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Live Biting Dogs
by Jim Feist - 05/27/2013
Baseball has a long regular season, almost twice as many games as pro basketball, and ten times more games than the NFL regular season. Baseball athletes have to play just about every day and sometimes even have to play twice in a day during double-headers. This is why it's essential to keep up on injuries. In football, if a starting quarterback or star running back is injured and expected to miss a game, that injury will be reflected in the betting line.
The Broncos with QB Peyton Manning might be a 10-point home favorite over a below-average team, but without Manning they might be only a 3-point favorite - or a big dog, as we saw two seasons ago with him on the shelf. The same is true if NBA stars like Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are out.
The bulk of baseball lines are based on the starting pitchers. Sides and totals will be adjusted a bit when star players are out of the lineup, but not to the extent that football lines often move. For bettors, sometimes the loss of one or two important positional players can be a large enough void that it offers great value to wager against a team.
This season the Dodgers and Angels have been hit hard by injuries to the pitching staff. The Angels lost ace Jared Weaver early on and it had a domino effect on the rest of the staff, plummeting to third-worst in the American League as the bullpen got taxed and all the other starters had to move up a notch. The Dodgers can't find a reliable No. 4 or 5 starter and the offense has been banged up, falling to 29th in runs and slugging despite a high priced payroll.
Tampa Bay has been hovering around .500 despite some stats that suggest they should be running away with the AL East. Their offense is vastly improved from a year ago, top 10 in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. And who wouldn't want all the talented young arms on the staff?
23-year old lefty Matt Moore joined a handful of pitchers in history to start 8-0 after the Rays completed a three-game series sweep at Baltimore last week. Teams with Alex Cobb, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays are loaded with quality arms. So why aren't they running away with it? Price hasn’t been himself, on the DL for a few weeks, and Hellickson has been poor. If Tampa Bay can get those two healthy or straightened out, lookout!
Boston continues to have a Top 5 offense, as usual, but it’s the pitching this season that has really gotten turned around under new manager John Farrell. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have been great, and an under-the-radar arm has been veteran John Lackey. Lackey has been written off as a bust the last few years and is often an underdog, but he spent the offseason losing weight and working on his arm strength. The work appears to have paid off as he's not the same pitcher, throwing very well, especially at home.
Like last year the Washington Nationals have great pitching and no hitting, but are oddsmakers overvaluing their totals when they leave spacious Washington? The over is 22-7-2 in the Nationals last 31 road games against a team with a winning record.
Injuries and returning players can be significant. A few seasons ago, the Red Sox got off to a hot 24-8 start, but lost star slugger Manny Ramirez in mid-May when he broke his finger in Seattle on a foolish home plate flop. He was hitting .372 when he got hurt, went on the DL for a month and the team proceeded to go 7-6 on a home stand without him. They scored one run to the Mariners and were shut out twice at home by the White Sox and Athletics.
The Red Sox were favored in five of those six home losses, including as a -150 favorite once and a -140 favorite twice. If a team has a capable replacement to fill in, it may be able to survive an injury, but still might be overvalued by oddsmakers, who lean heavily on overall and home/away records. Also, a team's offensive production can suffer, too, which can be an edge for totals players.
One season injuries to key players devastated the Minnesota Twins pennant-express. The Twins were 55-32 at the All-Star break and were winning with a great combination of speed, defense and starting pitching. Then injuries to Christian Guzman, Torri Hunter and Jacque Jones severely dented the team's speed and defense. Minnesota went 30-45 in the second-half and missed the playoffs. Big payroll teams have depth on the bench, but small market teams like the Twins and Rays often can’t afford it.
So pay close attention to whether a team is at full strength or not, either through injuries or other factors. Many times oddsmakers fail to make proper adjustments, which can provide great value in taking a look at underdogs. Keep your eyes peeled for key injuries, bad lines and big dogs.