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4 mid-week series to watch (and bet)

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Pennant races still percolating as four new series showdowns begin Tuesday, plus updated “market” Power Ratings in the Canadian Football League and English Premier League.

MLB: Four series begin Tuesday night that will help shape divisional and Wildcard races 
From a potential NL Central elimination battle between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, through a potential AL Central clincher featuring Cleveland and Minnesota, to exciting Interleague showdowns matching the LA Angels at Washington and St. Louis at Boston, baseball fans and bettors will see four key series begin Tuesday evening. 

A quick recap of our indicator stats for newcomers…

  • Team Offense: we use league rankings in weighted-runs-created-plus as calculated by fangraphs. This stat is automatically park-adjusted, which helps weed out illusions created by home park effects. 
  • Team Bullpen: we use league rankings in “relievers xFIP” which is a fielding independent mark focusing only on relief pitchers. 
  • Starting pitchers: we use individual xFIP, which uses the same scale as ERA, but with the benefit of being more accurate about the past and more predictive about the future. 

We’ll take the four matchups in Nevada rotation order. Note that all but Cleveland/Minnesota are two-game quickies. 

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Pittsburgh #11 in NL, Milwaukee #9 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Pittsburgh #9 in NL, Milwaukee #8 in NL
  • Tuesday: Nova (4.07 xFIP) vs. Woodruff (5.53 xFIP)
  • Wednesday: Cole (3.92 xFIP) vs. Davies (4.60 xFIP)

Neither team has a playoff roster. Both are still alive in the NL Central picture because the Cubs have had a four-month World Series championship hangover (Cubs should try that new remedy from the Maloof brothers!). Woodruff has been very fortunate in limited action. He can’t keep stranding runners forever. On the early line, he’s a favorite of -120 with a total of 9 runs in Tuesday’s series opener. To this point, the Cubs have handled their injury situation well. If that’s just temporary, a record as unimpressive as 85-77 could take the division. Any of the four contenders, including these two, could get there from here. 

Cleveland at Minnesota

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Cleveland #3 in AL, Minnesota #9 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Cleveland #1 in AL, Minnesota #10 in AL
  • Tuesday: Salazar (3.33 xFIP) vs. Colon (5.01 xFIP)
  • Wednesday: Carrasco (3.52 xFIP) vs. Enns (only 1 start)
  • Thursday: Clevinger (4.15 xFIP) vs. Berrios (4.67 xFIP)

Still seems miraculous that Minnesota is a home series sweep away from getting back within two games of first place. The Twins outclassed by Cleveland in all facets of play, and have to hope for over-their-head performances from the likes of Colon and Enns in the first two games. Salazar is -175 with a total of 9 (over 125) in the series opener. Our recent stat previews keep showing you why Cleveland should have run away from the division…and why they still get so much respect in futures pricing. Will the Indians finally put the race to sleep with a sweep? Can Minnesota stay in the Wildcard teapot that sees knew teams bubble up to the top each week just as others are sinking back to the bottom?

LA Angels at Washington

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Angels #13 in AL, Washington #2 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Angels #5 in AL, Washington #12 in NL
  • Tuesday: Skaggs (4.11 xFIP)vs. Gonzalez (4.26 xFIP) 
  • Wednesday: Petit (3.71 xFIP) vs. Roark (4.42 xFIP)

The Angels have sure bubbled up after a six-game winning streak that included four straight at Seattle. Very sad that an injury to Bryce Harper denied fans the chance to see a Harper vs. Trout showdown. Hey powers-that-be, let’s try not to booby-trap the field! Gonzalez was -115 on the overnight line with a total of 8.5 Under. Pay attention to potential pitching changes. Note that Petit only has one start this season out of 42 appearances. That xFIP would likely be much higher if he were in the rotation full time. In the team rankings, Washington won’t be as good as #2 without Harper, but the bullpen lately has been a lot better than #12. The Halos’ streak might be suggesting that the offense is ready to at least rise to league average after a very disappointing campaign. 

