MLB Betting: 2010 A.L. East Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 3/5/2010
Poor Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
I’ll always wonder what these organizations could have done or could do if they were in another division in the Majors and not stuck behind New York and Boston.
Baltimore, Tampa and Toronto are a combined 173-262 against the Yankees and Red Sox over the last four years. Only one time of a possible 12 – Toronto in 2006 – did any of those teams manage a winning record on the year against The Bosses. Baltimore (45-100) has been just pathetic against the pair while Tampa (60-85) and Toronto (68-77) have also had to deal with the fact that their winning percentages against those teams are significantly less than their mark against the rest of the league.
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The three teams have won just 39.8 percent of their games against their primary division rivals but have managed to nearly break even against the rest of the Majors (49.0 percent). That’s an incredible discrepancy in their overall records.
But it’s not just about the numbers in the standings. Perhaps if these teams were in a different division they each would have made a postseason run or two during that time. That would have completely altered how each of them managed their personnel. Perhaps they would have been buyers instead of sellers at each of the trade deadlines. And some success or even just the hint of a playoff chase would have led to more interest from the fans and, thus, more revenue. More revenue means more money and, in Major League Baseball, more money means more wins.
But baseball is two parts capitalism and one part fascism. So until the commissioner decides to embrace the merits of picking division matchups out of a hat each January (think about how great that would be) the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays have to suck it up and fall in line behind the two beasts in the East.
Here is Doc's Sports 2010 A.L. East preview:
Boston Red Sox
2009 Record: 95-67
2010 Wins Over/Under: 94.5
Odds To Win 2010 AL East: +145
Odds To Win 2010 AL Pennant: +285
Odds To Win 2010 World Series: +500
The last 18 months has really been a personnel whirlwind for the Red Sox Nation. And the result is a team that boasts the best pitching staff in baseball along with one of the deepest, most patient, and most potent lineups in baseball. Inferiority complex? Maybe. But regardless of how the Yankees’ “little brother” feels about watching the Bombers earn another title last October this Sox team enters the year loaded up for another postseason run.
The reshaping of this group really began last year with the midseason addition of Victor Martinez. Boston and Martinez should benefit from a full season together and I can see him building on his second-half success (he hit .336 with .912 OPS after trade) and having a monster year. But one of the biggest storylines for this club is the fact that Martinez will be the everyday catcher, replacing one of the really underrated greats of the last 20 years, Jason Varitek. No one is better at calling a game or handling a staff than Varitek and it will be interesting to see if Martinez can up his game behind the plate. It could be a coincidence or it could have been due to unfamiliarity, but Boston’s team ERA with Martinez catching (5.22) was nearly a run-and-a-half higher than with Varitek (3.87) behind the dish.
This offseason the Sox brought in rangy Mike Cameron to patrol center, Adrian Beltre (who I think is going to have a great year) to replace Mike Lowell at third base, and John Lackey to come in and be the best No. 3 starter in baseball. They also made some quieter moves (grabbing Marco Scutaro to start at short and Jeremy Hermida for another outfield slot) that have combined to make this a very different Sox team than the one that won 95 games last year.
The core of this team is still in place with guys like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Josh Beckett still leading the charge. But there is no doubt that this team has turned over quite a bit since the fall of 2007 when guys like Big Papi, Manny Ramirez, Lowell, Varitek and Curt Schilling were leading the way. Talent is not the issue with this group. Cohesion might be. And while those former stars adapted to the obsessive nature of The Nation it remains to be seen how some of the “new guys” will hold up in this pressure-packed, highly scrutinized situation. But if they do there is no reason this team can’t win yet another title.
New York Yankees
2009 Record: 103-59
2010 Wins Over/Under: 94.5
Odds To Win 2010 AL East: -125
Odds To Win 2010 AL Pennant: +185
Odds To Win 2010 World Series: +300
It’s hard to call the Yankees overachievers but that’s precisely what they were in 2009.
