MLB's Surpising Start

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

BOSTON, TAMPA BAY LOSE AGAIN THURSDAY AS MLB IS OFF TO A SURPRISING START

We figured there would be some surprises in store to start the 2011 Major League Baseball season. But, 0-6 starts for BOTH the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays? Unthinkable!

That's the beauty of sports...of sports handicapping...and legal sports wagering in Nevada. The possibilities are endless. A mid major can reach the championship game of the Big Dance two years in a row. An NFL team can win the Super Bowl from the #6 seed. A college football team from the Mountain West can win the Rose Bowl. And, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays can start a baseball season 0-12!

This is our first chance to crunch some boxcore numbers from the 2011 campaign. Thursday afternoon's 8-game schedule allows us to check in on many teams to see how they've started things off. If you're new to the site, in baseball we focus on "Total Bases Plus Walks" as a key indicator stat. If you divide that stat by four, you get a good "secondary" score that tells you what the production should have equaled. It's kind of like college basketball's "Phantom Score" in that sense.

We also look at what the starting pitchers did since so much of baseball success is based on that position.

Since Boston leads off the AL rotation...and Boston is one of the 0-6 teams that have the pundits in shock, let's start our coverage in the American League today. Games are presented in rotation order.

CLEVELAND 1, BOSTON 0
Total Bases + Walks: Boston 8, Cleveland 8
Starting Pitchers: Lester 7 IP, 0 ER, 9 K's; Carmona 7 IP, 0 ER, 4 K's
Vegas Line: Boston -185, total of 8
Notebook: An 8th inning run on a suicide squeeze was the only score of the game. Boston, picked by many to be the best team in baseball this year falls to 0-6 out of the gate! It's worth remembering that they haven't played a home game yet. Tough to open the season on the road against the defending league champions, even if you're supposed to be the next league champion! But, getting swept at Cleveland is another story. Very embarrassing. The offense outside of a couple of guys is completely dormant. Pitching has been disappointing for the most part (though Lester was outstanding in this one with those 9 strikeouts in seven innings). The Yankees open up Fenway Park for 2011 starting tonight. If that doesn't get the Red Sox juices flowing, nothing will. Cleveland moves to 4-2 on the year, though all six games have been played at home. The Tribe are one of several unheralded teams who have offered surprising early value. We expect a few of those teams to keep it going. Remember that San Diego kept it going for about 90% of the season in 2010.

OAKLAND 2, TORONTO 1
Total Bases + Walks: Oakland 12, Toronto 5
Starting Pitchers: Cahill 8 IP, 1 ER, 7 K's; Romero 7.1 IP, 1 ER, 5 K's
Vegas Line: Toronto -120, total of 8
Notebook: Another pitcher's duel on a getaway day. Get used to us talking about that for the next several months. You're about to see a lot of Unders in today's discussion! The roof was shut, as is often the case in Toronto in April. Visibility is tougher in those conditions. That led to 12 combined strikeouts for the two starting pitchers. The A's move to 2-4 on the season, but aren't currently striking anybody as a "Moneyball" redux. The rest of baseball learned their secrets! Toronto falls to 4-2. Like Cleveland, they've played nothing but home games so far. The Jays head West for a road trip that starts tonight in Anaheim. Oakland helps the Twins open up their home season in a day game Friday.

NEW YORK YANKEES 4, MINNESOTA 3
Total Bases + Walks: Minnesota 12, Yankees 10
Starting Pitchers: Liriano 5 IP, 4 ER, 5 K's; Burnett 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 K's
Vegas Line: NY Yankees -155, total of 9.5
Notebook: The Yankees are good, so they don't even need to vulture wins like this. The Twins had more raw production, but the Yanks clustered their bases in a three-run inning to make the most of a quiet offensive day in cool temperatures. The Yankees move to 4-2 on the season, and play their first road game of the year tonight in Boston. Minnesota is 2-4, but it's not uncommon to have an ugly early record if you're playing the Yankees. The Twins home opener is tonight vs. Oakland. We'll talk more about the Yankees tomorrow as we discuss the Red Sox/Yankees national TV games this weekend.

CHCAGO WHITE SOX 5, TAMPA BAY 1
Total Bases + Walks: Tampa Bay 8, CWS 15
Starting Pitchers: Price 6 IP, 3 ER, 2 K's; Jackson 8 IP, 1 ER, 13 K's
Vegas Line: Chicago -140, total of 7.5
Notebook: A rout for the Chisox, as Edwin Jackson struck out 13 in 8 innings of work. He threw 119 pitches in the process. Teams have made a mistake of dumping too many innings on his arm because he looks like he should be a workhourse. Let's see if the White Sox regret that later this month. Tampa Bay was supposed to fall back to earth some this year. Getting Manny Ramirez was almost seen as a sign of weakness rather than strength. It reeked of desperation. Now the team just reeks! Ramirez is batting .059 this year, which is better than Johnny Damon's .053. Yes, the Rays are better than this. They are defending division champs after all. Still, the swagger is gone...and nobody's afraid of them after a zombie-like start against the Orioles, Angels, and now White Sox. This was game one of a weekend set.