St. Louis at Boston

  • Offense (wRC-plus): St. Louis #4 in NL, Boston #12 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): St. Louis #6 in NL, Boston #4 in AL
  • Tuesday: Leake (3.90 xFIP) vs. Porcello (4.29 xFIP)
  • Wednesday: Lynn (4.68 xFIP) vs. Rodriguez (4.32 xFIP)

Boston lost a write-in game Monday to Cleveland after that emotional weekend series with the Yanks. Will the Red Sox lose their focus stepping out of the league? Huge series for the visitors. The Cardinals got to reach out and touch first place before Sunday’s loss dropped them back into second. They have the offense/bullpen composite of a Wildcard type team…and the franchise is known for consistency in the rotation. In Tuesday’s opener, Porcello is -135 with a total of 10 (Under -115). 

Look for more in-depth previews in these games and other key matchups from Mitch and Pauly on “Follow the Money,” Gill Alexander and myriad analytics on “A Numbers Game,” plus late day line moves and more key stats on “My Guys in the Desert” with Ron Flatter and Amal Shah Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. out here in Las Vegas). 

CFL: Early Week 9 lines and updated Power Ratings 
We’re going to update our “market” Power Ratings in both the Canadian Football League and English Premier League (soccer) on Tuesdays through August. Today’s soccer report reads more like a tutorial…so let’s quickly run through the CFL numbers you regulars are already very familiar with.

Here are settled numbers as of Monday night for this week’s action…

  • Edmonton (-1, total of 58.5) at Winnipeg 
  • Ottawa (-4, 56) at Hamilton
  • Calgary (-4.5, total of 56.5) at British Columbia 
  • Montreal at Toronto (no line pending status of Toronto QB Ricky Ray)

We saw that Toronto was plus 7 at Montreal last week with backups, so we at least have a range of expectations. Toronto would likely be a short favorite at home with Ray, but a home dog with its backup QBs…neither of whom could find the end zone in Round One.

CFL Estimated “market” Power Ratings (ATS in parenthesis) 
Calgary 85…(4-3 ATS)
Edmonton 83…(3-4 ATS) (84 when they get healthy again)
British Columbia 79…(4-4 ATS)
Winnipeg 78…(5-2 ATS)
Ottawa 77…(5-3 ATS)
Montreal 77…(4-3 ATS)
Saskatchewan 78 at home…(3-1 ATS)
Saskatchewan 76 on the road (1-2 ATS)
Toronto 76 with Ray…(2-4 ATS)
Toronto 72 with backup QBs…(0-1 ATS as starters)
Hamilton 71…(2-5 ATS)

Calgary had a bye last week. We’re going to assume the market is giving them about one to 1.5 points of credit for that with the line of Calgary -4.5 at BC. Edmonton will likely rise up to 84-85 once they get healthy. We made separate notations for Saskatchewan because they’ve been showing such a clear home road split in production (Roughriders have a bye this week). We did the same for Toronto until its QB situation gets settled.

English Premier League: Basic analytics tutorial and updated “market” Power Ratings
We’re not sure how much space we’ll be able to devote to the English Premier League once regular season college and pro football get rolling here in the states. We know that EPL has been growing in popularity as a betting sport ever since the NBC-Universal family of networks started televising games. And, as we mentioned last week, many bettors like how that creates an “expanded window” for Saturday and Sunday betting. You can start your fun earlier than ever.

For now, we want to at least give you some tools you can use to evaluate teams and the market. 

  • Soccer writer and podcaster Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) posts his “expected goals” calculation after every EPL game on a separate twitter account called @Caley_graphics. These are amazingly helpful because they give you a better sense of flow of play than the final score in some cases…or just confirm the final score in others. Too many handicappers make the mistake of assuming the final score tells the story. Analytics-based oddsmakers and handicappers dig deeper into boxscores to learn more. Caley does the work for you then posts a shorthand you can use to get smart quick! 
  • The Pinnacle offshore sportsbook posts its weekly EPL betting odds in an easy to read and understand format. If you prefer the “host/visitor/tie” format that’s common at Nevada sportsbooks, those are right there. But they also post a “goal option” that will look something like (-1 and -1.5) or (0 and -0.5) in each game. This immediately gives you a visualization in “goals” for how a game is likely to play out rather than just money line odds. And, you can use those numbers to help build your own Power Ratings. Use the midpoint of that goal option as a starting point (-1 and -1.5 means the favorite is about 1.25 goals better on this field)…then adjust 0.2 goals for home field advantage. 

