Thursday's MLB Tip Sheet

Thursday's MLB Tip Sheet

Thursday's Afternoon Action
By Josh Jacobs

During the transition from mourning to afternoon, a total of four games will take place after 12:00 p.m. EDT.

A few surprise clubs will take the field, more specifically Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Florida. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for gamblers on Thursday’s afternoon action and what might stick out in terms of grabbing that minute edge for some big payouts.

L.A. Dodgers (H. Kuroda) at Florida (B. Badenhop) - 12:10 p.m. EDT

The Marlins are proof to the correlation of solid bullpen work and the fundamental reward of wins.

While Florida is getting golden production out of its relievers (2.73 ERA and a .234 BAA), the starting rotation is currently ranked 28th worst in the majors with a 5.55 ERA.

Even with hurlers’ Mark Hendrickson (4-1, 3.68) and Scott Olsen (3-0, 2.06) pitching gems, the rest of the core has gone on to inflate the starting rotation’s ERA (minus Hendrickson and Olsen, the starting rotation has combined for a 9.12 ERA – between four other starters).

The Dodgers have struggled at the plate. A .260 BA versus right handed hitters, a .341 on base percentage and a 4-8 record on the road has translated into 5½-games behind Arizona in the NL West.

In their last seven meetings together, the ‘over’ has gone 5-2. L.A. is 9-5 in its last 14 head-to-head matches versus the Marlins, and is 6-2 in its last eight meetings in Florida.

Tampa Bay (M. Garza) at Baltimore (B. Burres) – 12:35 p.m. EDT

While the Rays aren’t knocking the socks off the opposition with their starting pitching staff (4.44 ERA), the bullpen is tops in the league with a 2.56 ERA.

It was last week that Tampa Bay was building momentum on a six-game winning streak. The Rays averaged 4.4 runs per game, outscoring their opponents 26-15.

In its last 10 games, Tampa’s bullpen has cashed in with a 1.69 ERA, a. 197 BAA and a devastating WHIP of 1.02.

Rays’ starters Edwin Jackson, James Shields and Jason Hammel have combined for a 7-5 record with an ERA of 3.76. As far as closers are concerned, veteran Troy Percival has been responsible for logging in five saves on the season, with four coming in consecutive contests.

Baltimore southpaw slinger Brian Burres (3-1, 2.49) will step up to the mound on Thursday, looking for his fourth win of the season. The lefty has surrendered only 13 hits and three RBIs in a total of 64 at bats faced. A .203 BAA has given reason to praise 27-year-old Burres.

The Orioles’ Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez have contributed 47 RBIs to the teams’ 110 total RBIs this season.

Baltimore is 5-7 on the road and has compiled a 4-5 record during the day.

Tampa Bay is scoring five runs per game on the road versus lefties, but is averaging a debilitating 3.3 runs per game at home, resulting in 3.8 runs per game total versus southpaws. In comparison, the Rays are bringing in 5.1 runs per game versus conventional righties.

Early lines have opened the Orioles as $1.15 home favorites, with a total set at 9½-runs.

Kansas City (Z. Greinke) at Texas (S. Ponson) - 2:05 p.m. EDT

The Rangers are a handicapping 4-8 at home and 5-10 on the road. Texas is down 7.43 units this season and -1057 on the run line should serve as a lone reason to avoid this club at all costs when approaching the window.

If there is something to look into for a profitable night, glance over at the Rangers total report. A 15-10-2 record on the ‘over’ has been manufactured in large part to Texas’ pitching staff working for the leagues worst ERA of 5.48, while giving up the 20th worst, 4.4 runs per game.

Texas is 8-1-1 on the ‘over’ in its last 10.

Royals’ ace Zack Greinke (3-0, 1.25) has been blistering this season, snatching up three wins in five starts and giving up only six earned runs in 36 innings of work. When Greinke has toed the slab this season, the ‘under’ has gone 3-2. Kansas also holds a 4-1 record during Greinke’s starts this season.

In their last three games, the Royals bullpen is worked for an inflated 6.92 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP.

Even worse is Texas’ 9.71 bullpen ERA and a 2.32 WHIP in 38 innings.

With most books installing the total at 9½-runs, it’s worth taking a look at the ‘over’ even if Kansas’ Greinke has been a stud on the hill.