New York won its 27th World Series title last season and closed the year with a resounding blowout of the previous champs, Philadelphia, in the Fall Classic. They have the best lineup in baseball and by the end of last season were simply playing on another level compared to the rest of the league.
However, according the numbers – and baseball is all numbers – the Yankees may backslide a bit this year because their record actually surpassed their performance. They beat their Pythagorean record by a full eight games (which is a lot) and also beat both their inflated Vegas win total and PECOTA projections. The Yanks had one of the best records in the league in one-run games and managed over 50 come-from-behind wins. Apparently Mystique and Aura took their act across the street, because the Yankees clearly had Lady Luck on their side in their new ballpark.
It will be tough to duplicate the magic of 2009 for this squad. But then again, when you have the talent and the resources of this club you don’t need luck. I shouldn’t have to go down the list because if you don’t know who the Yanks are trotting out on a daily basis you shouldn’t be betting on baseball. Best case scenario it’s another exciting October in the Bronx. Worst-case scenario is that there are some things that can go wrong and lend to a potential downturn.
First, I think that they will miss some of the pop that they had in the outfield from guys like John Damon, Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui. Next, their bullpen held up in the postseason when it had reinforcements from the rotation. But during the season it was awful and could be an Achilles Heel this year. Finally, there are health issues in the starting rotation. C.C. Sabathia has thrown more pitches than anyone in baseball over the last three years, they yanked Joba Chamberlain around last season and may have taxed his arm, and Andy Pettitte isn’t getting any younger. If things start to go wrong there then the wheels could start to wobble.
But who am I kidding? This is the Yankees. Pencil them in for 94 wins and I’ll see you in October.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2009 Record: 84-78
2010 Wins Over/Under: 89.5
Odds To Win 2010 AL East: +450
Odds To Win 2010 AL Pennant: +1000
Odds To Win 2010 World Series: +1400
Ah, regression. After a truly dizzying 2008 rush to the World Series, a season in which the Rays really caught about a four-month rush of magic, Tampa Bay came back down to earth and were put back in their place in 2009. And that place is still a couple pegs down from the two elite franchises in the East.
I’m a bit torn about the prospects for Tampa Bay this year. On one hand, I still think that they are living off the merits of something that happened two seasons ago (which was kind of an aberration) and that they offer poor value. On the other hand this team caught some tough breaks with injuries and had some key guys (B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro, most of the pitching staff) suffer some brutal seasons. However, they did win 84 games and were in the top half of the league in just about every telling statistical category, both on offense and with pitching.
One of the key stories for this team this year is the fact that Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, two critical components, are in the final years of their contracts. This team made a move to dump former staff ace Scott Kazmir last summer and it remains to be seen whether management will be buyers or sellers this year, and what they do with those two players (as well as how they hold up mentally during a walk-year) will have long-reaching ramifications through this year and into the next decade.
I have to say that I still don’t understand the Kazmir trade and I like their pitching less and less heading into 2010. Matt Garza and James Shields are very talented pitchers and innings eaters. But they aren’t elite, as shown by their combined 18-24 record and 4.22 ERA last year. And behind that I’m not thrilled with the depth. David Price is a name but hasn’t been nearly as dominant as projected. Andy Sonnanstine is a mess. Wade Davis is completely unproven. And Jeff Niemann had a great year (13-6) but is not a guy that I watch and say, “Yeah, he’s a 12-to-15-win guy year in and year out.” Rafael Soriano is absolutely not the answer to their bullpen issues and that was a key reason for the regression in 2009.
