Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM
For decades, July 4 has been the date circled on the calendar for MLB teams to evaluate where they stand in the big picture. It’s usually right around the halfway point of the season (teams just scooted past the 81-game mark in recent days). If you’re in first place…you’re a legitimate contender. If you’re off the pace, it’s time to get moving!
One of JIM HURLEY’S favorite indicator stats for determining which contenders are likely to hang tough through the full season, and which are likely to fold under pressure, is Won-Lost Records against teams who are .500 or better. These are litmus tests for “clutch” baseball, and ultimately the playoffs. Some teams (in all sports) post gaudy records by bullying bad teams. When it’s time to produce vs. quality, they get exposed. Others show you that they’re not afraid of anybody, and will put up quite a fight when it’s time to win a division, league, conference, or world championship.
Because we want to outline the divisional races (with an eye on the playoffs), we’ll focus today only on teams who are .500 or better themselves. That’s 18 of MLB’s 30 teams. Here are records when those 18 teams play each other according to baseball-reference.com.
Remember that it’s hard to post a “great” record in a sub-category that only features winning teams. If you’re at .500…then you’re a quality team because you’re holding your own against others who know what they’re doing. So, Atlanta and Philadelphia actually grade out well here, while Washington is exposed as a pretender. This is a shocking development, because Washington was supposed to be the class of the division! Right now, the Nats are getting outclassed by the good teams they face. This stat is suggesting we’ll have a surprising winner of the NL East, at least compared to preseason expectations. If you’ve been cashing tickets because your analysis has been in synch with the numbers above, keep doing what you’re doing.
Chicago Cubs 25-22
St. Louis 18-21
Pretty close to the vest here, with the Cubs grading out as the best. Not a surprise given preseason expectations. This data is in line with futures prices that expect the Cubs to be at the top of the heap come October.
San Francisco 33-30
LA Dodgers 29-27
Colorado just snuck back to the .500 mark overall with some wins over San Francisco. But, the Rockies don’t look to be a serious threat to make the playoffs based on this measure. San Francisco must find consistency to leapfrog the others in your newspaper standings. Slight edge to the Dodgers over the D-backs if this is destined to be a two-team race.
We’re at the end of the NL…and it’s the ATLANTA BRAVES who have performed best vs. quality. Nobody would have guessed that back in March.
NY Yankees 33-16
Tampa Bay 21-32
Wow…the Yankees are 17 games over .500 against quality teams! Both Boston and the Yankees have faced demanding schedules and thrived. Both are World Championship quality, let alone division winner quality. Unfortunately, one will have to enter the American League playoffs as a Wildcard. Tampa Bay has been performing better lately than its 21-32 mark would suggest. Experiments with the Rays rotation have worked out great. That probably just means betting value going forward, rather than any sort of miracle run at the second Wildcard.
Cleveland is the only team that matters in this sorry division. The Indians have a huge lead because everyone else is so bad! They haven’t impressed vs. quality. They have three months to figure out how to do that.
LA Angels 18-31
Interesting extremes here. Pundits who are skeptical about Seattle might want to think twice about that. The Mariners are eight games over .500, compared to just seven for Houston. Our stats are showing that the AL playoffs are virtually locked in already! Oakland and the Angels don’t seem able to compete at the highest levels. Oakland has been a good value team when matched against lesser lights. The Angels have been hit by the injury bug. Can Shohei Otani do enough as a designated hitter to get them back in the mix?
In the American League, the Yanks are the best by a mile at 17 games over. 500. That’s why they’re getting so much respect in futures prices. Sharps know which stats matter most.
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We hope you have a great July 4 holiday, with hot dogs, apple pie, and BIG, JUICY WINNERS! We’ll see you again a week from today here in JIM HURLEY’S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. From holiday to holiday and big event to big event, you’re always going to GET THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!