Thursday afternoon in the National League...

HOUSTON 2, CINCINNATI 1
Total Bases + Walks: Houston 14, Cincinnati 18
Starting Pitchers: Myers 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 4 K's; Lecure 5 IP, 2 ER, 6 K's
Vegas Line: Cincinnati -150, total of 8
Notebook: Houston gets its first win of the season, but they had to vulture a victory to get off the schneid! You can see that TB+W points to a 4.5 to 4 type win for the Reds. The Astros have been owed a win for awhile after choking the season opener at Philly. Myers started that game too. Note that Myers isn't showing much in terms of strikeouts early this season. Be careful backing low strikeout starters. Those flyballs start carrying deeper eventually. A 1-5 start for the Astros is disappointing, but...when you have to open the season on the road against two different divisional champions...the early record can be misleading. Let's see if Houston plays better at home against Florida this weekend. Cincinnati drops its first game of the year here, and takes a 5-1 record to Arizona for the weekend.

COLORADO 7, PITTSBURGH 1
Total Bases + Walks: Colorado 18, Pittsburgh 6
Starting Pitchers: Rogers 7.1 IP, 1 ER, 7 K's; Maholm 5.2 IP, 3 ER, 1 K's
Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 8
Notebook: Strong outing for Esmil Rogers of Colorado. Though, it did come against the Pittsburgh offense in cool weather. Still, he's a high strikeout pitcher and had almost one per inning today. His career ERA is scary. Let's see if this is a sign of things to come, or just an "over the head" performance in poor hitting weather. Colorado moves to 4-1 with the win (they had a game snowed out or they'd be at six games like most everyone else). The NL West is going to be very interesting again this year. Pittsburgh falls to 4-3, which is much better than anyone expected given last year's debacle and this year's lack of enthusiasm. This is the first game of a weekend series...and the Rockies are hoping to get a few more wins on the board.

MILWAUKEE 4, ATLANTA 2
Total Bases + Walks: Atlanta 11, Milwaukee 20
Starting Pitchers: Hanson 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 2 K's; Marcum 6 IP, 2 ER, 4 K's
Vegas Line: Atlanta -120, total of 7.5
Notebook: Yes, it's if a get away day, the pitchers are likely to have a good outing. As was the case in Toronto, the roof was shut in a Northern city. That helps out the pitchers in general. You don't see it so much here in the strikeout category. But, guys had trouble making good contact in scoring situations. The raw production would have suggested a 5 to 2.8 final score...closer to the Vegas number. Milwaukee moves to 3-4 on the season as the hated Chicago Cubs come to town. Atlanta falls to 3-4 as they head home to face main NL East threat Philadelphia Friday night. Could this have been a lookahead performance? Sometimes football handicapping strategies work great in baseball.

PHILADELPHIA 11, NY METS 0
Total Bases + Walks: Mets 10, Philadelphia 23
Starting Pitchers: Niese 4 IP, 6 ER, 7 K's; Halladay 7 IP, 0 ER, 7 K's
Vegas Line: Philadelphia -210, total of 7.5
Notebook: Hey, we have an Over! The last game of the Thursday afternoon ticket finally shows something clearing the Vegas hurdle. The Phils rocked Niese (though he was getting strikeouts when they weren't making contact), and took the game Over all by themselves by the fifth inning in a game where they clustered their bases very productively (they should have scored more like 6 rather than 11). Like Roy Halladay needs that much run support! Philadelphia moves to 5-1 on the season, and would like to put a stranglehold on the division with a big weekend in Atlanta. The Mets are 3-3, which isn't out of line with expectations. They host Washington in a weekend series starting tonight.

That wraps up our look at Thursday baseball. Back tomorrow to preview this weekend's TV games matching the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Saturday's game is on FOX in the afternoon. Sunday's game is in prime time on ESPN. We'll look at how both teams have started the season, and how the surprising AL East is shaping up after one week of action.

Sunday we'll move back to the NBA to preview the Chicago-Orlando and Boston-Miami games on ABC. Those are the top four seeds in the East, and the eventual conference champ is virtually a 100% certainty to come from that foursome. We'll study how all four stack up in the stats that matter most in the NBA playoffs.

It's going to be a lot of NBA and Major-League Baseball from this point forward obviously. JIM HURLEY is the master of BOTH sports as he's proven year-after-year for more than two decades. You can test out his personal service by purchasing game day releases here at the website with your credit card. Seasonal packages are also available. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

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