Ness Notes: MLB's Mid-Summer Classic jumps starts 2nd half

by Larry Ness

The 91st edition of the MLB All-Star Game (after a one-year hiatus) was contested at Coors Field last night in Denver. 40 of the game's 79 players were first-timers, the most ever. Special 'shout outs' are due Boston starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and Arizona 3B Eduardo Escobar. Eovaldi pitched a scoreless 4th inning in his first All Star game of his 10th MLB season, while Escobar hit a single in his only at-bat in his first All Star game of his 11th season. Shohei Ohtani went 0-2 at the plate but made history by pitching a scoreless first inning (1-2-3) for the AL (he was credited with the win). 19 pitchers got in the game but Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes was the ONLY one to pitch more than an inning. It didn't work out well for him, as he allowed two runs on four hits in his two innings to take the loss. One of those four hits was Vladmir Guerrero's 468-foot HR. Vlad Jr. went 1 for 3 with two runs scored, earning him All-Star Game MVP honors. He's the first Blue Jays player ever to win the award and became the youngest player to earn MVP honors.

The American League won the game 5-2, continuing its dominance over the National League. It was not always that way. I was born in 1953 and my memories of the All Star game are much different. From 1960 through 1982 (two games were played from 1960-1962) the National League won 23 of the 26 games played, with the American League winning just twice (2nd game in 1962 and in 1972) with one tie (2nd game of 1961). However, last night's AL win was just more of the same for "the junior circuit" (can it seriously be called that these days?). The 5-2 victory was the AL's EIGHTH in a row, extending its dominance over the NL to 26-6 with a tie since the 1988 game.

One could logically argue that July 2nd was the halfway point of the 2021 regular season, as it was the 93rd day in the 186-day schedule plus 18 of the 30 teams were in the 80-82 games played range. However, I'm "old school" and the All-Star break has traditionally served as the mid-point between the first and second halves of the MLB season. With that in mind, let's look at where MLB stands if the playoffs began today.

How about this to start things off? Not a SINGLE division winner from 2020 entered the All Star break atop its respective division. Let's start in the American League Tampa Bay won the East in 2020 with the AL's best record (40-20) but are currently 53-37 1 1/2-games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox (55-36). Minnesota won the AL Central in 2020 at 36-24 (.600) but the Twins have 'fallen on a cliff' in 2021. Minnesota entered the All Star break 39-50, 15 games back of the 54-35 Chicago White Sox. Chicago ended an 11-year playoff drought with a wild card appearance in 2020 and currently own the biggest lead of any division-leader, as the White Sox are EIGHT games ahead of the second-place Indians (45-42). Oakland won the AL West in 2021 with a 36-24 record, ending Houston's run of three consecutive AL West titles. The Astros won 100-plus games from 2017 through 2019, before falling to 29-31 in last year's pandemic-shortened season. However, Houston qualified for the postseason because of 2020's expanded playoff field and made it all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS, before falling to the Rays. The Astros are back to their winning ways in 2021, as they are 55-36, 3 1/2 games up on the A's. The 2021 postseason is "back to normal," meaning three division winners and two wild cards. That currently would be Boston, Chicago and Houston plus No. 1 wild card Tampa Bay and No. 2 Oakland.

Moving to the National League, Atlanta opened the current season having won the last THREE NL East titles (led the Dodgers 3-1 in the NLCS last season before losing THREE in a row!) but is just 44-45 at the break. The NY Mets currently sit atop the division at 47-40, 3 1/2-games clear of the 44-44 Phillies (note: Philadelphia has missed the postseason NINE consecutive years!). The Mets are trying to snap a four-year postseason drought and it doesn't hurt that they are playing in MLB's weakest division (only the Mets own a winning record). The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central with a 36-24 record in 2020, the team's third NL Central title in a six-year span. However, the Cubs entered the break only 44-46 (tied with their longtime rivals St Louis), EIGHT back of the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee is 53-39, four games up and the second-place Reds. The LA Dodgers won their first World Series title since 1988 in 2020 and opened 2021 having won EIGHT consecutive NL West crowns. The Dodgers opened the current season 13-2 but in contrast to the Mets, the Dodgers play in MLB's toughest division. The surprising Giants, who finished 14 games of the Dodgers in 2020's 60-game season and 29 games behind them in 2019, own MLB's best record (57-32) and a two-game lead over 56-35 LA. The Padres are 53-40, six games back of San San Francisco. The current NL playoff 'picture' features division winners New York, Milwaukee and San Francisco. Los Angeles would be the No. 1 wild card and San Diego its No. 2.

From the Department of "Best and Worst." The NL West is home to both the San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants own MLB's best record at 57-32, while the D'backs own the worst at 26-66. Arizona is "on pace" to win just 44 or 45 games (118 or 117 losses). Can you say the New York Mets of 1962, who went 40-120? However, readers of this article will be more interested in the "moneyline" standings. The answer is, "second verse, same as the first." The Giants own the best moneyline record at plus-$2,001 at $100/game, while the D-backs rank last at minus-$3,371. The Giants are closely followed by the 48-43 Mariners, who check in at plus-$1,923. Only two other teams are better than plus-$1,000, the 55-36 Red Sox at plus-$1,524 and the Rays at plus-$1,035. At the other end of the spectrum, Arizona's season is a total 'nightmare.' The D'backs' moneyline mark is almost $1,500 worse than that of the 28-60 Orioles, whose minus-$1,878 mark is MLB's second-worst. The third-worst mark is owned by the 39-50 Twins, who check in at minus-$1,837.

New York, New York and Detroit, plus one last look at the NL West. The 46-43 Yankees own the worst moneyline record of any winning team at -$1,008, while the 47-40 Mets are the ONLY division leader to own a losing moneyline record at minus-$95. What's Detroit have to do with anything? The 40-51 Tigers are the ONLY losing team with a winning moneyline mark at plus-$432. I discussed the NL West's best and worst teams above but here's a closing thought on the division's other three teams. Only four NL teams own 50-plus wins and THREE reside in the NL West. The Dodgers are 56-35 and the Padres are 53-40 but the Rockies are just 40-51. Now guess which of those three owns the best moneyline record. You likely KNOW the answer by how I phrased the question. Yes, the Rockies are minus-$347, while the Padres are minus-$390 and the Dodgers minus-$440. Just like the pointspread, the moneyline is often the "great equalizer."

Speaking of MLB's moneyline, no aspect is more important than that of each team's starting pitchers. Handicappers/bettors are well aware that a pitcher's won-loss record is SECONDARY to that of his team's record in his starts. NONE of MLB's top-five money-makers were featured in last night's All Star game. The list includes Chris Flexen (Sea) 12-4, plus-$966, Casey Mize (Det) 10-7, plus-$948, Logan Gilbert (Sea) 8-2, plus-$932, Taijuan Walker (NYM) 13-3, plus-$831 and Aaron Civale (Cle) 12-3, plus-$818. 'Flipping the script,' here's the biggest money-burners; Jorge Lopez (Bal) 4-14, -$893, JT Brubaker (Pit) 4-12, minus-$784, Luis Castillo (Cin) 6-13, minus-$721, Carlos Martinez (StL) 5-11, minus-$709 and Caleb Smith (Arz) 1-8, minus-$694.

Best of luck in the second-half, Larry

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