Braves, Tigers Score Key Saturday Wins

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

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FOX was hoping for some drama Saturday afternoon, showcasing some pennant race action for the final time before the All-Star Break. Instead they got the most recent verses in the "same song" that's been playing in the NL East and AL Central for a few days.

  • Atlanta continued its stellar road trip to Philadelphia and New York with a 4-0 victory over the suddenly struggling Mets. That was their fourth straight victory, and extended their lead over New York to five full games.
  • Detroit continued pounding Minnesota, earning a 7-4 victory just hours after wrapping up a 7-3 victory the night before. That's five straight wins the Tigers, and four straight losses for the Twins.

Let's take a look at the key numbers from those games and a couple of others from Saturday afternoon action...

ATLANTA 4, NY METS 0
Total Bases + Walks: Atlanta 22, New York 7
Starting Pitchers: Hudson 7 IP, 0 ER, Pelfrey, 4 IP, 4 ER
Vegas Odds: Atlanta -120, total of 7.5
NOTEBOOK: It's a miracle that the Braves didn't score more on Pelfrey in his four-plus innings of work. He allowed 12 hits and 3 walks, meaning that 15 guys got on base in five frames! How did they AVOID scoring runs until breaking through with a four-spot in the top of the fifth?

This was supposed to be the game where Pelfrey sent his message about being snubbed for the All-Star game. Instead, he showed everyone excluding him was the right decision!

Atlanta extends its lead to five games in the NL East with the statistical blowout, and is truly having a championship week with its series wins in Philadelphia and New York. The Braves hadn't been sparkling on the road much this year, using an amazing home field run to take the top spot on the ladder. NOW THEY'RE PLAYING GREAT ON THE ROAD TOO! You don't win a division before the All-Star Break. Atlanta is certainly doing what they can to discourage its main competitors.

We mentioned in our preview yesterday that the Braves had a bigger edge than it seemed because they'd played fewer home games than the Mets. That really jumps out now with an update in WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED:

Atlanta +12
NY Mets +2

Philadelphia was at +5 entering Saturday Night's game against the Reds (finished after publication deadlines). So....the Phils are the "real" second place team in the division right now. And, Atlanta's got some distance on the field.

New York has dropped seven of eleven, and the pixie dust at home seems to be wearing off.

In Saturday afternoon's other National League game...

CHICAGO CUBS 7, LA DODGERS 2
Total Bases + Walks: Chicago 19, Los Angeles 13
Starting Pitchers: Gorzelanny 6 IP, 1 ER, Ely, 2.1 IP, 6 ER
Vegas Odds: LA Dodgers -140, total of 8
NOTEBOOK: The Cubs bounce back from dropping the first two in the series to get an easy win. They had a good series at Arizona coming in, providing a reminder that there are some bats on this team...and they can win when people are connecting. They just aren't connecting enough to a meaningful team in 2010. You can see the "offensive bases" score was tighter than the scoreboard. The Cubs clustered their bases early, and both teams kind of played out the string after that.

Los Angeles may regret letting one drift away like this. The NL West is tightly packed, and you just have to beat up on teams like the Cubs when you host them. You can see the market doesn't respect Joe Ely much...so the Dodgers can probably except they won't "win them all" at the back of their rotation. They'll be within striking distance heading into the break, which is all they could ask after that brutal IL schedule against so many AL powers.

 

Speaking of the AL...let's move over to the huge game at the top of the AL Central...

DETROIT 7, MINNESOTA 4
Total Bases + Walks: Minnesota 12, Detroit 28
Starting Pitchers: Blackburn 4 IP, 7 ER, Bonderman, 6 IP, 3 ER
Vegas Odds: Detroit -140, total of 9.5
NOTEBOOK: There are two big mysteries gripping Twins fans this year. Why is Nick Blackburn having such a horrible season? Why do the Twins keep trotting him out to the mound every fifth day when he's having such a terrible season?!

Blackburn allowed FOUR home runs today in a pitcher's park, watching his full season ERA rise from a horrific 6.00 to an unbelievable 6.40. It should be impossible to stay in a rotation all year with that level of performance.

The trick seems to be that Blackburn has adjusted well to the new Minnesota home park. Early returns suggest it's a pitcher's park...and that's helped to hide his new level of incompetence.

HOME ERA: 3.72
ROAD ERA: 9.36

The nature of the math behind ERA makes it very difficult to "maintain" an ERA over 9.00 for very long. Here's how Blackburn's been dong that on the road:

Today: 4 IP, 7 ER
At Milwaukee: 3.5 IP, 5 ER
At Philadelphia: 1.2 IP, 8 ER
At Oakland: 2.2 IP, 5 ER
At Seattle: 3.2 IP, 5 ER

Basically, Blackburn is throwing batting practice lately. His friendly home park has helped to hide that. Either there's something physically wrong with him, or the sport has figured him out. Minnesota needs to get this fixed quick if they want to get back into the AL Central race.

Yes, that's right...we said GET BACK into the race! This loss drops the Twins to four games behind Detroit. Chicago is right up there with the Tigers too, meaning that TWO teams have to struggle for Minnesota to catch back up unless the Twinkies get red hot again. This makes it four straight losses for Minnesota by the way, and five straight wins for the Tigers. Chicago took a six game winning streak into a Saturday Night game with Kansas City.

Earlier in the day in the AL...

TORONTO 9, BOSTON 5
Total Bases + Walks: Boston 17, Toronto 30
Starting Pitchers: Lackey 4.2 IP, 7 ER, Morrow, 4 IP, 4 ER
Vegas Odds: Toronto -115, total of 9
NOTEBOOK: Boston used up too many superfluous runs Friday Night in a 14-3 blowout. They could have used those today when it turned out John Lackey was going to struggle again. We told you scoring would increase when the weather warmed up and the roof came off in Toronto! Some neutral parks are neutral. Some are pitcher's parks with the roof's shut, but hitter's parks with the roof open in nice weather.

Lackey's ERA drops to 4.78 with the bad day. That's way below expectations of the mainstream media, but not all that crazy considering his new environment. He's not in the high pressure East Coat media fishbowl (West Coast media focuses on stuff like Lindsey Lohan and "Glee"). And, Fenway Park is not a great park for guy's who pitch to contact. Lackey's ERA is 4.45 in Fenway this year, and 5.21 on the road. So, a variety of factors seem to be weighing on his mind.

The Red sox have had trouble since the injury bug took over the whole team. They're now 5-6 the last 11 games, with a bad series at Tampa Bay followed by a split to start things off in Toronto. Very little margin for error in the AL East or Wildcard races this year. Toronto temporarily ends a recent slide, and moves back to .500 for the year at 44-44.

That wraps up our look at Saturday afternoon action. Don't think we're disappearing over the All-Star Break. We'll begin our annual summer previews of college football conferences on Monday. We start with the SEC West, home of last year's champion Alabama. The SEC East (Tuesday) and the Big East (Wednesday) will follow as we gradually work our way from East to West across the BCS leagues.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be taking calls in the office too for early bird football signups, and for "second half" packages for Major League Baseball. The number to call is 1-800-323-4453. If you just want to purchase our All-Star Game play at an affordable price, come back Tuesday afternoon and have your credit card handy.

See you tomorrow with some football!

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