by Josh Nagel - 09/11/2008
It's the time of year when certain series among division rivals, such as the Mets vs. Phillies last weekend and the Rays and Red Sox this week, can determine the postseason fates of contending teams. It's a good time to pay close attention to these games to see which pitchers and hitters can come through under pressure, not to mention which teams seem to be able to close out games under duress while others crumble.
Once you've spotted a few reliable players and teams, you can ride them for the rest of the season then give them serious consideration once the playoffs roll around.
Here is a look at some Major League Baseball betting trends through Sept. 10:
American League East
Tampa Bay Rays - With their gritty extra-inning 4-2 win over Boston on Wednesday, the Rays assured themselves of at least a split in this important four-game series with the Red Sox. The nearly +200 return didn't hurt, either. But this was an important win because it showed Tampa intends to hang around even as several pundits are starting to write them off. It comes on the heels of a four-game losing streak in which Tampa scored eight total runs. If there's one drawback to this team, that's it; the offense can disappear at times. The Rays have dropped to 16th in MLB at 4.64 runs per game.
New York Yankees - As if it wasn't clear before, New York's postseason hopes are officially over. It's worth noting that the Yankees have slid into fourth place behind the Toronto Blue Jays after dropping five of their last seven and not looking at all like a playoff-worthy team in a couple of lopsided losses to the Angels. The under has been a consistent winner for New York this season at 61-80-4.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox - Chicago got a needed win Wednesday after dropping three straight and showing some leaks in its starting pitching of late. The White Sox have been around the top five in team ERA all season but recently have dropped to 10th at 4.00. Although White Sox bettors are still richer to the sum of 1,143 units, it's difficult to trust a playoff-bound team with questionable starting pitching.
Kansas City Royals - The Royals are on a bit of a run with wins in five of their last eight, but a promising early start faded fast as it quickly became apparent that they did not have enough offensive punch to complement a talented but inexperienced starting staff. Ultimately, reality set in and Kansas City's most successful pitcher is 11-game winner Gil Meche, a free-agent bust who is earning about $1 million per win. That's a lot more than bettors have made with this team, which shows a -1,301-unit deficit for the season.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels - The best team in baseball record-wise at 88-57, it's amazing still how little fanfare this team seems to generate. What's worth noting is that the Angels have just the 15th-ranked offense in the league at 4.65 runs per game. Their seventh-best team ERA of 3.91 is the equivalent of the Phoenix Suns learning how to play defense. In other words, it's a good sign. As such, the under has hit a surprising record of 78-59-8 for Los Angeles.
National League East
New York Mets - although the Mets dropped two of three at home to the Phillies in a pivotal series and showed their vulnerable pitching along the way, they caught a break as Florida has handed Philadelphia two straight defeats and allowed the Mets to keep a tenuous grip on first place. Having the Nationals in town doesn't hurt, either, but don't be surprised if New York and Philadelphia have swapped places in the standings a week from now. The shaky bullpen, and arguably misuse of it by manager Jerry Manuel, makes this team a danger for your dollar.
Florida Marlins - Although Florida's once-monstrous season profit has dwindled as its auspicious early-season start has faded to mediocrity, the Marlins remain this division's biggest cash cow by far with 1,368 units in bettors' pockets. That's because they remain a surprisingly competitive club and consistently draw good prices against the league's better teams. Their back-to-back wins against the Phillies netted backers a swift 275 units.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs - The Cubs seem to do just enough to keep every other team in the division alive, and they have done themselves no favors with losses in eight of their last 10. Although the injury to ace Carlos Zambrano is a concern, there's no reason why the Cubs should be getting swept at home by the Astros and losing three of four on the road to the Reds. This team often appears to be as volatile as its hot-blooded manager Lou Pinella, which is a good reason to proceed with caution.
St. Louis Cardinals - Injuries have inevitably caught up with the Cardinals, who overachieved for much of the season but finally show signs of wear and tear. With about half of its pitching staff on the disabled list, injuries to Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel and concerns about Albert Pujols, this looks like a team prepared to limp into the offseason licking its wounds.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers - This unsightly division has been up for grabs all year, and the Dodgers finally look like the team most likely to back into the winner's circle. The fact that they have won nine of 10 is a good sign, but how they have done it is even more encouraging. This hitting-challenged club has scored at least five runs in each of the wins, scoring a total of 58 in the nine-win span. As downright ugly as this team often can look, it still says here that they will be a tough team to eliminate in a seven-game series come playoff time.