MLB Handicapping: the Oakland vs. Seattle Japan Series
by Trevor Whenham - 3/27/2012
The baseball season is getting off to an abnormally early start this year. The season in North America doesn’t start until April 4 when the Miami Marlins show off their new name and their new building. Before then, though, Oakland and Seattle will play two games in Japan on March 28 and 29. Thanks to the time zone the games will be played very early in the morning in North American time.
It’s no surprise at all that the Mariners are starting ace Felix Hernandez in the opener. Jason Vargas is firmly established as the second starter, and he will start the second game. Oakland ripped apart their rotation in the offseason, so Brandon McCarthy is their slightly uninspiring ace. They have picked Bartolo Colon off the scrap heap and are hoping that the 38-year-old still has some gas in the tank. He’ll face Vargas in the second game.
As you would expect in the Hernandez vs. McCarthy matchup, King Felix is the solid favorite — sitting at about -130 depending on the book. You also probably won’t be that surprised to hear that I expect Seattle to win that first game on the strength of their pitching. I actually expect Seattle to come home with a two-game lead on the rest of the league. I like the changes Seattle has made this offseason, and I expect them to be better than they have been — and better than Oakland.
While the two games could be reasonably interesting — especially given the novelty of the setting and the hero’s welcome that Ichiro Suzuki should get — that’s not what intrigues me most about this series. What is far more interesting from a betting perspective is the impact of the unique timing of this series both on these two games and on the start of the American portion of the season for both teams.
The trip to Japan has meant that the Spring Training schedule was shorter for these teams than anyone else. They had to build in time to travel, and they played exhibition games against Japanese teams as well.
A shortened spring wouldn’t be a big problem with established teams that have played together before. Both teams are relying on some big changes to work well for them, though.
In Seattle youngsters Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero will be a big part of the offense, and outfielder Michael Saunders needs to dramatically improve his .149 average in 58 games last year now that he is a starter. The bottom of the rotation has changed and is inexperienced as well.
Oakland has gone through many changes as well. Their rotation is almost unrecognizable, and the offense is overhauled as well. Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes needs to adjust to the American game amidst huge expectations, and the infield has all sorts of issues that they need to overcome.
An extra week of Spring Training preparation wouldn’t have solved all of their issues, but it would have made both teams more comfortable. It would also have made it easier to trust the two teams.
For some reason the teams are only playing a two-game series in Japan. We almost never see a two-game stand, and when we do it comes amidst other games. Playing just two games in a row like this will be strange for the teams, and it will be harder for the teams to get up to full intensity as a result.
I expect focus to be an issue at times for both games. Given that these two teams aren’t exactly elite when at their best that means that these could be sloppy games.
Week between games
After these two games the teams don’t play again until April 6. That’s an abnormally long break for baseball players, and it is inevitably going to be a distraction for the teams.
The pitchers at the top of the rotation will have nine days between starts, and the rest of the rotation will be off for an eternity. Batters will struggle to maintain their timing and confidence over the break if they are vulnerable in those areas as well. It’s a potential concern.
Pro athletes are stuck on routine. When teams have to travel from one coast to the other the time disruption can cause issues, and that’s only three hours. These games will be starting at 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. EST, respectively. Since both of these are West Coast teams the games will have ended before the players would normally have awoken. That is going to have a disruptive effect heading into these games, and another one as the teams travel back to their own time zone.
Add the time effect to everything else and you have two teams that are being seriously inconvenienced to play these games. That would be a concern for any team, but these two are among the most fragile because of their struggles in recent years and the changes they have made. This short trip could have a big impact on the first two weeks of the season.
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