Rays Within a Game of Yanks

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TAMPA BAY TAKES TWO OF THREE
TO MOVE WITHIN ONE GAME OF YANKEES

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Looks like we may have a great race in the AL East after all!

The Tampa Bay Rays have caught fire again, and now sit just one full game behind the New York Yankees in the AL East as we kick off August.

Tampa Bay's hot streak has also crushed the hopes of potential Wildcard contenders. Boston is the closest competitor 5.5 games back. Minnesota has an eight game winning streak but is still 6.5 games behind the Rays for that coveted fourth and final playoff spot.

Let's crunch Sunday afternoon's boxscore numbers as we get caught back up with Major League Baseball. We'll talk some generally themes today while reflecting on Sunday action. In the next few days, we'll check our gauntlet of indicator stats once again to get a sharper read on the pennant races. We're just coming off a couple of heavy weeks of football coverage (please check the archives for college conference previews if you missed them). Our NFL Divisional Previews will start soon because exhibition football is less than a week away!

That makes this the perfect time to jump back into the bases. Let's review what happened Sunday, starting with that huge series in Tampa Bay...

TAMPA BAY 3, NY YANKEES 0
Total Bases + Walks: Yankees 6, Tampa Bay 17
Starting Pitchers: Sabathia 6.2 IP, 3 ER, Shields, 7.1 IP, 0 ER
Vegas Odds: NY Yankees -145, total of 8
NOTEBOOK: You didn't really get a sense of urgency from the Yankees today. Alex Rodriguez took the day off. It was a get away day after a road trip (the Yanks host Toronto starting Monday Night). When Shields had his good stuff (11 strikeouts!), the stage was set. Either one or two of the Bronx Bombers would hit a home run...or the team would take its medicine and head back home to start bashing heads again.

CURRENT STANDINGS
NY Yankees 66-38
Tampa Bay 65-39

No other Wildcard team is in the 60's...so there's a great chance these two will pull each other into the playoffs. Boston, at 60-45, needs to catch fire quick just to keep up. If Tampa Bay is going to go 9-2 every 11 games...how are you going to catch them from behind?!

In other Sunday afternoon American League games (presented in rotation order)...

CLEVELAND 5, TORONTO 4
Total Bases + Walks: Cleveland 18, Toronto 22
Starting Pitchers: Gomez 5 IP, 2 ER, Litsch, 4 IP, 4 ER
Vegas Odds: Toronto -165, total of 9
NOTEBOOK: Another series win for the Indians. Their good recent form was spoiled a bit by having to play Tampa Bay and the Yankees the prior two series. They're holding their own when NOT having to play the superpowers. That's an important characteristic for a live dog. Litsch continues to struggle this year. Not much relevant here in the playoff chase, so let's move to more important games!

BOSTON 4, DETROIT 3
Total Bases + Walks: Detroit 11, Boston 13
Starting Pitchers: Verlander 7 IP, 3 ER, Buchholz, 8 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Odds: Boston -150, total of 8
NOTEBOOK: After ESPN's website ran a front page story about how boring the Red Sox were this year, they've gone out of their way to give thrills and chills to the Fenway faithful. A dramatic ninth inning rally won a Saturday afternoon game for them. Sunday, a dramatic chokejob from Papelbon in the 9th inning blew a 3-0 shutout...but the Sox rallied in the 9th to win anyway. They're doing what they can to hang around. But, injuries are still a big issue. They got lucky that Detroit, who has even more injuries, came to town! The Tigers have dropped eight of 11, and fall to .500 at 52-52 with this loss. You don't make the playoffs from .500 at the turn of August, so you can probably stick a fork in Detroit. They need BOTH the White Sox and Twins to collapse just to have a shot. And, it's not like the injury issues are going to be solved tomorrow.

CHICAGO 4, OAKLAND 1
Total Bases + Walks: Oakland 8, CWS 8
Starting Pitchers: Gonzalez 8 IP, 4 ER, Floyd, 7 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Odds: Chicago White Sox -175, total of 8.5
NOTEBOOK: Kind of a lazy day at the ballpark. Oakland played with that 'getaway day' lack of fire we see way too often these days. The White Sox scored four in the fifth inning then raced to a finish. Oakland did have a plane to catch back home afterward. They've been showing more spunk of late, so we won't put them in the 'tanking nightly' category with Baltimore and Seattle yet. Chicago stays on top of the AL Central by half a game...and pushes Detroit seven games back. They can permanently inject that fork we were talking about a second ago into the Tigers in a big head-to-head series that starts Tuesday Night.

