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Mid-Season Report

   by Larry Ness - 07/13/2012

The Yankees finished the first half with MLB’s best record (52-33, .612), as well as the biggest lead (seven games) in any of MLB’s six divisions. Texas, the two-time defending AL champs, are the only other team with a better than .600 winning percentage. checking in at 52-34 (.605) and a four-game lead over the Angels (48-38) in the AL West. The White Sox lead the AL Central by three games and right now, the Orioles would qualify as this season’s new second wild card team with their 45-40 mark (Angels currently own the other wild card slot). However, when play resumes on Friday, the Orioles are well aware that six teams are within 2/12 games of them.

Moving to the NL, the Nationals own the senior circuit’s best overall record at 49-34, four games better than the Braves (4 1/2 better than the Mets) in the East. The Pirates (48-37), whose last winning season came all the way back in 1992, will open the second half in first-place of a division (NL Central) for the first time since 1997, one game better than the Reds. The Dodgers (47-40), despite losing 15 of their last 20 games prior to the break, lead the West by a half-game over the Giants. The Reds (47-38) currently own wild card spot No. 1 in the NL with the Braves currently owning the No. 2 slot at 46-39. However, just like in the AL, there’s plenty of company in the wild card ‘hunt,’ as the Cards, Giants and Mets all check in at 46-30.

I’ll get to some predictions for MLB’s second half in a bit but first I want to mention two of the most important categories for us sports bettors, the moneyline standings and team records for the best and worst of this year’s starting pitchers in the first half of the 2012 season (both categories figured at $100 per game). MLB’s biggest moneymakers are currently the Pirates (plus-$1887), the Orioles (plus-$1237), the Nationals (plus-$1066), the Mets (plus-$1055) and the Yankees (plus-896). Of those five teams, only the Yankees (97-65) had a winning won-loss record last season. The Pirates (72-90) and Orioles (69-93) were “big-time losers” last year with the Nats (80-81) and Mets (77-85) also checking in with sub-.500 records.

At the other end of the ‘food chain’ we find the Phillies as the biggest ‘money-burners’ in the season’s first-half, at minus-$2462. They have to be the season’s biggest disappointment, as the Phillies not only owned MLB’s best won-loss record last year at 102-60, but they entered this season having won FIVE consecutive NL East titles. The next four-worst moneyline records belong to the the Rockies (minus-$1560), Brewers (minus-$1297), Padres (minus-$1205) and Astros (minus-$1147), respectively. Milwaukee, like Philadelphia, is a major disappointment in 2012, as the Brewers won the NL Central last year at 96-66. As for the other three teams among the moneyline standings’ bottom-five, the Rockies were just 73-89 last season, while the Padres were 71-91 and the Astros a MLB-worst 56-106.

Even the casual bettor is well aware that the biggest influence on a MLB game’s moneyline is that of the starting pitchers. Since starting pitchers often draw no decisions, keeping tabs on a team’s record in each individual pitcher’s starts is vastly more important than a pitcher’s won-loss record. Here’s a list of the top-five moneymakers and ‘money-burners’ coming out of the All Star break. RA Dickey of the Mets tops the list at plus-$1292 (14-3), followed by AJ Burnett of the Pirates at plus-$1266 (13-2), Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals at plus-$1068 (14-3), James McDonald of the Pirates at plus-$793 (12-5) and Jered Weaver of the Angels at plus-$786 (12-3). Starting from the bottom up, it’s Tim Lincecum of the Giants at minus-$1138 (4-14), Dan Haren of the Angels at minus-$1098 (6-11), Cliff Lee of the Phillies at minus-$1082 (4-10), Ervin Santana of the Angels at minus-$1010 (5-12) and Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays at minus-$925 (5-12). Just missing the “bottom-five” is Chris Volstad of the Cubs at minus-$900 and I include him as he’s made nine starts this year with the Cubs losing every one of them (that’s worth noting).

