We’ve reached the Major League Baseball All-Star break, with every team having played about 90 games, so it’s safe to say we’ve learned a lot about all 30 teams. We have seen some surprises, such as the Giants’ incredible start, Boston’s resurgence and AL preseason favorite New York’s inability to find consistency. But in looking at the standings, it’s clear that every division leader has earned its status. Handicapping baseball in 2021 has been a challenge for most bettors, though, as starting pitchers have been more dominant than usual, bullpens have been as inconsistent as ever and key injuries have popped up time and again. It’s time to take a quick look at where we stand as bettors and try to get a jump on the second half of the season.
As I review the recent action and look ahead to what’s upcoming in MLB, I’ll focus on four key handicapping factors:
— Hot and cold teams
— Hot and cold starting pitchers
— Unusual situational records
— Injuries or personnel situations that could have an impact
HOT AND COLD TEAMS
Though the season is long with peaks and valleys throughout, most teams typically believe that the period in and out of the break is critical for second-half momentum. Here is a look at some teams playing either good or bad baseball.
— Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have ballooned their lead in the AL Central to eight games by winning 10 of their last 13. The offense has exploded in that stretch, putting up at least four runs in each game while averaging 8.1. On their current five-game winning streak, they have scored 37 runs.
— Cincinnati Reds: The Reds finished the first half by winning a critical four-game series in Milwaukee, sweeping the final three games and trimming their deficit in the NL Central to four games. They are on a 9-2 surge that surprisingly has been fueled by great pitching, with the staff allowing just 2.6 runs per game during that stretch. The red-hot Reds get the Brewers again right out of the break with a three-game set, this time in Cincinnati.
— Colorado Rockies: The Rockies’ postseason chances were written off a month or so ago, but backers have been rewarded with their recent play. They are on a 9-4 run, allowing just 2.7 runs per game during that span. Part of the 9-4 surge have been four underdog victories and three shutouts.
— Los Angeles Dodgers: With a winning percentage of .615, the Dodgers went into the All-Star break on a 12-4 run. Like the Reds and Rockies, Los Angeles has gotten great pitching during the surge, allowing just 2.9 runs per game. Of course, a lot more is expected from the Dodgers’ staff than those other teams. Manager Dave Roberts’ team still trails the Giants by two games in the NL West, though, and will need to continue its strong play to take over the division lead.
— Minnesota Twins: A four-game winning streak isn’t much to brag about, but with the way the Twins have underperformed in 2021, perhaps it is the start of something bigger. During its four-game sweep of the Tigers, Minnesota put up 30 runs, certainly an encouraging sign.
— Philadelphia Phillies: With the injury to Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr., the recent skid by Washington and the Mets’ season-long offensive struggles, the NL East seems up for grabs. The team making the biggest move in the latter part of the first half was the Phillies, who went 7-3 in their last 10 games while scoring 6.9 runs per game. They topped the 10-run mark three times during that spurt, perhaps indicating they are poised to be a major factor in the stretch run.
— San Francisco Giants: Despite injuries to big-name hitters such as Buster Posey and others, the Giants scored 54 runs in a 7-2 surge to close the first half. San Francisco was inarguably the surprise team of the first half and carries the NL West lead into the break.
— Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays’ stretches of good and bad play have been astounding, having mixed numerous streaks on both sides of the ledger. At one point, the defending AL champs won 11 straight games. They also lost seven in a row. Heading into the break, Tampa Bay went on a 6-1 surge, allowing just 2.3 runs per game.
— Baltimore Orioles: At times in the first half of the season, the Orioles’ rebuilding plan seemed to be taking shape. But now is not one of those times, as the O’s went into the break on a 1-7 skid, allowing 7.5 RPG and the bullpen sporting a 6.75 ERA. This slide came right after one of its best series in years, a three-game sweep at AL West leader Houston.
— Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have played listless baseball of late and went into the break on a 2-13 slide, falling out of the division lead by eight games. The Cubs’ pitching staff has completely unraveled during the skid, allowing 7.0 RPG.
— Kansas City Royals: At one point in April, the Royals were 14-7 and leading the AL Central. Since then they have gone just 22-46 to fall to the bottom of the division, 18 games out of the lead. They closed the first half on a 3-15 skid in which the pitching staff allowed 6.8 RPG.
