Evaluating MLB Teams Schedules and Playoff Push
As MLB teams and General Managers play 'make a deal' near the trade deadline, and other rumors continue to surface as the deadline nears July 31, we'll see both promotions and demotions by teams looking to upgrade their rosters for the final two months of the season. Teams considered in contention continue their push for the playoffs and the pennant, but who has the best opportunity to make the playoffs based on schedule analysis and opponents ahead?
It's often said in baseball that it's not who you play but when you play them that's more important. That certainly has some merit, as early season downtrodden teams like the Kansas City Royals have rebounded to move into contention, while other elite teams like the LA Dodgers caught fire with an 11-game winning streak around the All-Star break as part of an amazing 31-4 run. The Dodgers now have the best record in baseball following a current 4-game winning streak, and now lead the majors in profit produced at the sports books with more than 23-units of profit.
As you evaluate teams and match-ups in the final months of the season, you'll no doubt be paying a tax in the betting line for many top teams as favorites. The LA Dodgers (70-31/.693) are playing near .700 baseball to lead both Arizona and Colorado by more than 12 games. The Dodgers are also 25-15 vs. .500 or greater opponents, which means they are destroying losing teams with a 45-16 record; second-best in the majors to Houston's 47-14 mark. The Houston Astros are just 20-19 vs. .500 or greater teams despite a 67-33 (.670) record overall with the AL West easily in hand by 17 games. The Astros motivation won't be as great, yet they will continue to lay premium prices in the betting market.
The Washington Nationals have played the fewest games vs. winning teams (.500 or better) with an 8-3 record. With the Washington Nationals (59-39/.602) also playing better than .600 baseball and running away with their division more than 11 games in front of the Braves and Mets, there are three divisions essentially settled and three others still to be decided in the final two months of the regular season. In fact, in the National League, the Diamondbacks (57-43) and Rockies (58-43) had clearly separated themselves in the wild card race until the defending world champion Cubs (57-42) came storming out of the All-Star break with six straight wins and are now 9-2 since the break. Against .500 or greater teams, the D'Backs (19-19), Rockies (23-22) are near even, while the Cubs (13-21) have struggled year to date against winning teams. The other slight division leader in the National League is Milwaukee (54-48), who is 4-7 since the All-Star break. Note, the Brewers played 71 of their first 91 games this season vs. losing teams, and Milwaukee is now 14-16 this season vs. winning teams (.500 or greater).
Recall my run line article as an option to laying big prices on favorites, and know that many bettors will opt to play the run line (-1.5 runs) on bigger favorites, and that's a strategy to consider to reduce risk and often get a plus price in return. But you still must be selective while evaluating the match-ups and underlying skills of starting pitchers, especially those with less 'name' value.
In the American League, there are many teams in contention for the playoffs, both in the two divisions to be settled (East and Central), and for the two wild card spots. Some teams like the Twins (Garcia) and Cubs (Quintana) have made moves to add a starting pitcher that should help them down the stretch. Other contenders and top teams will make moves at the trade deadline, so monitor the moves and impact on both the team improvement and morale, and the betting market. Note to, the injury situations surrounding key players and pitchers like ace starter Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers, who along with pitcher Brandon McCarthy, was placed on the recent 10-day disabled list. The more recent return of star outfielder Mike Trout may give the Angels the added boost down the stretch.
So how have teams performed against winning opponents who are currently .500 or better in the standings? The American League is wide open for playoff contenders with only Houston holding a dominating position.
Here is a chart with American League teams' records, how they have fared vs. winning opponents (.500 or greater), and remaining schedule vs. winning teams. Also included is run differential, which also shows how dominant top teams have been with the Dodgers (+180), Diamondbacks (+109) and Nationals (+103) dominating in the National league.
Perhaps this will guide you towards more winners in your match-up evaluation and consideration for a future bet to win the Pennant or World Series. Last year in July, the Cleveland Indians were still 5-1 to win the AL Pennant, and the Indians went to the World Series despite losing two key starting pitchers to injury in September.
|vs. .500 or >
As you can see, after the division leaders in the American League, there are six teams really bunched together and battling for the two wild card spots, all just 4 games apart, while three others are still in the mix. The Red Sox (16-21) have not fared as well vs. winning teams, while the Twins (23-33) and Orioles (23-37) have fared the worst of the playoff contenders. Baltimore has faced the toughest schedule of the contenders, but the Orioles pitching problems (AL-worst 5.11 ERA) will keep them from contending. The Yankees (24-17) have been the best vs. winning teams, and rumors remain rampant about New York picking up a pitcher or two at the trade deadline.
Regardless of records, make sure you maintain a good grasp on the ball and dig deeper into statistical evaluation, identify team's motivation and ability to make a move forward, and others that are more likely to struggle and fade. Focusing on skill sets in Run-scoring potential on offense, Run-prevention ability of starting pitchers and Run-prevention ability of bullpens will also help you in identifying more winners.
As mentioned, the betting line will be inflated a bit more on some of the top teams, so value can still be had and found as you evaluate the match-ups and how teams perform at home, away and vs. winning (and losing) teams.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay