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This Memorial Day
doesn’t provide leads

Jun 1, 2004 5:44 AM

Memorial Day is the traditional one third mark of the baseball season and is often considered the first indicator of which teams are favored to win their respective division titles.

All six divisions are tightly contested with Anaheim having the biggest lead of any first place team, 2½ games over Texas in the American League West. Two game leads are held by Florida over Philadelphia in the National League East and by Chicago over Minnesota in the AL Central.

Cincinnati has a 1½ game lead over Houston in baseball’s most competitive division, the NL Central. San Diego is one game ahead of Los Angeles in the NL West and Boston has baseball’s narrowest lead, a mere half game, over the New York Yankees in the AL East.

There is great parity in the National League where only Florida is playing .600 baseball. All six teams in the NL Central are at .500 or better with just four games separating first place Cincinnati and last place Pittsburgh.

San Francisco has made up ground in the NL West and begins the week a game over .500 and just 2½ games out of first. The Giants start the week on a nine game winning streak which ties Anaheim for the longest winning streak of 2004.

Three AL teams are playing at least .600 baseball, led by Boston at 31-19. Anaheim has won exactly three of every five games through their first 50. Interleague play begins a week from Tuesday.

Baseball is somewhat unique when it comes to betting because, unlike football and basketball, it’s not about pointspreads. In betting baseball you simply pick the winner of the game, laying or taking odds depending on the relative strengths of the two teams. There is a form of pointspread wagering available called the Run Line.

When you wager on the Run Line you may play a team at either + or — 1½ runs. The regular favorite in the game will lay 1½ while the underdog would be getting 1½. The prices are adjusted to reflect the run line coming into play. In general road teams are adjusted by about 40 to 50 cents while home teams are adjusted by between 85 and 95 cents.

A couple of weeks ago, the White Sox were -142 at home against Minnesota on the regular line but giving -1½ runs the White Sox were now +150. If you liked the White Sox and thought they would win by at least 2, you could wager $100 to win $150 instead of wagering $142 to win $100. Similarly you could have wagered $170 on Minnesota to win 100 getting 1½ instead of wagering the usual $100 to win $132.

To illustrate the difference between the price adjustments for road teams and home teams, Oakland was -144 to win straight up at Kansas City. At -1½ the Athletics were +105, a difference of 49 cents. Recall that as a similar priced favorite on the same day the difference for the White Sox in a straight play versus —1½ was 92 cents.

We prefer not taking 1½, but to lay that number with favorites you like. When you take the +1½, you generally will be laying a price on an underdog. The only situation that benefits you is when that underdog loses by exactly one run.

When that underdog loses by two runs or more, you will lose more than had you just played them straight. Likewise, when the underdog wins outright you will win less than if you wagered $100 to win a greater amount at the underdog price.

The reverse is true for favorites. In a couple of weeks we’ll take a look at how often these situations occur by examining the results of more than 30,000 major league baseball games played over the past 16 seasons.

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

Pirates at Cubs: The Cubs avoided a sweep in Pittsburgh this past weekend with a 12-1 win on Sunday that was much closer than the final suggests. The Cubs struggled for much of that contest, unable to manage more than five hits and one run against a first time starting pitcher who lasted five innings. Without Sammy Sosa the Cubs lineup is rather ordinary despite a solid season being enjoyed by Moises Alou and Derrek Lee.

This should again be a high scoring series with the wind in Wrigley Field dictating the line. The only Pirates pitcher to consider for play is lefty Oliver Perez. In fact, his start might be the only game to be played "under" total if matched up against Carlos Zambrano or Matt Clement. Otherwise play the Cubs at —140.

Marlins at Mets: Florida swept the Mets this past weekend but all three games were close. In the rematch the Mets are worth playing when either Tom Glavine or Steve Trachsel starts provided the Mets are not favored by more than -125.

The Marlins may be played in all other matchups or against Glavine or Trachsel if getting +150. The "under" is preferred at totals of 8 or higher although a matchup of lefty Darren Oliver against other than Glavine/Trachsel may be played OVER at 9 or lower.

Rangers at Yanks: Texas took two of three at home from the Yankees a couple of weeks ago. But since that series the Rangers have struggled, losing four of six and not getting the solid pitching they got for much of April and May. With the offense sputtering, Texas has just four "over" results on the road this season, compared to 18 "unders" and two "pushes."

Texas begins this week having played nine straight road "unders." The Yankees have started to hit and this series might present "over" value. Despite the reputation of the Yankee pitching staff, Texas’ Kenny Rogers has the lowest ERA (3.09) of any starter on either team. Only New York’s Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez have ERAs under 4.00 and both are greater than 3.50. At totals of 9 or lower, play "over." Rogers may be played as a dog, while the Yankees may be played in any matchup other than Rogers if favored by —150 or less.

White Sox at Mariners: It will not be long before the Mariners start unloading players. Chicago may be in the buying market in trying to pull away from Minnesota in the AL Central. Chicago is the better team but there are several pitchers on both teams worthy of backing as dogs.

For Seattle, Freddie Garcia and Jamie Moyer may be played if made the pup. Bet Chicago as dogs if Mark Buehrle, Esteban Loaiza, Jon Garland or Scott Schoeneweis starts. With those starters, play "under" at 9 or higher.

Next week: Looking at some past season’s Interleague results and statistics.