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April Baseball Notes

   by Al McMordie - 04/15/2012

There have been surprises already in the first two weeks of the baseball season: a string of shutouts, a new manager suspended and several small market teams outperforming the big payroll boys.

The NL East finds the Washington Senators – err, the Nationals – in first place and the Phillies and their rotation for the ages struggling. Washington has done it with exceptional pitching, tops in baseball in runs allowed.

It’s not just Stephen Strasburg, who has bounced back from arm surgery in spectacular fashion with a 0.69 ERA fanning 14 in 13 innings and only 4 walks. Newcomer Gio Gonzalez (3.39 ERA) came over from Oakland and has been a key addition, cutting down his walks considerably while still striking out a lot of batters, plus Jordan Zimmermann (1.29 ERA) has been outstanding. The ages of those 3 starters: 23, 25 and 26. If Washington can get something out of 28-year old newcomer Edwin Jackson, who was shaky in his first start, this could be a fascinating team for 2012 and beyond.

Slugger Jayson Werth endured a rough 2011, the start of his $126 million, seven-year adventure with the Nationals. The outfielder delivered his first game-ending hit as a member of the Nationals last week, a bases-loaded single off Reds closer Sean Marshall in the bottom of the 13th inning that lifted Washington to a 2-1 comeback victory over Cincinnati. Keep in mind Washington is on a 19-7 run under the total going back to last September, 10-1 under as a favorite.

While the Nationals are young, the Phillies are old, the oldest team in the league. There’s nothing wrong with Philadelphia’s rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Vance Worley, one built for the long haul. That great depth is why the Phillies are 50-23 in their last 73 contests during game 3 of a series. They are also 41-18-4 under the total in starts made by Hamels.

It’s the offense that has been putrid, 29th in runs scored, 24th in on-base percentage and 23rd in slugging. Since they play in a small, hitter friendly park, you would think this offense would be better – and they will be. There has been a severe lack of power and getting on base. Perhaps it’s age, or the loss of Ryan Howard, who is rehabbing and won’t be back for a few months after a severe injury in the playoffs.

It’s only April but the next two weeks it will be worth watching closely the Phillies as they embark on a 10-game west coast trip. And that offense has to face the Giants out West. Matt Cain against the Phillies since the start of the 2010 National League Championship Series: 3 starts, 22 innings, 1 earned run, 2 extra base hits, 15 base runners, 14 strikeouts.

And while Giants fans are a bit concerned about the lack of velocity on Tim Lincecum's fastball and refusing to use his slider, the last time the Phillies faced Lincecum they managed just one run on seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings of a 3-1 loss at ATT Park.
In the NL West the Dodgers have been the big surprise with a sizzling start. How are they doing it? Well, the offense isn’t overly impressive, 18th in batting average (.239) and 21st in slugging, and the pitching is 10th in all of baseball with a 3.33 ERA, 5th in the NL.

One season manager Sparky Anderson was asked the difference between his division winning team from a year earlier and his current fourth place team and he remarked “one run games.” He then explained they were great in one-run games the previous year and that’s a key to many teams that make the playoffs. The Dodgers played four one-run games in the first eight, winning all four while starting 7-1, with scores anywhere from 2-1 to 9-8. That’s great – if you can keep it up. The Dodgers are 21-7 in their last 28 games vs. a right-handed starter and 18-5 in their last 23 home games.
Perhaps most surprising about the first two weeks is the teams that rank at the bottom in overall pitching: Braves, Angels, Twins, Rays, Red Sox and Brewers. The Angels were tops in the AL last season and look loaded in 2012, but they’ve been giving up runs, as have the Big 3 in Milwaukee (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). At least the Brewers’ offense hasn’t missed Prince Fielder, sitting fourth in baseball in runs scored and slugging. They also like to beat up bad teams: The Brewers are 41-10 in their last 51 vs. a team with a losing record, 41-19 in their last 60 games against a right-handed starter. In addition, the over is 17-5-2 in Brewers last 24 games.

And the Angels aren’t quite the team to look at under the total you might expect: The over is 9-3 in the Angels last 12 road games vs. a team with a winning record, and 13-6 over the total as an underdog. Of course, it’s still WAY early as October is a long way off. Think the Red Sox, Cubs or Twins will be in the market for some arms before the trade deadline? Sure. Maybe even next week!

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