MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting The Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 6/11/2012
So what is it we should make of the Pittsburgh Pirates?
You know, that other Major League Baseball team from the state of Pennsylvania, the one that has had a losing season every year since 1992 (an MLB record streak). You no doubt remember that ’92 season: Sid Bream’s epic slide at home knocked out the Barry Bonds-led Pirates (it was his throw from left field) from the National League Championship Series. Pittsburgh had finished first each season from 1990-’92, but that slide launched the franchise into the laughingstock of baseball over the past two decades.
Don’t look now, but the Pirates (32-27) are tied with the Cincinnati Reds atop the National League Central after sweeping the Kansas City Royals over the weekend. (It was a sweep-filled weekend with six of the interleague series ending that way.) The Pirates opened the season with easily the most difficult schedule in the majors and started 14-18. Since then they are 18-9.
One of the best trades of this offseason was Pittsburgh landing starting pitcher A.J. Burnett from the Yankees. Burnett beat the Royals on Sunday to win his fifth consecutive start, during which time he has had a 2.05 ERA. Burnett is the second Pittsburgh pitcher over the last 20 seasons to win five straight starts while registering such a low ERA.
And it’s pitching that has put this club where it is. Thanks in large part to Burnett and unheralded ace James McDonald, the Pirates have a 3.25 team ERA, which is third in baseball and their best since 1984. The Pirates have seen their overall ERA drop each season since 2010, which is also true for the team’s starting pitching ERA. Led by closer Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh’s bullpen ERA is 2.44, No. 2 in the majors and the team’s best since 1975.
But the offense is simply terrible, with Pittsburgh (minus-17 in run differential) ranking last in runs and on-base percentage and second-to-last in batting average and slugging. That lousy offense is likely to catch up to the team this week as the Pirates play three games at Baltimore (the club with the No. 1 bullpen ERA) and three at Cleveland, meaning the Pirates will have to add a designated hitter and they simply don’t have a bat worthy of that position. In fact, the team might call up Jeff Clement from Triple-A Indianapolis to fill the role. He hasn’t played in the majors since 2010. Pittsburgh has just three players with an on base percentage higher than .300, and St. Louis has outscored the Pirates by 116 runs already this year.
If it wasn’t for Andrew McCutchen (.325, 11 HRs, 36 RBI), who has hit 11 homers since May 8, the fourth-most in MLB over that stretch, this team would resemble a Triple-A lineup. No wonder the ‘over’ has hit on just 20 of Pittsburgh’s games so far.
I would look for Pittsburgh to get a rude wake-up call this week in those two American League parks. And they certainly will be series dogs in both. Pittsburgh has an ‘over/under’ wins total currently of 73.5 on 5Dimes and the over looks awfully good there. The Pirates are still +1650 long shots at that book to win the NL Central (not gonna happen).
Speaking of interleague play, make sure you stick with the American League clubs. The AL has “won” interleague play every season since 2004 and is up 46-38 this year. Definitely favor Tampa Bay at home this weekend against Miami. The Rays swept this past weekend’s series by outscoring Miami 22-7 in their first trip to Marlins Park, and they have won nine of their last 12 games against the Marlins in St. Petersburg. After going 21-8 in May for the most wins in a month in franchise history, the Marlins have lost six straight and are 2-7 in June.
The Yankees are always a good bet in interleague play, and if you read my Yanks-Mets preview for this past weekend’s series I said to take the Bronx Bombers, and they swept away their crosstown rivals. It was the Yanks’ first sweep of the Mets at Yankee Stadium since 2003. The Yankees have the best interleague record of all-time and are now 52-35 against the Mets. That’s easily the best mark against an in-state opponent of any team in interleague play.
And definitely bet against the Colorado Rockies this week. They were swept earlier this year at home by Seattle and were again this past weekend by the Los Angeles Angels, who have now won nine straight road games, two shy of the franchise record. Colorado hosts Oakland starting Tuesday for three games and then goes to Detroit for three. The Rockies entered this season with a .498 winning percentage all-time in interleague play.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Colorado Manager Jim Tracy is the first to be fired this season. He and GM Dan O’Dowd got the dreaded vote of confidence back in May.
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