Three things you can bet on every baseball season around this time:
1) The Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates will go shopping for a telescope so they can actually see first place. The Orioles and Pirates entered the final week of June a combined 48-102 and 40½ games out of first. Look at it another way: The Yankees had one fewer win (47) through their first 75 games than Baltimore and Pittsburgh had combined through 150 games!
2) Cubs pitcher/hothead Carlos Zambrano will become a YouTube sensation after another one of his spectacular in-game meltdowns. The latest occurred June 25 against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field and landed Zambrano on the restricted list. His annual outbursts not only signify that summer is here, but they also alert the Cubs’ depressed fan base that—for the 102nd consecutive year—this will not be their year.
3) Finally, at least one surprise team that got off to a hot start will still be going strong as the season reaches its midway point. Thus, all the experts who wrote off the hot start as a “Viagra moment”—you know, eventually it’ll wear off—will backpedal faster than an All-Pro cornerback.
Without question, the team that fits the latter category this year is the San Diego Padres. Despite a lineup that features just one feared slugger (first baseman Adrian Gonzalez) and a pitching staff whose ace (Mat Latos) was in Triple A at this time last season, the Padres sat at 45-30 through 75 games. Not only did San Diego enter July with one of the best records in the majors, but the Padres also had made bettors more money (by far) than any team in baseball.
In fact, if you bet the same amount on each of San Diego’s first 75 games, you made a nearly 200 percent profit (largely because the Padres have cashed numerous times as a sizeable underdog). Entering the last week of June, only two other teams—the Rangers (nearly 130 percent) and Mets (117 percent)—yielded a return of more than 90 percent.
Can the Padres keep it up for another three months? I don’t see why not. They play in a very winnable division (National League West), and they’re succeeding the old-fashioned way—with pitching and defense. San Diego, which plays home games in the best pitcher’s park in baseball, leads the majors in team ERA (2.99) and bullpen ERA (2.57), and no other squad is really close in either category. The Padres also had the fifth-fewest errors in baseball.
Keep this in mind, too: The best may be yet to come for the Padres. That’s because going back to 1999, at least one team each year has finished up more than 20 “units” of profit (i.e. better than 200 percent profitable). Also, San Diego’s schedule from July 1 through the All-Star break (which begins July 12) is incredibly favorable, with three-game series against the Astros, Nationals and Rockies.
MORE MONEY MATTERS: Back in mid-May when I discussed the best “money” teams in baseball, the Padres were in the top five along with the Nationals (first) and Blue Jays (third). Six weeks later, Toronto has dropped a spot to No. 4, while Washington—despite all the hype surrounding rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg—has plummeted to No. 15 and was no longer even profitable (the only thing in D.C. that’s fallen further than the Nats in recent weeks is President Obama’s approval ratings).
Additionally, a 12-19 slump sent Tampa Bay tumbling from the best record in baseball and a top-five money team to third place in the American League East and 19th on the money list. The Rays are one of five teams—the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Phillies are the others—that entered the final week of June with a winning record but had lost more money than it had won.
At the same time, the Angels and Red Sox have seen their profits soar since the second week of May. Los Angeles has gone from 23rd to seventh, while Boston jumped from 22nd to eighth.
(Note: I had no plays last week, so my bankroll remains at $5,345.)
Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.