The above two lists should indicate that handicapping MLB is no ‘walk in the park.’ Other than Jered Weaver, who could have predicted ANY of the others among the top-five? Moving to the bottom-five, just who predicted before the year began that Lincecum, Haren and Lee (or even Santana) would be among the biggest money-burners at the All Star break? Now on to some fearless second-half predictions.

MLB's second-half resumes on Friday the 13th and the Game of the Day has to be the Pirates at the Brewers. Pittsburgh is in the midst of a North American professional sports record of 19 consecutive losing seasons (last made the postseason in 1992) but opens the second half at 47-38. What adds to the allure of this contest is that Milwaukee's Zack Greinke will become the first pitcher to start three consecutive games since Red Faber did so in 1917 for the Chicago White Sox.

Greinke's was ejected from his start Saturday following a four-pitch outing but then back the next day against Houston on Sunday, allowing three runs and five hits in three innings of a 10-inning, 5-3 win. We then have the fact that Greinke is 15-0 in the regular season since joining Milwaukee prior to the 2011 season. Milwaukee is 21-1 in Greinke's regular-season starts at home and will be looking to join Johnny Allen (Yankees, 1932-33) and LaMarr Hoyt (White Sox, 1980-82) as the only pitchers to win their first 16 decisions with a club.

Greinke has been prominently mentioned as the subject of trade rumors, along with Cole Hamels (Phillies), Ryan Dempster (Cubs) and Francisco Liriano (Twins). The movement of some or all of these players could effect postseasons bids but here's my second-half predictions, not knowing which players (if any) will switch clubs.

Pay close attention to a team's run-differential, because it's a great indicator of postseason viability. Last season, FOUR of the top-five AL teams in run-differential (Boston at No. 3 was the exemption, after the team's late collapse) made the playoffs, In the NL, the four postseason teams were the top-four teams in run-differential. In 2010 AND 2009, the top-four teams in run-differential in BOTH leagues, were also the eight postseason teams, each season.

AL Playoff picture: The Yankees and Rangers own MLB's two-best records and rank rank No. 3 (Yanks at at plus-65 runs) and No. 1 (Rangers at plus-79 runs) in scoring differential. Anyone really think BOTH of these teams WON'T be around come October? I like the White Sox (No. 4 at plus-63 runs) to hang on in the AL Central plus the Angels, assuming they don't catch the Rangers in the AL West (open the 2nd-half four games back), to claim one of this year's two wild card spots.

The Orioles currently own the No. 2 wild card spot but the team's minus-39 run-differential is a 'killer.' Also, Baltimore's stuck in the brutally tough AL East and will finish the season with 12 consecutive games against Boston (six), Toronto (three) and Tampa Bay (three). Give me the so far disappointing Tigers as the AL's second wild card team, as the Tigers' final 13 games are split between Kansas City (seven games against the Royals, who are currently 37-47) and Minnesota (six games against the Twins, who are currently 36-49)

2012 NL postseason teams are much tougher to identify.The Nats own the best record but word is that Strasburg is going to be limited to around 160 innings, and he could be shut down in the stretch 'drive' (wouldn't that be something?). Still, I'm no big fan of the Braves or Mets, so I'll stick with Washington winning the East. I have NO faith in the Pirates and will call for the Cards (at plus-70 runs, it's the 2nd-best mark in all of MLB at the break), to make up their modest 2 1/2-game deficit in the Central.

The NL West race is separated by a half-game (Dodgers over Giants) but I'm calling for BOTH teams to make the postseason. One will win the division and the other get one of the two wild cards. Of course, if Kemp and Eithier don't stay healthy in the second half, LA will be in HUGE trouble. I'm going against my run-differential argument with the Giants (finished the 1st half at minus-eight runs) but I love the starting staff of Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong plus is it really possible that Lincecum is DONE? Zito as the fifth-starter, makes this a team a contender all the way until October. The second wild card spot is a crap-shoot, but I'll say the Reds.

Good luck...Larry

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