Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, May 15, 2017 at 7:00 AM
You longtime readers know we like to periodically check in on divisional breakdowns to see if we can find overrated or underrated divisions (or leagues!) in Major League Baseball.
This exercise has helped us for many years, largely because the sports betting marketplace remains very stubborn about accepting that the American League is much better than the National League. It’s been true for more than a decade. After a slow regression toward more equality, early results in 2017 are suggesting the sports is bouncing back more toward a stronger American League.
Let’s start by looking at the AL divisions, and you’ll see what we mean. Through Sunday night’s action…
AL East: +12 games
AL Central: even
AL West: +2 games
Since every game within a division is break even (if Baltimore beats Tampa Bay, that’s a net zero for the AL East as a whole), you can see that the AL East is well clear of the field. And, you can see that the American League in composite is 14 games over .500…which means that’s all come against the National League in Interleague play. Every game within the AL is break even.
Right now, the hot starts of the Yankees and Orioles have helped launch the AL East to supremacy. But, there really aren’t any bad teams either. Toronto has rallied from a poor start to climb back to within four games of .500 (currently on a 5-game winning streak). Tampa Bay is in fourth place, but is only two games under .500. The key to having a power division in this sport (and all sports) is to not have any dregs dragging things down.
The AL Central seems fairly generic because Cleveland is off to a disappointing start. But, there are no disasters since Kansas City has also rallied from a poor start (currently on a 4-game winning streak).
The AL West is a couple of games over .500 after Houston won the late game in New York Sunday night. Houston is +14 all by themselves. Nobody else in the division is over .500. But, nobody’s as bad as the bad teams over in the National League.
NL East: -16 games
NL Central: +4 games
NL West: -2 games
Wow…Washington has the best record in the National League at 24-13…but the NL East as a whole is a full 16 games under .500! Atlanta, Miami, and Philadelphia have all been pretty horrible (including a 2-9 record against the American League).
The NL Central has been full of surprises. Raise your hand if you thought BOTH Milwaukee and Cincinnati would be ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the standings 37 games into the season. Maybe the Brewers and Reds will slump back toward preseason expectations. For now, this is the best division in the senior circuit because the Cards are playing well, the projected doormats are getting wins…and the Cubs are still near 50/50 amidst a surprising slump.
We see the biggest spread from best to worst “within” a division in the NL West. Colorado carries a 10-game lead over San Diego entering the new week. The LA Dodgers are just 1.5 games behind the Rockies, San Francisco just a game “not as bad” as the Padres. A true feast or famine division comes out close to 50/50 as a group to this point.
How can you handicap with this information? The first key is to be aware of what’s happening. For some reason, the market just won’t accept American League dominance, no matter how long it lasts. In recent years, their betting unit edge has been strongest at home, where experienced DH’s are much more productive than NL part-timers. Keep monitoring that and try to find spots to take advantage.
Within the leagues, recognize what’s happening with teams who weren’t supposed to be contenders. How long will the Brewers and Reds offer value? It’s already lasted longer than you thought! Will the AL East bully the rest of the league for a few months. Based on talent levels, that wouldn’t be a surprise. Most of the money is spent in the AL East. Boston hasn’t played anywhere near expectations yet. Maybe all five teams will take a turn running off wins vs. outside competition.
We decided to write this up for you now, because inter-divisional play is going to largely fill the schedule the next few days. Five Interleague series are about to begin. In the National League, there will be two divisional matchups (Reds/Cubs and Dodgers/Giants), while the rest are mixed. In the American League, only A’s/Mariners is a divisional series.
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