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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 1:28 PM

It’s been a story that too many sports fans and handicappers haven’t been paying enough attention to. Ben Sheets of the Atlanta Braves returned to baseball after what was basically a multi-year layoff, and has been lights out so far in three appearances.

July 15: 6 IP, 0 ER, 5K, 1 BB vs. the NY Mets

July 21: 6 IP, 0 ER, 6K, 3 BB vs. Washington

July 27: 6 IP, 1 ER, 4K, 1 BB vs. Philadelphia

The fourth start for Sheets will be Wednesday Night at home against the Miami Marlins. He’ll carry a ridiculously good ERA of 0.50 into that contest, and a decent K-rate of 7.5 per nine innings. That’s not a representation of Sheets’ strikeout dominance at the peak of his career. But, that’s about league average for starters…and a league average arm at the back of the rotation on a good team can do a lot of damage in the current pennant race. If things go as planned, Sheets will pitch again Monday Night in Philadelphia, with the following appearance coming against either the Mets or the Padres. It’s hard to imagine a friendlier debut schedule than what Sheets is dealing with.

Nobody expects Big Ben to maintain his ERA pace. That’s impossible over a larger sample, as you know from watching the elite arms in the sport. But, expecting him to regress to the mean doesn’t make him a “go against” pitcher. If he starts allowing two runs per six innings, that will often be enough to get the job done vs. the weak second half schedule Atlanta will be facing (the collapse of Philadelphia, Miami, and possibly the NY Mets makes things easy for both Atlanta and Washington in the unbalanced schedule format).

What are the best expectations for Sheets moving forward? Look, there’s not much to draw from because what he’s doing is so rare! IT’S A GREAT STORY, and should be respected in that light. From the handicapping perspective, we’re looking for this:

*Adequate vs. generic opposition

*Strong for six innings vs. bad teams or anyone in the tank

*Vulnerable vs. good teams

*Vulnerable in good hitting conditions

We strongly suggest you watch the K-Rate of Sheets very closely. If his numbers go down…then these first three games were probably a bit of a fluke, and he’s going to start looking like Roy Oswalt in short order. Oswalt had some success at first…but couldn’t keep things going in his return to action this year with the Texas Rangers. Yes, some of that was caused by a balky back…but, rusty veteran pitchers are prone to nagging injuries. Sheets will be too down the stretch. If Sheets can stay up at 7.5 K’s per 9 innings or better, then you need to be backing him with some enthusiasm against market prices that still aren’t sure what to make of him.

Moving forward…Sheets is only 34 years old. He seems older because his best days came back in the 2002-2004 time period. He’s only topped 31 starts one time since 2004. He didn’t see any Major League action in 2009 or 2011. Should these first three outings be a sign of things to come…the Braves may have conjured a key contributor out of thin air in terms of this year’s playoff race, this year’s playoffs, and the next few years in Atlanta.  

Stay on top of this story!

Our VSM handicappers are always on top of developments in the Major Leagues. That’s why they’re having stellar campaigns here in the summer of 2012. Wednesday’s highlights:

*Kelso Sturgeon won the first game of this Miami/Atlanta series to the tune of 100 more units! His major releases are now 14-3 over the last 17…and it’s a tear that we alerted you to very early in the process. We hope all of you have been taking advantage.  Kelso does have a 100-Unit Power Play on the Wednesday card. It’s yours for just $20

*Wayne Root has a GUARANTEED high roller bonanza on the Wednesday ticket. Pay just $25. If you don’t win, Thursday and Friday are yours absolutely free.

There were some early starts today. Hopefully you’ve remembered to TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY whenever there are day games. Big play announcements are posted well in advance on the home page here at VSM, with expanded details available on the “Buy Picks” pulldown page. Don’t forget that the NFL Preseason begins Sunday Night with Arizona battling New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. Early bird rates are available for exhibition and full season packages.

Here at the most powerful website in the industry…hot, legendary handicappers are waiting to hear from you!

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