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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:36 PM

By a few measures, the New York Yankees are already the top team in the AL East. But, the standing in your morning newspaper currently have the Tamp Bay Rays sitting atop the very strong division with just three games left before the start of Interleague play.

In fact, Tampa Bay leads New York by 1.5 games as those two teams start a three-game set tonight in the Bronx. The Rays are hoping to get some distance in the standings…while the Yankees know a sweep would put them back on top at the temporary “end” of league play before the IL hiatus.

In what categories are the Yankees in first in the East?

 

RUN DIFFERENTIAL

NY Yankees +23

Boston +22

Toronto +22

Tampa Bay +18

Baltimore 0

Many analysts and handicappers place a lot of weight on this stat at the expense of the standings because it’s easier to luck your way into a good won-lost record than it is to luck your way into a good run differential. Note how Baltimore, a team many think of as playing on borrowed time anyway this year, falls back to earth in this stat…while the Yankees and Red Sox are up at the top even though they’ve suffered through slower than expected starts standings-wise.

 

WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED

NY Yankees +4

Baltimore +3

Tampa Bay +1

Boston +1

Toronto even

You regular visitors to this website are familiar with this stat, that is often featured in Jim Hurley’s NETWORK NOTEBOOK. The nature of the baseball schedule makes it impossible for teams to play exactly balanced schedules in terms of home games and road games right up until the end of the season when everyone is at 81 both ways (adding up to the full 162-game schedule). Those imbalances can warp your perceptions if you’re not careful.

The Yankees have played the fewest home games of anyone the division heading into tonight’s series. Baltimore shows up better here than they did above…but we know that luck is playing a role in the won-lost record of the Orioles. What we have here for the Yankees in COMBINATION is the best run differential in the division while playing the fewest road games. That’s important. And, that’s why they may still deserve to be thought of as the class of the division even though the Rays are on top of the standings.

Maybe the numbers will be different by Friday morning. Tampa Bay can catch the Yanks in BOTH of those stats by playing well in this high profile series.

Here are the pitching matchpus (ERA and WHIP in parenthesis):

Tonight: Shields (3.95, 1.32) vs. Pettitte (3.49, 1.13 in limited action)

Wednesday: Cobb (3.71, 1.47) vs. Nova (5.60, 1.58) (nationally televised on ESPN)

Thursday:  Price (2.44, 1.21) vs. Sabathia (3.68, 1.24) (nationally televised on MLB Network)

Who, what happened to Ivan Nova?! He’s been struggling particularly badly of late…and it’s very rare to see a WHIP that high for a rotation pitcher this deep into the season. Tampa Bay is hoping to light him up in this very good home run park. Of course, Cobb will be in danger too with that 1.47 WHIP. Consider taking the Over in that game if weather conditions are favorable.

Otherwise, tonight’s game may be determined by whether or not Andy Pettitte is ready for playoff-style baseball after his late start to the season. He’s done well as he works his way back into form. We may have a pitcher’s duel with Price and Sabathia on Thursday in an evening get-away game. The Yankees travel to Washington afterward to visit the Nats this weekend, while Tampa Bay heads home to host the red-hot Miami Marlins. Can you believe that both of those IL matchups could conceivably be world series previews?!

Tampa Bay-NYY is definitely on the radar for VSM handicappers tonight, along with the much anticipated fifth game of the Boston-Miami NBA playoff series. Tonight’s big play highlights:

*Kelso Sturgeon, who alerted you yesterday that Oklahoma City might be the best team in the playoffs before nailing an outright winner for his clients on the Thunder in San Antonio, has 25-unit plays going in both the baskets and the bases this evening.

*Ron Meyer is offering a GUARANTEED basketball winner in Boston-Miami for just $15 in a very special offer. You get two Diamond Dominator plays as a bonus.

*Tony Salinas has another of his patented “umpire totals” highlighting the Tuesday card. Get baseball and basketball for just $20.

The best plays on the board from the biggest names in handicapping are always available for you right here at VegasSportsMasters. Check the home page of this website daily for big play bulletins. That and the listings on the “buy picks” page are your best sources for special announcements from our industry legends. Hot handicappers are waiting to hear from you!

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