— Washington Nationals: Washington has been up and down like a roller coaster in the first half, and Nationals fans can only hope the team is back at the loading station, ready to make another run. The team closed the first half on a 2-8 skid, allowing 7.0 RPG and ceding five runs or more in nine of the 10 games.
Bettors can safely back or fade certain pitchers on a consistent basis. However, others have gotten hot or cold lately. Naturally, the hot list is a lot longer, as many cold pitchers have been shuffled out of rotations already.
Hot starting pitchers
— Chris Bassitt: Bassitt doesn’t command a ton of respect from oddsmakers, but all the A’s have been doing when he starts is winning. Since losing his first two starts in April, Oakland is 14-3 with Basssitt going, and he boasts a WHIP of 1.013 in that span.
— Dylan Cease: Cease might be recognized as the No. 4 or even No. 5 starter in the White Sox’s rotation, but he has been the best producer as far as bettors are concerned. Since starting 0-3 with Cease on the mound, the White Sox are on an 11-4 run in which they’ve won + 6.84 units, and Cease has been backed by 6.7 runs per game.
— Aaron Civale: Civale’s recent trip to the injured list was yet another blow to the Indians’ rotation, as the team was 12-3 in his 15 previous starts, good for + 9.7 units of profit. His finger injury was thought to shelve him for four to five weeks, meaning he should be back in the first couple of weeks after the All-Star break.
— Jacob deGrom: There’s no sense in rehashing the incredible numbers deGrom is putting up in 2021, but it does need to be stressed that the Mets have finally been consistently winning his starts of late. They are on a 9-1 run with him on the hill.
— Anthony DeSclafani: DeSclafani was brought over from Cincinnati in the offseason and has become an ace-level threat in the Giants’ rotation. They are 7-1 in his last eight starts, and he boasts a 0.997 WHIP for the season.
— Chris Flexen/Logan Gilbert: This duo has been producing big-time for bettors. The Mariners are 12-4 in Flexen’s 16 starts this season for + 10.6 units of profit, and they have won Gilbert’s last eight outings. In his most recent start, Gilbert shut down the Yankees on one hit through seven innings.
— Adrian Houser: When you think of Milwaukee’s stellar rotation in 2021, the last guy who probably comes to mind is Houser. But he is beginning to command respect, leading the Brewers to wins in his last seven starts, two as underdogs. His ERA during that stretch is a solid 3.08.
— German Marquez: What looked like a potential train wreck in Colorado early in the season has turned around of late. That’s in large part thanks to Marquez, as the Rockies are 9-2 in his last 11 starts. That run has produced + 8.25 units of profit for backers. Marquez has struck out 74 batters in 73 innings during the surge.
— Wade Miley: Miley’s Reds are on a 7-1 run in his last eight starts, winning three times as underdogs.
— Matt Moore/Tarik Skubal: Speaking of hot underdogs, the Phillies’ Moore and the Tigers’ Skubal have been producing big profits for backers. The Phillies are 5-1 in Moore’s last six starts for + 6.9 units of profit, and the Tigers are on a 7-3 surge in Skubal’s last 10 outings, producing + 7.15 units of return.
— Drew Smyly: After struggling in 2019 following two seasons off, Smyly has resurrected his career in Atlanta, and Braves are on a six-game winning streak in his starts. He has won five straight decisions, allowing just six earned runs in 27 1/3 innings.
— Julio Urias: Urias tends to get overlooked in the Dodgers’ rotation, but he has been their most profitable pitcher this season, producing + 7.75 units while his team has gone 14-4. His current numbers of 1.072 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings are career bests.
— Taijuan Walker: Because Walker posted a 1.37 ERA in just six starts last year for Toronto before coming over to the Mets, the signing was seen merely as good, not great. It has worked out to be the latter, with the Mets going 13-3 for + 11 units of profit in his starts. He has a scintillating WHIP of 1.033 to prove it’s not a fluke. However, only two of his starts have come against teams with winning records at this point.
Cold starting pitchers
— Keegan Akin/Kolby Allard/Logan Allen: I have grouped these three pitchers since all are young left-handers who began the season with plenty of promise for the Orioles, Rangers and Indians, respectively. However, all three have seen their teams lose their last five starts, and thus all are at risk of losing their rotation spots.