Milwaukee (Y. Gallardo) at Chicago Cubs (C. Zambrano) - 2:20 p.m. EDT

In the last of the afternoon action, the Brewers will be looking to improve on a 2-3 performance in the last five when it meets the Cubs in the third and final game of the series.

Milwaukee will place starter Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 0.64 ERA) on the hill for his third start of the season. Even after Gallardo tossed seven innings of ball for six hits and no runs allowed in his last start against the Marlins, the Brewers where still unable to mount an offensive attack. Florida ended the evening with a 3-1 home win.

Chicago will attempt to counter with ace hurler Carlos Zambrano (4-1, 2.21 ERA). The seven-year veteran has mounted an impressive three-game winning streak in which he’s surrendered only three runs in 21 innings.

The Brewers hold the edge for win during the day, going 10-5, while the Cubbies are 9-6 during the same time frame.

Chicago has been dominant in its own division with an 11-5 record.

With home plate umpire Tom Hallion residing behind the catcher, a 6-1 record on the ‘under’ collides with the ‘over’ going 15-7-3 in the last 25 head-to-head meetings.

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Diamond Watch
By Matt Fargo

Thursday May 1st

Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs

This is the final game of the three-game set between the Brewers and the Cubs. The Cubs had the second best record in baseball going into the week and Milwaukee is expected to be the one team that can give them a run in the National League Central. The Brewers won the first series in 2008 to open the season and even though it is early, these games can go a long way. Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano will get the ball and in his six starts, he has allowed two runs or fewer five times.

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Sunshine State 'Pens'
By Joe Nelson

Relief pitching is often an underrated aspect of baseball handicapping but it is no coincidence that some of the top money teams in baseball through the first month of the season are also among the leaders in bullpen ERA. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been the best team in baseball in just about every measure through April and the Diamondbacks also boast some of the best relief pitching numbers as well. That is not a big surprise, but the two teams in Florida are a big surprise to currently be ranked as the top two bullpens in baseball based on ERA.

The Florida Marlins were not expected to contend in a tough NL East division with powerful lineups and star-studded rotations stacking the Phillies, Mets, and Braves but Florida will be right in the mix as we enter May. The Marlins were a last place team in 2007 but they were mostly competitive, winning 71 games. A Florida squad that many expected would be the worst in baseball in 2006 finished just a few games below .500 and this year’s Marlins squad was expected to struggle especially after giving up their two most well known players in a trade with Detroit. The Marlins still have a lineup that can put pressure on opposing defenses and Hanley Ramirez has proven that he could well be the best all around player in the game. The key for Florida’s solid start to the season, and the key for the Marlins to stay competitive will be pitching however.

Florida has won two World Series titles in the last eleven years and they have an effective system of shuffling through young talent. They alienate fans in the process by refusing to keep the big-name, big-contract players and filing the roster with young unproven players but the system works. Florida is stocked with young pitching talent which is the most valuable commodity in baseball and once the Marlins have a team that can compete they have the chips to pull trade-deadline deals to make a playoff push. The Marlins likely won’t be to that point this season but the young pitching staff is showing a great deal of promise.

Anyone that knows anything about statistics will tell you that the Marlins have been fortunate this season as they have actually been outscored despite being a few games above .500. The winning record won’t hold up if that continues to be the case but an effective bullpen is a key part of winning close games. Florida’s bullpen has the best numbers in the National League with a 2.73 ERA as opponents are hitting just .234 against Florida’s relievers. Florida has won six of the nine games decided in the bullpen this season and Florida’s pitching staff remains strong despite a wave of injuries that would be devastating to most teams. Florida currently has six pitchers that would likely be on the big-league roster if healthy sitting on the disabled list, three starters and three relievers.

The trio of relievers that have been the most important for the Marlins are Renyel Pinto, Justin Miller, and Kevin Gregg. Lefthander Pinto has posted incredible numbers so far this season and he has actually been tougher on right-hander hitters as they are hitting just .175 against him. Pinto had good numbers in 57 appearances last season but he has stepped it up this season with an ERA of 1.02 in 14 appearances. The Blue Jays had little success with Miller as a starter but he has found a home in the Florida bullpen and he has allowed just four runs this season. Many seem to still be skeptical of Gregg as a full-time closer but he saved 32 games last year in 36 opportunities. He has done his job this season despite only four saves so far. Doug Waechter and Matt Lindstrom also have strong numbers for the Florida pen although they have seen limited action.

