Back To The Divisional Races

WITH INTERLEAGUE OVER, IT'S TIME TO FOCUS AGAIN ON DIVISIONAL RACES

If the standings at the end of the weekend were any indication, we're going to be in for some very exciting divisional races over the next several weeks.

*Two different divisions were in dead heats, with the Angels and Rangers tied for first in the AL West, and the Brewers and Cardinals tied for first in the NL Central.

*A third division, the AL Central, saw only a half a game separating Cleveland and Detroit. Had they played the same number of games to that point, we may have had a third dead heat!

*The New York Yankees led Boston by just 1.5 games after blowing Sunday's game against the Mets. That lead may see-saw back and forth a few more times because of the nuances of the schedule.

*A three-game lead seems like a lot in terms of the current standards. But, it can disappear in one series. San Francisco led Arizona by three games entering the return to league play.

*Philadelphia had the biggest divisional lead of anybody, a whopping four games over Atlanta in the NL East. Atlanta's been playing so well in recent weeks that they have plenty of time to make a run at the top of the division as they try to solidify their stranglehold on the Wildcard spot in the senior circuit.

Now, those look like great races. But, we're ALWAYS telling you that the standings can be misleading. One of our favorite stats for clearing through the clutter is one we created for you several years ago here in the NOTEBOOK. That's simply 'Wins Minus Home Games Played.' You're never at a point in the middle of the season where all 30 teams have played the same home/road splits. Some teams have home heavy schedules early that make them seem better than they are before it evens out by the very end of 162 games. Others have road heavy schedules that make them look worse than they are before things even out.

Once you make the adjustments for what teams have enjoyed or endured so far, the divisional races become a bit more topsy turvy. There are still some close races. But, there are contenders playing much better than you've realized…and others who aren't nearly as good.

With the resumption of league play…and that's all we're going to see now for the rest of the season…this seemed like the perfect time to update the numbers in all six divisions. There are some clear EXTREMES that you're going to be very happy you found out about today. Let's jump right in. All the data in today's report represents Wins Minus Home Games played through Sunday's action as we returned to league play.

AL EAST
Boston +11
Tampa Bay +5
NY Yankees +4
Toronto even
Baltimore -8

Differences in schedule have helped hide Boston's advantage over the Yankees for most of the season. Yes, the Yanks were in first place in your newspaper on the morning of July 4th. Did you scan over to the right and notice that they had played 46 home games and 36 road games? Boston was out of alignment in the other direction, with only 38 home games and 45 road games. Once those even out, isn't there a good chance that it's BOSTON in first place rather than the Yankees? And, if Derek Jeter's return messes up the Yanks (a decent chance of that considering how badly he was playing, and how well the team did when he was out), Boston might even put some additional distance between themselves and the Yanks.

Tampa Bay was right at schedule equality after last weekend, meaning their +5 is very sold. It's also one of the best in baseball. The Rays are again one of the best teams in baseball when you adjust for context and give them bonus credit for playing in such a tough division.

AL CENTRAL
Cleveland +6
Chicago White Sox +3
Minnesota even
Detroit -1
Kansas City -13

Where did Detroit go? They fall off the map when you adjust for the home/road split. The Tigers have played 46 home games and 39 road games. That will even out with this week's road trip. Cleveland is at 38 and 44 in the other direction…and will also even out by the end of the week thanks to a homestand. The bad news for Cleveland is that the Yankees are one of the teams visiting! Still, the Yanks will have to visit Detroit at some point in the future too. The lesson here is that the Tigers aren't in as good a shape as they thought.

And, bonus lessons…Chicago and Minnesota are much closer to contending than is commonly realized. That's amazing for the Twins who were 10 games below .500 and eight games off the pace in the AL Central after the weekend. But, they had played TEN more road games than home games. A strong homestand puts them right back in the mix…particularly if they can do that against divisional foes when the opportunity arises. The White Sox are at 39 and 46 in their home/road split. A homestand this week will bring that to even. Note that Minnesota at Chicago this weekend (a 4-game set) may be a virtual elimination battle in terms of legitimately climbing back into the playoff picture. Neither team can afford 1-3 or 0-4 in that divisional battle.

