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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, May 18, 2012 at 11:21 PM

We take a one day hiatus from our wall-to-wall basketball Saturday because the schedule allows it…and because this weekend allows handicappers a great chance to truly evaluate the National League as it tries to regain equality with the American League after too many years of decline.

The basketball schedule?

*There’s no reason to run the numbers from Game Two of Spurs-Clippers because it was mostly just a replay of Game One. The Clippers were still banged up and tired. The Spurs are still fresh as a daisy and playing fantastic basketball. Either the Clippers get their act together Saturday afternoon or they don’t. A stat preview is superfluous.

*The numbers from Game Three of Thunder-Lakers wouldn’t be available by publication deadlines because that was such a late start. We have unique back-to-back situations this year in the Western Conference. We’ll be able to work around that Sunday because the first part of the Spurs/Clippers tango will be an afternoon game rather than a late-nighter.

And, since the baseball schedule is loaded with great Interleague matchups, this seemed like a good time to step back onto the diamonds even if it’s just for a quick visit.

You regulars know that one of our favorite stats in Major League Baseball is Wins Minus Home Games Played. It helps you adjust quickly for unbalanced schedules. That’s a significant factor right now in the National League because we have a few extremes out there with some teams playing a lot more road games than home games, and some others playing a lot more home games than road games. If you don’t adjust for this NOW, you might make some dumb mistakes this weekend. Or, you might not see some opportunities that should have been glowing in the dark.

At the moment, the American League is fairly balanced schedule-wise. That’s why we’re focusing on the National League today. We start in the NL East. Note that all records are through the games of Thursday Night because of publication deadlines.

 

NL EAST WINS MINUS HOME GAMES

Atlanta +7

Miami +4

Washington +3

Philadelphia +2

NY Mets +1

Washington was in second place in the NL East heading into Friday Night action, just a game behind the first place Braves. But, in this measure, they fall back behind Miami, and just barely ahead of Philly and the Mets. That’s because the Nats have played a couple more home games than road games…while the rest of the division has been pretty road heavy.

Atlanta had played 22 road games compared to just 17 home games entering their weekend set with Tampa Bay (which is also on the road). They have the second best record in the NL right now despite this schedule handicap. That means the Braves are even better than you had been thinking.

Miami had played 22 road games and 16 home games entering their weekend series with Cleveland (also on the road!). After a slow start to the season, they have been playing playoff caliber baseball for awhile now. That’s been hidden by an unfriendly schedule. Note that the NL East is the best division in the league this year…so Atlanta and Miami have been playing unfriendly schedules in terms of the home/road split AND caliber of opposition in the era of unbalanced schedules.

It’s a shame the NL East has drawn the AL East this year for the bulk of their action. At least you’ll be getting some decent prices this weekend if you want to take any shots on the first five teams under study.

 

NL CENTRAL WINS MINUS HOME GAMES

St. Louis +5

Cincinnati +2

Pittsburgh even

Milwaukee -2

Houston -3

Chicago Cubs -6

We don’t have issues with extremes in this division right now…though St. Louis is a bit better than you might have thought given a 21-18 road/home split entering their weekend series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers in what could easily turn out to be a playoff preview. Those are the only NL teams not playing AL teams this week…and it turned out to be a showcase series.

Houston is the team to be concerned with here. They’ve had a home friendly schedule most of the season that has helped hide some of their weaknesses. They’re better than people thought they’d be so far…but not quite as good as their won-lost record would have suggested.

 

NL WEST WINS MINUS HOME GAMES

LA Dodgers +5

San Francisco even

Arizona -2

Colorado -5

San Diego -11

The San Diego Padres have been an even bigger disaster than you may have realized. They have the worst record in the National League, and the second worst record in all of baseball, despite playing 25 home games and only 14 road games! Things are going to be even uglier when that evens out!

Colorado is similar to Houston in that a slightly home heavy schedule has helped hide some of their weaknesses. Their worse than you were thinking…and the NL West as a whole is in dire straits compared to the quality we see out in the East right now.

Let’s stack them up to get a better sense of what “playoff quality” might mean at the moment.

Atlanta +7

St. Louis +5

LA Dodgers +5

Miami +4

Washington +3

Philadelphia +2

Cincinnati +2

NY Mets +1

That’s a very East heavy grouping of everyone on the positive side of zero. The whole division is there! Be sure you’re thinking of Miami as a team that would probably be leading the Central or West divisions because they’d have a softer rivalry schedule. We may be looking at two Wildcards from the NL East joining the divisional winners in this year’s expanded playoffs.

Wouldn’t it be something if Washington made the playoffs but then couldn’t use Steven Strasburg because he had exceeded his innings limit?!

As you ponder the Interleague matchups this weekend…this should help keep things in perspective. If THIS group of contenders does well, then the leagues are starting to equalize and you can expect decent results for them when IL play resumes in a few weeks. If this group doesn’t do well…then the NL is still inferior and has its work cut out for it in the coming years. Of course, the Cards and Dodgers are playing each other…but you can probably safely assume that good results for the rest of the sampling would suggest positive results for St. Louis and LAD when they test the IL waters down the road.

Note that Saturday TV Baseball moves to prime time as Fox tries out a “Baseball Night in America” theme that’s been dusted off the network shelf. Many of the rivalry games will be shown regionally on FOX Saturday Night. Sunday’s main TV games are Boston-Philadelphia on TBS and St. Louis-LAD in prime time on ESPN.

The big play slate from JIM HURLEY will go up Saturday morning because there are so many early starts in the bases, and one of the NBA playoff games goes midday. You can purchase those online with your credit card or by calling the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Of course, Saturday is also a HUGE day in the world of HORSE RACING with the PREAKNESS. We have great offers again that keep it simple for those of you who just want to bet the big race itself and watch it on TV…or that go very in depth for the full day’s card at Pimlico and at other major tracks around the nation. Check the ad boxes and “buy picks” options at this website for more details. Or, check in early at the office. Be patient because office call volume is very high on the Triple Crown days.

It’s back to basketball Sunday in the NOTEBOOK with previews of Game Four in Miami-Indiana and San Antonio-LA Clippers. Enjoy this weekend’s basketball, Interleague thrills, and the big horse race. JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK WILL MAKE SURE YOU GET TO THE WINNER’S CIRCLE!  

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