Tampa Bay is still a team built on pitching, defense, speed and clutch hitting. Those are fundamentals and they never go out of style. And with some top-end talents like Evan Longoria this team isn’t going to fall off the radar. But this team watched its hitting splits with runners on base and two outs and their batting in the seventh inning or later slide down into the middle of the pack in 2009 after an unreal 2008. That’s the fickle thing about that late-inning magic: when it’s not there it really exposes the cracks in the foundation of your team. I don’t think that Tampa Bay will have that magic again this year and still won’t be sneaking up on anyone. This team should be right around 83-87 wins again this year but I don’t see them serving as anything but a spoiler for the Yanks and Sox this fall. In essence, Tampa Bay is the new Toronto and is filling the good-but-not-quite-good-enough role that the Jays have filled for the last decade. We’ll see.
Toronto Blue Jays
2009 Record: 75-87
2010 Wins Over/Under: 71.5
Odds To Win 2010 AL East: +1500
Odds To Win 2010 AL Pennant: +6000
Odds To Win 2010 World Series: +12500
Very quietly the Jays have been a model of consistency in the American League for the last five years. They have averaged 82 wins per season over the last five years, including highs of 87 in 2006 and 86 in 2008. However, it looks like this year could be the season that the machine breaks down and the Jays enter the season as kind of jumble.
They parted ways with their anchor, Roy Halladay, in the offseason and now the foundation of this team – its pitching – is a huge question mark. Even with Halladay last year they were No. 22 in the league in ERA and No. 23 in opponent’s batting average. Injuries did force their hand a bit and they spent most of 2009 trotting out weak, probably-shouldn’t-be-in-the-Majors lefties. This year they have some promising arms coming back from injury. But without a true ace or some proven innings eaters this group is a big question mark is going to leave a terrible bullpen exposed.
Offensively, this team is surprisingly spry. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind provided some unlikely pop and this team finished No. 3 in the league in total bases and No. 5 in home runs. They did ditch unreliable Alex Rios last summer and didn’t pick up a single reliable bat to help. So while the offense might be better than average it’s still not going to be enough to pick up their pitching staff.
In all, it’s tough to completely count out the Jays. They have been a system team and have been a consistent, successful moneymaker in four of the last five years. And they don’t shy away from the Sox or Yanks in the head-to-heads. But losing Halladay subtracts about 30 quality starts per year. And with a new front office and the lame duck status of manager Cito Gaston the obvious answer is where is the stability and leadership going to come from? This team will still put together some winning streaks. But over the course of the next seven months it should be a subpar season in Toronto.
2009 Record: 64-98
2010 Wins Over/Under: 73.5
Odds To Win 2010 AL East: +1400
Odds To Win 2010 AL Pennant: +5000
Odds To Win 2010 World Series: +10000
I said heading into last season that the Orioles were bad but that they weren’t going to lose 100 games or anything. And I was right. They lost 98 games.
The Orioles were a train wreck after the All-Star Break, going 24-50 to close the year. They needed four straight wins in the season’s final week to avoid the dreaded 100-loss plateau. Things are looking a little brighter heading into this season but when you compare the starters that this group is trotting out every day with what the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays are working with it’s pretty obvious that this team still isn’t close to really competing.
Kevin Millwood was their marquee free agent pickup and they were able to bring in closer Mike Gonzalez off a solid year in Atlanta. But neither of those pieces are a true “answer” and both could melt down pretty quickly in the unforgiving East. And when that’s the best that you can say about two of your best arms you know you are in trouble. Jeremy Guthrie is still an enigma and behind him there is nothing but young, unproven starters that have questionable talent. Brad Bergensen and Brian Matusz combined to go 12-7 in 27 starts and showed some flashes. But it remains to be seen how they hold up for 27 or 30 starts apiece. And depth behind them is nonexistent.
Baltimore has as strong of a young core of players as you can find in the Majors. Studs like Nick Markakis (26), Adam Jones (24) and Matt Wieters (23) are cornerstone players and still pups in this game. Bergensen (24) and Matusz (22) are still learning the game as well. But learning takes time, patience, and a lot of losses. I predict that this will be a very streak team this season and can cause some problems for non-divisional foes. But until they get serious about their pitching – both in the rotation and in the pen – they are a little kid playing in a man’s division.
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