Handicapping Baseball's Stretch Run
by Robert Ferringo - 07/24/2008
Baseball can be a very simple game: Throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball. So by that rationale betting on baseball should be just as straightforward: Bet on the good teams and bet against the bad teams.
Well, if things were that easy then the roads would be paved with hookers and hundred dollar bills. But unfortunately that's not the case. And even though having two-thirds of the Major League Baseball season behind us should give us the advantage of understanding and experience, handicapping and betting the second half of the season is a completely different animal.
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A critical component of betting on baseball after the all-star break revolves around being able to handicap the motivation of teams that aren't in the playoff picture. Some teams are full of paycheck players who are ready to mail it in. Others call up a host of young players who aren't really talented enough to play in the Bigs, while others mix in some rookies and late call-ups that can inject life into a sagging clubhouse. And still others continue to fight on gamely for the sake of helping out fantasy baseball teams and gamblers. At least that's what I think that last group is playing for.
Below is a look at the six last-place teams in the Major Leagues heading into Thursday's action. I've tried to give a quick breakdown of what I think their prospects are for the second half of the season from a betting perspective, labeling each club as "Buy", which means I think they can be profitable through the last one-third of the year, "Sell", which means that I think this is a "play against" only team, or "Hold", which means that it's even too murky for this capper to tell.
Very quietly, I think the Orioles have been having a successful season. They really aren't well equipped to handle the powerhouses in their division, yet the O's are still hovering around .500 and at 10.5 games back they are the closest last-place team to competing in their division. In fact, their only problem is playing in their division, as they are 17-25 against the A.L. East but 31-26 against the rest of the league. The Orioles have been feisty at home, wining at least one home game in every series as a host this year. That is significant because they are a great home dog chase against other high-profile teams. This team has heart and they are one of just 13 teams to turn a straight profit this year. I think they keep playing hard until the season ends.
This season got away from the Indians in a hurry and they were well out of the race by the all-star break. However, they've shown a little life over the past three weeks, winning seven of their last 10 games, winning a road series against the Mariners, and playing very gamely on the road against the club with the best record in the Majors (Angels). Cleveland is intriguing because they still have arms that warrant respect from oddsmakers - Cliff Lee, Aaron Laffey, and the soon-to-be-returned Fausto Carmona. However, their lineup is atrocious. Besides Grady Sizemore there are not a lot of Major League bats in that clubhouse. Casey Blake is likely to follow C.C. Sabathia out of town and you have to wonder what that move will do to morale.
The M's mailed it in a long time ago and now the only motivation that these players have is to either A) kind of earn a paycheck and B) play well enough to get traded. Seattle is still a pain in the ass road trip, but the home field edge that they have enjoyed over the past few years is certainly watered down by their subpar pitching. The good news is that with J.J. Putz back to compliment Brandon Morrow the M's have the makings of a solidified pen. Yes, they have to win sometime and should pay out as a steep dog for most of their Ws. But there is simply no fight in this team and I don't see them making any kind of profit run during the second half.
Injuries have really ravaged the Nationals this year, with the most recent being the loss of Dmitri Young for the year. They're now starting Rafael Belliard at first base and they just traded their closer, who was actually just filling in for their injured closer. Basically, the Nasty Nats are a mess. They are just 14-30 in their last 44 games and I really don't see much of a reason for them to turn it around.
Here is a great example of perception versus reality. Because when you hear a lineup with Tejeda, Carlos Lee, and Berkman in it you think runs, runs, runs. It's been just the opposite. The Astros are 23rd in runs and 23rd in on-base percentage and have been an 'under' machine this year. Their pitching is pathetic, their defense is slow, and their motivation is nil. I don't think the Randy Wolf deal with energize this club the same way that the Sabathia deal has charged up the Brewers. Just a hunch.
San Diego (38-64)
It was only a matter of time. One of these seasons the Padres incredible lack of talent was going to catch up with them. Well, we've reached that point. And even as they have come out to start the second half of the year fighting they can't help but blow game after game. They led the Cardinals in each of their four losses last weekend and blew a pair of leads in a series loss against the Reds. However, I kind of like the Dads as a "buy low" option. They play a low-scoring, quirky style, they aren't awful (23-30) at home, and they have been respectable (16-19) in their division, considering they are a last-place club and have the worst record in baseball. I can actually see them being a nice spoiler in the N.L. West race and they could be a profitable dog in the right situations.