MLB Bet On and Against: Dog Days Edition
These are the dog days, indeed. On the heels of the All-Star break and the trade deadline, August can be an absolute slog. The wear-and-tear of the MLB marathon can get to any club, whether they’re competing for a playoff berth or looking to the future. As the narratives splinter into a thousand pieces, there’s value to be had. Below is a team to play and a team to fade as we start to head down the home stretch.
Play: Minnesota Twins
Without question, Minnesota was a huge story in the first couple months of the year. After starting 9-7, the Twins, behind a historically-great offense and over-performing starters like Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez, won 31 of their next 41 games. By June 15, they reached their high-water mark for the first half, moving 25 games over .500. Since then, they’ve been a .500 ball club. Unthinkable as it may have been in mid-June, Minnesota finds itself in a neck-and-neck race for the Central crown. While a correction was likely inevitable, there’s reason to believe the Twins will pull ahead. After all, the fundamentals remain strong. Their run differential is +129, well ahead of Cleveland at +86. Their 3rd Order Winning Percentage is a touch higher than their winning percentage, while Cleveland’s won six more games than the underlying numbers would predict. Putting some trust in those numbers, Minnesota should be able to improve on their mid-season lull, while the Indians appear as a prime candidate to regress to the mean.
Their tough second half schedule began with Cleveland, both New York clubs and the Oakland A’s (they went 5-7). After a four game spot at struggling Texas, August ends with 10 games against AL Central also-rans Detroit and Chicago. This easing of their slate coincides nicely with the return of Nelson Cruz. The news is a little more uncertain about breakout star Byron Buxton, but he should be back in the fold as the wins start piling up again. While Martin Perez has come back to earth, the rotation remains solid, led by Odorizzi’s continued career year.
If the race is close into the closing weeks, the Twins will be buoyed by the fact that their last 13 games come against division rivals not named Cleveland. Those clubs might be using deep rosters, building for the next go round.
Fade: Chicago White Sox
Let’s stick in the AL Central and look at one of those teams with a focus on the years ahead. While they didn’t spring out of the blocks like the Twins, the White Sox were still something of a surprise to start the season. Quietly, after taking two straight from the Yankees, they sat at .500 at the 68 game mark. A massive reason for this was the utterly dominant first half of Lucas Giolito. He actually pitched the game that brought the Sox even, taking him (at the time) to 10-1 with a 2.22 ERA. Giolito has regressed, but is still a legitimate ace in the making. Having just turned 25, there’s every reason to believe the front office will want to protect his arm for pennant races to come. There’s plenty of potential in the South Side, and we’ll get a good look at just that, especially in September when the call-ups arrive. Still, there’s no reason to think a precipitous slide can’t start right away. Using 3rd Order win%, their actual record is about eight wins better than it should be. Their run differential is -17 runs worse than the Kansas City Royals, who are 11 games behind them in the Central standings. Something surely has to give.
The schedule too will become an issue. After a four-game set in Anaheim, 10 of Chicago’s next 17 come against Minnesota and Cleveland. That run includes a three-game stint in Atlanta starting August 30; the Braves likely to still be competing for the NL East crown. Those teams won’t have time for off-nights, and their competitive level will be hard to match for a White Sox team with nothing to play for.
Upset Special: Washington Nationals to Win NL East (+750)
The Braves aren’t as good as their record (3rd Order Win% is only .534) and the two teams face off seven more times before it’s all said and done. The Braves feature some young arms who may not be all that accustomed to throwing big innings deep into the season. They did strengthen their pen, however, as did the Nats, who added Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, and Roenis Elias. If Scherzer can stay healthy, and Strasburg can rediscover his July form (5-0, 31.2 IP, 1.14 ERA, 44 Ks) then I can see this one tightening up. It’s not too crazy to think they could go something like 5-2 against Atlanta in their remaining battles. If they can manage that, this one could be closer than you would think.