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3 Up, 3 Down

   by ASA - 07/20/2007

Pitching is the primary factor in the outcome of any baseball game. If a team’s staff, especially the starters, can’t shut down the opposing offense than said team has little chance of winning.

The teams with the five best ERA’s – the Padres, A’s, Red Sox, Mets and Cubs – are a combined 41 games over .500. Additionally, 12 of the 14 best team ERA’s in baseball have resulted in a .500 record or better.

With that said, here’s a look at what pitchers are guiding their teams to victory and which are taking their teams down with them.

Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins: Most bettors know by now that Santana is one of, if not the best, second-half pitchers in all of baseball. Santana is 41-5 following the All-Star break over the past three seasons and appears poised to continue his second-half dominance. He had a poor start to the season by his standards but has reverted back to his old self since the start of June. Santana has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his nine starts since the beginning of June and the Twins have won six of the last seven games in which he has started. He is first in the American League in WHIP and second in ERA while holding opposing batters to a .210 batting average. Santana has won two Cy Young awards behind great second halves and he could very well make it three this season.

Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres: It seemed highly improbable that Peavy, the National League All-Star starter, could maintain his torrid pace of the first half and he has, in fact, failed to do so. His pitching could hardly be considered poor but there is very little room for error in San Diego. The Padres are last in baseball with a .241 team batting average and 26th with barely over four runs scored per game, meaning Peavy would have to be nearly perfect to ensure a win. Peavy has allowed three or more earned runs in seven of his last nine starts and is experiencing pain in his biceps that could continue to hinder his effectiveness.

Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs: Zambrano joins Santana as an ace who has recovered from a substandard first half. High run totals and a dugout fight plagued Zambrano’s first half but he has rebounded in a big way in playing an integral role in Chicago’s resurgence. He has surrendered three or fewer earned runs in each of his last nine starts and exceeded two runs just once during that span, lowering his ERA two runs in the process. The Cubs have won seven of the last nine games in which he has started, with Zambrano allowing zero runs on just five its in his last two starts. Zambrano has found his comfort zone and will want a solid finish to the year to ensure a big pay day at the conclusion of the season.

Dan Haren, Oakland A’s: Haren’s situation and recent numbers mirror Peavy’s, lending an argument to a possible All-Star starter jinx. A dominating first half from Haren has given way to slightly worse outings recently with Haren allowing three or more earned runs in five of his last six starts. Haren faces the same problem that Peavy does as he is backed by a lackluster offense. Oakland is 24th in baseball in both runs per game and team batting average and has been even worse as of late with just 2.6 runs per game in its last 10 contests. Haren’s overall season numbers are still among the best in baseball but poor run support can be the downfall of any hurler.

Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees: While Peavy and Haren are forced to deal with poor offensive production, Wang often receives all kinds of run support. Not that he needs it, though. Wang has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 10 of his last 12 starts with the Yankees winning nine of those contests. Wang’s strikeout numbers are far from impressive but a dominating sinker keeps the ball on the ground and in the park, as evidenced by his six home runs allowed in 117.2 innings. His pitching style – lots of ground balls and low run totals – plays perfectly in New York as the Yankees are seventh in fielding percentage and second in runs per game. New York’s offensive and defensive prowess makes Wang a strong betting option.

James Shields, Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Shields was a solid play earlier in the season but has fallen on hard times as of late. He has allowed four or more earned runs in five of his last seven starts and the Devil Rays have gone just 2-5 over that span. Shields has a stellar 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio but is often getting too much of the plate with his pitches, which has resulted in a high home run total. He has actually surrendered more home runs (22) than walks (21) on the season, including 13 longballs over his last nine outings. Shields should be avoided until he learns to keep the ball in the park.

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