by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Throughout the years, we have often thought the best time to attack the MLB season, from a wagering perspective, at least, comes in the first month of the campaign.  Often, it’s before the oddsmakers and wagering public have had time to adjust to developments of the new season.  Though these trends can, and do, change weekly as the campaign progresses, it’s never too soon to get an idea about some of these angles as they materialize in the first few weeks of the new term.
With that in mind, we offer a handful of situations to continue watching as MLB moves into the second half of April.
Los Angeles Dodgers... We know many wagerers who cringe at the thought of laying the sort of prices the World Series champs are being asked to carry early in the season.  Into April 15, Dave Roberts’ crew hasn’t had a game where it had to lay less than -150, with many prices in the 200+ range.  There are a few options, however.  Consider the Run Line, where the prices are often more reasonable and in some instances offer a decent return.  In the case of the Dodgers, until further notice at least, would not shy away from laying the extra run, either, as the last four, and seven of the last eight, LA wins thru April 14 have all been by 2 runs or greater.  With the stellar pitching, the Dodgers also provided exceptional “under” value in the first two weeks of the season, with six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten games, landing “under” into April 15.
Chicago Cubs...  One of our early “season win” projections that has yet caused us to waver one bit is our “under” forecast for the Cubbies, who can’t seem to get out of their own way.  Not that there has been much traffic on the basepaths for the Chicago offense, which has been outscored many nights by the NHL Blackhawks.  Into the upcoming weekend set in Atlanta, Chicago has not scored more than three runs in five straight games, and only once across the past eight games has it exceeded three runs, which came in a four-run “explosion” at Pittsburgh on April 8.  The stats are fairly numbing and very illustrative of the issues; as a team, the Cubs are batting .163 thru April 15, with an OBP of a mere .254.  The only every day player batting above .200 is C Wilson Contreras at .226 (platooning outfielder Jake Marisnick is at .250); the only every day batter above .300 in OBP is CF Ian Happ at .302 (part-timer Marisnick, again, doing better than the rest at .357).  All things considered, it’s a bit remarkable the Cubs won as many as five of their first twelve games, though three of the wins were bunched together  in the first week of the season at home against the Pirates and Brewers.  Not surprisingly, either, Chicago will enter this weekend’s series at Atlanta having gone “under” 8-2-1 in its last ten games.  For the moment, it looks as if it will take stellar pitching for the Cubs to have a chance to overcome an offense scoring less than 3 runs pg.  Kyle Hendricks might be up to the task after tossing six shutout innings at the Brewers on Tuesday of this week at Miller Park, but the rest of the rotation has looked shaky, and even Jake Arrieta’s decent 3.18 ERA is a bit deceiving as he has been pitching out of trouble in each of his last two starts.  With several Cubs (including 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez) in contract years, Chicago could be a seller well before the trade deadline.  What sort of lineup manager David Ross will have beyond the All-Star break is anyone’s guess.  Right now, however, it looks like the Cubs are destined for low-scoring games that they will be hard-pressed to win.
Boston Red Sox... While we stick to our preseason “under” forecast for the Cubs, there’s a chance we might have missed with our downgrade of Bosox chances.  While things were not looking good after getting swept three at Fenway Park by the Orioles to begin the season, the Red Sox then proceeded to reel off nine wins in a row thru April 14.  The offense, slumbering in the opening weekend vs. the O’s, quickly awakened, scoring better than 7 runs pg during the win streak, as Boston has not surprisingly gone “over” 8-2 its last ten thru Wednesday’s doubleheader sweep of the Twins.  On a tear at the plate lately has been LF J.D. Martinez, who put an exclamation point on the uprising with a three-homer showcase vs. Baltimore this past Sunday at Camden Yards.  Pitching, however, is what betrayed the Bosox in the shortened 2020 season, and an ongoing recovery from the staff will be key to sustain a challenge in the AL East.  While Chris Sale isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break at the earliest, Alex Cora might have a chance to hold the rotation together if several journeyman pieces such as Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Richards (who was shelled by the Orioles in his Bosox debut, but pitched much better in the subsequent matchup vs. the Birds) continue to provide serviceable work in the rotation that is also now augmented by the presence of Eduardo Rodriguez, who when last seen won 19 games in 2019 before missing last summer’s abbreviated schedule.  The bullpen, also flammable last summer, is also holding its own, especially closer Matt Barnes, who hasn’t allowed a run in his first seven innings pitched. 
Oakland A’s... Meet the rollercoaster team of the season to date, and one that has reaffirmed our belief about early-season cold streaks.  Which states that if you think a team has problems and is playing that way, don’t be afraid to keep riding against it until form changes.  Though if you suspect the team is much better than it has performed, be careful before putting it on the “sell “ list.  So we have the A’s, an example of the latter, as things should not have been as bad as they were in the opening week of the season, when Bob Melvin’s team lost 7 of 8 games and looked bad in doing so.  That included getting destroyed in an opening four-game set at the Coliseum by the Astros, the Oakland staff strafed by a Houston offense that scored 8 or more runs in each game.  It took the series rematch at Minute Maid Park last week to get the A’s moving in the right direction, but the pieces finally began to fit together by dominating the Astros in the last two games of that set before moving onto Phoenix, when Oakland’s offense was shining in a pair of win over the D-backs that included a fightback from a 5-0 deficit in the Wednesday win.  Now at four wins in a row into the weekend set vs. the Tigers, things look mostly back in order for the A’s, though Melvin is still looking for a bit more consistency out of his rotation (Jesus Luzardo in particular).  Oakland also has to deal with the loss of new closer Trevor Rosenthal, expected to be out for perhaps three months,  and for the time being, Melvin likely uses a tag-team approach out of the pen (Lou Trivino, mostly a  set-up man the past three years, is perhaps the top option after looking solid out of the pen in the two wins at Arizona).  
San Francisco Giants... Is Gabe Kapler’s team as good as its 8-4 start suggests?  If there is one surprise development to follow closely, it’s improved work from the bullpen, which has posted a serviceable 2.57 ERA in the first two weeks and has confounded recent foes with various different looks and styles, including sidearmer Tyler Rogers, who looks like a reincarnation of Kent Tekulve, or further back Ted Abernathy, almost scarping his knuckles in the dirt with his unorthodox delivery  and slow-speed fastballs that rarely clock above 84 MPH on the radar gun.  Which also sets up devastating breaking balls that had Cincinnati batters flailing helplessly in the recent series at Oracle Park.  Rogers usually sets up Jake McGee, Kapler’s designated closer who throws heat almost exclusively with a succession of four-seamers that are a stark contrast to Rogers’ submarine style.  It’s working thus far for the Giants, who are also getting some great early work from parts of the rotation including Johnny Cueto, pitching out of memory in his last two starts while allowing just one run and seven hits across 14 1/3 IP in wins over the Rockies and Reds, while Kevin Gausman has an 0.81 WHIP thru three starts.    
Baltimore Orioles... We mentioned earlier the reversal in fortunes for the Red Sox, citing almost exclusively the turnaround experienced in the pair of early series vs. the O’s.  As the midweek, rain-interrupted series vs. Seattle prepares to conclude on Thursday, however, Baltimore has only won twice since the opening three-game sweep of the Bosox.  Questions regarding the pitching staff have once again surface, allowing a whopping 54 runs across an eight-game stretch.   Struggles by the Birds were not wholly unexpected, but if the staff does not begin to show signs of progress, we can probably keep the O’s safely in the go-against column.  Perhaps “over” as well, as Baltimore had landed that way five straight into the Thursday game vs. Seattle.  

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