Baseball begins on Sunday night so it’s time to make last minute preparations with regards to betting trends and teams to watch. We’ll start this article off with pitchers to play and to fade.
Five Pitchers to back:
Wade Davis, TB – This 5th starter made six starts last year for the Rays going 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA on the season. Davis started his career giving up one run and three hits against the Tigers in seven innings of work last September. While he did struggle against the Red Sox in his next start, Davis gave up just six earned runs in his last four starts of the season against the likes of Baltimore, Seattle and the Yankees. Should be noted that Davis has an 8.80 ERA in spring training but he’s been tinkering with new pitches.
Brian Matusz, Baltimore – The bandwagon is big for this tall left hander as a good spring training has backed a nice finish to his 2009 season. Matusz is 1-2 with a 3.10 ERA in five outings this spring striking out 19 while walking only 3.
Homer Bailey, Cincinnati – This phenom’s career couldn’t be more helter-skelter. Bailey spent 2007 and 2008 getting smacked around going 4-8 in 17 games over those two seasons. Last year, he improved a bit going 8-5 with a 4.53 ERA. Bailey has made three outings this spring giving up just four runs in 11.2 innings pitched. While his strikeout numbers aren’t very gaudy (3), he seems to have fixed his walk problem that plagued him earlier in his career.
Ricky Nolasco, Florida – Nolasco spent some time in the minors last season and it seemed to clear his head. While the 5.06 ERA last season is unsightly, he still managed to go 13-9 striking out 195 while walking only 44. This spring, Nolasco is 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA in five starts striking out 21 while walking only one batter. Ricky seems to be in midseason form already.
Luke Hochevar, Kansas City – Much like Homer Bailey, Hochevar has been inconsistent throughout his career. The right hander is 13-26 with a 5.88 ERA in 51 starts over his career. Still Luke has shown flashes of brilliance. He’s 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in four starts this spring. This is purely a speculative play as I feel that the Royals will be a team on the rise this season and for that to happen, Luke will have to lead the charge.
Four hurlers to fade:
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia – While we don’t like telling people to fade the Phillies at any time, this left hander’s inconsistency presents opportunities to jump on a juicy runline. Hamels is a top 5 pitcher when he wants to be. The lefty went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA last year allowing batters to hit .273 against him. This spring hasn’t been much better as he’s gone 1-1 with a 5.57 ERA over five starts. Hamels has given up 11 runs in 10.1 innings of work his last two outings and pitchers are supposed to improve instead of regress the closer the season comes.
Cliff Lee, Seattle – Of course the injury helps us here but I feel like even when he gets healthy, the left hander will be fade material. Lee expressed dismay at his trade from Philly to Seattle and has already been suspended once during spring training. In two starts, Lee has given up 11 hits and five runs during 5.2 innings of work. Lee’s move back to the American League could be a struggle this season as I feel like the Mariners may not live up to expectations.
Vicente Padilla, LA – The Dodgers named this right hander as their opening day starter and I’m not quite sure why. This head case seven months ago was released by a pitching starved Ranger team and went to LA where he experienced some success. Padilla’s been tattooed a bit during the spring giving up 19 hits and 10 runs in 14.1 innings of work as hitters are ringing him up to a tune of .306 BAA. I just don’t feel safe backing this right hander in games where he will be pitted against other aces.
Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore – Guthrie had one of the worst seasons of his short career last year going 10-17 with a 5.04 ERA. The right hander hasn’t been much better during the spring giving up 19 runs and 28 hits in 20.2 innings of work. Not only that, the righty has walked 13 batters as well.
Two teams that will surprise:
Kansas City Royals (Over 72.5) – This could be a surprise to some as the Royals have gone over this total only once in the last five seasons. The AL Central is wide open with each of their teams featuring problem spots. The lack of a closer will hurt the Twins while an inconsistent lineup could plague both Detroit and Chicago. Kansas City is 12-11 in the spring but what’s been impressive is that this lineup has scored the 2nd most runs in the cactus league 175. The team added Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall and Chris Getz to the lineup as well as Rick Ankiel who will bolster the middle of a lineup that features Billy Butler who most feel will break out this season. Alex Gordon’s injury will be a bit of a concern but when he returns the lineup becomes a lot better.
The team cleaned out a lot of crap in their organization letting Sidney Ponson, Jamey Wright and Coco Crisp go among others. Pitching-wise the team has Zack Greinke who had an amazing season last year for the Royals. The team has Gil Meche, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies rounding out the rotation. Meche is a solid number two and is a lot better than the 6-10 record he had last season. Hochevar, as noted above, is due for a breakout as is Bannister who went 7-12 last season.
