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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Historically, July Fourth Weekend is when everyone in baseball media puts together their report cards for how the season has gone thus far. There are all these stories about how “so-and-so has never won a division if they weren’t leading on July 4,” or “such-and-such percentage of division leaders on July 4 go onto win their divisions.” So on and so on.

As handicappers, you should read as many of those stories as you can…particularly those written by writers who follow the game closely. I’m less concerned about historical trivia (the AL East is so different this year than in the past, for example) than I am about accurate appraisals of what’s happening with each team. YOU hardworking students here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping need to read THOSE, and then do the following homework assignments through this holiday weekend:

*Rank all 30 teams by scoring margin. It’s easy to find that these days at many of the stat sites. It’s even part of the standings page at ESPN’s website.

*Rank all 30 teams by their won-lost records over the last 30 days. As I discussed recently, recent form is much more important for predicting the rest of July than anything that happened back in April or May. A few baseball reference sites can help you with this.

*Evaluate the schedule strengths played by all 30 teams. There are definitely some misreads in the current standings…where a few teams are better than is realized because they’ve played a difficult schedule, while others are worse than realized because they played a relatively easy schedule. Learn who those teams are!

*Take some time to write down the current starting rotations for all 30 teams (150 pitchers) so you can find potential weak spots to exploit. This won’t take as long as you think because you should already be so familiar with all rotation pitchers. The point here is to find pitchers who are likely to struggle going forward. For reasons such as:

They’ve pitched over their heads so far

They’re young and opponents are due to get a read on them

They’re on the back end of their careers and unable to deal with long, hot summers

They’re only in the rotation because of injuries to better guys

A lot of your most successful picks in the second half of the season will come because of who you’re betting AGAINST. Spend the July Fourth weekend compiling a list of those “bet against” starting pitchers.

*Be sure you have an accurate read on team offenses. This is usually the most overlooked element of baseball handicapping. There are still old-timers I know here in Las Vegas who don’t even pay attention to offense! They just look at the ERA’s of the starting pitchers, or try to ride hot streaks with different teams. That doesn’t work in 2014. The quants running models devote a lot of energy to individual and team offense. You should be doing the same. My best advice here is to look at ROAD only data for team offense at one of the major stat reference sites.

*I must emphasize again the importance of bullpens. Know all the bullpen ERA’s for the season, and do your best to evaluate what’s been happening recently for each pen. Some bullpens struggled badly in April and May…but then fixed the problem and have been fine since. You need to know who those are. Find ERA and K-Rates for all 30 closers. Know who blows saves!

*This is an important one. Compile a list of all losing teams, and see if you can spot any who have basically been laying down in “getaway” games on the schedule, or in other situations where there’s no obvious reason to be motivated. I’m not going to suggest that any MLB teams are losing on purpose. But, motivation and energy starts to fade for many teams once it gets really hot if they’re not in the pennant picture. You need to recognize those teams and their dead spots and bet accordingly. There are literal gifts on the board a few times a week already…and those gifts are going to start becoming more plentiful.

As always, if you’d like some help finding the best baseball bets on the board, you can sign up for my personal service. Try things out by purchasing my BEST BETS right here at this very website with your major credit card. If you have any questions about early-bird football or summer baseball packages, please talk to one of my representatives in the Vegas-Sports-Masters office at 1-888-777-4155.

I hope you have a great holiday weekend. Save a hot dog for me, and a frosty cold beverage. I look forward to seeing you again early next week as you continue “summer school” with The Dean of Sports Handicapping. We’ll be mixing baseball and football all through July and August as we build our bankrolls on the diamonds to set up a fabulous football Fall. Be sure you have your homework done by the next time we get together!

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