I’ve always contended that baseball is the easiest sport in which to make a profit, simply because of the volume of games, the inevitable peaks and valleys that each team experiences throughout the course of the season, and the money you can pocket by backing big underdogs (as noted previously in this column, even baseball’s worst team usually wins at least 60 games).
Put it this way: Betting the NFL is like an average guy walking into a Strip nightclub on a Saturday night and hoping to walk out with a stunner who could double for Miss July. Sure, you might get lucky one out of every 20 times, but it’s not going to be easy (and it’s almost certainly going to cost you a fortune). Betting baseball, on the other hand, is like walking into a room full of single moms. If you have a job, decent grooming habits and can at least pretend to like children, your odds of scoring skyrocket.
At least that was the theory prior to this season, when all the single moms suddenly started looking like supermodels.
The reason? An incredible amount of injuries have robbed the game of numerous star players. Among the past and future All-Stars who have spent weeks (if not months) on the disabled list: Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Chase Utley and Roy Oswalt (Phillies), Buster Posey (Giants), Derek Jeter (Yankees), Evan Longoria (Rays), David Wright (Mets), Carl Crawford (Red Sox), Shin-Soo Choo (Indians), Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (Twins), Josh Hamilton (Rangers) and Josh Johnson (Marlins).
All of which has made handicapping baseball about as easy as predicting which politician is next in line for a sex scandal. For instance, a check of the standings on Independence Day showed that nine American League clubs and eight National League teams were within four games of first place, and 14 of the sport’s 30 squads were between five games under and five games over .500.
What does this mean when we’re trying to build our bankroll in advance of the upcoming football season (or, more specifically, college football season)? It means we have to do a lot more homework to find those moneymaking opportunities. Here then are five tips to help you out (note that all stats are as of July 3):
• Through their first 82 games, the Yankees were a major league-best 24-5 in day games, but only 26-27 at night. Boston has a similar day-night dichotomy (20-7 vs. 29-27), as does Detroit (21-12 vs. 24-28) and San Diego (19-12 vs. 19-35). At the opposite end of the spectrum are Toronto (11-23 in day games; 30-21 at night), Cleveland (13-16 vs. 31-22), St. Louis (14-16 vs. 31-24), Pittsburgh (13-16 vs. 30-25) and San Francisco (15-18 vs. 33-19).
• Milwaukee (29-11), Philadelphia (32-14), Cleveland (24-14) and the Yankees (28-18) sport the best home records, while Washington (24-15) ranks as the fourth most profitable home team (behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Cleveland). The road warriors include Boston (27-18), Tampa Bay (26-16) and Atlanta (25-18). Three clubs you should avoid when they hit the road: Milwaukee (16-29), Oakland (16-28) and Kansas City (11-26).
• At 43-41, the usually woeful Pirates were the most profitable team in baseball because they’ve cashed so many underdog tickets, particularly when they leave Pittsburgh (only Tampa Bay has won more money on the road).
• One of the reasons for the Pirates’ road profits has been journeyman pitcher Kevin Correia, who is 9-2 away from home. Correia is the fourth most profitable starter in baseball (Pittsburgh was 12-6 through his first 18 starts), trailing only the Phillies’ Roy Halladay (12-3), the Nationals’ Jason Marquis (12-5) and the Mets’ Dillon Gee (11-2).
• As usual, the Angels thrived in interleague play this year, going 13-5 (a record matched only by the Yankees). Unfortunately for the Halos, their final 77 games are versus AL opponents, against whom they’re 31-36. Conversely, the Royals went 5-13 in interleague games (but still are just 29-37 within the AL).
All-Star action: Last year, I played the National League (at a nice underdog price) and the “under” in the All-Star Game, and cashed both as the NL prevailed 3-1 to snap a 0-12-1 slump in baseball’s Midsummer Classic. Now I’m looking for the NL (which is still just 4-18-1 over the last 23 years) to make it two in a row on July 12. Additionally, even though pitching rules this year (11 clubs have a sub-3.60 ERA), I’m calling for the first All-Star Game slugfest of the post-steroid era (the last five games have ended 3-2, 5-4, 4-3, 4-3 and 3-1). That’s because Arizona’s Chase Field is a notorious hitter’s ballpark.
Here are the plays (FYI: My bankroll sits at $7,286): $400 on the OVER (estimated total of 9 runs) and $200 on the National League (estimated odds of +115).