Five starting pitchers to back

Five starting pitchers to back

Five starting pitchers to back
By CHRIS BERNUCCA

Who is the best pitcher in baseball?

Ask a fan and you'll probably get an argument between Kansas City's Zack Greinke and Toronto's Roy Halladay. Greinke is 6-1 and has allowed three earned runs all season. Halladay leads the major leagues with seven wins and sports a 2.95 ERA.

But ask the bettor and you will get a different answer. While Greinke and Halladay both have produced sparkling returns on investment, they have been favorites in virtually all of their starts this season, usually at prohibitive prices.

In the category of starter money, both Greinke and Halladay are being outdone by Matt Palmer.

Who?

Palmer is a 30-year-old right-hander who has been a godsend for the Angels – and for wise bettors. With rotation mainstays Ervin Santana and John Lackey sidelined due to early season injuries, Palmer - who did not make his major-league debut until last season - has won all four of his starts while posting a 3.38 ERA.

In an 11-day span, Palmer outpitched CC Sabathia at Yankee Stadium and went the distance against the Red Sox, when he was working as a favorite for the first time.

Bettors may have to get used to laying the wood with Palmer, but here are four other pitchers whose relative anonymity and early season success have made them attractive plays:

Eric Stults, Los Angeles Dodgers

Stults made a name for himself late last month when Dodgers manager Joe Torre batted him eighth and outfielder Juan Pierre ninth. But his pitching has been much better than his hitting.

The southpaw has won four of his six starts this season, matching his win total from 2006-08. He has allowed more than three earned runs just once and the Dodgers are 5-1 in his starts, placing him seventh among all major-leaguers in starter money.

Coming off a four-hitter vs. San Francisco, Stults takes the mound Friday at Florida. All four of his wins have come at home, so be cautious.

Trevor Cahill, Oakland Athletics

A 21-year-old rookie, Cahill has been nothing short of outstanding this season, allowing more than two earned runs in just one of his seven starts.

That outing came on April 24, and the A's pulled the righty from the rotation to work on his mechanics.

Since his return, Oakland has won all three of his starts, and Cahill has allowed just four earned runs in 19 innings.

Cahill has no-decisions in all three of his road starts, although Oakland is 2-1 in those games. He has been the favorite in his last two outings, but the price remains attractive for now.

Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays

Cecil has the pedigree and all the tools to be a top-flight pitcher. The 22-year-old left-hander was a second round pick in the 2007 draft and last year climbed from Class A to Class AAA.

He began this season in the minors and surprisingly did not pitch well. But with Toronto's rotation ravaged by injuries, he was called up and has been strong in two starts, allowing one run over 14 innings with Jays backers cashing both times.

It is possible that some of Cecil's success could be the unfamiliarity that the American League has with him. The more he pitches, the more of a "book" there will be on him. But right now, he is a mystery to most foes and worth a look.

Kevin Millwood, Texas Rangers

Millwood has not been sharp the last couple of years, going 19-24 with an ERA above 5.00 in 2007-2008. But this season has been a different story.

The veteran right-hander has pitched at least seven innings in all seven starts and has allowed three earned runs or less in five of them. He has pitched far better than his record (3-3, 2.92 ERA) has indicated. Under bettors are happy to see this former Brave take the bump.

The under is 4-1-2 his seven 2009 starts and 7-1-2 in his last 10 starts dating back to last season.

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