Value Could Be On Fish For Battle of Florida
by Robert Ferringo - 06/24/2008
It's tough to take Florida seriously. Jeb Bush, televangelists, and plastic lawns are just the tip of the iceberg for what is clearly our nation's most F-ed up state. So if I can't look The Sunshine State directly in the eye or give it any respect the next morning, how am I supposed to take the state's biggest regional Major League Baseball rivalry seriously?
The Tampa Bay Rays roll into Miami this week to tangle with their intrastate "rivals", the Florida Marlins. Despite Tampa having the league's No. 29 payroll ($44 million) and the Marlins dead last in payroll ($22 million) both teams are within a game of first place in their respective divisions and have been slamming the bigger organizations like a Category Four hurricane. While this series clearly won't get as much play as a Mets-Yankees or White Sox-Cubs set it should be equally as competitive and equally as important in the standings.
But I can't take them seriously. As a bettor, sure; these have been two of the most profitable teams in the league this year. But as a general MLB aficionado this "rivalry" is more staged than the Rose-Donald feud.
There are three reasons why I can't take this series seriously. First, both of these franchises are younger than the Olson twins. Not much history here, and that's the crux of a good rivalry. Second, these two teams have been like two handicapped kids fighting on the playground: just sad. With the exception of a couple random World Series titles by the Marlins these teams have been perennial losers so this series has been more meaningless than your state suspending the gas tax. Finally, even their own "fans" don't take teams seriously. Pro sports fans in Florida are the worst in the country and these are two of the least-watched clubs in baseball. If it isn't a big deal to their fans it isn't a big deal to me.
However, it's still on the board so it still offers us betting opportunities. And heading into the series it seems like the Rays have the momentum. They recently swept the Cubs at home and they took two of three from the Marlins just last week. Florida is just coming back from a grueling West Coast road trip and have actually lost four of five in this series.
However, there are some indicators here that point to a potential series win for the Fishies. Florida is 14-6 in its last 20 home games, are 10-4 as a favorite, and are 7-3 at home against Tampa Bay.
Also, if Tampa Bay is susceptible it's against left-handed pitching. The Rays are No. 22 in the league in batting against southpaws at .253 and over the last couple years they are 27-56 on the road against a left-handed starter. Now, they have won four of five against lefties but the overall numbers aren't great. Florida will be backing lefty Scott Olsen on Tuesday and will close the series with fellow lefty Mark Hendrickson.
Another solid advantage that the Marlins will have is that Tampa Bay will be without the designated hitter for three games. Tampa doesn't score much as it is and now we're taking one of their bigger sticks out of the middle of the lineup. Cliff Floyd and Johnny Gomes have been platooning at the DH slot, alternating against right- and left-handed starters. Joe Maddon will have to decide whether or not to leave these boppers on the bench or to weaken his defense by putting one of them in the outfield.
Here's a quick breakdown of this week's pitching matchups:
Andy Sonnastine vs. Scott Olsen (7 p.m., Tuesday, June 24)
Olsen is sporting a spectacular 0.77 ERA in his two career starts against the Rays and will look to help the Fish strike first in this series. Florida is 7-3 in his last 10 home starts, however they have lost five of his last six starts overall. Sonnastine hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in his last five starts while sporting a 1.65 WHIP. However, he's won four straight outings and nine of 11 overall for the Rays. He's actually been better on the road than at home and managed to scatter six hits in five innings against the Fish last week. Also, jetlag could be an issue for Florida after making the trip back from California after spending a week on the coast.
James Shields vs. Ryan Tucker (7 p.m., Wednesday, June 25)
You think you know what to expect out of James Shields at this point. He's going to give you Ace stuff and seven strong, right? Well, he has a career 6.75 ERA in two starts at Dolphin Stadium and over the last month (four starts) he's been sporting a 5.91 ERA. Shields is 1-4 with a 6.99 ERA on the road and 0-2 with a 7.63 ERA in his last three. Ryan Tucker is a wild card. He got rocked in Tampa last week but has given up just three runs in 11 innings in his other two starts. He leaves his fastball up at times and I think he needs to use his sinker and changeup more. But we could get solid value on him here as a home dog.
Matt Garza vs. Mark Hendrickson (Noon, Thursday, June 26)
Florida has been a better hitting team during day games but their staff has one of the highest daytime ERA's in the league. Tampa is the opposite: they don't hit during the day but they are No. 11 in daytime ERA. Garza threw a gem against the Fish in their last matchup but he is still just 4-8 in his career in day games. Mark Hendrickson has lost his last three starts after a solid opening of the season. He's posted a 7.90 ERA in those outings and has an 8.44 ERA in day games. Overall I expect this to be one of the highest scoring of the three games.