinguished previously. In fact, he was demoted to the minors for a stretch in 2007.
The defending National League Cy Young winner, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, has also struggled in both of his 2009 starts.
In a combined 18½ innings, Lincecum and Lee have allowed 18 earned runs and 31 hits. Ouch!
The 5-2 starts by both San Diego and Seattle are surprises, especially by the Padres. And after taking two of three from a pair of division rivals (New York and Tampa Bay) the 4-2 start by Baltimore was not expected.
Baseball presents some interesting handicapping challenges on a number of fronts. First, it involves the money line rather than point spreads so price becomes a major factor in knowing when to back favorites and when to take a chance on underdogs.
Also, the best teams in baseball will still lose in excess of 60 games each season, often in the role of favorites. The weakest teams will win in excess of 60, usually in the role of underdogs.
Before previewing the weekend let’s pause to remember Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart, tragically killed by a drunk driver just hours after an outstanding effort against Oakland last Wednesday night. By all accounts Adenhart had outstanding potential and was an all around great guy who will be missed.
And long time Phillies announcer Harry Kalas died shortly before Monday’s game in Washington. Aside from being Philly’s announcer since 1971, Kalas was also the long time voice of NFL Films, succeeding fellow Philadelphia newscaster John Facenda, considered by many to have had the best announcing voice (especially for highlights) in history.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Cardinals at Cubs: The St. Louis bullpen, especially the closer situation, remains a concern. The Cubs have the better all around offense. St. Louis has Albert Pujols, arguably the game’s most feared hitter. The Cubs also have a solid starting rotation and the better bullpen. As always wind conditions will play a major factor in the setting of totals.
• Either side as +125 underdogs.
• Under 8 or higher if the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Ted Lilly opposes Carpenter, Adam Wainwright or Kyle Lohse.
• Over 10 or lower in matchups not involving these pitchers.
Brewers at Mets: Both teams have plenty of offense but the Mets have a major edge on the mound. Ace Johan Santana has had two very solid starts thus far and the bullpen now has strength in the eighth and ninth innings, an area of failure last season. Milwaukee’s mound ace this season is Yovani Gallardo and he’s also dangerous at the plate. This should be a high scoring series at the Mets’ new Citi Field.
• Brewers with Gallardo as -120 favorites vs any starter other than Santana.
• Brewers +150 or more against Santana.
• Over 9 or lower not involving Gallardo or Santana.
Indians at Yankees: This four-game series at the new Yankee Stadium starts Thursday. Aside from CC Sabathia’s opening day effort and Chien Mien-Wang’s first outing, the NY starting pitchers have fared quite well. Sabathia is slated to start the first game in the new Stadium against his former mates. The Yanks’ offense has been averaging six runs per game. Cleveland’s pitching has been torched for 8.5 runs per game.
• Yankees -150 or less in any matchup.
• Indians if +200 underdogs against Sabathia.
• Over 9 runs or lower in any matchup.
Angels at Twins: The late Nick Adenhart was superb in his one and only start. The Angels’ rotation is still without ace John Lackey and Ervin Santana, who had a breakout season in 2008. Minnesota ace Francisco Liriano was roughed up in his first two outings, but is still the staff ace. The rest of the Twins’ rotation has promise but is largely unproven. Both teams have underrated offenses.
• Angels as +120 underdogs in any matchup.
• Twins as -125 favorites or less in starts by Kevin Slowey or Greg Perkins.
• Under 9 runs or higher in any matchup.
• Over 8 or less in any matchup.