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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, July 23, 2018 at 1:00 PM

As of Monday morning, fully 11 of the 15 teams in the National League had records at .500 or better. Because nobody is running away and hiding from the field just yet (though the Cubs are starting to), that means all 11 are still playoff contenders. Any of them could win their own division or earn a Wildcard.

While I often encourage you to study “indicator” stats that help you see your challenges more clearly, the best thing to do right now is study these teams against each other! With 11 teams in the hunt, there will always be games where contenders are squaring off against each other on a given day.

Three news series begin today with NL contenders battling head-to-head…

LA Dodgers at Philadelphia

Arizona at Chicago

Washington at Milwaukee

There’s also an Interleague series where resurgent Pittsburgh visits Cleveland, a certain playoff team from the American League. Your homework this week and through the next month (at least) is to watch these virtual playoff games head to head (or read the box scores afterward if you can’t watch every game) to get a read on which teams are really playoff caliber.

You’ve probably noticed during pro football and basketball that how teams perform within a playoff context helps you predict results later in the process. Your smarter in the second and third rounds of the NBA Playoffs than you are in the openers. You know all about the Super Bowl teams after watching them advance through the brackets. For the 11 contenders, the playoffs are truly underway right now. No shot at a World Championship if they don’t keep winning.

I’ll give you some background to start with. First, here are the current NL standings without divisions, just looking at the 11 teams at .500 or better. I’ve ranked them in terms of games over .500. You can see the Cubs are starting to pull away from the pack…and are now well clear of the teams at the bottom.

Chicago Cub 58-40

Philadelphia 55-43

LA Dodgers 55-44

Milwaukee 56-45

Atlanta 53-43

Arizona 54-46

Colorado 53-46

Pittsburgh 51-49

St. Louis 50-49

San Francisco 51-50

Washington 49-49

While that’s an 18-game spread (Cubs 18 games over .500, Nats dead even), it’s still relatively wide open in terms of the various races. Maybe those bottom four teams fall off the map soon. All current divisional leaders still have work to do to solidify their positions. The Wildcard race could go down to the final week.

My next bit of assistance involves focusing only on records for those teams against opponents who are at .500 or better. The data comes from the baseball-reference website. I encourage you to monitor this category on their expanded standings page all season if you don’t have time to keep records by hand.

Philadelphia 38-30

LA Dodgers 39-32

Chicago Cub 34-30

Arizona 40-36

Atlanta 29-27

Colorado 33-32

San Francisco 40-40

St. Louis 28-31

Milwaukee 28-33

Washington 27-36

Pittsburgh 25-37

Well, that got interesting quickly down at the bottom, didn’t it? Washington began the season as a serious World Championship threat, but looks like a massive pretender. Less-heralded Milwaukee does too after its recent slump at the hands of Pittsburgh and the LA Dodgers. Would you have guessed Philadelphia led the pack? I bet NONE of you did. I wouldn’t have and I follow this sport closer than anyone I know.

Maybe we’re looking at the three divisional winners right there at the top. Phillies, Dodgers, and Cubs. The tests those teams face in the next few weeks will teach us a lot, and enable us to make money in the process, and then even more aggressively when pressure really mounts. Even more imperative for you to watch that Dodgers/Phillies series that starts the new week.

Doesn’t look like there will be much dramas over in the American League. Winning money over there will more involved recognizing who’s still prioritizing current results and who’s just going through the motions. Here in the “senior circuit,” the teams themselves will tell them what’s about to happen. Be sure you’re listening.

As you study the games and box scores, focus on:

*True offense (park-adjusted)

*Rotation depth

*Potential pitcher fatigue

*Bullpen sequencing

*The ability to protect late leads

*The ability to win on the road

Take these late July and early August meetings as seriously as you would an NFL or NBA playoff game. I am certain this effort will be worth your time. A “new season” has begun after the All-Star break. True colors are about to be shown.

If you’d like help making smart picks on the daily baseball schedule, KELSO STURGEON’S BEST BETS can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours.

Be sure you check on early bird football rates. The NFL preseason begins a week from Thursday. You heard right…NEXT WEEK! Did you realize there was such an early start. The earlier you sign up, the more you save.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and hard work. I’d like to apologize for logistical issues that prevented us from posting a late-week report after the All-Star game. We will be back this Friday to talk more football as we gear up for the start of a new season. See you at that time.

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