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Wagering on the World Series

   by Jim Feist - 10/26/2010

An exciting week for the Rangers and Giants! October memories glare the brightest in baseball lore. Bobby Thompson's 1951 home run, Don Larsen's perfect game in Game 5 of the '56 Series, Bob Gibson's 17-strikeouts in Game 1 '68, Carlton Fisk's home run in '75, Kirk Gibson's blast in '88, Joe Carter's Series ending three-run homer in 1993. While home runs mostly dot the top of the memorial landscape, October baseball can also feature memorable defensive plays and great pitching performances from starters and relievers.

That is what led the surge of the Tampa Bay Rays remarkable run to the World Series two years ago, great defense and a deep young pitching staff. The team they lost to, the Phillies, had an ace in Cole Hamels who was the pivotal player last October with a dominating postseason. The Giants were a poor hitting team all season, ranked 17th in runs and 19th in on base percentage, yet made the 2010 postseason.

What was the most significant roster move the Phillies made last season? Trading for ace lefty Cliff Lee in midseason. They were less concerned with upgrading the offense, but far more focused on adding quality pitching. They were better because of it and got to another World Series. This season Lee was scooped up in midseason by the Texas Rangers and Lee continued his brilliant postseason dominance this fall.

This is important from a betting perspective, too, and was a key factor the Colorado Rockies surprised the oddsmakers in 2007. They were 100-to-1 to win the World Series before the season started. The Rockies' pitching improved from 13th to in 2006 to 8th in 2007 in the NL, the same year they were tops in the majors in team defense with the fewest errors allowed.

The Yankees failed to win anything for eight straight years in October despite the highest payroll in the game. They finally wised up last season adding C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, fixing huge holes in the pitching staff. The 2007 ALCS between Boston and Cleveland matched the No. 1 and No. 3 pitching staffs in the AL.

Taking a content analysis of the last 14 years of the World Series, you'll notice that pitching and defense shine a bit more on the October stage than offense. Over that time there have been 44 unders, 35 overs and 2 pushes in World Series play. Is this a fluke? Or are there reasons for more low scoring games?

There are plenty of reasons for it. Since the World Series is the last battle of the season, managers aren't going to go with their worst pitchers, but the best of their best. This is why you see three and four man rotations in the World Series, whereas in the regular season teams employ a five and sometimes six-man rotation. Simply put, the No. 4, 5 and 6 starters during the regular season aren't going to see much (if any) important action in late October. The same is true for relief pitchers: A team generally has two or three quality relievers and three or four marginal/below average arms. Naturally, a manager is going to use his best often and go to his weakest arms only if necessary.

The Yankees led the majors in runs scored two years ago, scoring 76 more runs than the next best team. However, teams constructed solely around offense are built for the regular season. Teams stocked with a balanced lineups and excess pitching, both starting and in the bullpen, are built for October.

In addition, defense is a subtle, often overlooked aspect of baseball. There's an old adage that teams win with pitching, hitting and defense, and that's true. This is why you often see teams with outstanding center fielders, shortstops and catchers in the World Series because a team needs to be strong up the middle. Good defense helps your pitchers, turning double plays and keeping the other team from scoring.

Finally, the weather is far colder in October than in July and August, and it's tougher to hit a baseball when it's cold. When the World Series takes place in northern cities (Boston, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia) it can be very cold in late October and early November. In 2006 the A's and Tigers hooked up for Game 3 in Detroit. It was 42 degrees at game time, the lowest for a postseason game since it was 38 in Cleveland at the 1997 World Series. The final score? 3-0 Tigers, far under the total. Remember last year fans were bundled in parkas and blankets in Philly at Citizens Bank Park during the World Series.

In 2008, the under went 3-2 as the Phillies topped the Rays in five games. Six years ago, the Cardinals and Red Sox combined for 20 runs in Game 1 of the World Series in a sloppy, mistake-filled, walk-fest, sailing over the total. The next three games, however, went under the total in 6-2, 4-1 and 3-0 Red Sox wins. In the 2003 World Series between the Yankees and Marlins, five of the six games went under the total as pitching and defense excelled, capped by Josh Beckett's 2-0 clincher at Yankee Stadium in game 6. So don't be surprised if pitching and defense shines a bit more than offense as temperatures dip along with batting averages.

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