MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting The Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 5/14/2012
I wrote last week in this column that it might be time to jump ship on the Washington Nationals’ futures, and it appears that with the latest injury to hit the club that my timing might have been dead on.
Already having lost outfielder Jayson Werth perhaps for the season to a wrist injury, the Nats lost an even more important piece this past weekend when catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a likely season-ending torn ACL. Ramos' knee buckled as he chased a passed ball during the seventh inning of a 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.
If you aren’t a devoted baseball or Nationals fan, you might know Ramos from a crazy story this offseason when he went home to Venezuela to play winter ball and was abducted at gunpoint in front of his parents' home in Valencia. Police commandos rescued him a few days later and Ramos got that date -- 11/11/11 -- tattooed on his arm.
Ramos’ numbers weren’t huge, as he was hitting .265 with three homers and 10 RBI, but he was the architect of what has been the majors’ best pitching staff so far. In fact, he had the fourth-best ERA as a catcher in MLB at 3.16. Jesus Flores, who was once considered the Nats’ catcher of the future before Ramos’ emergence last season as a rookie, will get the bulk of the work behind the plate now. In 14 games entering Monday, Flores was hitting .231 with no homers and five RBI.
Ramos becomes the ninth player currently on the DL for Washington, including five who have been out all season thus far. Michael Morse and closer Drew Storen, in addition to Werth, are among key players the Nationals are playing without.
Look for Washington, which has dropped from +200 to +300 in just a week at Sportsbook.com to win the NL East, to be active in trade talks for a catcher now. They do have a surplus of pitching as it is and Chien-Ming Wang is close to returning from the DL. Former Opening Day starter John Lannan is down in Triple-A and is very available.
The Nats began a seven-game homestand on Monday and they better fare well on it because starting next Monday they are on the road for nine games at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers appear to have dodged a major bullet on Matt Kemp’s hamstring injury. He left Sunday’s game because of the hammy and was to have an MRI on Monday, but it’s not thought to be too serious. Kemp sat out the game Monday night to end his streak of 399 consecutive games played, the longest current streak in the majors.
It seemed like something was off with Kemp even before the injury flared up as he has gone 14 consecutive at bats without a hit. Kemp didn't start last Sunday's game in Chicago because of the hamstring, and then he was obviously slowed by it during last Monday’s game with the San Francisco Giants. Kemp went crazy in April but is homerless thus far in May, hitting just .212 in the month with only two extra-base hits. Still, Kemp is second in the National League in homers (12) and is third in average (.359) and RBI (28).
But Kemp’s odds on Sportsbook.com to lead the majors in homers have dropped to +400. He had been the favorite on that prop but now that belongs to the scorching-hot Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers at -200. Last week Hamilton hit .467 (14-for-30) with nine homers, including four in one game, plus two doubles and 18 RBI. He leads the majors with a .402 batting average, 18 homers and 44 RBI. Look for a possible Triple Crown prop at a few books if he continues this pace into June.
I wouldn’t recommend taking Hamilton on that home run prop even though he has a five-homer cushion on No. 2 Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals. Hamilton is simply too injury-prone to trust to play enough to win the HR title. Beltran isn’t even a betting option – he is part of the ‘field’ at +800. He’s not winning the home run crown.
Finally, interleague play starts this weekend so keep in mind that the AL teams playing in NL parks will lose the designated hitter. And you probably want to lean on the American League having the upper hand most nights. The AL has finished with more interleague wins than the NL in every season since 2004. Last year was the best the NL has done since then, losing by only a 131-121 margin.
The best team in interleague play (records through 2010) has been the New York Yankees with a .585 winning percentage. The worst has easily been the Pittsburgh Pirates with a .372 winning percentage. New York hosts Cincinnati for three games this weekend and will be a solid series favorite while Pittsburgh will be a massive underdog at Detroit.
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