by Wesley Griffin, www.sportsinsights.com
Just like our NBA Teams of Interest article, this article is going to examine some teams around Major League Baseball, searching for value opportunities in the sports betting marketplace. We will not be giving picks; however, we believe these insights can help the prudent bettor looking for that extra bit of information to help them make a more informed decision on upcoming games. We welcome your feedback - contact us! Also, you can comment and subscribe to our blog. For previous articles, please visit our archive.
Those of you who have been keeping up with our NBA and MLB Teams of Interest for a while now may be surprised to see a name other than Chris Arena at the top of this column. You’d be right to consider it a small tragedy to miss out on his baseball insights, but don’t worry; there’s nothing amiss. A proud UNC alumnus, Chris had the wherewithal to bet his entire life savings on an outrageous prop bet, namely that the Tarheels would coast to – and through – the Final Four, winning every game by double digits and thus denying America any real March drama, much less any madness. If I were to guess at his location, I’d say he’s probably lounging in some white sand, sipping on a couple of mai tais, and tossing a line into the surf in the hopes of catching dinner. So I hope you’ll abide this jaded and altogether-in-denial Duke alum as I begin contributing to this esteemed baseball column. At least you know that I’ve had ample time to think about baseball since the Sweet 16. Now, on to the diamond…
Count me a member of the relative minority that considers the hypothetical race for best division in baseball a competitive one. The argument for the AL East is certainly legitimate, and I do think the improvement shown by perennial bottom-feeders Baltimore and Toronto is real. Neither have the pitching to compete, but the Orioles’ composure and execution against the already-crowned Yankees at Camden Yards this week – not to mention the Rays taking two at Fenway – foretells a bit of the slugfest that we can look forward to from this heralded division in the coming months.
Their counterparts in the National League, however, are no slouches. The top two-thirds of the Mets lineup can hit with anyone in baseball, and thanks to some generous spending, their bullpen went from a major liability to a strength. The Braves, for the first time since their dominance of the 90s, have real pitching depth, not to mention two of the most talented prospects in the game in centerfielder Jordan Schafer and starting pitcher Tommy Hanson, who is not long for Triple-A. As for the Phillies…well, it’s hard to argue with a trophy and a largely returning roster. The Nationals are the DC-area analogue to the Orioles, if perhaps not quite as good. Who have I left out?
That would be division-leading Florida Marlins, who are hosting the aforementioned Metropolitans this weekend. Florida is a funny franchise, content to repeatedly dismantle championship teams and rebuild with young, inexpensive talent. They led the NL East last season until the beginning of June, and they could be on their way to a similar start this season. Why? Their roster is heavier laden with young, improving talent than any team in the majors. That’s right folks, these are not the Marlins of old, who bit their nails and looked away every time Jeff Conine had to jog in from left field. The oldest player in the top two thirds of their lineup is 30+ home run hitting second baseman Dan Uggla – at a geriatric 29-years-old. There’s little reason to believe touted prospects such as Cameron Maybin and Emilio Bonifacio will do anything but get better with time, while outright All-Star and 30-30 (HRs/steals) shortstop Hanley Ramirez is only 25. Surrounded by solid contributors John Baker, Jorge Cantu and the ever-promising Jeremy Hermida, the ceiling for this offense is truly very high.
As far as talent is concerned, Florida's pitching isn’t far behind its hitting. However, it would be fair to say that they lack a true ace. Nolasco can’t yet be mentioned with the likes of Santana, Hamels or Lowe, but the stuff is there. Behind him fall Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez, three guys with the talent to compete for the number two spot in any other rotation in the division. The major reason the Marlins fell off the playoff pace last season – other than, perhaps, lack of hometown support – was a rash of injuries to their pitching staff that entailed long disabled list stints by both Johnson and Sanchez. They’re healthy this spring, and hopefully, as far as Fredi Gonzalez is concerned, for the entire year.
As sports bettors, we don’t have to be concerned with August in April. The Marlins are likely to be underdogs in all three games of their upcoming series against New York. Sanchez, who no-hit the Diamondbacks as a rookie in 2006, matches up with John Maine in the first game. Johan Santana, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, is not a favorable duel for anyone but will definitely offer some juicy odds. Johnson should close the series against Mike Pelfrey, who had to be bailed out by his offense against the Reds. With a healthy Josh Johnson projecting a mid-3 ERA and almost 200 strikeouts over a full season, I like this match-up the most.
You know what they say about youth: it makes you feel invincible. Let’s play on the Florida kids while they’re healthy and hot off a sweep of Washington. We may be singing a different tune late in the season if injuries or oddsmakers catch up to the Marlins, but for now, we’ll take two out of three underdog lines and cross our fingers for the sweep.