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Inside Baseball Puppies

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/24/2008

Many baseball bettors have a difficult time backing dogs. One reason is they are looking in the wrong places for edges. Usually the team with the better starting pitcher is going to be the favorite, and a mistake many novice bettors will make is putting too much emphasis on the starters. This can make it difficult to back the dog as they are solely focused on the weaknesses of the underdog starter.

However, don’t get hung up on one aspect of a game. Remember that most starting pitchers today go 6 innings. One thing to look for is very simply: offense. Can a team score runs? If they’re playing in a huge, pitcher friendly park like Petco, Shea or Dodger Stadium, do they have speed in the batting order to help manufacture runs? Is a team patient at the plate, drawing walks and fattening up the on base percentage?

One aspect of looking for dogs is home road play. I had a play on the home dog Atlanta Braves against the NY Mets. In a writeup previewing the contests I noted, “The Mets had a great showing on national television Sunday and that game may have influenced this line as New York has been installed as a road favorite. But we're not ready to buy into the Mets’ renewed optimism after beating the cross-town rival Yankees two straight on the road. This is still a team who has underperformed this season and their hitting has been sporadic. We're not sure they can sustain their recent success on the road at Atlanta.

“The Braves have been terrific at home but horrible on the road this season. Luckily they will be back home after taking two of three here over the weekend against Oakland. Tom Glavine takes the hill for the first time against his former club so the game should mean a bit more from the veteran lefty. Atlanta has pounded right-handed pitching at home to the tune of 7.05 runs per game. While Mets’ starter John Maine will be difficult the Brave lineup looks like a perfect fit for the young Mets starter. Atlanta as a home dog cannot be ignored, especially how well they have played here this season. With the public buying into the recent Met hype we get a nice number with what could end up being the better team, play Atlanta.â€쳌 The Mets underachieved again as the Braves won easily, 6-1.

Offense can also give a significant boost to pitchers that are underdogs. I once play the Tigers as a +150 dog when they played at Atlanta, the game Kenny Rogers returned. While I wasn’t sure what Rogers was going to do, off the DL, and Atlanta had the better starter in John Smoltz, I was certain that Detroit had a huge advantage on offense.

In my analysis of the game, I wrote, “What do we see with 40-year old Atlanta starter John Smoltz? For one thing he’s not an innings eater, going 3, 6 and 6 innings his last 3 starts. Atlanta is worried about its bullpen making a trade with the Tigers for relief help this week. This is a hefty price on a starting pitcher averaging 5 IP the last three starts and one facing the No. 1 offense in baseball. He faces a red-hot Detroit offense that is clicking behind Magglio Ordonez.

“Detroit is crushing the ball, scoring 10 or more runs in 6 of the last 18 games, and over 7 runs in 12 of the last 18! Last year’s Tiger ace Kenny Rogers will start Friday for the Tigers in Atlanta, his first of the season. Atlanta is 14-18 against lefties this season, 7-10 at home. Play the Tigers.â€쳌

The fact that the Tigers were a dog didn’t bother me at all. Atlanta had several negatives, with Smoltz averaging 5 innings his last three starts, a struggling bullpen, and a suspect offense. The Tigers have been tearing it up offensively most of the season giving them a significant edge for that game.

It’s important to dig deep inside each game and find enough facts for one team to outweigh another. And when the team you find more positive facts for is a dog, it makes it an even better play as dogs pay more. Don’t think oddsmakers make the correct number on every game. They make mistakes.

Last season my Interleague Dog of the Year cashed when Boston played at San Diego. What stood out in the game? Many things, including the better offensive team as a dog: “Boston's bats busted out in Atlanta, winning consecutive games 4-0 and 11-0 and followed with another win in San Diego. The loss dropped the Padres to 5-8 against AL clubs, including a 1-6 mark at Petco. San Diego's offense was nowhere near as strong as the Red Sox and Boston had ace Josh Beckett going as the underdog Sox won, 4-2. Remember, oddsmakers do make mistakes, and strong offenses can help big baseball dogs bark all the way to the bank.

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