The All Star Break marks the symbolic (if not actual) midway point of the Major League Baseball season and the action should heat up down the stretch as teams vie for divisional titles and playoff spots. No division in baseball is as competitive as the National League Central. Every team in the division not only has a legitimate chance of making the playoffs but under the right set of circumstances all five teams could win the division. Right now the Chicago Cubs hold a 2.5 game lead atop the NL Central with the Milwaukee Brewers 2.5 games back and the St. Louis Cardinals 3 games back. The Cubs also can’t forget about the fourth place Pittsburgh Pirates (6.5 games back) or the Cincinnati Reds (7.5 games back).
While you could argue that the hotly contested nature of the NL Central is a sign of mediocrity–and the Cubs do have the worst record of any division leader in baseball–it should make for some interesting competition heading into the late stages of the campaign. It’s remarkable that the division is so tightly packed heading into late July. Consider this–as noted above the Cincinnati Reds are just 7.5 games out of first place. Looking around the Major Leagues the last place teams in the other divisions have the following deficits: 32.5 games, 27 games, 21.5 games, 20.5 games and 16.5 games. The parity in the NL Central should make for entertaining baseball but should also present some good betting value.
This game is a good example. The Reds haven’t been in stellar form of late losing 6 of their last 10 games but while the Cardinals have won 6 of 10 they’re not exactly on a torrid pace either. They scrapped out a win at home over Pittsburgh yesterday meaning that they’re 4-4 in their last eight games. The Reds are coming off a 5-2 road loss to Chicago on Wednesday. The pitching matchup looks like a toss up with the Cards starting Dakota Hudson (3.50 ERA) against the Reds’ Tanner Roark (3.99 ERA).
Much of baseball handicapping is knowing your situations. Most Major League teams have situations in which they’re very profitable and others where they lose money. The Cardinals are -9.5 units overall this season and most of the ‘damage’ has been done on the road where they’re 20-26 -7.2 units. They’re also 39-35 -5 units against right handed pitching and 28-31 -10.8 units in night games. The Reds, meanwhile, have scrapped out a small profit at home (+0.6 units) but are almost inexplicably 30-22 +10.9 units in night games. Cincinnati has also done well stepping up in class this season going 31-28 +9 units against teams with winning records.
Another interesting characteristic of this year’s Reds–they have been one of the biggest ‘Under’ teams in Major League Baseball playing 57 ‘Under’ in 89 games this year. They’re ‘Under’ in 36 of 50 at night and 37 of 55 against opponents with winning records. Cards totals performances are more balanced this year but they have gone ‘Under’ in 8 of their last 11. We’ll bet this matchup accordingly.