AL WEST
Texas +3
LA Angels +3
Oakland -3
Seattle -4

No surprises at the top of the division, as the Rangers and Halos are tied whichever way you slice it. Seattle is a bit of a surprise at the bottom though. They had been making some headlines with some good showings. It turns out that a home friendly schedule has made that a little easier. Seattle has played 45 home games and 39 road games. A divisional road trip this week will even things out, and give all of us a better sense of where the Mariners really stand in this division.

NL EAST
Philadelphia +7
Atlanta +7
Washington +3
NY Mets +1
Florida -2

Hey, look at Atlanta! They've been playing about as well as Philadelphia once you adjust for the schedule. The Phils have played 46 home games and just 39 road games. Atlanta's close to an even split. We're very interested in watching the Atlanta-Philadelphia series this weekend. It will help set the tone for the NL East race this year…and may also be a playoff preview given the frontline pitching these teams enjoy.

Let's not lose sight of the other teams in this division. Washington at +3 is amazing considering how bleak the outlook was for that team entering the season. Remember, +3 is in first place in the AL West! Plus three is just a game behind the Yankees in this stat! Washington's doing it with glue, rubber bands, and savvy starting pitching from guys who don't get many strikeouts. There's still a good chance this is a house of cards that's going to crumble. Admire it while it's still standing!

The Mets are far from an embarrassment too. The owners may have been swindled in a Ponzi scheme, and they may have quickened their own demise with some poor contract decisions. But, the team right now is bringing intensity every time out. They've really lit up the scoreboard in recent weeks, which is a surprise for what is mostly a collection of small ball players.

NL CENTRAL
St. Louis +6
Milwaukee +5
Pittsburgh +4
Cincinnati -1
Chicago Cubs -11
Houston -18

Pittsburgh is closer to the top in this stat than in your newspaper because they've played just 39 home games, compared to 45 home games. That will even up this week in the best way possible as Houston and the Chicago Cubs are coming to town. Wouldn't that be something? Pittsburgh launches itself into first place by the All-Star Break thanks to this week's schedule! Maybe this is when we find out Pittsburgh is just a pretender. It's still hard to take them seriously when you look at the batting order and the starting rotations. They're trying whenever they take the field though, which can be more than half the battle in a sport like this.

Let's quickly note that the Cubs and Astros are even worse off than your newspaper standings make it seem. And, they're laughingstocks in the paper! The Cubs have played 46 home games and 39 road games. The Astros have played 47 home games and 39 road games. Houston ended the weekend 29-56 with a friendly schedule!

NL WEST
San Francisco +11
Arizona +3
Colorado -3
LA Dodgers -6
San Diego -8

The best schedule adjusted performance in the National League…and the mark that's tied for first in all of baseball belongs to the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants. They've played 37 home games and a whopping 48 away from home. It's a shame that schedule split has hidden this team's greatness. It's already a crime that the defending champions are rarely on TV or features on the front pages of ESPN's website. People might be talking dynasty if the team had opened with a more balanced schedule.

The only other extreme schedule in this division right now belongs to San Diego, who's worse than you realize because they've played 46 home games and 39 road games.

Oh, did you see all the praise ESPN's announcers were giving the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday Night before the Angels game? You'd have thought they had climbed Kilimanjaro given the 'hardships' the team was dealing with. Kilimanjaro won! The Dodgers are in last place in your newspaper standings, and grade out very poorly in this stat. There are a couple of good pitchers…a couple of talents in the batting order…but this is not a good team top to bottom. No reason to pretend otherwise. Only five teams are worse than the Dodgers in this stat in the whole Major Leagues.

That wraps up our 'catch up' report with the divisional pictures. Baseball coverage continues daily in the NOTEBOOK through Friday. Then we'll run our Pac 12 college football previews Saturday and Sunday. Look for conference outlines every weekend through July and August. If you missed this past weekend's reports on the Big 10 'Legends' and 'Leaders' divisions, please check the archives.

Everything is under the lights tonight in baseball. JIM HURLEY has a MAJOR RELEASE on the card that you'll definitely want to invest in. You can always purchase our top plays here at the website with your credit card. We have great rates for the rest of the season too. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

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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.

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