It’s been an interesting two weeks in Major League Baseball so far. Just as nobody predicted, the Milwaukee Brewers enter the third week of the season with the best record in baseball at 10-2. The best record in the American League belongs to the Oakland Athletics, who lost 40 percent of their starting rotation just before the start of the season. They are 8-4 and the worst record belongs to the Kansas City Royals at 4-7. Everybody else falls comfortably in between.
The Houston Astros are 5-8. It took them until April 19 to win five games last season. As discussed in the post about the first week of the season, the Marlins took a nosedive. After starting 5-1, the Marlins were winless last week and dropped to 5-8. To be fair, it took the Marlins until April 23 to win five games last season, so they’re well ahead of last year’s pace.
The Tampa Bay Rays lost Alex Cobb for at least a month with an oblique strain. Matt Moore, who was discussed in last week’s “Pitchers to Keep on Your Radar” article, is going to miss the remainder of the season and will likely undergo Tommy John surgery. Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has a fractured thumb that will keep him out of action until sometime in mid-to-late May. Speaking of third basemen, Adrian Beltre will miss most, if not all, of the rest of April with a quad issue. Mat Latos had a setback in his rehab, further darkening the start of the season for the Cincinnati Reds.
In more injury news, poor Brett Anderson just cannot stay healthy. This time, he fell victim to a broken index finger on his pitching hand while batting. He’ll be out four-to-six weeks for the Rockies. Scott Kazmir left his Sunday start with triceps tightness, the same issue he had late in Spring Training. Trevor Cahill may be replaced in the Arizona starting rotation by swingman Josh Collmenter, who is getting the start on Monday night, the day after Cahill was knocked around again by the Dodgers. Cahill may also be replaced by minor league call-up Mike Bolsinger.
What should bettors be looking for in Week Three of the MLB regular season?
What We Learned
1. The Brewers are pretty good, but not this great.
I talked about the Brewers last week as being this year’s Cincinnati Reds in the sense that they would ride pitching and power to a 90-win season and a spot in the playoffs. They didn’t disappoint last week, finishing off a sweep of the Red Sox last weekend and then rattled off back-to-back sweeps at Philadelphia and home against Pittsburgh. If you’re not counting, that’s a nine-game winning streak for the Brewers. The streak ended on Monday night with a loss to the Cardinals.
The Brewers pitching staff leads all of baseball with a 1.97 ERA and a 3.20 xFIP. Their 3.06 FIP is the second-best mark in baseball. They have the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio at 3.74. Most baseball minds expected the Brewers rotation to be underrated and undervalued, but nobody saw this early-season performance from the bullpen. In 35 innings, the Brewers pen has allowed just three earned runs with 43 strikeouts against just eight walks. They’re striking out nearly 34 percent of opposing batters. That’s good for a 0.77 ERA, a 1.73 FIP, and a 1.93 SIERA.
What To Look For
Expect regression to hit the Brewers pitching staff hard over the next week or two. The bullpen is stranding 89 percent of runners, a rate that is entirely unsustainable. The starting rotation has a 2.22 ERA but a 3.44 FIP and a 3.60 SIERA. Early in the season, with small sample sizes, a couple of bad starts can force those numbers to regress where they should be.
The Brewers face a real test this week with the Cardinals. They’re a pretty decent team, likely a team that should finish above .500, but regression will be coming down the pike. The offense is only one percent better than league average so far and the advanced metrics from the pitching staff signal that the balloon should burst soon.
While they’re overvalued, look for opportunities to go against the Brewers.
What We Learned
2. The White Sox start may be a mirage.
The Chicago White Sox lead the league in a lot of offensive categories, but things should start to go south on the South Side real soon. The White Sox have scored 80 runs in 13 games against the Twins, Royals, Rockies, and Indians. Three of those teams, the Twins, Rockies, and Indians rank 28th, 27th, and 23rd, respectively, in ERA. Moreover, those three teams rank 28th, 29th, and 27th in starting pitcher ERA. The Royals won two out of three in the series between the two.
The White Sox have a team BABIP of .335 even though they lead the league in home runs with 18. Home runs don’t count towards BABIP. If home runs did count towards BABIP, the White Sox would have a BABIP of .377 as a team. That’s just not going to continue. Balls they have hit have found holes and teams have failed to adjust to newcomers Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu. As the scouting reports improve, expect the production of those two to go down.
The pitching staff was the big concern for the White Sox and that has come to fruition. They have allowed 76 runs in 13 games. They’re probably not as bad as they have been, and the 1.39 difference between ERA and FIP provides evidence to support that point, but their pitchers are striking out the third-lowest percentage of batters and the bullpen has been in a state of flux already. Take Chris Sale and Jose Quintana out of the equation and this group is one of the worst in the league. Unfortunately for the White Sox, Sale and Quintana can each pitch only once every five days.
What To Look For
Until the White Sox offense cools off, play overs at will with this team. They’re going to give up runs and they’re going to score runs, especially against left-handed pitching. Also, be prepared to go against the White Sox as the offensive bubble should burst before the pitching staff shows signs of improvement.
What We Learned
3. The AL East is severely flawed.
The door is open for somebody like Baltimore or Toronto to find a way to put it all together and make a charge in the AL East. The New York Yankees are the only AL East team in the top half of the league in wOBA through two weeks. The Tampa Bay Rays have started slowly in all facets and now face a month without Alex Cobb. The Baltimore Orioles have seen free agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez torched in his three outings. The Boston Red Sox have some consistency issues and could have a serious lack of starting pitching depth.
It’s hard to back any of these teams on a nightly basis and they’ll be getting into one of the parts of the schedule where they play each other a lot. The AL East looks like a division to avoid for now.
What To Look For
On name recognition, the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees will all keep being overvalued in the betting market. Until one of them starts to play with some consistency, none of them are worth your money, unless David Price or Masahiro Tanaka are pitching, and you’re paying a hefty surcharge to back one of those two guys.
Look for opportunities to go against the AL East when they aren’t playing each other.