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March 28, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Propositions Decent and Indecent

by Jim Baker

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You know what a proposition is? It's where someone approaches you with an idea you would have never thought of and asks you for money you didn't think you had. In sports betting, a proposition is usually a battle-within-a-battle, like which of two players will hit more home runs or which of two players will receive more Hall of Fame votes.

Today, we're going to put the standings aside and look at some team propositions. What follows are five pairs of teams that either finished very close to one another in 2005 and/or are predicted to do so in 2006. Aside from that, there is a geographic component just to add subtext to the proceedings. In addition to the five pairs, there is one quartet of teams that also sort of fits this description. Your job is to pick which of these teams will win more games in the upcoming season.

Florida Marlins vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
In what may prove to be one of the last Battles of Florida, the question is probably more one of how much damage the Marlins have done to themselves rather than how much the Rays have improved. With team officials sauntering along the River Walk in San Antonio and reps of that city invited to attend the season opener in Houston, the Fish and Big Tony are, at the very least, giving the appearance of a serious courtship.

In any event, when and if the Marlins do leave, they are going to miss the Rays as a cross-state whipping boy. In most seasons, they've been able to improve their lot by having six games against their Gulf Coast brothers. Last year, they took them out all six times and hold a 28-15 overall advantage. In terms of seasonal records, the Marlins tanked the first two years of the rivalry after their last build-down but have bested Tampa Bay by an average of 17.5 games since. That is supposed to change this year. Now, they both appear headed for approximately the same fate: win totals in the 60s. Have the Marlins really gotten that bad and have the Rays done anything of note to staunch the copious amount of bleeding their pitchers allowed last year? Other than letting Scott Kazmir mature for another season and not having to count on Dewon Brazelton or Hideo Nomo to start any games, isn't this basically a pitching unit of the same quality as the one that allowed a baseball-high 936 runs in 2005?

Because the Rays have not yet addressed their pitching, it's going to be tough to hand them the Florida championship on a silver platter heading into the season. While it seems as though they should win the thing 69 to 63, a few breaks here or there could make it a lot closer.

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Not only did the Yankees and Red Sox finish with identical won-loss records in 2005, their run differentials were nearly identical (100 and 102 respectively) as well. The Yankees then departed from procedure this past offseason. The Yankee way has always been to find a problem and attack it with great bundles of money. Last season, New York had a seriously confused starting rotation but, for now at least, they appear satisfied to begin 2006 with no new faces in the starting ranks. How very un-Yankee-like. While the lineup certainly appears capable of matching last year's 886-run output, they're going to have to if the team is to rely on 30-plus starts from Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang and Jaret Wright while hoping that Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina are their old selves. If the Yankees slip and surrender an extra 1.5 runs per week, it would give the Red Sox the door to their first division championship in 11 years.

While it would seem that this proposition has more substance than the rest on this list, is it, a battle just as symbolic as, say, the Marlins-Devil Rays duel? With both teams likely to make the playoffs regardless of how they sort themselves out, it may well be.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Here's a proposition within the proposition: if the Dodgers finish with a better record than the Angels, they'll win the National League West.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Minnesota Twins
Everybody's favorite team ascendant is, of course, the Brewers. Regardless of where they finish they will, at least, be fun to watch--something that could not be said of most other Brewers teams of the past decade. Why are they hooked up here with the Twins? Three reasons:

  • the contrivance of geographic juxtaposition
  • very similar 2005 run differentials (plus-29 for Milwaukee, plus-26 for Minnesota)
  • similar expectations in 2006
Here's a notion: the 2006 American League Central race will be a recreation of the 1967 American League pennant race with the White Sox, Twins and Tigers reprising their roles and the Indians standing in for the Boston Red Sox. It could happen. The Indians' pitching isn't as strong as last year, the White Sox could certainly wind up in the high 80-win zone if they regress in close games; if the Twins could scrape up another 50 or 60 runs from somewhere (a rejuvenated Justin Morneau for starters) then it would only leave it up to the Tigers to semi-miracle it up to get into the mix. A four-team race would probably take the number of games needed to win the division down into the high 80s. Also, having the Royals in the division as mutual whipping boy certainly helps. The other four teams barely need to play over .500 in the rest of their games (and with breaks falling either way, it is conceivable that all four of those teams could get into that range) provided they all win two-of-three from Kansas City.

Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers
After their World Series appearance, the Astros are predicted to drop back into the pack while the Rangers figure to be slightly improved over last year's 79-win showing. This makes for two teams with approximately the same expectations, win-wise.

This rivalry is not nearly nasty enough. In fact, it's not nasty at all. Texans have, apparently, expended all their rivalry juice on college and high school football. Well, all the better for our purposes. There is no time like the present to start ramping up this rivalry and I'm here to do my part by throwing a little hi-test on the fire. The Rangers fans I know say that Astros fans all live in broken-down sheds which they share with their livestock and marry their cousins whom they tether to stakes in the yard. The Astros fans I know say that Rangers fans are so stupid they think OPS stands for "Outstanding Pitching Staff"--a thing Astros fans think Rangers fans wouldn't recognize if it bit 'em in the brisket. I can't believe that either group would sit still for that kind of talk.

Ohio vs. Missouri
Of course, that's nothing like the vitriol between these two states. The things they say about one another are far too strong for this, America's most family-friendly Web site. In this proposition, the battle is between the baseball teams of these respective states: the Royals and Cardinals representing Missouri and the Indians and Reds stepping up for Ohio. While not quite reverse mirror images of one another, each state currently boasts one team that is up and one that is down. Combined, they meet somewhere near the middle. Last year, these were the results:

Ohio:       166-158, 1,610 RS  1,532 RA
Missouri:   156-168, 1,504 RS  1,569 RA
It would appear that Ohio has an excellent chance at repeating in that Missouri is dependent on the Royals getting out of the 100-loss ghetto because the Cardinals are bound to slip by a few games, even in the process of romping to another divisional title. Meanwhile, the bookmakers are setting Cincinnati's over/under right about where last year's record concluded: 73 wins. A slight step backwards is anticipated for Cleveland, which would still give Ohio the upper hand.

Here's another state pride proposition for you: which state will amass the best record? To make it a little more sporting, I've tossed New York and Florida because they skew to high and too low. Combining the records of two-state teams (omitting California which has five teams), these are the approximate 2006 over/under figures, not adjusting for vig:

176: Illinois
164: Texas
163: Ohio
157: Pennsylvania
157: Missouri

Given the state of the Cubs' starting pitching, picking this one probably isn't as easy as it might appear.

Related Content:  Missouri,  Rivalry

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