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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 11:37 AM

We've got a couple baseball-only days coming up before football resumes Thursday. Let's take this opportunity to paint a picture of Major League Baseball since the All-Star Break. Many handicappers cling to perceptions of teams that are based on results from months ago. What's happening LATELY in baseball?

Do you want to bet the Pirates because they surprised people in the first half of the season? Or, do you want to fade the team that's 12-23 since the Break? Do you want to back the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants because they're a great team in a pennant race? Or, should you be concerned that they're 6-16 their last 22 games and 16-20 since the Break? Can you lay favorite prices with a team like THAT?

Baseball is all about ebb and flow, and trying to ride the rapids as they mark their course through the season. We compiled the won-lost records for all 30 Major League teams from the All-Star Break through this past Sunday's action (so we could use the end of a series for the cut-off for everyone). We have to say that most handicappers are probably in synch with most of the many teams haven't seen a change in fortune. But, there are definitely some surprises and potential misperceptions in play that you should be aware of.

We'll start in the American League. Again, these are records from the ASB through this past Sunday...

NY Yankees 24-13
Boston 22-14
Texas 22-14

No surprise here. The two big money franchises from the Northeast and the defending AL Champs are playing at a high level. Boston is visiting Texas right now, which has a good chance of being a playoff preview. Also note that a 22-14 record is .611 in winning percentage. That equates to about -157 or -158 on the baseball money line in Vegas. These teams are playing well, but are far from sure cashes at very high prices. 

Tampa Bay 20-15
Toronto 20-15
Detroit 19-15
Chicago White Sox 19-15
LA Angels 19-17
Oakland 18-17

This is an interesting mix to us...because Detroit's seen as a playoff team that's trying to take control of their division, while many handicappers have kind of tuned out Tampa Bay and Toronto because they have no shot at the postseason. Well, Tampa Bay and Toronto are still playing like Wildcard teams at the moment. And, if you look at the full season standings, Tampa Bay was better than Detroit for the year heading into their current meeting down in Florida. Tampa Bay is third place in the AL East, but would lead the AL Central if they weren't stuck with the powerhouses. Toronto is better than second place Cleveland for the year. Be sure you keep things in proper perspective during the dog days of summer.

Let's also note that the LA Angels are more linked to the Oakland A's right now than the Texas Rangers. Yes, the Halo's and Texans are fighting it out for the AL West crown. Texas won three of four in Anaheim to put some distance between the records. Since the Break, LAA and Oakland have been at similar levels or performance...while the Rangers are up with Boston and the Yankees.

Cleveland 15-19
Kansas City 15-22
Minnesota 14-23
Seattle 10-24
Baltimore 11-25

Yes, we have a playoff contender in the also-ran department! Cleveland dropped three games this past weekend in Detroit, which put them at four games below .500 since the Break. At least they're clear of the rest of the field in this lower group. When you're getting most of your baseball news from ESPN...and ESPN is mostly focusing on the pennant's easy to lose track of teams that have fallen off the map. Minnesota has been a huge disappointment since the Break considering they were finally getting some people healthy. Baltimore had talked the talk of a turnaround season back in March. They're still a doormat.

Moving now to the Senior Circuit...

Milwaukee 27-9
Philadelphia 24-10
Atlanta 22-14

The Brewers have been the best team in baseball since the Break, running roughshod over whoever dares stand in their way. Philadelphia and Atlanta keep grinding out wins as they lock up their respective spots in the playoffs. The Phillies were a stunning 81-44 after the weekend, on pace for a 105-57 finish. Atlanta has a stranglehold on the Wildcard this nice run has coincided with less than stellar plan from runners up in the other NL divisions. The playoffs and World Series have a chance to be really terrific this year given the arms and bats that are likely to be on the field.

Arizona 20-15
Chicago Cubs 19-16
St. Louis 18-17
San Diego 19-18

Arizona would have been in the powers group before their current Eastern swing took the wind out of their sails. What stood at 20-15 Sunday Night was 19-10 before the trip started. We've at least learned that the best in the West is going to have trouble on the road vs. the true elite of the sport.

Look at the Cubs! Would you have guessed they were fifth best in the National League since the Break? Funny how they FINALLY fired their general manager once things started going well. He keeps his job through years of embarrassment. The team gets hot and he's gone!

Keep an eye on San Diego. They have the reputation of a doormat, but the recent record of a .500 caliber team. That will make you money in baseball. Some of the best August and September values are disrespected teams who are still playing like they care. San Diego isn't Baltimore or Houston. The Padres are playing as well as St. Louis.

Cincinnati 17-18
LA Dodgers 16-18
Washington 15-18
Colorado 17-20
NY Mets 14-21
Florida 14-22
Pittsburgh 12-23
Houston 12-23

We almost broke this into two different groups. The first four teams are within a series of the .500 mark...which means they're not all that far behind St. Louis and San Diego at the bottom of the prior group. The last four teams are really struggling. The Mets haven't overcome recent injuries. Pittsburgh turned into a pumpkin, which surprised very few. Houston traded  most of what little talent they had in the batting order. You can at least consider the first four teams in certain situations. Best to avoid the bottom four until they show more signs of life.

How many of you have been losing with the San Francisco Giants, and NOT winning with the Chicago Cubs? How many of you have been forcing bets on the LA Angels and Cleveland Indians because they're in pennant races, while avoiding Toronto and the Chicago White Sox...who have better records over the last six weeks? Would you have guessed St. Louis and San Diego were both just a game over .500 since the Break?

It's important to stay in touch with recent form in long season professional sports like baseball and pro basketball. We hope today's exercise will help you pick more winners going forward.

If you'd like some help with that, you can sign up right now for JIM HURLEY'S BLUE RIBBON BASEBALL. We'll be paying particularly attention to these series tonight and Wednesday:

Boston at Texas (national TV Wednesday)
Detroit at Tampa Bay
Oakland at the NY Yankees
Chicago White Sox at LA Angels (national TV Wednesday)
Atlanta at the Chicago Cubs
San Diego at San Francisco

Game day selections always go up a couple of hours before first pitch. Be sure you take care of business EARLY on Wednesday when there are five day games.

Back tomorrow to talk more about Boston and Texas to get you ready for their nationally televised Wednesday night showdown on ESPN. Then it's back to football Thursday for more NFL Preseason action. Be sure you're with us in the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

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