KANSAS CITY 5, BALTIMORE 4
Total Bases + Walks: Baltimore 21, Kansas City 17
Starting Pitchers: Millwood 5.2 IP, 5 ER, Chen, 5 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Odds: Kansas City -150, total of 10
NOTEBOOK: It's hard to fathom 'The Kevin Millwood Story' this season. He falls to 2-11 on the year with the loss, and he's so consistently helpless that you have to wonder what the point is. Baltimore paid the big bucks, so they're just going to keep running him out there? Give the innings to somebody who might learn from them! Millwood has been throwing WORSE than most minor leagues for several weeks now anyway. Bruce Chen gets his sixth win of the year...which is one of the surprises of the season in its own quiet way. Kansas City takes three of four in the series. Baltimore falls to 32-73. If they improve enough to play .500 ball the rest of the way, they'll still reach 100 losses. They're on pace for a 49-113 final record.

MINNESOTA 4, SEATTLE 0
Total Bases + Walks: Seattle 7, Minnesota 14
Starting Pitchers: French 6 IP, 4 ER, Liriano, 7 IP, 0 ER
Vegas Odds: Minnesota -300, total of 8.5
NOTEBOOK: A huge Vegas line...but justified given the fact that a hot playoff contender with a top pitcher was hosting a tanking embarrassment with a desperation arm. Maybe the line was a little low! Some Vegas bettors like to talk themselves into big dogs on principal. Be sure you focus on the dogs who are trying! Seattle has lost seven straight, and has been the AL West version of Baltimore for several weeks. Seattle's looking at 60-102 for a final record at the current pace. The Twins are still a half game behind CWS, and start a big series with Tampa Bay tonight.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS 4, TEXAS 1
Total Bases + Walks: Texas 10, Angels 12
Starting Pitchers: Lee 8 IP, 4 ER, Weaver, 7 IP, 0 ER
Vegas Odds: Texas -135, total of 6.5
NOTEBOOK: This was basically a must-win game for the Halo's, who would have fallen 10 games off the pace with a loss. It's still eight, which is a lot when only 55 games are left on the schedule. The win moves LA back ahead of Oakland for second place. Neither has a chance in the world of catching Tampa Bay or somebody else for the Wildcard spot. Texas still has to collapse to lose the division. It must inspire foes a bit that Cliff Lee hasn't helped them much yet. Big name pitchers don't always win right away after big trades! Too many bettors have learned that the hard way the past several days.

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Sunday afternoon in the National League...

CINCINNATI 2, ATLANTA 1
Total Bases + Walks: Atlanta 15, Cincinnati 9
Starting Pitchers: Hanson 7.1 IP, 1 ER, Volquez, 5 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Odds: Atlanta -130, total of 8.5
NOTEBOOK: The Reds have to feel like they stole one here. You can see that the offensive bases suggest a 4-2 victory for Atlanta. The Braves had a solo home run for their only score...but then got NOTHING out of 7 walks, a double, and two singles. Given the form that Hanson had been in lately compared to Volquez, this is definitely on to celebrate from the Reds perspective. Cincy steals the series two games to one, in a matchup that definitely had a playoff feel to it. They stay a half game out of first in the NL Central. Atlanta still has some breathing room in the NL East...but they're just 4-7 their last 11 games...and they still can't seem to figure out how to play like champs on the road. The impact of a 34-13 home record has been reduced significantly by a 25-32 road mark.

ARIZONA 14, NY METS 1
Total Bases + Walks: Arizona 34, NY Mets 7
Starting Pitchers: Lopez 8 IP, 1 ER, Niese, 4.1 IP, 7 ER
Vegas Odds: NY Mets -180, total of 8.5
NOTEBOOK: Arizona had been reeling of late. Sometimes having a fire sale on players helps get things moving in the right direction. They certainly looked great here, posting a football score (with offensive bases) and baseball score rout on the fading Mets. Arizona wins the series two games to one...over a weekend where the Mets had to be thinking sweep. New York stays 6.5 games out of first place since the Braves lost. But...they're well off the pace, and have now become a team that's more focused on staying out of fourth place than making a run at first place. The home field mojo seems to have worn off too. Maybe the Mets players believe management isn't doing enough to compete down the stretch. The crosstown Yanks were making moves. Philly brought in Roy Oswalt. Sometimes players lose their fire because of stuff that didn't happen.