— Sandy Alcantara/Trevor Rogers: This duo in Miami has been grouped because both are struggling, despite commanding the most betting respect on the Marlins’ staff. Alcantara is on a skid in which the team has gone 4-8 in his starts, and Miami is just 2-6 in Rogers’ last eight starts. Of those 14 losses, Miami was favored in five. The Marlins’ wins recently are coming from Pablo Lopez and others.
— Adbert Alzolay: After heating up from late April through early June, Cubs fans became high on Alzolay. Since then his team has lost his last five starts, two when favored, as he has compiled an ERA of 7.15 and a WHIP of 1.500.
— Ian Anderson: After a solid 2020 rookie campaign and a great start in 2021, Anderson has fallen on hard times, with the Braves going just 2-7 in his last nine starts. He has lost five times as a favorite in that span.
— Jake Arrieta: It has been painfully clear that Arrieta is no longer the pitcher he was in the middle part of the last decade. The Cubs have lost 11 of his last 15 starts, and his season numbers are ugly: 6.30 ERA and 1.641 WHIP.
— JT Brubaker: Brubaker was supposed to anchor a young Pittsburgh rotation in 2021. He has instead been one of the team’s biggest disappointments. Since his personal 2-0 start, the Pirates are just 2-11 in his last 13 outings. His ERA is 5.03 in that span, and he has lost his last nine starts as an underdog.
— Zac Gallen: Not much has gone right for the Diamondbacks in 2021, and the struggles of the 2019-20 ace are just another nugget on the pile. Arizona has lost Gallen’s last six starts, producing a -113% return on investment in that span.
— Brad Keller: Another pitcher who has taken a nosedive in 2021 in conjunction with his team has been Keller of the Royals. After seeing Keller put up incredible numbers in 2020 and then starting 8-4 as a team this year, the Royals have lost Keller’s last seven starts. His WHIP during that stretch is an ugly 1.830.
— Dean Kremer/Jorge Lopez/John Means: I mentioned Keegan Akin earlier, but these other Orioles starters are also struggling. Here is Baltimore’s record in each of these pitchers’ recent starts: Kremer is on an 0-7 skid, Lopez is 1-10 in his last 11 and Means is on an 0-5 slide. Not much going right for Orioles pitching.
— Caleb Smith: The Diamondbacks made a Smith-for-Smith swap in the rotation after losing Riley’s last five starts. It has gotten no better with Caleb on the hill, as they are 0-7 with him. It culminated with a 22-1 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday night in Los Angeles in Caleb’s most recent outing.
UNUSUAL SITUATIONAL RECORDS
A few times on “The Lombardi Line” over the last couple of months, I have shared some unusual situational records for certain teams this season. Let’s look at one for every team. You can find these each week in the MLB Team Reports section of Point Spread Weekly.
Baltimore has no home-field advantage
At home: 13-30 (-13.52 $ units)
Boston has been great against right-handed pitching
Vs. RH: 37-22 (+ 17.37 $ units)/vs. LH: 18-14 (+ 1.3 $ units)
The New York Yankees are maintaining their night success while struggling in the day
Night: 34-20 (+ 3.01 $ units)/day: 12-23 (-22.23 $ units)
Tampa Bay loves day games
Night: 27-25 (-3.88 $ units)/day: 26-12 (+ 16.27 $ units)
Toronto has owned interleague opponents
Vs. NL: 13-2 (+ 11.07 $ units); 5.7 RPG scored
The Chicago White Sox feast on left-handed pitching
Vs. LH: 18-8 (+ 6.43 $ units); 6.0 RPG scored
Cleveland puts extra focus on divisional opponents
Vs. AL Central: 26-16 (+ 8.76 $ units)/all other games: 19-26 (-9.06 $ units)
Detroit has struggled against its divisional rivals
Vs. AL Central: 18-30 (-4.5 $ units)/all other games: 22-21 (+ 10.82 $ units)
Kansas City has experienced travel sickness
At home: 21-22 (-2.11 $ units)/on road: 15-31 (-11.53 $ units)
Minnesota’s powerful right-handed lineup has not hit lefty pitching
Vs. LH: 11-20 (-13.81 $ units); 4.3 RPG scored
