Archive for May, 2012

I noticed at several offshore books the player-proposition in this game is a “Vegas vs. Vegas prop,” for Most Total Bases with Shane Victorino installed as a -120 favorite over Bryce Harper (-110). And with all the hype surrounding this game, I might have to side with the veteran tonight, as I think Victorino is due for a big offensive output.

Victorino is 3-for-7 (.428) with two doubles and five total bases (three in the first game and two last night), while Harper is 4-for-9 (.444) with a triple and six total bases (two in the first game and four more last night.

As much of a fan as I’m of the local guy making good, and have been rooting for Harper since Day 1, I think he might press a little bit too much tonight, and if Hamels is smart, he’ll go after him intelligently, poking around the zone before freezing the youngster with an off-speed out pitch. The crafty left-hander is 6-1 on the year, with a 2.48 ERA. And against this team, he’s a very respectable 11-4 with a 2.62 ERA. So aside from all the drama with Harper, let’s not forget Hamels is pretty good. He knows a thing or two.

He came into this season with a stellar 2.62 ERA dating back to the 2010 All- Star Break – fifth-best among MLB pitchers with 300-plus innings. And as one of the better pitchers in the game, he knows when and how to employ his tailing dower curveball and plus-changeup. He really does have one of the best changeups in the game, and Harper, who’s struggled with off-speed pitches, hasn’t fully matured mentally in the bigs yet. This could very well be one of those games – every 15 or so we may see it – where he emotionally implodes and whacks a wall in the tunnel of the Nationals’ dugout with his bat, which ends up caroming off the wall and smacks him above the eye.

Victorino, on the other hand, has never faced Jackson – which shocked me when I looked it up – and I know how crafty the Flyin’ Hawaiian can be in the box. I’ve actually watched the switch-hitter train, take batting practice and work on every angle of the plate right here in Las Vegas. When the guy wants to hit the ball, or better yet, when the Phillies need a go-to hitter, I have to say Victorino is the man.

Tonight, a price of -120 on Victorino in a series finale, to help his team end a losing streak is not a bad investment against young Harper.

Besides, I said I’m a fan of the local guy making good, and Victorino is just as much a Las Vegas resident as Harper.

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Is this really the showdown everyone had been anticipating in May.

If someone said, that in late May there will be a game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, and it could very well be the most anticipated rematch in the first quarter of the season, you’d all laugh.

Not the Red Sox-Yankees, or the Reds-Cardinals, or the Tigers-White Sox. Not even the Dodgers-Giants.

The Nationals and Phillies.

But, yes, with Philadelphia southpaw Cole Hamels toeing the slab tonight against the Nats, in a 7:05 p.m. (est) first pitch, all eyes will be on his first meeting with the Nationals since he “welcomed” the rookie from Las Vegas into the bigs with a 93-mile per hour kidney-check that might have even made Mama Harper squirm a little bit.

Nevertheless, Sheri Harper knows her little guy is a big boy and can take it. She has to know there will be quite a few more of those purpose pitches around the corner, with all the bombs he’s sure to set off in different stadiums.

He was already a rookie-legend, before Hamels thought he needed to tame whom he thought was a cocky youngster exuding a tad too much confidence for a 19-year-old. But in the event anyone agreed with Hamels’ assumption, they may have changed their minds and turned them into Harper fans and sided with the slugger, who happens to be tied for fourth in the league with triples (3) already.

Excuse the kid if he’s simply trying to find an identity for himself, while setting the tone by creating one for an entire franchise, but I hope Harper gets the last laugh tonight and hits that Liberty Bell in dead center.

Two times.

I loved it when he simply took first after getting drilled, then proceeded to record his first stolen base of his then eight-game MLB career, not to mention etched his name in the books as youngest player to ever steal home.

On the year, against southpaws, Harper is batting a killer .296 (8-for-27), with a pair of doubles and triples, and three RBI. His slugging percentage is .519 against lefties, and please, just give him some runners to work with, cause he’s batting .500 with runners at 2nd and 3rd this year.

Hamels is 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA on the season, and since the five-game suspension he was handed for aiming at Harper, he’s 2-0 with a pair of home wins over the Padres and Red Sox, lasting seven innings in each, while a total of 11 hits and four earned runs.

But here’s what intrigues me about Hamels’ comments about the incident. It’s not the first part, we all know about him saying “I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it.” But for me, in regards to this game, it’s more about him saying: “So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are getting away from it.”

Well Cole, if you want “old-school baseball,” that means Washington starter Edwin Jackson needs to take aim at your back, hip, thigh or, quite frankly, your ass. You’ve got one coming now, if we’re playing by the old-baseball rules.

Your teammate Shane Victorino knows about old-school baseball. Remember during the 2008 playoffs, after the Flyin’ Hawaiian was brushed back by Hiroki Kuroda? Victorino gestured towards the non-English-speaking pitcher to make a point, and later explained that he didn’t mind a pitcher throwing inside, “that’s baseball,” as he put it. Just don’t throw at anyone’s head.

Old school baseball.

So, if Jackson, who is 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA on the year, is going to get mixed up in this little brouhaha, we could see dugout warnings by the third inning. Jackson is in after one of his best outings, last Friday, albeit a 2-1 loss to Baltimore. He allowed just one run on five hits while striking out eight in eight frames. He doesn’t have a decision in his last three starts and has a 2.70 ERA to go along with his inspired play.

So much intrigue for this game tonight, and oh did I mention, the Nationals (26-17) are looking to complete a three-game series sweep of the struggling Phillies (21-23). Plus, the Nationals have beaten the Phillies 13 times in their past 16 meetings, dating back to last season.

