MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 8/12/2013
The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish with their first winning record since 1992. That's a lock. However, I wonder if some cracks started to show over the weekend which may force general manager Neal Huntington to perhaps make a waiver trade like the Texas Rangers did last week in landing Alex Rios from the White Sox (more on Texas in a minute).
It's a long season, and it's never wise to make too much of just one series, but the Pirates were swept in Colorado over the weekend. It was the Rockies' first sweep of a first-place team since August 2010, and they didn't even have Carlos Gonzalez for the series; he's on the 15-day DL. Perhaps it was just a letdown series after the Pirates took four of five against St. Louis in the biggest series in years for the franchise. The Pirates avoided major disaster when injuries to Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte both turned out to be minor. Alvarez played Sunday, while Marte did not (he pinch-ran). X-rays on his hand came back negative, and he should be good to go this week. Marte is one of the most underrated players in the majors. He's seventh in the NL with a wins above replacement of 4.6 and is second in steals with 33. Marte will win that title with leader Everth Cabrera of the Padres suspended the rest of the year. Marte was hit in the left hand by a Josh Outman pitch on Saturday night, and it sure looked bad at the time.
I still don't think the Pirates have enough offense to do much in the postseason and fully expect the Cardinals to catch them and win the NL Central. (Recently released Mark Reynolds is probably not an option since the Pirates already have that type of player in Alvarez.) St. Louis is three games back but hosts Pittsburgh for three starting Tuesday night. The Bucs are skipping rookie Gerrit Cole's turn in the rotation with Monday's day off. They are limiting his innings this season. The Cards are going to be ornery after getting spanked by Pittsburgh last week. Jump on them in this series and for the division. The Pirates are currently -120 at Sportsbook.ag to win the Central with St. Louis at +110.
Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran departed Sunday's game with a bruised right foot after fouling a ball off it, but he should be able to play Tuesday. Catcher Yadier Molina -- whom I recommended you NOT bet on for NL MVP because he was prone to injury -- is expected to return from the disabled list for Thursday's series finale. St. Louis is 5-7 without Molina. Pittsburgh is 7-3 against the Cards this year.
Take Rangers Now
When I wrote this story last week I said the Oakland A's were one of the big winners in the Biogenesis suspensions because Texas lost its leading power hitter, Nelson Cruz. I also wrote this: "I think the Rangers absolutely have to make a trade now, perhaps revisiting talks for the White Sox's Alex Rios, presuming he clears waivers or at least makes it to Texas' chance to claim him."
On Friday, that's exactly what happened, and all Texas had to give up was middling prospect Leury Garcia, who projects mainly as a super-utility player. This was all about the White Sox shedding salary. Rios has already been great with the Rangers, with two hits in each of his first two games. He had the game-tying RBI and scored the winning run in his debut.
I love that trade for Texas and fully expect it to win the AL West over Oakland now. The Rangers are -150 favorites with the A's at +120. Don't forget also that Cruz can return for the playoffs, suddenly turning that lineup into something pretty formidable assuming Cruz stays game-ready while not playing. It's not totally clear if the team would welcome him back, but you know Cruz will want to so he can re-establish his worth as a potential free agent. The Tigers are in the same boat with shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Last year the Giants chose not to bring back a suspended Melky Cabrera in the postseason.
All of these suspended players are allowed to work out with their clubs every day but have to leave the park when the gates open. Texas GM Jon Daniels said the Rangers are “open-minded” about the possibility but will gauge the response of Cruz’s teammates before making a decision. It did seem like Cruz's PED excuse was sort of legitimate. In 34 career playoff games, Cruz has 14 homers and 27 RBI. He pretty much beat the Tigers by himself in the 2011 ALCS. Of course, he also botched a potential World Series-winning catch in Game 6 of that year's Fall Classic against St. Louis.
Texas can really distance itself from Oakland the next few weeks. Here are the Rangers' opponents in that stretch: Milwaukee, Seattle, Houston, at White Sox, at Seattle, Minnesota. Nary a good team in there. The A's have to play good teams Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit and Tampa Bay in that stretch. By the time the A's and Rangers play a three-game set in Oakland on Sept. 2, Texas could have a pretty sizable division lead.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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