Evidence that the team is capable of solid pitching is their 4.05 ERA from the beginning of the season to June 17th. Unfortunately, after that date, the team put forth a 5.32 ERA. That was due to an inconsistent bullpen which features more players who struggled to meet expectations in Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz. Joakim Soria is a top 10 closer in the league.
This play is purely speculative but something I’m intrigued by. The Royals have the pieces to make a run at the AL Central and with a price of EVEN or better on some sportsbooks, it’s worth a shot to bet on Kansas City.
Cincinnati Reds (Over 79.5 wins) – Much like the Royals, a few things need to break our way for this team to contend. They spent the offseason making a big splash by signing Cuban born Aroldis Chapman who will start the season in the minors but figures to make an impact at some point this season. Orlando Cabrera is another underrated signing for Cincinnati. The Reds have improved their win total over the past three seasons and feature some youthful stars.
Last season Cincinnati had seven players go under the knife and featured eight players who made their major league debuts. The Reds were supposed to be a factor last year but ended up using their projected starting lineup only 10 times. Despite all this, the team racked up 20 wins in September and October giving them momentum coming into this year.
The lineup features 1st baseman Joey Votto who became the first Red since Sean Casey and Ken Griffey Jr. to hit over .300. Votto dealt with stress issues last year but still managed to lead them in most major hitting categories. Scott Rolen mans the other hot corner for the Reds and he provides the leadership a young squad needs. In the 40 games Rolen started in, the Reds went 27-13. Cabrera’s addition now gives Cincinnati three gold glove winners in the infield as Brandon Phillips also received the honor.
The Reds pitching staff has a ridiculous amount of depth featuring veterans Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Those two will be atop the rotation with young talent Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey anchoring down the back end. Bailey went 6-1 with seven quality starts over his nine final outings. The fifth spot is up in the air right now but former 17 game winner Edinson Volquez is expected to return by late summer from Tommy John surgery. Not only that, but as mentioned above Aroldis Chapman will provide a boost when he joins the 25 man roster. The bullpen ranked third in the NL in ERA and is completely back. The Reds are locked and loaded there with Arthur Rhodes and Daniel Ray Herrera being their LOOGYs while Nick Masset and Mike Lincoln will be the right handed setup men for consistent closer Francisco Cordero.
Much like the AL Central, the NL central is wide open and can be won by anyone. Cincinnati has the talent to contend and could have done the same last year with better health.
One team who will fall short:
Los Angeles Dodgers (Under 84 wins) – Hard to believe that a team who won 95 games could fall so far but the perfect storm has hit LA. An offseason of tumult has hit tinseltown with the McCourt’s fighting for control of the team during a nasty divorce. Because of that the team wasn’t as busy in the offseason losing players such as Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, Juan Pierre and Orlando Hudson. In the process they didn’t really manage to bring anyone spectacular in outside of Vicente Padilla who will be their opening day starter.
The Dodgers lineup is not the issue for the 2010 version. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez pace a strong outfield for LA. Ramirez has already mentioned that this may be his last season as a Dodger as he’s ready to move on. Could this mean a midseason trade if he becomes a distraction? Definitely something to consider as we head into the season. The infield features a lot of steady production from players such as James Loney, Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake. The team’s bench is solid but nowhere near last year when they could pull Juan Pierre off and not have much drop off.
LA’s issues will come from the rotation. Vicente Padilla is not an opening day starter. The righty has been known to have some mental issues from time to time and his inconsistency is not what this team needs. Behind him are talented Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley but each have questions. Kershaw had a 2.56 ERA in his last 10 starts but went 0-3 in that span because he was unable to go that far. Billingsley managed three wins in his last 19 starts last year after starting out hot. Kuroda’s got injury issues making only 21 starts last season. The fifth spot is up in the air but could go to Ramon Ortiz or Charlie Haeger. The bullpen features a solid array of arms but Joe Torre’s overuse forced them to the DL multiple times in 2009. Jonathan Broxton’s 85.7 percent save success rate was just ninth best in the NL.
This is a talented team but the McCourt’s off the field issues combined with a fragile roster make me believe that they won’t win an improved NL West. The Rockies figure to be a factor along with a Giant team that has the best rotation in the NL and a Diamondback team with a young lineup that could be tough to deal with. Some books have the under at +125 or +130 which is a great price for something like this.