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Traditional Split-League Play Returns

   by Scott Spreitzer - 06/29/2009



Interleague play ended this past weekend, which means Major League Baseball is back to its normal routine. Teams are playing within their own leagues again, with unbalanced division-heavy schedules shaping the pennant races we’re about to enjoy.



Well, not ALL 30 teams will be enjoying pennant races. Many are facing a second half of drudgery where they just play out the string. And, many will be doing that in hot weather. The “dog daysâ€쳌 of summer are about to hit with July and August on the horizon. You’re going to see mediocre teams (or worse) posting some very lackluster results. And, even though “the marketâ€쳌 knows these teams aren’t contenders, it still won’t properly price how badly they’ll perform. Some “Câ€쳌 teams on the report card are about to play like “Dâ€쳌 or “Fâ€쳌 teams.



The smart thing to do is to be on the lookout for those teams now so you can take advantage of the clear market value.



You don’t want to wait until after a team loses five games in a row to start betting against them. You want to develop an eye for anticipating when bad runs are about to happen. I’ve got a couple of methods for that which are triggered by the end of IL play. I’d like to share those with you today.



First, I compile a list of teams that share the following characteristics:



*A losing record

*A rivalry or marquee series that ended IL play



These are lesser teams dealing with an emotional letdown. They just got the juices flowing for either a rivalry series, or a big name opponent coming to town. That series ended. Now it’s back to the grindstone. Losing teams are horrible when it comes to the "grindstone!"



Qualifiers:

American League: Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland.

National League: Atlanta, Washington.



Baltimore and Washington played each other in a rivalry series. Both are in last place in their respective divisions, and are already aware that they have no shot of making the playoffs. Either or both of these teams could play very sluggishly between now and the All-Star break. Of course, Washington’s been horrible all year, so this isn’t big news. Have you been taking too many shots on some of the other teams listed?



The Indians and the White Sox have had very disappointing campaigns in the AL Central. Both just finished off regional rivalry series on their home fields against the Reds and Cubs, respectively. It’s funny that they draw each other in the first grindstone series! Don’t be surprised if a manager gets fired from either of those teams relatively soon.



Why is Atlanta on the list? Aren’t they a contender? Not in my eyes. They have a losing record this year, don’t communicate well with each other on the field, and just got humbled in a series of one-sided losses to the Yankees and Red Sox in the most hyped homestand in franchise history.



Maybe one of the five teams I listed will break through and play well anyway. I think the odds heavily favor below par performances from the group as a whole.



Another indicator I like is a team's won-lost record the prior 20 games before the IL finale weekend.



Remember, that last weekend can give you false reads because some lesser teams get motivated for a rival or a marquee series. What was happening before that big weekend? Here are the teams who were 8-12 or worse the prior 20 games before the IL's final weekend.



Qualifiers

American League: Baltimore (8-12), Cleveland (8-12), Kansas City (8-12).

National League: San Diego (6-14), Arizona (7-13), Washington (7-13), Atlanta (8-12), Cincinnati (8-12).



Some repeat offenders there, which gives me even more confidence that trouble is on the way. The newcomers are Kansas City, who’s taken themselves out of the playoff mix with a long funk; San Diego, a team that didn’t have the depth to deal with the injuries that have hit them; Arizona, a franchise that’s been overrated since the Johnson/Schilling days; and Cincinnati, with a lineup that forgets to bring its bats to the ballpark more than half the time.



Most of the newcomers didn’t play in marquee series at the end of IL play, but they don’t have to be in a “letdownâ€쳌 spot to play poorly.



Let me quickly combine the two lists for you. I’ll put the teams in alphabetical order:



Flattened by the grindstone?

American League: Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Kansas City.

National League: Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego, Washington.



From those nine teams, I’m expecting at least three disasters from this point forward (and maybe more), with very ugly records in July and August particularly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few losing streaks of at least 7-8 games (and maybe more) from those listed. Any are capable of lost weeks where they don’t accomplish much of anything.



Am I telling you to bet against these teams every time they take the field? I wouldn’t go that far. My strategies would be:



*Go against those teams at reasonable prices, particularly when they aren’t throwing their ace pitchers.



*Avoid backing those teams as underdogs. You probably know that many professional wagerers focus on underdogs to make their living. Remember that they focus on GOOD underdogs in good situations! These teams haven’t been playing with fire recently, and are strong nominees for slumps. These aren’t the dogs you want in the dog days of summer!



*Look for streak potential in the schedule and catch some early. There’s a lot of debate in Las Vegas about whether or not “streak handicappingâ€쳌 is a smart approach. I’ll save that discussion for another day. For now, just remember that there’s nothing wrong with riding a streak once you’re already on one! If you’ve had success for a couple of days going against somebody like Cleveland or San Diego, there’s nothing wrong with continuing the theme until they finally win. It will cost you one game at the end of the streak, but may pick you up three, four, or even six or seven winners.



Summer baseball may be a grindstone for the teams. But it doesn’t have to be a grindstone for us. Nothing’s more fun than cashing winners every day!

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