Don’t pile up money against the slumping Cards and Rays

Longtime MLB manager Gene Mauch, who would know, had a memorable quip about the vagaries of losing streaks in baseball. “If you lose at the beginning you got off to a bad start,” Mauch said. “If you lose in the middle of the season, you’re in a slump. If you lose at the end, you’re choking.”

In the early going of the 2011 baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays belong squarely in the first of Mauch’s categories. Gamblers backing either team this year must feel like the 1964 Phillies during the stretch run of the pennant race. As of the beginning of this week, no team in the American League had burned more money for bettors than the Rays, and no team in the National League had hemorrhaged more cash than the Cardinals.

Bettors backing the Rays in each of their first nine games lost more than eight units. (For instance, a bettor risking $100 a game was down more than $800.) Bettors backing the Cardinals lost more than five. The question is how to plan your wagers involving these teams as the season progresses. Bettors who gamble based on streaks will be tempted to pile on, blindly betting against the Cardinals and Rays. They should proceed with caution.

In baseball, short-term streaks and slumps by hitters are virtually worthless in predicting future results. I see the early travails of the Cards and Rays as a function of routine offensive slumps rather than an indication the franchises are irrevocably broken.

The Cardinals scored only 27 runs in their first nine games, worst in the NL. Their pitching is fine, with a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.23, third-best in the league. A lack of offense has been the major cause of the Rays’ misery, as well. The team scored just 20 runs in its first nine games, worst in the AL. The Rays’ pitching has been average, not terrible, with a team WHIP of 1.32. The Rays did lose Manny Ramirez, who abruptly retired after reportedly testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Most reliable projections, however, had Ramirez racking up no more than 100 hits and 15 home runs this season—not exactly eye-popping numbers.

If the betting market turns noticeably against St. Louis or Tampa Bay because of something as nebulous as a “bad start,” I’ll be looking to wager on, rather than against, the Cardinals and Rays


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