Out of favor

Jul 15, 2003 6:52 AM

The next two weeks could well determine the teams making a run at the playoffs and those opting to alienate their fans by trading away players.

How dangerous is it to bet favorites in baseball? Even though the win percentage is very attractive, the net losses show the hazards of backing those teams. Favorites of —200 or more have won 63 percent of their games through Sunday’s action.

Sounds impressive but at a price of 2-1, a team must win at least two thirds of those games to break even. Favorites of at least 2-1 or higher have won 154 of 244 ”” a net loss of 54 units. Keep that in mind the next time you think of backing big favorites.

Conversely, backing huge underdogs in the 244 games would have produced 90 wins. However, the profit value would have been +37 units. Being selective and looking for situations such as current form, edge in starting pitching, overworked bullpens and other factors will produce several big underdogs each week that will profit.

Even though most teams have played over 90 games -- almost three fifths of the schedule -- the All Star break is traditionally a point where teams and fans take stock of each team’s chances to make it to the postseason.

The timing is especially important with the trading deadline just two short weeks away.

In the American League, the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners lead their divisions. Boston holds a one game lead over Oakland for the wild card. The Red Sox are two games behind the Yanks in the East, while the A’s are four behind Seattle in the West. Kansas City has a seven-game lead over fading Minnesota and Chicago’s White Sox in the Central. The Sox have overtaken the Twins for second place by a half game.

Toronto and Anaheim are also less than 10 games out of their division leads so a hot streak of say 20 wins in 25 games could have them back in contention. Realistically, though, both the Blue Jays and Angels are probably looking at the wild card at best.

Things are much more interesting in the NL. Aside from Atlanta, there are 10 teams with realistic shots at securing the other three playoff berths. The Braves have an 8½ game lead in the East, largest of any division leader. Houston has a one game lead over St Louis in the Central and San Francisco’s margin in the West over Arizona is five games. Right now the only divisional race is in the Central where the third place Cubs are just three back.

Philadelphia currently controls the wild card by a game over Arizona but there are eight teams within just six games of one another. Florida, three games above .500 at the break, is just 4½ games behind the Phillies. Montreal, the Cardinals, Cubs, Arizona, Los Angeles and Colorado are each within that six game gap.

Here’s a look at four series coming out of the All Star break.

Expos at Phillies: A key four game series for the Expos. Montreal trails the Phillies by four games and anything less than a split would increase that deficit in a tightly bunched field of wild card contenders. Philly has won six of nine games between the teams this season including a three game sweep here in early June. Philadelphia has picked up about eight games on the Expos over the past month.

The Philly starting pitching has excelled while Montreal’s has headed south. This has been a low scoring series with the UNDER going 5-2-2 in the nine games. Montreal is worth a look as an underdog in starts by Livan Hernandez and Tomo Ohka. The Phils, likely favorites in all four games, are worth backing at -125 or less when not facing Hernandez and Ohka.

Cards at Dodgers: The teams have met just twice, with LA winning both last week in St. Louis. Both games went OVER the total as the Dodgers displayed rare offensive productivity, scoring 15 runs. This four game series is much more likely to be low scoring, following the Los Angeles trend. The UNDER was 62-26-5 in Dodgers games, including 14-29-3 at home. The average total runs in Dodgers home games is just below 6½.

The UNDER is the play at totals of 7 or higher in any matchup. Both teams have been in slumps over the past month, winning less than half their games. The underdog becomes attractive throughout the series with a split showing at least a small profit.

Jays at Red Sox: Boston and Toronto have had strong OVER tendencies, combining on a 67-31-2 mark surpassing the total. The first preference for this four game series is OVER, with nine of the 13 matchups eclipsing the projected run total. Boston holds a slight 7-6 edge, indicative of a very competitive series.

Toronto has the greater need, after falling seven games back of the Red Sox. The Blue Jays should be bet as an underdog of +130 or higher. They can also be played as a -125 favorite in a start by Roy Halladay, who has won 13 consecutive decisions.

Mariners at Royals: This intriguing matchup features a pair of 2003’s biggest surprise teams. The Royals have feasted on divisional foes, picking up 20 games in the standings over their rivals. However, in non-division contests, the Royals are 10 games below .500. Seattle has won four of the five meetings this year, each by at least three runs.

The Mariners should be played in this series on the strength of vastly superior pitching. Bet Seattle as a -140 favorite in any matchup. Although only three of the five games went OVER, the teams have averaged 13 runs per game. So continue to look at the OVER.



Tuesday, at Chicago (AL)

8 p.m. ET, FOX

(odds courtesy of Rampart)

Team Open Now

NL -110 even

AL even -110

Total: OV/UN: 10 under