MLB Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 6/24/2013
It's time for me to eat a little crow regarding the Toronto Blue Jays. I have said all season I didn't think they were deserving of being World Series favorites as they were in the spring after landing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera and others. Did I think they would be a playoff contender? Certainly. Maybe even win the AL East? Sure, because it seemed like Boston and the Yankees were taking a step back. But World Series favorites over the likes of Detroit or Washington (oops on the Nats)? No way.
Well, I have changed my mind now. Eleven-game winning streaks tend to do that. The Jays are now two games over .500 (all stats entering Monday) and just five games out of the division lead (they were 12 back on June 10), one it doesn't look like Boston will hold too much longer with its pitching problems. Now Toronto is down to +500 at Sportsbook.ag to win the East, so hopefully you jumped on the Jays a few weeks ago when it was +1500. It's the longest winning streak in the majors since 2011 and ties a team record. Toronto is the first club since the 1979 Cleveland Indians to ride at least a 10-game winning streak to climb over .500.
The scary thing is that Toronto is about to get much better. Reyes should return for this weekend's series in Fenway Park. He's been out since mid-April with an ankle injury but is hitting well in his minor-league rehab stint. He looked great in his short stint in a Jays uniform with a .395 average and .465 on-base percentage. With Reyes in a lineup where guys like Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus are crushing the ball, well, watch out. The pitching staff has also been excellent. The Jays have allowed two runs or fewer in nine of their past 11 games dating back to June 13. Anyone could have signed Chien-Ming Wang, and he's had back-to-back brilliant starts. The bullpen also has been stellar.
Toronto opened a series in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Monday before visiting Fenway starting Thursday. Who knows, the Jays could be in first place by this time next week. I think the Yankees are going to continue to slide, especially with the news that Mark Teixeira's wrist is still bothering him, which could mean season-ending surgery. Plus, now the return of Boston ace Clay Buchholz has been pushed back yet again. He was set to return from the disabled list on Tuesday against the Rockies but will need at least one minor-league rehab start before returning from a neck injury. The Red Sox are 11-1 in his starts this year, but this sounds like a problem that may linger.
Another division leader also should get a huge boost this week. The Arizona Diamondbacks lead the NL West by three games and are expecting second baseman Aaron Hill -- a former Blue Jay -- back from the disabled list on Tuesday in Washington. Hill has been out since April 14 after getting hit in the left hand by a pitch. He was supposed to miss only 4-6 weeks with the broken hand, but a setback delayed his return. Hill is one of the best in the majors at his position and was hitting .306 when he went down. The fracture actually isn't fully healed yet, but Hill will wear padded batting gloves.
That's the good news for Arizona. The bad is that closer Heath Bell has reverted to his Marlins form. He allowed a homer in a fifth straight outing Saturday but won't be removed from the closer role yet. I expect that to change whenever former closer J.J. Putz is activated off the disabled list, which could happen later this week. Then again, Putz blew four saves in nine chances before landing on the DL.
Closer seems to be an issue right now on several teams. The Tigers just designated Jose Valverde for assignment after his struggles. Boston has demoted Andrew Bailey from the job in favor of Koji Uehara. Seattle recently took Tom Wilhelmsen out of the closer job and is going by committee. Any team that has a good closer and is ready to deal will be in a position of strength before the July 31 trade deadline. The White Sox, for example, are strong in the bullpen but going nowhere and are likely to trade both Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton. The Phils say they won't deal Jonathan Papelbon, but maybe that's because his value is low right now after blowing three saves in his past four appearances. According to ESPN, last year teams won 91.9 percent of games they led heading into the eighth. This year it's 89.6 percent.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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