Red Hot MLB Teams Square Off

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TWO OF THE HOTTEST TEAMS IN MLB BATTLE...
WHO ARE THEY?!

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Normally, you'd expect an avalanche of hype for a series like this.

*The road team entered the series on an 18-4 streak over its last 22 games. The home team entered 18-5 over the last 23 games. If the Yankees and Red Sox were playing like that, ESPN would have run a 72-hour telethon from Fenway featuring Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon arguing with Curt Schilling and his bloody sock from a spot behind the scoreboard in the green monster....and Erin Andrews doing a salsa with Alex Rodriguez at home plate. Again, that's 18-4 and 18-5 for the two teams involved!

*One entered the series with an 8-game winning streak, the other with a 4-game winning streak.

*Neither was in first place in their division a month ago. One still isn't there yet! Both were expected to be in the pennant race, and both look like they'll be threats to go the distance. These are great DEVELOPING stories about prominent teams, but hardly anyone's paying attention.

If you haven't figured it out yet, we'll end the mystery. This weekend series actually started last night. It's the Atlanta Braves visiting the Los Angeles Dodgers.

ATLANTA'S RECENT FORM
8-0 last eight games
13-2 last 15 games
18-4 last 22 games

Talk about red-hot! They picked a bad time to try and battle their way onto the media map. The Indy 500 was last weekend. The French Open keeps seeing big name upsets every day. Tiger Woods is playing golf again. An umpire ruined a perfect game. Oh, THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES STARTED LAST NIGHT! This happens in a couple of weeks, and Atlanta is the toast of the nation. Right now, they're playing the best ball in the National League in relative obscurity.

LA DODGERS RECENT FORM
4-0 last four games
18-5 last 23 games

The Dodgers had a nine-game winning streak a couple of weeks ago, so that 18-5 is more 'front loaded' than the Braves hot run. Still, this is a major media market and the Dodgers are one of the most storied teams in baseball. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers are more storied in the NBA, and they're playing for a league title right now. The Dodgers aren't even the lead story in their own city! Heck, it's LA. They're behind Lindsey Lohan's latest travails...Miley Cyrus's latest gyrations...and Kobe's drive for five.

You know, if Manny Ramirez ran around the outfield with a funny hat, it would get a week's worth of coverage on 'SportsCenter' and the pundit shows. The Dodgers go 18-5 over 23 games, and you barely hear about it!

This is a big series. It might be a playoff preview. It might be an NLCS preview. Or...maybe it's just a couple of flash-in-the-pan teams who happened to get hot vs. weak parts of their schedule. Atlanta is far from a sure thing to beat out Philadelphia in the NL East. The Phillies are long overdue to start hitting again. Los Angeles will be in a battle in the hotly contested West where San Diego wants to prove their for real...San Francisco wants to show that it's their time...and Colorado wants to get back to the postseason with a veteran squad.

Both of these red hot teams could end up missing the playoffs!

Contenders abound everywhere and four games tonight involve showdowns among teams with legit playoff aspirations, highlighted by the Braves-Dodgers. Click here to learn more about how can go 4-for-Friday with Hurley!

Let's run through their recent conquests to see if there are any skeletons in the closet.

ATLANTA BRAVES
5/10 to 5/12: three-game SWEEP at Milwaukee
5/14 to 5/16: won two out of three vs. Arizona
5/17 to 5/18: split two games with NY Mets
5/19 to 5/20: two game SWEEP of Cincinnati
5/21 to 5/23: won two of three at Pittsburgh
5/25 to 5/27: won two of three at Florida
5/28 to 5/30: three game SWEEP of Pittsburgh
5/31 to 6/2: three game SWEEP of Philadelphia

The good news is that going 3-0 vs. Philadelphia means you're playing at a high level. The bad news is that much of the 18-4 streak has come against pretty crappy teams. There's a 5-1 record against Pittsburgh. Make that 8-1 vs. bad teams in the NL Central by including the Milwaukee sweep. Arizona is one of the two worst teams in the league along with Houston. That's 10-2 vs. sludge. That still leaves 8-2 vs. .500 or better. So, Atlanta is performing well, and the pool is only partly polluted.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
5/7 to 5/9: won two of three vs. Colorado
5/10 to 5/12: three game SWEEP at Arizona
5/14 to 5/16: three game SWEEP at San Diego
5/17 to 5/18: two game SWEEP vs. Houston
5/19 to 5/20: split two games with San Diego
5/21 to 5/23: won two out of three vs. Detroit
5/25 to 5/27 LOST two of three at the Chicago Cubs
5/28 to 5/30: won two of three at Colorado
5/31 to 6/2: three game SWEEP vs. Arizona

We actually went back a bit further here because the 18-5 record included a game from the Colorado series. We're looking at 19-6 over 25 games if you include that series (in the early article comparison we excluded the 1-1 part of that series for dramatic effect!).

The names Arizona and Houston pop up frequently, next to the word SWEEP! That's 8-0 vs. the two worst teams in the league. We still get 11-6 over the other 17 games...which includes important matchups with Colorado and San Diego within the division, and a challenging Interleague series with Detroit.

We're more impressed with the Braves right now...but we'll concede that both teams are playing well. Yes they've abused some bad teams. That's what champions do. You're going to see more of this as the probable contenders focus on taking care of business vs. the also-rans. They've also impressed vs. quality. There's no way they'll maintain their current paces (mathematically impossible). They'll likely be decent 'money' teams if you can find value prices in the right spots.

Of course, what we see with them head-to-head this weekend will tell us a lot about where each really stands. You really get challenged in terms of talent depth in a FOUR-game series against a quality opponent. The whole rotation has to perform. Most of your bullpen has to perform. You need offense from a variety of sources. We wouldn't call it an early June version of the playoffs. It is a test that both teams want to pass.

We'll be watching this series very closely, and we may have a big play or two along the way (note the Sunday Night game is on ESPN, which was a smart schedule choice for the network back before the season started).

Other matchups on the radar this weekend:
San Diego at Philadelphia (another huge East-West series)
NY Yankees at Toronto
Tampa Bay at Texas
Minnesota at Oakland

Some nice matchups for handicappers and fans alike. Also on tap this weekend.

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*Sunday's NBA CHAMPIONSHIPS matchup will bring Boston and the LA Lakers together again for Game Two in their series. We'll preview that game for you in Sunday's edition of the NOTEBOOK, with key stats from last night's series opener.

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

23
Aug

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