by Josh Nagel - 08/29/2008
It's an interesting paradox of professional sports that this year's pennant races in Major League Baseball are infused with young, talented and low-paid teams that are thriving amid the pressure while higher-priced teams with higher-paid and bigger-name stars are struggling.
While the Rays appear determined to finish what they started in the American League East, the mega-payrolled and infinitely higher-profile Yankees are clinging to the faintest hope of a wild-card berth. The no-name Twins are coming on strong, while the playoff-proven White Sox have been unable to fend them off. The Mets' struggles at this time of year are becoming a tradition, while teams like the upstart Brewers show no crack in their poise.
This is just one of many storylines as the regular season heads toward its final stretch. Here are a few MLB betting trends through Aug. 27:
American League East
Tampa Bay Rays - Last week served as an important coming-of-age test for the Rays, who have refused to falter under the pressure despite being given ample opportunity to do so. By winning a road series at Chicago and one at home against Los Angeles, Tampa Bay proved it could beat other top-quality American League teams in a pressurized environment. In doing so, Tampa moved its season-long profit margin to an MLB-best 2,509 units.
New York Yankees - While the Red Sox and Rays have continued winning, the Yankees have basically stood still, winning six of their last 10, which is far from making a late-season surge at the pennant. About the best they can hope for now is to vie for the wild-card spot, but even that seems a tad ambitious at this point. While this team has been a major disappointment for its backers, a combination of an underachieving lineup along with solid years from Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina has made the under the most profitable option with this team. The Yankees are 53-75-4 against the under this year.
American League Central
Minnesota Twins - With a profit of 2,295 units, the Twins are the second-best cash cow in MLB behind Tampa. Even as they have emerged as a contender for the division title, this much remains clear; they probably have been the most undervalued team in MLB this year. For instance, taking the first two of a four-game series at Los Angeles last week netted bettors 320 units, not bad for a team that is in the playoff hunt and delivers this type of cash on a regular basis. Little spurts like these can add up fast.
Cleveland Indians - It's unusual that a team actually gets better after a fire sale, but such is the case with these Indians. While it's not a huge shock that a team plays a little better now that the expectations have subsided, Cleveland's recent run still qualifies as an eye-opener. The Tribe has won 10 straight and 17 of 20, grabbing the underdog money in nine of those wins. Of course, there's usually a price to lay if Cliff Lee or Fausto Carmona is starting, but until this unlikely tear comes to a halt, it's worth the juice.
American League West
Oakland A's - Unlike the Indians, the A's, who always seem to be in fire-sale mode regardless of the time of the season, have the predictable results to back their annual dismantling. When the ghost of Frank Thomas is the most intimidating player in your lineup, things have gotten bad. But for those who enjoy getting paid when nothing happens, the A's have had plenty to offer. Their pitching staff has managed to stay respectable at fifth in MLB (3.84); combined with its paltry "offense" (3.90 runs per game, 27th), Oakland has been an under-waiting-to-happen. The A's are 49-77-7 against the under, a solid return for those investing in the business of boring baseball.
National League East
Philadelphia Phillies - Just when it appeared the Phillies were insisting on letting this division get away from them, the Mets stood up and blocked the door to their exit. New York's colossal collapse in losing a game it led 7-0 against Philadelphia could be the defining moment of the season for both teams. This might be the time to get behind the enigmatic Phillies, who appear to be hitting their stride and looked impressive in crushing the Dodgers in a four-game sweep. They have won eight of 10 overall.
Atlanta Braves - It's been a lost season for the Braves and their backers, and lately there has been little cause for optimism. The Braves have lost eight of 10 and have failed to plate more than four runs in any of those defeats. Their season deficit of -2,605 units is now third-worst in the majors behind San Diego and Seattle.
National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers - The young Brewers have shown signs of volatility throughout the second half of the season but, similar to the Rays, whenever it appears tempting to withhold your trust in them, they find a way to bounce back. The Brewers have won seven of 10 and covered the run line in five of those. While it remains to be seen if they can hold their poise down the stretch run, their immediate schedule is favorable with a road trip to Pittsburgh and a home stand against New York lurking.
Cincinnati Reds - Dusty Baker probably is too good of a leader and too nice of a guy to be grouped with the list of recycled baseball managers who always seem to end up with a job seemingly based on name recognition alone. Unfortunately, he's headed in that direction. In his defense, it should take another year or so to see what he can do to develop a team in his mold now that the Reds have new personnel in the front office. But it's been a forgettable first season. The Reds have played under in seven of their last 10 games (4-6).
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers' 5-2 extra-inning loss to the Phillies on Sunday night was a microcosm of their season of missed opportunities. One out away from a needed win - and with the NL West ripe for their taking - they again found a way to turn a likely win into a crushing defeat. Of course, had they scored more than two runs, which they don't often do, their lead wouldn't have been as fragile. Picking up Greg Maddux was a great move for team with designs on the postseason; unfortunately, Maddux's primary role will be that of future Hall of Famer turned cheerleader for what is increasingly looking like a futile run on L.A.'s part.