MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting The Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 7/16/2012
Could Tuesday night be when the Philadelphia Phillies decide to mail it in for the rest of the season and trade players such as Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino? Or could it be the start of a second-half surge that gets the Phils one of the two NL wild-card spots?
Ace pitcher Roy Halladay is scheduled to return from the disabled list Tuesday for Philadelphia and start against the Los Angeles Dodgers (no opening line as Dodgers starter is TBA). So, really, the Phillies will be whole for the first time this season with Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard all healthy together. If Halladay is back to his normal self and dominates the Dodgers, it’s not inconceivable that the Phillies decide to be buyers instead of sellers ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
But the time is now to decide considering Philly is currently 11 games out of the second wild-card spot. Otherwise, look for Hamels, this offseason’s top free agent, to be a goner. Hamels improved his record to 11-4 by defeating the Rockies on Sunday. He has been credited with 28 percent of his team's wins this season (the Phillies are 39-51), the highest such percentage in the majors. The only other two pitchers to have earned at least a quarter of their team's victories are Tampa Bay’s David Price (26 percent) and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey (also 26 percent).
Speaking of Dickey, I mentioned in last week’s updated Cy Young odds story that I felt he was due for a letdown in the second half of the season, and it does appear that batters have figured out the knuckleballer. He didn’t pitch well Saturday, allowing five runs and eight hits in five innings as the Mets lost to the Braves. He's given up five runs in three of his last four starts to see his ERA rise from 2.00 to 2.66.
I also thought the Mets as a whole would fade in the second half and they were swept by Atlanta over the weekend. The Braves, who have won seven straight, were my pick to win the NL East at the break and currently they are +200 at 5Dimes to win the division compared to -175 for the first-place Nationals, who lead Atlanta by three games.
New York has major pitching problems overall with Dillon Gee on the DL and likely done for the year. Johan Santana lost Sunday to Atlanta and has a 5.67 ERA in seven starts since his no-hitter – was he overworked in that game? The New York Mets schedule does them no favors as they begin a three-game set in Washington on Tuesday, with the Nats as -120 favorites for the opener. Then the Mets host the Dodgers and Nationals for three games each before heading out on an 11-game West Coast trip to Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego.
Over the last three seasons, the Mets were 136-130 (.511) in the first halves of seasons, but 90-130 (.409) in the second halves. Only Pittsburgh (.347) and Seattle (.406) have been worse in that span. On the bright side, injured Mets outfielder Jason Bay could be activated for Tuesday's series opener against Washington. But he has been terrible this season when healthy.
The Mets plan to use a four-man rotation until this weekend, with Chris Young coming back on standard rest Wednesday against Washington after throwing only 71 pitches in an ineffective outing Friday in Atlanta. A fifth starter will be needed Saturday against L.A. and manager Terry Collins acknowledged that’s down to 41-year-old Miguel Batista and 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey.
Meanwhile, one of the teams playing the best in baseball has been the Chicago Cubs, but they have no illusions of going anywhere this season. Don’t be surprised if the Cubbies trade Ryan Dempster this week before his next scheduled start Friday in St. Louis. Dempster pitched six shutout innings Saturday in a 4-1 victory over the Diamondbacks, who the Cubs swept, to extend his scoreless innings streak to 33.
As many as 10 teams already have talked to the Cubs about Dempster, including the Dodgers, Indians, Tigers, Yankees, White Sox and Braves. Dempster has won a career-best five straight starts and leads the majors with a 1.86 ERA. He is the fifth pitcher in the last 100 years to win five straight starts in the same season without allowing a run. The others are Don Drysdale (six straight starts in 1968), Bob Gibson (five in 1968), Orel Hershiser (five in 1988) and Brandon Webb (five in 2007).
Dempster has 10-5 rights that allow him to veto any trade, but he already has told the Cubs he wouldn’t block a move to a contender. The timing is important because Dempster recently came off the disabled list with a lat issue and his value obviously will plummet if he were to get hurt on Friday. The Dodgers (+175 second-favorites to win the NL West, and +1600 Dodgers odds to win World Series) were considered the favorites to land Dempster, but look for the Orioles to be heavy bidders now that ace Jason Hammel is out likely at least a month.
The Cubs probably will hang on to Matt Garza until right before the July 31 trade deadline. He will bring more in return than Dempster, a free agent after the year, because Garza is under contract control through 2013. Reportedly the Toronto Blue Jays are the leaders to land Garza. Despite being in last in the AL East, the Jays are only 1.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.
On a side note, it should be interesting to watch the Marlins-Cubs series starting Tuesday in Chicago, with Miami a -110 favorite for the opener, according to MLB odds, as it’s the return of former White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen to the Windy City. Unfortunately, fans won’t also get to the chance to boo Carlos Zambrano as the former Cubs pitcher won’t go in the series as he pitched Monday night. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Guillen pinch-hit or pinch-run Big Z, one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball, in the series just to give a little jab to Chicago fans.
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