Houston has thrived under the lights
Night: 39-22 (+ 5.8 $ units)/day: 16-14 (-3.2 $ units)
The Los Angeles Angels’ divisional foes have kept them down in the standings
Vs. AL West: 15-22 (-10.26 $ units)/all other games: 30-22 (+ 8.63 $ units)
Oakland has secured profits on the road
On road: 25-18 (+ 8.16 $ units)/at home: 27-22 (-0.41 $ units)
Seattle has been a money-printing machine against AL foes
Vs. AL: 44-35 (+ 20.95 $ units)/vs. NL: 4-8 (-3.23 $ units)
Texas is a playoff-level team vs. left-handed pitching, a bottom feeder vs. righties
Vs. LH: 17-13 (+ 10.87 $ units)/vs. RH: 18-42 (-18.97 $ units)
Atlanta has found the going tough against AL foes
Vs. AL: 2-10 (-9.52 $ units)
Miami shares Atlanta’s woes against AL opponents
Vs. AL: 2-10 (-8.37 $ units)
The New York Mets whip right-handed pitching, struggle against lefties
Vs. RH: 38-24 (+ 10.1 $ units)/vs. LH: 9-16 (-10.5 $ units)
Philadelphia has been tough to beat at home
At home: 24-16 (+ 6.81 $ units)
Washington would love an all-AL schedule
Vs. AL: 8-4 (+ 5.7 $ units)/all other games: 34-43 (-9.15 $ units)
The Chicago Cubs are thriving at the Friendly Confines
At home: 28-17 (+ 9.53 $ units)/on road: 16-29 (-10.35 $ units)
Cincinnati is doing its best work against divisional opponents
Vs. NL Central: 25-13 (+ 13.17 $ units)/all other games: 23-29 (-19.29 $ units)
Milwaukee has hit the ball well in day games
Day: 28-12 (+ 13.75 $ units); 4.9 RPG scored
Pittsburgh has been tougher on AL opponents
Vs. AL: 8-7 (+ 3.28 $ units)/vs. NL: 26-49 (-9.79 $ units)
St. Louis’ pitching has struggled on the road
On road: 21-28 (-4.04 $ units); 4.8 RPG allowed
Arizona’s 2021 season has been a nightmare
All games: 26-66 (-34.14 $ units)
Colorado should never be bet on the road
On road: 9-34 (-21.92 $ units)/at home: 31-17 (+ 19.95 $ units)
The Los Angeles Dodgers have taken care of business against divisional foes
Vs. NL West: 24-12 (+ 4.82 $ units); 5.4 RPG scored
San Diego has made the most of its interleague games
Vs. AL: 8-1 (+ 7.05 $ units)/vs. NL: 45-39 (-14.94 $ units)
San Francisco has been at its best against right-handed pitching
Vs. RH: 41-23 (+ 18.69 $ units)/vs. RH: 16-10 (+ 5.79 $ units)
SECOND-HALF PERSONNEL AND INJURY NOTES
Although you might have your own list, I’ll share some personnel situations I’ve been keeping track of through daily notes.
— Last weekend’s ACL injury to Ronald Acuna Jr. is a massive blow to the Braves’ playoff chances. He accounts for about 15 cents on any game line.
— The Brewers, though coming off a disappointing weekend, have been a different team since acquiring shortstop Willy Adames on May 22. He has been the team’s top hitter since then, and with the Brewers’ starting staff among the best in MLB, this could be an interesting fall in Milwaukee.
— Cleveland’s rotation was in shambles due to injuries, but Zach Plesac has returned, with Aaron Civale due back soon and Shane Bieber after that. The bullpen held up its end of the bargain in the time they were out. Can the Indians make a second-half run?
— The Angels have continued to hit in the absence of Mike Trout and more recently Justin Upton and Anthony Rendon. When this lineup is back at full strength, can the Angels challenge Houston and Oakland in the AL West?
— Houston has been MLB’s best and most consistent hitting team in the first half of the season. If Justin Verlander returns to the rotation in September, the Astros will be a legitimate title contender again.
— The Cubs were good while their bullpen was good. It was a major surprise. Now that the group has faltered collectively, Chicago has as well and could be a seller at the trade deadline.
— San Francisco has been the league’s biggest surprise and has played well despite injuries to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Mike Yastrzemski, Buster Posey and others.
— The trade deadline should be as interesting as ever as some big-name, big-money clubs could be sellers this year.