At the All-Star break, I was reading over a number of articles and looking towards the second half of making MLB picks as a baseball handicapper and came across something that was interesting.
Lee Singer of ESPN Stats and Info found that at least one team who was two or more games back of playoff position (division and wild card) at the All-Star break made the playoffs in 17 of the 20 seasons in the wild-card era (since 1995). A total of 33 teams have done it, an average of 1.65 per season.
This got me thinking, what one or two teams this year are likely candidates and do they have the gumption to make it through? If the answer is "yes" than looking over the daily betting odds, chances are this team at worst should be looked at for MLB picks on a daily basis at sportsbooks like WagerWeb, home of the guaranteed next day payout.
The Strongest Candidates
The San Francisco Giants were three games behind the Chicago Cubs in the loss column for the final National League wild card spot and only four games behind the front-running Dodgers in the NL West at the break. The Giants have started the second half strong, but their nature this season has been EXTREMELY streaky when it comes to winning and losing, as eight times they have had streaks of five or more contests which featured victories or setbacks (Evenly split at 4-4).
San Francisco has the oldest pitching staff in baseball and it shows as Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Jeremy Affeldt all either are on or have spent time on the DL. But this team looks to be better offensively and they rank 3rd in the NL in scoring. With Hunter Pence back, the offense immediately picked up and once Nori Aoki returns, the Giants have shown they can score. This team is also dripping with experience and should make the playoffs.
The other club with a shot to do damage against the MLB odds is Baltimore. The Orioles can score, they're ranked fourth in the AL in runs and their lineup has good balance, which should help avoid prolonged slumps. With Chris Tillman starting to look like the ace as most expected, if he and Miguel Gonzalez return to career norms and the third-best bullpen in the league continues to pitch well, there are a lot of reasons to believe that Baltimore could catch Minnesota or Houston or maybe just surpass the New York Yankees to win the AL East again.
Pretenders, Not Contenders
Toronto can score, but unless they can defeat teams with the lumber, the pitching is not good enough to win close games as evidenced by their 12-27 record in contests determined by two runs or less.
Tampa Bay has done remarkably well considering that three of their projected starters have been together in only a handful of times around the rotation, let alone all five. Though with the 13th ranked offense it's hard to imagine the Rays as a consistent play at sportsbooks.
Detroit like Toronto can score even without Miguel Cabrera, however, take away David Price and the balance of starting pitchers have an ERA over 5 and the bullpen ERA ranks 13th in the AL.
Cleveland has a strong bullpen, excellent potential from its starting staff and they played very well in the second half each of the past two years under manager Terry Francona. Nonetheless, the offense scores barely over 4 RPG, they are 19-26 at home and have among the most difficult schedules when looking at games versus .500 or better opponents.
After the Giants, all other teams are in red numbers for score differentials, thus, if somebody is to make the playoffs other than the obvious suspects, they will have to get scalding hot.