Florida’s success in the bullpen may be a bit of a surprise but the success of Tampa Bay’s bullpen in the early season action is a complete shocker. In the 2007 season the Devil Rays didn’t just have the worst bullpen in baseball, rather they posted historically bad bullpen numbers. Last season Tampa Bay had a bullpen ERA of 6.16, and relievers took the loss in 34 games. Opponents hit .302 against Tampa Bay relievers and the unit allowed 77 home runs. Needless to say it was a major problem that held back a team that featured a lineup with a lot of potential and was starting to get some solid starting pitching.

Now just the Rays, the Tampa Bay bullpen has had an awakening in April with a 2.55 ERA and opposing hitters are hitting just .210. The numbers may not stay that strong all season, but Tampa Bay is unlikely to fall to the severe opposite end of the spectrum where they were last season. Relievers have a record of just 3-5 this season for Tampa Bay but there have been just two blown saves and a look at the standings shows that the Rays are as competitive this deep into the season as they have ever been.

Troy Percival was a risky but important signing for the Rays that brings some credibility to a bullpen that had shuffled through several different closing options in the past few seasons. So far in 2008 Percival has been as advertised, with perfect numbers, going five for five in save opportunities and allowing just two hits and zero runs in nine innings pitched. The Rays bullpen has been worked considerably less this season with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine both pitching at least 30 innings as starters already this season. James Shields has been an all-star caliber pitcher and although Matt Garza has struggled so far, he can also become a solid starter by season’s end. A deeper and improved starting rotation has been a big plus for the Rays, especially with ace Scott Kazmir yet to pitch in 2008 but the rest of the bullpen has been equally important.

It may have seemed like a minor deal last season at the trade deadline but acquiring veteran reliever Dan Wheeler from Houston was a big score for Tampa Bay. Wheeler is 0-2 this season but he owns a 1.38 ERA and adds an established veteran presence to the bullpen. Gary Glover was an innings-eater for the Rays last season and his numbers have been outstanding so far in 2008 with a 1.69 ERA and former Colorado reliever Scott Dohmann has been a win vulture, already 2-0 this season after delivering solid numbers for the Rays last year. J.P. Howell has also been a reliable option so far in 2008 despite atrocious numbers last season. Having confidence in the closer and the bullpen can make a huge impact on the starting pitching and morale of the team so this could be the year the Rays break .500. Tampa was always a risky proposition last season even with Shields or Kazmir on the mound because the bullpen was so shaky but Rays are in a much better situation in 2008.

It would be foolish to expect both the Marlins and Rays to stay in contention all season long and to expect them to both lead their respective leagues in bullpen numbers but the early results are promising. Teams that had some of the best bullpen numbers last season were generally playoff teams or at least teams with winning records and it is an area of the team that can be changed dramatically in one year with just a few key improvements. Last year’s top two bullpen ERA teams were Boston and San Diego, both strong winning teams but this season they rank 28th, and 27th respectively. San Diego’s poor start in 2008 can be traced to the regression of the pen as they rank towards the bottom of baseball in relief ERA so far in April and Boston likely could have a much stronger record but instead they have fallen back to the pack in the tight AL East when the opportunity was there to build a cushion. Be sure to keep an eye on which teams are producing strong results in the bullpen, as it typically corresponds with teams that are showing profits as well.

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Detroit (13-15) at N.Y. Yankees (14-15)

The Tigers go for their first three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in 42 years when they send Nate Robertson (0-3, 6.91 ERA) to the mound opposite struggling New York rookie Ian Kennedy (0-2, 8.53).

Detroit, which entered this series in a 6-21 funk at Yankee Stadium, has taken the first two games by scores of 6-4 and 6-2. The Tigers, who started the season with seven consecutive losses, have won seven of their last nine games, including three straight road wins.

New York, which is missing several key components from its lineup, has dropped five of its last seven, including three in a row in the Bronx. In fact, the Yankees have dipped below .500 at home at 5-6 after finishing last season on a 41-16 romp in New York.

