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Early Baseball Surprises

   by ASA - 04/22/2009


I realize it’s EXTREMELY early in the MLB season and teams change at a rapid pace over the first month or two of the season. However a few teams have grabbed my attention by looking much better than most anticipated while a few others aren’t living up to early expectations. This will be an ever changing list as the season progresses, but here are my early season observations.


Seattle Mariners – The M’s have jumped out to an early lead in the A.L. West after finishing with a paltry 61 total wins in 2008. One of the surprising parts is they have done it vs. a fairly tough early season schedule. They opened the year with seven consecutive road games vs. Minnesota and Oakland. They have since played host to the Angels, Tigers and Devil Rays. Seattle leads the Majors in team ERA at 2.95 after finishing 25th in the same category last season. The two lefties at the top of the rotation have been impressive. Erik Bedard was shut down at mid-season last year and has been lights out in his return in 2009. He has allowed just four earned runs in his three starts thus far. Jarrod Washburn has equaled Bedard’s efficiency allowing the same number or earned runs (4) in his three starts. Felix Hernandez gives them a solid 1, 2, 3 in the rotation. However their bullpen has been the key ingredient to the Mariner’s success thus far. They have an ERA of just 2.21 allowing opponents to hit just .220. If their pitching continues to impress, Seattle might just keep this early season success moving forward.

San Diego Padres – The Padres are an obvious choice here as they currently have the top record in N.L. West after finishing 36 games below .500 in 2008. A very impressive east coast stretch taking 4 of 6 games @ NY Mets and @ Philadelphia have us taking notice for the time being. They have two very good top of the rotation pitchers in Jake Peavy and Chris Young. However, they aren’t really “lighting it upâ€쳌 in any key category as they sit middle of the pack in both overall pitching and offense. However the key question with this team is, will they hold onto their key players throughout the year. The Padre ownership situation is in flux as the current regime is possibly looking to sell. They were already looking to trade Peavy, however those trade talks (mainly with Atlanta) fell through. If this team is struggling later in the season, word is the owners will dump salary to make the team’s payroll look more attractive to buyers. For now they are on my surprise list, however that could definitely change.


Milwaukee Brewers – Being from Wisconsin and following this team very closely, the Brewer’s struggles are not a surprise to me. After last year’s run to the playoffs, many thought with a very solid lineup, the Brewers had a chance to make another run. Problem is, their starting pitching was decimated when the Yanks swooped into grab C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets went on his merry way. Because of that, Milwaukee’s #3 and #4 starters from a year ago now have moved up to #1 and #2 by default. A starting rotation of Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and Braden Looper is serviceable but nowhere near the level needed to contend. Their potent lineup has failed early in the season hitting just over .230. New hitting coach Dale Sveum has attempted to jog their free swinging attitude in an effort to cut back on the strikeouts. While it has gotten a little better, the Brewer hitters have still whiffed over 100 times already this season. This team will have to out score people in 2009 and thus far they have been unable to do that averaging just 4 runs per game. Their pitching will most likely be a liability for most of the season unless they make a deal.

Tampa Bays Devil Rays – How can I not put a team that was in the World Series last year and has started well below .500 on my disappointment list. The struggles begin with their starting pitching. Last year the starters on this team were fantastic. Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine made up one of the best staffs in the Majors. They led the Rays to a #3 mark in overall ERA in 2008. The first three listed above had ERA’s of 3.70 or less. This year, all four have an ERA that is a full 1.00 higher than where they stood at the end of last year. The bullpen hasn’t done much to help out. Their current ERA is 5.31 after a mark of just 3.45 (4th in the Majors) last year. Add those two things up and you have a pitching staff that now ranks #21 in overall ERA. Their massive home field advantage has also failed them early in 2009. The Rays had more home wins than any team in baseball last year at 57. This year they have started just 2-5 in the Tropicana Dome. I expect all of the above numbers to get better and most likely move this team off my disappointment list. However, for the time being, I’m keeping them right here.

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