(If you’re wondering how to bet those…let’s say you’re taking the favorite at -1 and -1.5. That means HALF of your bet is on the favorite at -1 goal, and THE OTHER HALF of your bet is on the favorite at -1.5 goals. You must win by two goals to cash. But if the favorite wins by exactly one, you push half the bet, and lose the other half. If sportsbooks just used -1 in games like that, they’d get overloaded on favorites while also having to refund all one-goal decisions. If sportsbooks just used -1.5 goals in games like that, they’d get overloaded on the underdog. Better for books, and more fun for punters. You will find some games posted at plus or minus 0.5 or 1.5 when bookies believe those will balance action.)

Those resources won’t make you an immediate expert by any means. But they will at least get you up to speed in a relative finger snap. Then you can handicap from there as you watch and bet games through the season. 

Here’s a quick look at Week 1 results, including those handy expected goals calculations from @Caley_graphics (home team first, “expected goals” in parenthesis)

Arsenal 4, Leicester City 3 (2.4 to 1.2)
A goal scoring explosion to start the season…but both teams look to have been a bit fortunate. The right team won by the right amount. Don’t just assume 7-goal games are going to be the norm with these two.

Watford 3, Liverpool 3 (1.9 to 1.7)
Another exciting one. Probably should have been more like a 2-2 tie rather than three apiece. Disappointing result for Liverpool who is one of the “big six” entering the season. The market hadn’t expected them to be slightly outplayed. 

Southampton 0, Swansea City 0 (2.2 to 0.3)
Southampton was priced as about half a goal better on a neutral field. They actually were much more dominant than that in terms of creating opportunities. Just couldn’t find the back of the net. Swansea not nearly as good as “earning a tie on the road” would make it seem.

West Bromwich Albion 1, Bournemouth 0 (1.2 to 0.4)
Fair score, with the host winning a battle featuring two teams who are supposed to be way off the pace this season.

Chelsea 2, Burnley 3 (1.3 to 0.7)
The shocker of the week was an even bigger surprise once you saw the raw stats. How did Burnley score three goals? Chelsea was the slightly better side in flow of play. But this was supposed to be a rout and wasn’t. Disappointing effort for Chelsea, and the scoreboard at least captures that. 

Crystal Palace 0, Huddersfield Town 3 (0.9 to 0.6)
Another three-spot from a projected doormat that wasn’t justified by what was created in attack. Don’t assume teams like Burnley and Huddersfield will be able to score on command just because they had big road openers.  

Everton 1, Stoke 0 (0.7 to 0.3)
About right. 

Brighton and Hove Albion 0, Manchester City 2 (0.4 to 1.7)
Also about right. Remember that Manchester City is the favorite to win it all. BHA a newcomer to the EPL.

Newcastle 0, Tottenham 2 (0.5 to 2.2)
Same story here…as the scoreboard is matching Caley’s formula. 

Manchester United 4, West Ham United 0 (2.5 to 0.6)
Should have been a two-goal conquest rather than a four-goal laugher in terms of how to evaluate these teams moving forward. 

Now, here are Pinnacle’s goal lines for Week 2 as of Monday night (home teams listed first, as is the custom in world football).

Southampton -1 and -1.5 vs. West Ham
Bournemouth -0.5 vs. Watford
Swansea City plus 1 and plus 1.5 vs. Manchester United
Stoke City plus 0.5 and plus 1 vs. Arsenal
Burnley -0.5 and -1 vs. West Brom
Liverpool -1.5 vs. Crystal Palace
Leicester City -0.5 and -1 vs. Brighton and Hove Albion
Huddersfield 0 and -0.5 vs. Newcastle
Tottenham -0.5 vs. Chelsea
Manchester City -1.5 vs. Everton

Based on those lines and home field adjustments, here’s our rough estimate of how “the market” is currently rating the 20 EPL entries…

EPL Estimated “Market Goal Supremacy” Scale
2.6: Manchester City
2.4: Tottenham
2.3: Manchester United
2.2: Chelsea
2.1: Arsenal 
2.0: Liverpool
1.5: Southampton
1.4: Everton
1.3: Leicester City
1.1: Stoke City, Bournemouth
1.0: West Ham United
1.0: Burnley, West Brom, 
0.9: Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion
0.8: Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Newcastle United
0.7: Huddersfield Town

Tottenham has flipped spots with Chelsea from last week, based on its favorite price at home in this week’s only meeting between elites. 

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See you Wednesday to talk more baseball and put American football back into focus. 

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