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Read Between the Numbers: 1-Run Games

   by Scott Spreitzer - 06/10/2008

MLB Standings in your morning fish-wrap don't always paint an accurate picture. They do for many teams, but a few teams aren't what they seem. As handicappers, we must know where all 30 teams stand, not just most of them!

One of my favorite tools for uncovering upcoming "surprises" is to look for extremes in one-run records. Every year there are a few major league baseball teams who create illusions about their "true" abilities because of extremes in this area.

*Some have bad luck in close games, and are much better than the wagering public and oddsmakers realize.

*Some have good luck in close games, and are much worse than the wagering public and oddsmakers realize.

Today I want to put the following teams on your radar because what's ahead may not closely resemble what's in the rearview mirror.


ATLANTA BRAVES (3-17 in one-run games)

It's hard to believe that a team can lose 17 out of 20 close games! Atlanta's found a way to pull that off this year. Even if you have a shaky bullpen, you have to be playing in very bad luck to lose that many of your nailbiters. Atlanta was a very impressive 29-13 in games decided by more than one run heading into this past weekend's action.

History has made it very clear that one-run games are mostly influenced by luck, and games decided by two runs or more are a strong reflection of skill. I wouldn't be surprised if the Braves make a run in the last two thirds of the season when luck turns back in their direction. This is a team that's much better than people realize. The standings say they're a .500 caliber team. The stats say they're a true contender.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS (9-14 in one run games)

That may not seem like a dramatic record compared to Atlanta. The Braves are off the charts! Toronto's had some bad luck in close games too. This is a team that was 23-17 in games decided by two runs or more heading into this past weekend. Over a full season, that's the equivalent of 93 victories.

Have you been thinking of Toronto as being that good? The public has soured on this team because of late inning losses to the Yankees and Baltimore in recent memory. The offense is starting to hit, and the rotation is solid. The bullpen is just a pitch or two away from being a positive rather than a negative. Look for value spots to back the Blue Jays against the tough teams in the AL East. And, don't be afraid to back them against softer opponents from other divisions. A poor record in one-run games makes this team seem worse than it really is.


CINCINNATI REDS (12-6 in one-run games)

Some pundits are talking about the young talent on this Reds squad. I'll admit they've got some budding stars. The team isn't playing as well right now as you might think though. They've won an unlikely two-thirds of their one-run games. In other action, the Reds were just 18-26 heading into this past weekend. A team playing at that rate for a full season would win only 66 games.

In other words, it's the same old Reds! Yes, there is some young talent here. Good fortune in close games has created the illusion that the Reds have become a .500 caliber team. I don't expect them to maintain that pace unless they get improvement from several contributors.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS (12-6 in one run games)

The Brew Crew is another version of their NL Central neighbors Cincinnati. They're a little better in the newspaper standings, which means they're not quite as bad once you adjust for their good fortune in one-run games. Heading into this past weekend, Milwaukee was 20-23 in games decided by two runs or more. That's a losing team, not a contender.

I mentioned in a recent article that you have to be careful with the NL West because those teams have struggled so much outside their division. Here is a pair of NL Central teams you have to be cautious with as well. Handicapping means seeing the potholes before you drive through them!

BALTIMORE ORIOLES (14-8 in one run games)

Here we have the opposite situation of Toronto. AL East rivals Toronto and Baltimore are close in the standings. I believe that's an illusion that will fade away over time. When not playing nailbiters, the Orioles were just 16-22 heading into last weekend.

What does that mean over a full season? A team playing at that pace would go 68-94 over 162 games. That's about what everyone expected for the Orioles anyway! Baltimore is arguably just as bad as expected this year, but good fortune in close games has been disguising that.

I strongly advise you to pay attention to this stat for all 30 teams this season. Luck isn't limited to the first third of the season. There are teams who will catch some breaks over the next six weeks just to see form reverse later in the summer. They will offer great value in August and September because much of the betting public won't catch the difference between luck and skill.

Make sure you can read between the numbers!

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