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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 10:11 AM

It's become a tradition in Major League Baseball…with four teams left in the playoffs, JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has to come in and explain to you the REAL strengths and weaknesses of those fighting for the World Championship. The mainstream media, still at least 25 years behind the times in terms of adjusting for ballpark effects, continues to mislead viewers and readers. Since YOU are probably a consumer of the mainstream media, your selections are likely to suffer if somebody doesn't come in and clean up the mess for you.

The Texas Rangers are not a slugging team that has to try and outscore their weak pitching. It wasn't true last year, and it's not true this year. The Milwaukee Brewers are not quite the slugging heroes you think they are. They're basically getting credit for what St. Louis is actually accomplishing. The media loves its storylines. And, for some reason, FOX, ESPN, TBS, the MLB Network, and any pundit you come across wearing a blindfold and chanting 'I'm an expert, I'm an expert' over and over again refuse to think for longer than five seconds about an issue so they can tell people the truth.

We're handicappers. It's our job to pick winners. You have to know the truth to pull that off. As long as Vegas oddsmakers react to media hype and public action, we'll be able to profit for ourselves and our clients by driving a truck through that window of opportunity.

The perceptions of Major League teams and ballplayers are often the result of ILLUSIONS created by their home ballparks. Anybody who plays half their games in a great hitter's park will have either great hitting stats or lousy pitching stats. Anybody who plays half their games in a great pitcher's park will show the opposite, great pitching stats but lousy hitting stats.

If you change 'great' to 'good,' the pollution is still there. A park that slightly favors pitchers will create misleading stats over a 162-game schedule. Since hardly anyone plays in a purely neutral park, this matters!

We've gone through the splits and grabbed all the ROAD ONLY numbers for the remaining contenders for you. These will give you a much better sense of what you're dealing with in both the ALCS and the NLCS through the rest of the week…and then again in the World Series not too far down the road. You can then make game adjustments on the fly based on the ballpark that each game is being played in. (Or, take the easy way out and sign up with NETWORK BASEBALL!)

Let's start with pitching…where once again an incredibly dominant staff is being ignored in the postseason because they're 81 home games were played in a hitter's paradise.

TEAM ERA ON THE ROAD
Texas: 3.19
Milwaukee: 3.88
St. Louis: 3.99
Detroit: 4.06

Texas has the staff everyone thought Philadelphia had. The Phillies built a truly historic staff this year in terms of career achievement…and posted a 3.23 ERA outside of their home ballpark. Good stuff. Texas was BETTER despite having to face DH's on the road! Nolan Ryan has done an amazing job of finding, teaching, supporting, and utilizing pitchers ever since he took over in a position of power at Texas. It's arguably one of the great underreported stories in baseball history…that a staff THIS good gets ignored two years in a row as they play for the AL Championship.

The three other teams aren't exactly lobbing the ball up there underhand. But, Texas is clearly in a league by themselves when you graph those numbers.

Detroit couldn't break 4.00 even with Justin Verlander having a Cy Young season…and a borderline MVP season at that. The Tigers have been pitching better than that number would suggest lately thanks to Doug Fister at the top of the rotation…and the virtual elimination of the back end of a rotation once the playoffs start.

You'd have to call the NLCS a wash in terms of staff pitching. The Brewers would have a larger edge if you only focused on the guys most likely to pitch in the playoffs…but not necessarily an overpowering edge.

In short:

*Texas neutralizes Verlander when he's on the mound, and has a pitching edge in most other matchups.

*Milwaukee has an edge in most matchups vs. St. Louis, but not one that can't be overcome by the offense.

Let's look at a couple more pitching numbers…

TEAM WHIP ON THE ROAD
Texas: 1.18
Milwaukee: 1.26
Detroit: 1.33
St. Louis: 1.39

This is Walks Plus Hits per Innings Pitched. The rankings are the same, but Texas loses some of its dominance over the field. That tells you that they've done a better job of shutting down the power game from opponents. They're a little better at keeping people off base…but much better and preventing those guys from scoring. In terms of the shape of this stat across the league, Milwaukee's edge over St. Louis is more impressive here than it was in ERA.

TEAM K-RATE ON THE ROAD
Texas: 7.8
Detroit: 7.5
Milwaukee: 7.5
St. Louis: 6.7

Handicappers should pay a lot of attention to strikeout rates from pitchers because there's a very strong correlation to success. You can see three sturdy outfits and one relative pretender in this stat. It's not the end of the world if the Cards can get outs when opponents make contact. But, that 'shut down' bonus potential from high K pitchers really matters in the postseason. You've seen that several times already this year…where a stud pitcher slams a door on a rally by striking out a couple of guys in a row with runners on base. St. Louis has less of that potential than anybody. Texas has been listening to Nolan Ryan.

Pitching is important, but it isn't everything. Let's look at some ROAD ONLY numbers from the guys at the plate.

RUNS PER GAME ON THE ROAD
St. Louis: 5.1
Detroit: 4.6
Texas: 4.4
Milwaukee: 4.1

This is where St. Louis becomes a big threat…and where Milwaukee stunningly falls off the map. The media's been telling you Milwaukee's big bats are the scariest things in the world! These guys are going to slug their way to the title. Well, they don't have as much power as you think. It's not necessarily a ballpark issue in this case. The main offensive star is a heavy-set home run hitter…and reporters who spend 24 hours a day worshipping New York, Boston, and Philadelphia can't go beyond the most simplified images when it's time to cover other teams.

When you focus on REALITY, the Brewers don't have a championship offense. They can certainly pound vulnerable pitchers…and they've seen a few so far already in the playoffs because they had the good fortune to miss Philadelphia. Maybe they'll go the distance anyway…with a balance of pitching and defense getting the job done. Just be sure you know what you're dealing with.

Detroit has an edge on Texas…but not that big an edge. As we discussed last year, the Texas offense is very mortal once you get them out of their home park. It's not 100 degrees every game. Seasonal winds aren't helping the hitters. And, opposing pitchers aren't wilting in the fifth inning while trying to gut it out for managers who want 110 pitches regardless of the game being played in an oven. Normalize conditions, and Texas becomes a team with a fantastic pitching staff and an okay offense. Since you're handicapping in October instead of July, this is something you need to know.

BATTING AVERAGE/ON BASE/SLUGGING ON THE ROAD
St. Louis: .277, .342, .442
Texas: .269, .326, .413
Detroit: .267, .332, 406
Milwaukee: .246, .307, .391

Big edge once again for the Cardinals in the NLCS, and a virtual dead heat in the ALCS. This is what we mean about Milwaukee getting credit for what St. Louis is doing. It's the Cardinals who grade out most impressively in the power and on-base numbers amongst the remaining teams.

Okay…NOW you're ready to handicap the remaining games in the LCS and World Series!

If you'd like some help, JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will post its top plays on game days through the postseason. You can purchase those here at the website with your credit card, as well as full postseason packages. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back to football tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK as we review key NFL stats from last week to help get you ready for next week on hump day. College football resumes Thursday with a preview of USC-Cal in the ESPN game. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

 

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