Although the Yankees are still 21-8 in their last 29 home games against Detroit, the Tigers have won four in a row in this rivalry going back to last season. However, Jim Leyland’s club hasn’t swept a three-game series in the Bronx since April 1966.

Robertson has been struggling all season, giving up either four or five runs in all five of his starts, with Detroit losing four of those contests, including Friday’s 4-3 home setback to the Angels. In that contest, the southpaw yielded all four runs on six hits despite pitching a season-high seven innings. Going back to last September, the Tigers are 2-6 in Robertson’s last eight trips to the hill.

Robertson is 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA in two road starts this year. Also, Detroit is 0-5 in Robertson’s last five starts against the Yankees, and he’s 1-5 with a 4.86 ERA in seven career outings against New York, including 0-3 with a 6.97 ERA in five games at Yankee Stadium, with Detroit losing all five contests.

Kennedy, who is making his first career start against the Tigers tonight, gave up three runs on four hits in five innings on Saturday at Cleveland, getting a no-decision in New York’s 4-3 loss. Kennedy has struggled with his control all season, as he has more walks (17) than strikeouts (15).

Kennedy’s lone home start this year was a disaster, as he got tagged for six runs on four hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings in a 13-4 loss to Tampa Bay back on April 4.

The under is 21-7-1 in Robertson’s last 29 road outings and 5-1 in his last six outings against New York. Also, the under is on runs of 6-2-3 for Detroit overall, 4-0-1 for Detroit on the road, 5-0-1 for the Yankees overall, 7-3-1 at Yankee Stadium this year and 16-5-1 for New York as a favorite.


Toronto (11-18) at Boston (18-12)

After beating the Blue Jays each of the last two nights in their final at-bat, the Red Sox look to complete the sweep tonight as veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (2-0, 4.06) opposes Toronto’s A.J. Burnett (2-2, 6.07).

Boston got a run in the bottom of the ninth inning to pull out a 1-0 win Tuesday, then turned the trick again on Wednesday in a 2-1 victory. The two wins come on the heels of a five-game losing skid for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, Toronto has now dropped eight of its last nine to fall – including seven of eight on the road – into last place in the A.L. East.

Prior to Boston winning the first two games of this series, the Blue Jays had won seven straight meetings. Also, the home team is 8-0 in the last eight head-to-head clashes after the visitor went 9-4 in the previous 13.

Wakefield has been idle since Friday, when he gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings at Tampa Bay, getting a no-decision in Boston’s 5-4 loss. In two starts at Fenway this year, he’s 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA.

Wakefield pitched in Toronto on April 4, yielding three runs on six hits and three walks over six innings of a 6-3 loss. He’s now 15-10 with a 3.87 ERA in 46 career appearances (36 starts) versus the Blue Jays, but Boston has won four of his last five home starts against Toronto.

Since opening the season with a gem in a 5-2 win at Yankee Stadium on April 2, Burnett has been a mess, giving up 18 runs (16 earned) on 29 hits and 13 walks in four starts spanning 22 2/3 innings (7.15 ERA), though Toronto has managed to split the four contests. On the road this year, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA.

Since coming over to Toronto from Florida prior to the 2006 season, Burnett has made four starts against the Red Sox, going 3-0 with a sterling 2.51 ERA, with the Jays also winning his one no-decision. In his lone start at Fenway Park back in 2006, Burnett pitched a complete-game three-hitter in a 5-1 victory.

The Red Sox are on streaks of 41-15 on grass, 105-42 against losing teams, 38-16 at home, 21-5 on Thursdays, 15-7 in Wakefield starts overall and 36-17 when Wakefield starts at home. Conversely, the Blue Jays are stuck in slumps of 1-7 against right-handed starters, 0-5 on Thursdays and 0-4 versus A.L. East rivals.

The under is 9-1-2 in Wakefield’s last 12 starts against Toronto, 38-18-5 in his past 61 starts against the A.L. East and 16-7-1 in Burnett’s last 24 outings overall. Furthermore, the under is on lengthy streaks for both teams, including 5-0 for Boston overall, 6-0 for Boston against a right-handed starter, 6-1 for the Blue Jays overall, 6-1 for the Blue Jays on the road and 5-2-1 in this rivalry.


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