Cards hope to cool off red-hot Phillies

Jul 21, 2009 5:07 PM
The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe |

Baseball’s trading deadline comes next week and there are several big names that are supposedly on the market. Contending teams are readying their best offers for Toronto’s ace pitcher Roy Halladay as well as for Oakland slugger Matt Holliday. Both are likely to have new addresses at the end of the month.

There are still as many teams in contention for the playoffs as there are teams that should be talent providers over the next 10 days. Usually the rumors in advance of the deadline greatly outnumber the actual number of trades that are made. And with the exception of perhaps the two players listed above and possibly one or two more, odds to win the World Series will be minimally impacted, if at all, at sports books around town.

In looking at possible futures plays at this stage of the season it’s always easiest to make a case for division leaders and those teams held at the shortest odds. More than half a season has been played and teams have had nearly 100 games to show whether or not they are capable of being legitimate contenders.

Several teams may be worth watching over the second half of the season, including one team at very generous odds. Just prior to the All Star break the Seattle Mariners could be found at odds of 50 to 60 to one to win the World Series. Losers of 101 games in 2008, Seattle has enjoyed a huge turnaround in 2009, starting this week with a record of 49-43 that has them in third place in the AL West but just four games out of first place. The M’s are also just five and a half games out of the wild card lead.

What makes Seattle intriguing is their pitching rotation that arguably – based on performance this season – may be the best one-two-three trio in all of baseball.

Felix Hernandez is emerging into the elite pitcher most observers have expected him to eventually become. And a pair of lefties, Eric Bedard and Jarrod Washburn, are having solid rebound seasons. All three have ERAs of under 3.00, WHIPs below 1.20 and strikeout to walk ratios of better than 2.5 to 1.

If Seattle can somehow make the postseason, that trio could propel the Mariners deep into October and possibly into the World Series. The team has been solid at home (25-18) and pretty good on the road as well (24-25).

The one concern for Seattle is their weak offense. Only San Diego averages fewer than Seattle’s 3.9 runs per game at home. At the same time Seattle has one of the best runs allowed averages.

The San Francisco Giants are also being offered at odds in excess of 25 to one at various sports books. All the Giants are doing is leading the NL wild card race.

We’ve seen wild card teams win several World Series over the past decade.

Even last season’s World Series runners up, Tampa Bay, are nearly 20 to one to win the World Series. But Tampa’s route is much tougher in the American League East where they trail the better balanced Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

There is much more parity in the National League; even a team like Colorado – currently around 50 to one – is right in the thick of playoff contention.

With only the Los Angeles Dodgers playing .600 baseball in the National League and only Boston doing the same in the American League, this is a season that is developing as one that could well produce a long shot World Series winner rather than just a long shot runner up.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Phillies won both previous meetings when the teams met in St Louis in early May. Philadelphia begins the week as the hottest team in baseball, winners of eight straight. They have the second best record in the National League and have a six and a half game lead in the East. St. Louis is atop the NL Central but even fifth place Cincinnati is within five and a half games of the Cardinals. Both teams have solid offenses but St Louis has the better starting pitching with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro all enjoying solid seasons. For the Phillies ace lefty Cole Hamels continues to struggle but young J. Happ has been a pleasant surprise with a 2.74 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 11 starts since exiting the bullpen.

PREFERRED PLAYS: St Louis as underdogs of plus 125 or more in any matchup or if favored by minus 125 or less in starts by Carpenter, Pineiro or Wainwright; Phillies as Underdogs of plus 150 or more in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in starts by St Louis’ Carpenter, Pineiro or Wainwright against Happ; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in games not involving any of these four pitchers.

San Francisco at Colorado: The Giants currently lead Colorado by a half game in the NL Wild Card chase, making this a series of significance. San Francisco has won 3 of 5 meetings this season but the teams have not met since early May. The three games in Colorado each stayed UNDER the Total while the two game by the Bay each went OVER. Colorado has gotten better than expected starting pitching while the Giants have one of the top rotations in the league, anchored by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Colorado has the better offense as San Francisco has the second lowest scoring average on the road in all of baseball.

PREFERRED PLAYS: San Francisco as favorites of minus 150 or less in starts by Lincecum or Cain against any Colorado starter; Colorado as favorites of -130 or less in starts by Jason Marquis, Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook or Jorge De La Rosa except against Lincecum or Cain; UNDER Totals of 10 or higher in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher if Lincecum or Cain starts against Jimenez or Marquis.

Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa Bay has won 5 of 6 meetings this season including both games started by Toronto’s Roy Halladay. 5 of the 6 have also stayed UNDER the Total with only one game featuring more than 5 total runs scored. Tampa has played itself back into contention in the AL East while the Blue Jays have headed south over the past few weeks and more than just Roy Halladay may depart the team by the trade deadline. Tampa Bay has gotten decent though not outstanding starting pitching but their bullpen has started to perform at last season’s high level of late. The Rays also have the more productive offense and are actually averaging more runs per game on the road (5.0) than Toronto is averaging at home (4.6).

PREFERRED PLAYS: Tampa Bay as Underdogs of +150 or more against Halladay or as Underdogs of +120 or more against other Toronto starters; Toronto as favorites of -125 or less in starts by Ricky Romero or rookie Marc Rzepczynski; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any game in which Halladay does not start.

Minnesota at Los Angeles Angels: This is a four game series beginning Thursday. Minnesota swept all three games when the teams met in Minnesota in mid April. The Angels were not playing very well at that time but have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the last month. After dealing with injuries to key pitchers at the start of the season, the Angels are now dealing with injuries to Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. Yet they are still managing to win. Minnesota has one of the more dramatic contrasts in home versus road offense, scoring nearly a run and a half per game more at home than on the road.

PREFERRED PLAYS: UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup; Minnesota as Underdogs of +120 or more in a start by Nick Blackburn; Angels if favored by -40 or less against other than Blackburn.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe