MLB Second Half: Fade or Follow?
by Robert Ferringo - 07/12/2007
With just over a half of the season in the books most baseball bettors feel like they have a great read on the teams and how the rest of the season is going to go. You know which teams are good on the road and which ones aren't, who hits lefties and who doesn't, and which teams to stay away from while a minor losing streak becomes a major cold spell. It's pretty easy, right?
Wrong. This is actually just the point where that mode of thought leads to enough devastating losses that you feel like you've just been cracked in the face with one of Vlad Guerrero's 35-inch, 32.9-ounce bats. Injuries, hot starts by veteran journeyman, and even coaching shakeups have taken place through the first three months of the season. And they're not done. There are still plenty of wild surprises remaining - especially with the trading deadline creeping closer - and somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 games left to be played. Anything can happen, and while experience is a useful tool in any wagering endeavor it's always more important to be able to adapt to what is going to happen rather than relying on what has already taken place.
Here is a brief overview of six teams, all of which are either at or below .500, which I'll be monitoring closely over the second half of the year. I've pegged each club as one to either fade or follow based on whether or not they overachieved or underachieved, how much injuries (or the lack there of) have factored into their play, the remaining schedule and certain statistical projections based on past performance. Here's what I came up with:
Oakland Athletics (44-44)
Yes, they hit like a tee ball team. And they still don't have a legit closer. And the two teams ahead of them have a seven- and nine-game head start on winning the division. But you have to love the A's and their cagey style of Small Ball. They've won 63.2 percent of their games after the All-Star break since 1999 and 62.9 percent over the past five years. They're always good for a double-digit winning streak in there as well, and when this team gets hot they don't cool off for a while.
The keys are the successful return of Huston Street to aid a desperate bullpen and if they can get Rich Harden healthy and atop of the rotation their top four starters become the best in the American League. On top of that, they need one of the four regulars hitting below .270 - Kendall, Crosby, Kotsay and Swisher - to find their stroke. All of this isn't beyond the realm of possibility and I like the value on the A's for their last 74.
Cleveland Indians (52-36)
The Indians led the A.L. Central for the majority of the first half until a late slide stuck them a game behind the Tigers. They have been amazing at home (31-12) and their longest losing streak has been three games. That's amazing consistency.
The problem is that the price on the Tribe is going to continue to soar because their offense is so potent. However, they've played the third-most one-run games in the A.L. so you can't even rely on them for run line wagers. Cleveland's team ERA is 17th in the league and 24th in "close and late" situations. I don't trust a team without at least a couple marquee arms so I think the time may be running out on cashing with Cleveland.
Milwaukee Brewers (49-39)
The Brew Crew has lived up to that light buzz that surrounded them heading out of Spring Training. But the question is whether or not the first-half binge will give way to a late summer hangover. This is a team that's still very unproven and one that's shown itself to be very streaky. Case in point: after a stretch of winning 12 out of 14 the Brewers closed the first half by going 3-7 against the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals. Not good.
Milwaukee's been getting key production from a lot of unlikely sources, and now with centerfielder Bill Hall on the D.L. for 2-6 weeks their depth is going to be tested to the max. On top of that, teams within their division - Chicago, St. Louis and Houston - are starting to play a little better. Granted, that's going from pathetic to comically bad, but some of these experienced teams have gotten a sniff of the top spot since the Brewers couldn't close the door.
Verdict: Follow early at home; Fade as the summer wears on
Boston Red Sox (53-34)
Is it me or have the Red Sox been kind of a quiet powerhouse over the past two months? Boston has the best record in the game despite getting substandard production out of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew and Curt Schilling. That's impressive. Their bullpen is solid, they execute at the plate, and they win on the road. On top of that there's always the possibility of adding another starter or power hitter to an already loaded team.
Further, the Red Sox play 25 of their remaining 75 games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore, two teams they dominate. Compare that to just 19 games against teams that currently have a winning record. Only seven of Boston's last 26 wins have come by one run, meaning they're a solid run line play in order to get the juice back to a playable level.
New York Mets (48-39)
After an amazing start to the year (28-15) the veteran Mets saw injuries and a general malaise start to whittle away at their sense of invincibility. The schedule makers didn't do them any favors, either. The Mets play every playoff team from last season and are coming off a stretch of 17 games in 17 days. Over half of the rotation isn't on the current roster and they had to dust Sandy Alomar Jr. out of mothballs.
So I guess there's nowhere to go but up - even though they're still in first place.
I think the Mets will have a tough start to the second half, especially with another West Coast road trip looming and bunch of All-Stars that are jet setting all over the place right now, but after that the schedule calms down and the team should start to get completely healthy. Pedro Martinez will be begin rehab starts soon and don't think Omar Minaya won't be making a move at the trade deadline. The cherry on top is that the Mets play 15 of their last 22 games at home, with the final 13 coming against the Nationals and Marlins.
Verdict: Fade for a week, and then Follow.
Seattle Mariners (49-36)
Seattle was one of the surprise teams in MLB through the first half (well, a surprise to everyone but me, who picked them as my AL Team To Follow back in April) and ended on a high with three straight wins over the A's. But there's still the odd specter of the Mike Hargrove resignation hanging over these guys. They lack a go-to, frontline starter to anchor the rotation and you have to wonder if some of their veteran bats are going to stay on their blister pace.
Verdict: Follow (especially against lefties) then Fade and Fade hard.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.