by Josh Nagel - 04/09/2008
While it might be too early in the Major League Baseball season to draw many conclusions - it's unlikely the Detroit Tigers will stay winless for long, and doubtful that the Baltimore Orioles will keep the best record in baseball - it's never too early to take a look at what has happened so far and make some educated MLB predictions about potential trends.
Here is a division-by-division look at some early trends:
AL EAST - Well, if you saw Baltimore's hot start coming, you could be up a cool $569 by now (if you bet $100 on them every game). Although it's no cause to go out and out a large future bet on them to win the World Series - or even the AL East for that matter - don't be surprised if the Orioles, who have a recent history of decent starts only to deal their loyal fans a familiar brand of heartache by mid-season, keep things going at least for a little while. Their next five games are against the Rangers and the Rays who, despite dropping the "Devil" from their name, still couldn't stop themselves from falling to their familiar last-place perch in the division. Toronto, which is bringing home the money at +246, was a steal at -105 at home with Roy Halladay going against Boston's Josh Beckett, who was coming off a back injury. Look for values on Toronto at home when Halladay and A.J. Burnett face off against top-name pitchers in the American League. The under is 7-1 for the New York Yankees, who have played the light-hitting Rays and Blue Jays. This might keep up against the Royals in the next couple of games, but look for the totals to start going over when they play the rival Red Sox starting April 11. These bitter rivals seem to keep the scoreboard operators busy in their regular-season matchups and the Red Sox, who are 3-4-1 against the over, are also due for some breakout games on offense.
AL CENTRAL - The White Sox are up a cool +488 so far this season, and perhaps it shouldn't come as that big of a surprise considering the off-season acquisitions of Nick Swisher, whom they stole from Oakland, and Orlando Cabrera to an already-potent lineup. They upstaged division rival Detroit with a sweep of the Tigers, who made the much-publicized pickups of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Although the White Sox are second in MLB at 6.43 runs per game, their team ERA of 4.43 ranks 25th - too early to be a cause of concern, but a good indicator should come when they face those same Tigers in a homestand later this week. Both statistics bode well for taking a look at the over, which is 5-2 for the White Sox thus far. The surprising Royals at 5-2 are up 580 units and, while that pace probably won't keep up, don't discard finding some value in them. While their lineup still needs help, Kansas City has quietly put together a pretty respectable pitching staff, starting with comically overpaid Gil Meche who, despite benefiting from one of the weakest free-agent markets ever when he signed for $55 million before last season, still gives them a true No. 1 starter, while youngster Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke are coming along nicely. The Royals' team ERA of 2.57 currently ranks third in MLB.
AL WEST - The Angels made a big splash in the off-season with their acquisition of All-Star centerfielder Torii Hunter, who has paid immediate dividends by leading the club to three wins in four games against his former team, the Minnesota Twins. Their 5-3 start has netted +53 units, good for most in the division. One thing to keep an eye on is the value of the Oakland A's, both in close games and against the under. The under is 5-2 for the A's, which seems to be about right considering this looks to be a light-hitting club with just enough pitching to keep them close. Despite purging their top stars Dan Haren and Nick Swisher - an annual ritual for the tight-fisted club - the Moneyball system they use always seems to keep this club at least marginally competitive. Rich Harden and the underrated Joe Blanton will give them a decent rotation. Here's a curious stat this early in the season: even though the A's are -133 units straight up, they are +383 units and 5-2 against the run line, which peaks to their ability to stay close in most games.
NL EAST - The surprising Marlins also had somewhat of an offseason fire sale, and while their division leading 4-3 start makes for a good week 1 story, don't expect it to last. However, +212 units to the good is a nice start for backers of the fish. The over is 6-1 for the Marlins, and this looks to be a trend that might stick around. Florida already has a league-worst ERA of 6.19 and it doesn't stand to get a whole lot better against division foes. Don't sleep on Atlanta despite its 3-4 start. Although the Braves lost Andruw Jones to free agency, this club still has a loaded lineup, helped by last season's late pick-up of Mark Texeira, and its pitching staff picked up an old friend in Tom Glavine to reunite with John Smoltz and another purged former Oakland pitcher, Tim Hudson. If the Braves can get some production from long-injured Mike Hampton, who is baseball's version of the NBA's Grant Hill -- $100 million-plus contract, lots of cheerleading and training room visits - the Braves could have the most formidable starting staff in the division. Look for the over to hit in upcoming visits to Colorado and Washington.
NL CENTRAL - The Brewers are off to a 6-1 start, an out-of-the-gate burst similar to last season. While it has been good for +586 units, keep in mind that they have beat up on the woeful Giants and the enigmatic Cubs who, while they seem to be a trendy media pick to win the World Series, have not done a lot to give any credence to those predictions. Even so, this looks to be a solid all-around club, whose team ERA of 2.95 ranks seventh and its scoring average of 6.14 is second-best in the league. This team seems to have just the right blend of emerging young stars like Prince Fielder and Corey Hart to go along with proven veterans such as Ben Sheets and Craig Counsell. A good early-season test will come with a series at New York later this week. The Cardinals are looking to bounce back from last year's disastrous campaign, and don't be surprised if they do it. Tony Larussa has a knack for getting the most out of his teams, and subtle changes, such as the pick-up of right-hander Kyle Lohse, already seem to be paying off. Troy Glaus replaces malcontent Scott Rolen and provides just as much punch. The over is 5-2 for the Pirates, who are scoring 6 runs per game to go along with their 29th-ranked ERA of 6.04.
NL WEST - It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that with the off-season steal of Danny Haren to go with ace Brandon Webb, the Diamondbacks have the most formidable one-two starting pitching duo in the division, and they are off to a league-best ERA of 2.18. The Diamondbacks held the Rockies to five runs total in a three-game sweep of Colorado in Denver. They have a home series coming up against the Rockies later this week, which should provide a better indication of whether the early-season sweep was an aberration. Although its lineup, at least on paper, appears to lack much power, the Diamondbacks have scored 5.71 runs per game for sixth in the league. Their backers are up +236 units and they are 6-0 against the run line for a whopping +695 units. It's too early to see how this enigmatic division will shake out, with the only sure thing appearing to be that the Giants won't win it. The Dodgers performed their annual ritual of picking up a big-name free agent who is supposed to put them over the top, this year in the form of Andruw Jones. However, this light-hitting club has done much of the same thus far, hitting just .230 and scoring 3.29 runs per game, both marks among the bottom rung in the league.