MLB division leaders a safe second half bet

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    A quick glance at the standings today has New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Texas in first place in the American League, with Tampa Bay as wild card team, using the dreaded term “if the season ended today”.

    In the National League, it is Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Diego, with Colorado and the Los Angeles Dodgers tied for the final playoff spot.

    Without too much thought, the White Sox, Reds and Padres appear to be the most vulnerable of giving up their division leads by October 3 (the last day of the regular season), as the Pale Hose have to uncover another starting pitcher to replace Jake Peavy, who was coming on and the two clubs from the senior circuit have a “pretender” feel about them. However, based on recent history, all six division leaders could be relatively good “play on” teams the rest of the year.

    Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting to play these teams every day, in fact in some cases you might not want to play them at all for week given a slump or rugged road trip. Let’s face it; can you really expect San Diego to improve on baseball best +17.2 units with their 51-37 first half record? Not by much if at all really. Nonetheless, as a sage bettor told me more than once, “A fool and his money are soon to part without a look in the rearview mirror.”

    The last two years, nine of the 12 All-Star break leaders went on to capture their respective division crowns and 10 of 12 made their way into the postseason. That’s 83.3 percent, a rather healthy figure and look around at any website that has full season baseball units won/lost records, will mostly show these clubs in black numbers and in the Top 10 in baseball for that particular year.

    2009 (All-Star break position – final standings position)
    Boston – 1st – Wild card
    Detroit – 1st – Minnesota wins division in playoff
    L.A. Angels – 1st – 1st
    Philadelphia – 1st -1st
    St. Louis – 1st – 1st
    L.A. Dodgers 1st – 1st

    2008 (All-Star break position – final standings position)
    Tampa Bay – 1st – 1st
    Chic. White Sox – 1st -1st
    L.A. Angels – 1st – 1st
    Philadelphia – 1st – 1st
    Chic. Cubs – 1st – 1st
    Arizona – 1st – L.A. Dodgers win division

    Since 2002, 30 of the 48 All-Star break leaders have gone on to be division champions and five more were playing postseason baseball.

    With rare exception do these teams completely fold, unless ravaged by injury. That’s not to say any squad is above a costly September swoon, like the New York Mets in 2007 (5-12 record – Sept. 14 until season end) and 2008 (6-10 close) or the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox (Sept. 8-27, 7-12).

    While crazy things do happen for those betting sports, a good team is still a good team and often playoff contender’s feast on other clubs whose season has long since been over except for completing the schedule. (Insert Pittsburgh here, since they have endured the curse of Barry Bonds, without a winning season since he left after 1992 campaign)

    Taking on sports betting lines from oddsmakers is a different proposition in the second half of the schedule, as they start to add volume to first place favorites, taking the stance if you want bet the chalk, you need the intestinal fortitude to back it up with cash. However, it is not uncommon for these types of teams to win five or more in a row and if you started the winning streak with them, much like betting additional numbers on a craps table with hot shooter, the winnings more than offset one loss or bad roll.

    As always, be selective, pick your spots and don’t be anxious or greedy, two absolute sins of gambling.

    One final point, understand the workings of the wild card. In the past eight years, the AL team the ultimately earned the wild card slot was already in this position at the break or in first place. That is good news for Tampa Bay.

    Conversely in the NL, only the 2006 Dodgers, who were tied for first place with San Diego, have made the postseason as the fourth team supposedly poised to be playing in October. This is not good news for Rockies or Dodgers backers at present.

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