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Of Streaks & Public Perception

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/22/2006

Don't mess with streaks. If a team is winning, on a nice hot streak, there are more than just stats involved. There is most likely enthusiasm, team spirit, and the ability of players to give themselves up for the betterment of the team. I bring this up because of the hot streaks lately of two losing teams, the Marlins and Twins.

The overall stats may suggest that those teams are lucky, playing over their head for a short stint. The law of averages might tell you that they are due for a fall and a losing streak soon. But as a serious sports bettor I advise you not to think that way. There are reasons teams win over and over again, some not easily visible in the boxscores or overall numbers.

Take the Marlins this week. When they played at Baltimore they were on an 8-game win streak, many as an underdog. But take a closer look: They were even hot before that streak, actually winning 18 of 24 games! This is a very young talented team that is beginning to play well together. Their overall record may be a poor 30-38, but what is more important to examine is their recent 19-6 run. I backed the Marlins several times during that run, noting in one write up, “Like the rest of the Florida pitching staff he is feeding off the rest of the rotation. In 9 of their last 10 games the Marlins have allowed 3 total runs or less, a terrific run by this young pitching staff.â€쳌

Now let's look at the same idea only in reverse: Should we back a team on a losing streak? Also pay attention when a team on a losing streak is FAVORED! Both of those facts jump out to handicappers who are serious about winning. Think about that again: A stumbling team on a losing skid is a favorite. As a handicapper, you're antennae should go up: Why are they favored?

A play I had this week was the Royals as a home dog over the Pirates. My analysis was, “The Pirates are now 8-27 on the road for the season. They have lost the first two games here and seven straight overall. Yet they are favored vs the Royals! Granted Kansas City isn't a team we are willing to bank on a regular basis, but they have won three straight and 5 of their last 7 games. The linesmaker has been very slow to adjust to improving teams and this isn't the same Royals team you saw earlier in the year. Pittsburgh is 34-54 when playing a team with a losing record. The Royals aim for the rare sweep as Pittsburgh does not deserve to be the favorite here. Play Kansas City.â€쳌

Public perception sees the Royals as an awful team, so they are going to be a dog most of the season. However, any team can begin to play better, which is why you need to reevaluate teams constantly. That same night Roger Clemens made his debut with the Astros and was a home dog to Minnesota. The oddsmaker made a profound judgment opening up the Twins with Liriano as a road favorite with Clemens on the mound. What is interesting is that he had to know the public would be all over the future Hall of Famer, especially in the role of home underdog. But pitchers coming off of the DL or on a minor league stint are terrible propositions in their first big league start. Just ask the Cubs and Mark Prior about that this week. I backed Liriano and his 1.50 ERA that night. Streaks and public perception need to be understood and analyzed very carefully.

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