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Shining a light on MLB with NHL and NBA dark

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

May 31, 2017 01:46 AM

This week’s efforts to clean up pollution in the MLB standings shows why the Los Angeles Angels may be absolutely DOOMED in the month of June. With the NHL and NBA Finals dark Tuesday night, let’s put baseball under the spotlight Wednesday in VSiN City.

MLB: Angels were worse than you thought with Trout, and a gauntlet awaits without him
A harmonic convergence within our baseball coverage has alerted us to the possibility that the Los Angeles Angels are likely doomed in the month of June. You already know about the torn thumb ligaments suffered by Mike Trout that will require surgery. He’s going to miss 6-8 weeks of action according to current estimates. Our efforts to “clean the windshield” to uncover illusions in the Major League Baseball standings is about to expose a bombshell.

We’ve talked about how luck can be involved in one-run decisions. We’ve talked about how home/road splits can create temporarily unbalanced schedules. Today, we look at strength of schedule.

The standings page over at Baseball-Reference posts the won-lost records of every team in a variety of categories. Among those, records vs. opponents who are .500 or better, and records vs. opponents who are below .500.

As we speak, the Los Angeles Angels have played the easiest schedule in the majors in terms of games vs. below .500 teams. In fact, they’re off the charts! 

The average Major League team had played 23 games vs. opponents at .500 or better, 26 games vs. teams below .500 through Monday’s action (we’re using Monday as the cutoff because the near .500 Cubs finished very late Tuesday). Check out these fortunate teams who have played a lot less than 23 games vs. quality opposition.

Easiest 2017 schedules through Monday 
The LA Angels played 11 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 43 vs. teams below .500
Texas played 14 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 38 vs. teams below .500
Washington played 13 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 37 vs. teams below .500
NY Mets played 13 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 36 vs. teams below .500
Atlanta played 14 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 35 vs. teams below .500

That means that the Angels weren’t impressing despite having an MVP putting up huge numbers in the heart of their lineup…and despite facing a very easy schedule. We told you yesterday that June is going to bring a true gauntlet for the Angels (we’ll show the schedule in a moment). It could get really nasty.

Let’s also note that Texas has the look of a pretender through this lens. Those 14 games vs. .500 or better resulted in just a 2-12 record! Congrats for climbing the standings against weaklings. Texas probably isn’t a true Wildcard threat in terms of pure quality. They’re getting outmatched by true quality.

Washington, however, is both a good team AND a lucky team in terms of schedule ease. The Nats are 8-5 in those 13 games vs. decent opposition…a .615 win rate. Playing in an easy division, they should coast into the playoffs. 

A few other teams that should be on your radar regarding easy schedules…

Other easy schedules

  • Houston played 17 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 35 vs. teams below .500
  • Oakland played 16 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 34 vs. teams below .500
  • Seattle played 17 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 35 vs. teams below .500
  • Miami played 17 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 32 vs. teams below .500
  • Cleveland played 18 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 31 vs. teams below .500
  • Minnesota played 19 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 28 vs. teams below .500

Houston is like Washington in that they’re winning vs. other winners while enjoying a friendly slate. The Astros are 10-7 vs. the first category, and a stunning 26-9 vs. losers. You’ll notice that the NL East and AL West are grading out as the worst divisions. Cleveland and Minnesota of the AL Central sneak in there at the very end. 

A horrible sign for the defending AL Champion Indians that they’ve struggled out of the gate vs. such an easy schedule. More evidence that Minnesota is a pretender. We mentioned yesterday that they had been bit lucky in one-run games (6-3) while playing the most home-heavy schedule in the Majors. Minnesota has had the single friendliest schedule in baseball when you combine home/road differential with strength dynamics. Right now, there may be no playoff caliber teams in the AL Central. 

What about the toughest schedules by this measure? Let’s take a look…

Toughest Schedules thru Monday

  • Toronto played 35 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 16 vs. teams below .500
  • Colorado played 32 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 21 vs. teams below .500
  • San Francisco played 32 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 21 vs. teams below .500 
  • Kansas City played 30 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 20 vs. teams below .500
  • NY Yankees played 28 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 20 vs. teams below .500
  • Boston played 29 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 21 vs. teams below .500
  • Chicago Cubs played 29 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 21 vs. teams below .500
  • Cincinnati played 29 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 21 vs. teams below .500
  • St. Louis played 28 games vs. teams at .500 or better, 20 vs. teams below .500

The AL East is well-represented there, as is the NL West and NL Central. A good sign for Colorado fans (and Gill Alexander of “A Numbers Game”, who backed Over Colorado’s team total before the season started). Even if you dock the Rockies a bit for too much good luck in one-run games, they certainly have proven their mettle vs. a demanding slate. Other notes.

  • The disappointing starts for both San Francisco and Kansas City can partly be explained by their tough schedules out of the gate. 
  • The Chicago Cubs are getting paired in discussions (including by us) with the Cleveland Indians because both World Series entries from 2016 are off to disappointing starts. But, the Cubs have played the much tougher schedule…and might not seem so disappointing against a friendlier slate.
  • The South Point took a very big bet last week on a futures price involving the Toronto Blue Jays. We now have a reason why a smart bettor might have been considering those very long odds. Toronto isn’t as bad as the raw standings make them look. Even if they’re a long shot in a tough division…they’re not as big a long shot as the market had been suggesting at the time of the bet. Against a more balanced schedule, they’d probably be on the right side of .500.

