MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 4/15/2013
The Atlanta Braves look like the best team in baseball right now, off to an 11-1 start and winners of nine straight entering Tuesday's interleague series opener against the Kansas City Royals. The Braves finished off a hugely impressive sweep of the Washington Nationals over the weekend.
However, recent history is against the Braves even making the playoffs.
Atlanta is just the 31st team in MLB history -- which seems surprisingly low -- to start a year 11-1 or 12-0. The Braves are the fourth team to do so this century, but three of those previous four failed to make the playoffs: the 2002 Cleveland Indians, the 2003 Kansas City Royals and 2009 Florida Marlins. None of those teams won more than 87 games, and the Tribe actually finished 14 games under .500. The one club to reach the playoffs was the 2003 Giants, and they lost in the NLDS to the Marlins.
I liked a Brave before this season to win NL MVP honors, but I chose the wrong one. My guy was Jason Heyward, and he's been spectacularly bad, hitting just .103. Meanwhile, trade acquisition Justin Upton has been stellar, hitting .348 with seven homers (leading all of baseball) and 11 RBI. You can now get Upton at +800 on Sportsbook.ag to win the home-run title this season. I don't recommend that. Toronto's Jose Bautista is the +700 favorite. Last year Upton didn't hit his seventh homer until June 23.
Thanks largely to Upton, the Braves have outhomered their opponents a whopping 20-6 in outscoring foes 62-23. They have swept three straight series for the first time in 13 years. Pretty impressive considering all-star catcher Brian McCann hasn't yet played this season (could be back May 1), and first baseman Freddie Freeman has been sidelined since April 6.
Atlanta is now a co-+110 favorite with Washington to win the NL East. The Braves are the site's NL pennant favorite at +350 and +800 NL favorite to win the World Series. Their hot start should continue this week with two at home against the Royals and then four at Pittsburgh.
Contenders Hit By Injuries
Three World Series favorites will be without one of their best players for the foreseeable future. The worst injury was suffered by Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes. He gruesomely rolled his ankle while trying to steal second base on Friday. I'm shocked it wasn't fractured, but Reyes is likely out for three months with a severe sprain.
It's a crushing blow for the Jays. Reyes, the team's leadoff hitter, was batting .395 with an excellent .495 on-base percentage, a homer, five RBI and five steals. Emilio Bonifacio, acquired in that big trade with the Marlins along with Reyes, will hit leadoff for now. I'd be shocked if GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn't make a trade, however. Right now the shortstops on the roster are Maicer Izturis and Munenori Kawasaki. Anthopoulos is ready for the Jays to win now as evidenced by all his big moves this offseason and vastly increased payroll. The Jays are still +250 AL East favorites on Sportsbook.ag.
At least Reyes' injury happened on a play. The same can't be said for Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke, who is likely out for eight weeks with a broken collarbone. He was hurt when San Diego's Carlos Quentin charged the mound after getting hit with a pitch. It was totally idiotic of Quentin to rush the mound as he was hit in the sixth inning of a one-run game and on a 3-2 count. The guy practically stands on the plate and has been hit 116 times in his career, or once every 24.1 plate appearances. That's the most of any active player. Quentin was suspended for eight games, and he wisely dropped his appeal before Monday's Padres-Dodgers game. Think he might have been retaliated against?
Lefty Chris Capuano will take Greinke's spot in the rotation for now and takes the mound Tuesday. He was 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA in 33 starts a year ago but has pitched twice in relief this season. On the surface, those 2012 numbers look pretty good, and perhaps the Dodgers won't miss Greinke much. However, Capuano was 9-4 with a 2.91 ERA before the all-star break last year and 3-8 with a 4.76 ERA after. There's a reason he wasn't in the rotation and was considered trade bait before Greinke got hurt. The Dodgers are +150 to win the NL West, trailing the Giants (+120).
Finally, the Reds will be without ace Johnny Cueto for perhaps a month. He was put on the disabled list Monday with a strained right lat muscle. He left Sunday's start in the fifth inning with pain. Cueto is 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA, striking out 18 in 17.1 innings.
The Reds were remarkably lucky health-wise last year in that the team's five members of the Opening Day rotation made every start except one. Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young voting but left his NLDS start against the Giants after just eight pitches with a similar injury. The Reds have no plans to move closer Aroldis Chapman into the rotation because of this injury. Young lefty Tony Cingrani is likely to be called up. He has been dominant in Triple-A this season, leading the International League in strikeouts (26), ERA (0.00) and WHIP (0.35). Cincinnati began a 10-game homestand Monday against the Phillies. Presumably Cingrani would pitch Thursday against the pitiful Marlins. The Reds are -120 favorites to win the NL Central.
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