PHILADELPHIA 6, WASHINGTON 4 (in 11 innings)
Total Bases + Walks: Philadelphia 19, Washington 14
Starting Pitchers: Hamels 7 IP, 4 ER, Lannan, 5 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Odds: Philadelphia -180, total of 9
NOTEBOOK: The Phils almost endured the embarrassment of a three-game sweep at the hands of last place Washington! The Nats had a runner in scoring position with the game on the line, but couldn't get him home. The Phillies struck for two in the 11th, and salvaged something. They actually move to within 2.5 games of the Braves since Atlanta lost at Cincinnati. And, Philly obviously hopes the acquisition of Roy Oswalt will get them those 2.5 games between now and the end of September...even if Oswalt struggled in his debut this past Friday. Philadelphia isn't going to give up its NL crown without a fight. And, you have to admit that Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt is as intimidating a top three as you'll see on a rotation.

HOUSTON 5, MILWAUKEE 2
Total Bases + Walks: Milwaukee 9, Houston 19
Starting Pitchers: Wolf 6 IP, 1 ER, Wright, 7 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Odds: Milwaukee -145, total of 9
NOTEBOOK: Despite losing Oswalt and Berkman this week, the Astros surged to a series sweep against collapsing Milwaukee. Houston may catch the Chicago Cubs this week for fourth place in the NL Central. Who would have thought that earlier in the season. Great to see the young players respond to their new challenges. It's amazing how often that happens. People think a franchise has a fire sale...and the team catches fire instead! Houston has won five games in a row at value prices. Milwaukee has lost five in a row, and has to be one of the biggest disappointments of the season at ten games under .500 in early August.

ST. LOUIS 9, PITTSBURGH 1
Total Bases + Walks: Pittsburgh 13, St. Louis 23
Starting Pitchers: Duke 5 IP, 6 ER, Wainwright, 7 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Odds: St. Louis -300, total of 7
NOTEBOOK: Both St. Louis and Minnesota were -300 favorites on Sunday. They won by a combined 13-1 score...meaning they scored 13 of the 14 runs that went up on the board. Still want to take shots on ugly underdogs?! Pick your spots with decent dogs...don't waste your money on mongrels. St. Louis stays a half game ahead of the Reds with both winning Sunday. We look forward to their next head-to-head meeting. Too bad so much of divisional play in the NL Central involves horrible teams.

COLORADO 8, CHICAGO CUBS 7
Total Bases + Walks: Cubs 23, Colorado 16
Starting Pitchers: Silva 0.1 IP, 2 ER, DeLaRosa, 6.2 IP, 3 ER
Vegas Odds: Colorado -155, total of 9.5
NOTEBOOK: There are a few games today where the wrong team won. Colorado clustered their offensive bases to maximum effect. Keep that in mind when they go back on the road. A 3-0 series sweep of the Cubs wasn't exactly getting things back in gear. It was just beating a bad team thanks to an altitude edge and some luck. The Rockies are still seven games behind San Diego, and on the verge of being virtually eliminated from the NL West race if not mathematically eliminated. It's tough to catch two teams from that far behind. A home series with San Francisco will give them a shot to make up ground on one of the division favorites. Chicago is now an unlucky 13 games below .500, and has dropped five in a row after that little post-Pineilla retirement announcement surge.

SAN DIEGO 5, FLORIDA 4
Total Bases + Walks: Florida 17, San Diego 16
Starting Pitchers: Johnson 5.2 IP, 5 ER, Garland, 6 IP, 3 ER
Vegas Odds: Florida -150, total of 6
NOTEBOOK: Fitting that we wrap up the day with another fortunate winner. If you're going through a bad stretch with your own handicapping, it can be helpful to check offensive bases to see if you're suffering from bad luck rather than bad decision-making. San Diego avoids what would have been a costly three-game home sweep. Florida seems motivated to try and beat out the Mets for the time being. You can find great value when off-the-radar teams give themselves motivation for showing up. Glad to see a few of those floating around the majors right now.

That wraps up our look at Sunday afternoon baseball. Back tomorrow to get caught up with one of our favorite indicator stats. Don't forget that great rates are available for baseball and football from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. Call 1-800-323-4453 for complete details. Our baseball has been ON FIRE lately. We still have those early bird rates of $60 for the NFL Preseason and $199 for the full season of BLUE RIBBON service.

So much to cover...so much to win!

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.

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