Let’s talk about that last point for a moment. The huge schedule differences between the LA Angels and Toronto Blue Jays give us an example of what’s called “Simpson’s Paradox.” That’s a conundrum that can show up in mix-sized samples. Consider…

  • Toronto is better than the LA Angels vs. teams at .500 or better (40% to 36%)
  • Toronto is better than the LA Angels vs. teams below .500 (63% to 51%)

That should be everybody! But, the LA Angels had a better record than Toronto through Monday’s games because they played so many more games against weak opposition. If you gave both teams 23 games vs. .500 or better, and 26 against teams below .500 (matching the overall average), Toronto’s record through Monday would have surged to 25-24, while the Angels would have sunk to 21-28.

And, that brings us full circle. The Angels with Trout, as great as he was, would have had a record more like 21-28 against a representative schedule. They’re about to play a bunch of strong opponents without him in the month of June. Things could get very ugly. As their only true offensive threat recovers from surgery, this putrid offense will have to score runs against a murderer’s row of contenders.

LA Angels in June

  • June 1-4: vs. AL Central leading Minnesota
  • June 6-8: at Detroit
  • June 9-11: at AL West leading Houston (5/1 to win World Series)
  • June 12-14: vs. AL East leading NY Yankees (8/1 to win Word Series)
  • June 15-18: vs. Kansas City
  • June 20-22: at AL East leading NY Yankees (8/1 to win Word Series)
  • June 22-25: at resurgent Boston (12/1 to win World Series)
  • June 26-27: at NL co-favorites LA Dodgers (4/1 to win World Series)
  • June 28-29: vs. NL co-favorites LA Dodgers (4/1 to win World Series)

Brutal for a team that’s only played 11 games vs. opponents at .500 or better more than a fourth of a way into the season.

MLB: Updating recent storylines
We’ve brought up several handicapping angles in recent days. We won’t be able to touch ‘em all! We do have room for a few updates, though.

  • Last Monday on Gill Alexander’s Q1 report, 5-inning data from Onside Sports showed that the Tampa Bay Rays had been fantastic in “first half” decisions. You know what? They haven’t lost one since! The Rays are 6-0-2 in the first five innings over the last eight days, with Tuesday’s 5-2 first half win in Texas bringing their full season mark to 34-13-8. Wow.
  • Two teams who showed up poorly in 5-inning results in Q1 have reversed that form. Cleveland had been down just over 17 units. But the Indians are 6-0-1 since then, including last night’s 7-3 blowout of Oakland. Maybe the Indians are ready to get back into playoff form. Toronto is 6-1 after being down 17 units at the quarter pole. They’ve taken out Cincinnati in first halves the last two nights by scores of 13-1 and 4-3. 
  • The Chicago Cubs, an early 5-inning disaster, haven't reversed. Their 6-2 "first half" loss to San Diego Tuesday dropped them to 22-26-3 in 5-inning results for the season, down almost 16 betting units because the defending World Champs are so expensive to back on a game-by-game basis.
  • Early evening full game victories by Toronto and Seattle over Cincinnati and Colorado respectively clinched another winning night in Interleague play for the American League. Then the Halos made it a clean sweep with a late win over Atlanta. The season profit is plus 13 units for the AL off a 56-39 record. And…building on our home/road split theme from earlier this week…only 41 games have been played in AL parks, compared to 54 in NL parks. That’s 13 additional games coming up in stadiums where the AL is most dominant. (The AL is 27-14 at home for plus 9.1 units, and 29-25 on the road for plus 3.9 units).
  • Last week we studied the Cubs/Dodgers series in Chavez Ravine. That sweep for LAD has helped propel them to a current six game winning streak, and a 11-2 record over their last 13 games. The composite score in that stretch is 83-28 after Tuesday’s 9-4 win in St. Louis, which is about as dominant as it gets in this sport. 
  • The Houston Astros scored 7 runs in Minnesota Tuesday night, despite running into promising Twins youngster Jose Berrios. Houston is now averaging a whopping 6.3 runs per road game on offense, compared to 4.4 runs per game at home. Minute Maid Park was the third best pitcher’s park in the Majors this season heading into Tuesday action (after being the best pitcher’s park in 2016). That’s helping to hide the true explosiveness of this Houston attack. 

Championship Lines: Updated numbers in NHL and NBA
The drama of the chase for a championship resumes Wednesday night in the NHL, and Thursday night in the NBA. Let’s check in on the betting lines.

Wednesday: Nashville at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

  • Adjusted Series Price: Pittsburgh -250, Nashville 210
  • Game Two: Pittsburgh -145, total of 5.5 (Under -130)

Pittsburgh’s victory in Game 1 has lifted them all the way to -250 to win the series. You’ll recall that writer Lou Finocchiaro anticipated this possibility in his recent preview of the Stanley Cup Final. He suggested holding back one unit to invest in Nashville at this higher price. If you liked Nashville going in, you can now add one unit at plus 210 to go with your pre-series unit around plus 140-ish. If you liked Pittsburgh, you’re already pleased with your position. 

Thursday: Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m. ET on ABC

  • Series: Golden State -250, Cleveland plus 210
  • Game 1: Golden State -7, total of 226.5

Jimmy Vaccaro has told VSiN hosts that he believes the “smarts” have been holding back hoping for more favorable lines on the underdog and Under. Time is running out. If the public doesn’t push Golden State to -7.5 between now and tip-off, the full seven may be the best pro bettors see. Though some stores are showing a drop to 226, meaning investors preferring the Under may have given up on seeing 227. 

That wraps up Wednesday’s newsletter. Back with you Thursday to review Game 2 of Predators/Penguins and preview Game 1 of Cavs/Warriors. If you have any comments or questions about VSiN programming our VSiN City, please drop us a note. You can subscribe to receive morning email delivery by clicking right here. Please follow us on twitter for on-the-fly news bulletins and programming updates.

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