by Josh Nagel - 04/30/2008
We're about one month into the Major League Baseball season, and the Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins are still percentage points ahead of their divisional rivals in the American and National League East.
Things are similarly a little strange out West, where the Oakland A's find themselves tied with the Anaheim Angels for the AL West division lead. The West Coast also is where Barry Zito, the Giants $126 million man, has found himself demoted to the bullpen after a disastrous 0-6 start.
While it's probably not a good bet that Zito will turn things around, there are some other good bets out there. With the aim of helping you find them, here is a look at some MLB trends through April 29:
American League East:
Tampa Bay Rays: You could have gone broke betting against the Rays last week, as they impressively swept the Blue Jays and Red Sox at home. Their six-game win streak drew some attention to their respectable young pitching staff, led by James Shields' three wins and 2.54 ERA. Taking road chalks against the Rays this year might not be the best idea; they are up 666 units against the run line thus far.
New York Yankees: For those waiting for the Yankees to turn things around, the bad news is it hasn't happened yet. They are 14-14 and in fifth place in the division. The good news is that their 21st-ranked offense has led to a 19-8-1 record against the under, a trend that started in week 1 and doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. Also, at 5-0 with an ERA of 3.23, Chien-Ming Wang looks like an early Cy Young candidate.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Interesting that the White Sox are the only team in this division above .500; however, they are not the only team in the black for bettors at +332 units, as Kansa City's fast start still has its backers up 91 units. But with the league's third-ranked offense and seventh-ranked defense, the White Sox probably are the most solid club and safest bet in this division.
Cleveland Indians: It's been a disappointing start for the Tribe, who have lost three straight after inspiring some hope with a five-game win streak. A stagnant offense is mostly to blame, as the Indians rank in the bottom third of MLB in most statistical categories. However, the pitching staff has been coming around, and Cliff Lee is 4-0 with a .28 ERA.
American League West
Oakland A's: The A's are up a hefty 896 units for their backers, a substantial reward for anyone who saw their surprising start coming. While a pitching staff led by emerging stars such as Joe Blanton and Dana Eveland will probably keep Oakland competitive all year, it would be wise to use caution when backing them. The A's spent most of last week beating up on the Royals and Twins at home; their current road trip will be a true test.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton has made a nice comeback with a .336 average and five home runs, but that is about all that has gone right for the Rangers. Their pitching is dead last in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, and their team offense ranks only slightly better. Manager Ron Washington is likely the first casualty this season and, since they are down 743 units at the sports book, it's best to stay away.
National League East
New York Mets: The Johan Santana-led pitching staff has put down the hammer of late; the Mets have been consistently solid, and no starter ha an ERA worse than 4.26. Combined with an offense that has improved to 4.72 runs per game (11th in the league), don't be surprised if the Mets, who have won three straight, put together a run of wins on their upcoming road trip to the West Coast.
Washington Nationals: There isn't a lot to report for a team with a .370 winning percentage; the Nationals are near the bottom of the league in all offensive categories and their team ERA of 4.49 is 25th. Pitcher John Lannan nearly pulled the infamy double whammy last week; the man who gave up Barry Bonds' record-setting homer was one batter away from becoming John Smoltz's 3,000th career strikeout victim as well. Lannan, who said he was "honored" to give up the Bonds shot, had to settle for No. 2,999 on Smoltz's list and a 6-0 win that netted Washington bettors +200 at the cashier's window.
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals: Don't look now, but the Cardinals lead the division with 17 wins and are just percentage points behind the Cubs for first place. Three-win starts by Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright have been key for the Cardinals. A three-game home stand later this week against the Cubs will be a good test for this club, which has rewarded its backers with a 391-unit profit thus far.
Milwaukee Brewers - Ben Sheets has stabilized an otherwise erratic starting pitching staff with a 4-0 start and 1.64 ERA. A solid bullpen and adequate offense has helped Milwaukee remain over .500 and 417 units to the good for its bettors. But their overall unpredictability - they have not won or lost more than three games in a row all season - should make you think twice before backing them.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers: The plodding Dodgers have won four straight, thanks to a sweep of Colorado, to climb even at .500 at 13-13. Now if Andruw Jones could put down the fork and pick up a bat to help the league's fifth-ranked pitching staff, the Dodgers could still find themselves in the hunt for the division title.
San Francisco Giants: Who would have thought that Zito would become the pitching staff's biggest liability as opposed to its ace? If you remove his six losses, the rest of the staff has been more than respectable. The highlight of the season looks to be the development of young pitchers such as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain; look for good prices on them in the -110 or better neighborhood, particularly when they pitch at home.