And maintaining a 5-1/2 game lead over the Phils in the National League East, you’d expect, in this series finale, the Nationals to have a target on their backs.

Or, in Hamels’ case, on their kidneys.

The Phillies have been installed between $1.50 and $1.60, with the total sitting at 6-1/2, under -110.

And just like that, with a 6-0 mark in the NBA Playoffs, including two blowout wins in the Western Conference semifinals, the San Antonio Spurs are the prohibitive favorites to win the NBA title.

Suddenly, the Miami Heat have dropped to the third choice by bookmakers, with the Oklahoma City Thunder sandwiched between the veteran-laden Spurs and suddenly struggling Heat.

As of 6:30 a.m. pacific Friday, the following odds to win the NBA Championship were posted at Sportsbook.ag:

Spurs +120

Thunder +250

Heat +350

Celtics +600

Pacers +1200

Lakers +3500

76ers +5000

Clippers +20000

While everyone had written off the Spurs at the start of the strike-shortened season, the experienced bunch from the Alamo is defying Father Time, and has dominated throughout the first round and a half of the playoffs. They’ve got one foot in the Western Conference Finals’ door, and appear to be in a good spot to walk shut the door on the Clippers after routing them in Games 1 (108-92) and 2 (105-88).

The Spurs, who have now won 16 straight games and haven’t lost since April 11, have won five of their first six playoff games by double digits, with three blowouts of the Jazz and the two wins over L.A. For the postseason, the Spurs’ margin of victory is 16.16 points per win. In their four home playoff games, they’ve laid between 10′ and 11′ points.

In their two road games they laid -5′ and -7′ against the Jazz, and have been installed as -3′ point favorite in L.A. for Game 3, which is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, at 12:30 p.m. Game 4 is Sunday. And while the Spurs are riding high, and playing on pure momentum right now, the Clippers may be out of their realm, having played seven games in 13 days, while they’ll have played nine in 16 by the time the weekend is over.

All of these odds changes don’t surprise me one bit, not nearly as much as the surprise of seeing the Celtics longer shots than Miami to win the title. Honestly, the Celtics and Spurs are both defying age-critics, and could be on a collision course for the NBA Finals. If the Celtics win tonight in Philadelphia, their odds will shrink, and if the Pacers win Game 4 on Sunday, don’t be surprised to see the Heat plummet to the oddsmakers’ fifth choice.

Only one person in the sports-betting world has enough power to cause a domino effect with a betting line, and unless he’s the one who’s initiated a line move on Thursday night’s Game 3 between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, then the public sure hasn’t been keeping an eye on the Pacers the past couple months.

I can’t personally confirm what sports-betting behemoth Billy Walters is doing in the NBA Playoffs – if he’s even still playing, for that matter – but since the public isn’t exactly the type to worry about an NBA Playoff game the night before, there has to be a reason the point spread has moved from the Pacers laying -1 point – or -1-1/2 at some places, to the Heat now laying the single digit.

It really doesn’t make sense, when you look at it, to move the line on a team traveling off a loss and without a key component (Chris Bosh) to your scoring. Especially against a very dangerous basketball team that brings a 25-11 record back home with it.

My opinion, the Pacers seized the opportunity to take control of this series with an outright win in Game 2, in Miami, the overwhelming favorite to win the Eastern Conference now that the Chicago Bulls are out-of-the-way.

The Heat were a decisive favorite over the Pacers, but I’m telling you right now, if you look a little bit deeper into these lineups, you’re going to find this series is a little more even than most would think.

The Pacers may not have the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – who the Heat no longer have either – but they do have a balanced roster that has turned up their noses at everyone who has ignored them as legitimate threats in the  Eastern Conference.

The aforementioned Big Three for the Heat were the only players on that team to average double figures in points during the regular season. But the Pacers had five players averaging double figures, while George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough were close behind at 9.6 and 9.3 points, respectively. And now that Bosh is unavailable to bang for boards and produce paint points – he was averaging 18 points and 7.9 rebounds per game – I think it poses more of a problem than most South Beach residents would like to believe.

Sure, the underdog in each game of this series might look like a value play, but catching a point or two, after losing the way they did and without a member of the vaunted Big Three… who would want to play the Heat?

Which brings me back to my original statement: Only one person is the sports-betting world has enough power to cause a domino effect with a betting line – and it would be because he’s on a mission and is doing so with a purpose. Walters has been known to trigger those betting dominos, by initiating a little bit of sharp money on the side he’ll eventually play against, as other groups and then the public will follow suit with hopes of catching an assumed-value before it disappears.

I see throughout Vegas, that line moved from Indiana -1, to a pick at some places throughout the morning, anywhere from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. pacific. But shortly before 11 a.m. Vegas time, someone shot out an order on the Heat, moving the line simultaneously to Miami -1. Offshores pretty much followed suit, for instance, Sportsbook.com went to Pick around 9 a.m. pacific, then Miami -1, about 11 a.m.

Now, with a sophisticated guy like Walters, once he’s seen the money trickling in, and pushing the line where he wants – in this case, possibly, Indiana +1-1/2 or +2 – BAM! He brings in enough to cover his decoy money, and then some, on his actual play right before tip-off of the game.

It’s what makes Walters the best there is.

That all being said, I’m still hopping on one leg back in square one trying to figure out who it was in the first place, because there are some years the sports-betting King has turned off his computers and given his troops the summer off by now.

So what do I know? *Shoulder-shrug*

Guess I’ll be tuned in to my odds page right up to the 4 p.m., pacific tip-off, to see where the line closes. If it comes back down with an instant, I’m going to smile with a pretty good idea the King hasn’t necessarily left the building – ahem, the books – just yet, for the summer.