Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, July 15, 2012 at 10:12 PM
So many teams are still in the playoff discussion in the American League that it will be easy to pick out a showcase series on Mondays and Fridays for the forseeable future. Though potential playoff previews are always fun to watch and study…the matchups that are most interesting to us right now involve the many teams who are on a precipice. You have to win to get in. Lose, and you spend the postseason watching on TV like everyone else.
Baseball is a drawn out affair. We don’t have a one-and-done tug-of-war like you see in March Madness. There are no knockout rounds. To us…that makes the drama more intense. Teams on the precipice are walking a tightrope across the Colorado rapids…and it’s going to take them a while to get from one side or the other. They could fall off at any point, the way Philadelphia did a few weeks ago over in the National League.
The Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox begin a four-game series tonight in Fenway that will tell us a lot about whether or not either or both of these teams has what it takes to cross that tightrope and qualify for the playoffs. Chicago is in better shape at the moment in terms of reaching October. But, some of that is an illusion based on a home friendly schedule. This long series will help even up their home/road split. Will they look as comfortable late Thursday Night as they do now?
CWS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS
*The White Sox are currently favored to win the AL Central by many math models, but the markets have less respect for the Chisox and more respect for Detroit. You’ll see in a moment that Chicago has a few rotation pitchers who may have been throwing over their heads in the first half of the season. Basing projections on past stats puts the White Sox in the playoffs…basing projections on regression to the mean for key contributors is less optimistic.
*The White Sox are in very good shape to earn a Wildcard even if Detroit catches them from behind. They have a head start now on the field for the fifth and final playoff spot (assuming Texas and the Los Angeles Angels win a division and a Wildcard over in the West). And, they don’t play in a brutal division during this era of unbalanced schedules. That being said…the same issues about falling back to earth with a variety of key players still apply. Can the unheralded guys who sparked the surprising first half of 2012 keep things going for six full months? What we see in this four-game set in Boston, and then this weekend in Detroit will tell us a lot.
BOSTON PLAYOFF SCENARIOS
*Forget about the division. It would take a miracle to catch the Yankees from behind in the AL East given the fast distance in the standings this deep into the season. Plus, the Yankees just won three of four in Fenway before the All-Star Break, establishing clear superiority. And, they did that without C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in the rotation!
*Boston is one of many teams battling for that projected fifth and final spot (though everyone in the East and Central will be rooting for a big slump for either the Rangers or Angels). A variety of math models give Boston about a one-in-three chance of earning that position. It fluctuates every few days depending on what they’ve just done, and what the other contenders have done. We will say this though…models that are “roster-based” and/or “regression-based” are much more optimistic. Boston is a squad that’s endured some misfortune in the first half of the season, and is therefore positioned to come on strong in the second half of the season.
Let’s look at the probable pitching matchups and see how things might play out…
Chicago: Floyd (7-8, 4.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)
Boston: Cook (2-2, 4.37 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
Neither pitcher impresses in the ERA category, though those WHIPS hit the eye a bit better. Remember that both teams play home games in hitter’s parks…so it’s tougher to post great ERA’s on these teams. A decent WHIP can turn into a mediocre ERA because of extra-base hits. Both teams will have travelled without a day off coming into this game (CWS flying in from Kansas City, Boston from Tampa Bay). That might give the pitchers a fighting chance to avoid giving up early runs. Typically, we’d be looking at the Under in this park…with these offenses…and those starting pitchers. We’ll check the weather forecast before making a final decision.
Chicago: Humber (3-4, 6.01 ERA, 1.49 WHIP)
Boston: Lester (5-6, 4.49 ERA, 1.35 WHIP)
Humber hasn’t pitched since June 14th because of an elbow ailment. He was effective in his most recent rehab start. CWS is hoping that the horrible stats in the first half of the season were caused by the elbow…and that a healthy Humber can return to his form of last year. This staff becomes pretty stalwart if that happens! We’ll find out early here. Boston bashes soft pitchers in Fenway. Add Lester to the list of throwers who are better than their stats…but not really impressing this season. JIM HURLEY will be working with his Chicago sources to get a read on Humber. Get him right, and the side and total pick themselves.
Chicago: Quintana (4-1, 2.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)
Boston: Doubront (9-4, 4.41 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
You can see why Boston has been so close to .500 all season. Their starting pitching has been pretty generic, whether you’re talking about established veterans or newcomers. Quintana is a newcomer for the Sox who’s really impressed thus far. He’s one of the main reasons they’re in first place. Out of nowhere he started putting up ace caliber performances. You get that in a mediocre division and you rise very quickly. If his balloon is going to pop, Fenway is a logical place for that to happen. If his balloon DOESN’T pop tonight…then we’ll be looking to back him at affordable prices for as long as he can keep this going. The stats suggest this is CWS’s best spot for a win in this competitive series.
Chicago: Peavy (7-5, 2.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Boston: Morales (2-2, 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)
A great year so far for Jake Peavy. It took him longer than expected to adjust to the change in leagues. And, he couldn’t stay healthy at first either. Morales has been a pleasant surprise for Boston…a team that’s been surprised often this year either by bad performances from projected stars, or star performances from guys they weren’t thinking much about. Will Chicago make the mistake of looking ahead to Detroit in this series finale?
JIM HURLEY is likely to have at least one big play in this series, and maybe more. But, there are other major matchups that NETWORK is also very interested in this week. Among those:
LA Angels at Detroit (another big one!)
Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Toronto at NY Yankees
NY Mets at Washington
San Francisco at Atlanta
We’ll pick one of those two NL series for showcase coverage Tuesday here in the NOTEBOOK because both don’t start until then. It’s a great week to try out our BLUE RIBBON or HIT AND RUN baseball clubs. You need to start building your bankrolls for football!
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Our baseball coverage continues through the week…then it’s back to college football conference previews this Saturday and Sunday with Conference USA. The summer’s going fast. Don’t get caught napping…GET ALL THE MONEY WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!