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NL Playoff Races
The same pennant-driven sentiments can be found in the National League too. Here’s a look at how those divisional and wild card races may pan out.
NL West: The Padres continue to dazzle as the surprise team of the National League. Although their hitting has been average at best, they are led by one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, one that leads the MLB with a glistening 3.27 ERA.
Mat Latos is the best of the team’s young hurlers and has his squad leading the San Francisco Giants by three games. The Giants are another pitching-heavy team with a 3.37 ERA that is third in baseball. The Dodgers ran away with the division last year and have shown an ability to get hot. It’s not likely they’ll prevail but at six games out, it’s not over yet.
The biggest question mark is whether or not the Padres’ pitching will be able to hold up. Nobody saw this performance coming and they aren’t like the Giants, who have several pitchers who have proven themselves capable of remaining dominant for an entire season. In the end, I see the Giants winning this division. Not only do they have great pitching depth and proven commodities, their offense will only continue to reap the rewards of recently promoted catcher Buster Posey. The line at www.sportsbook.com has the NL West wide open, besides the Dbacks all the teams have a shot. The Dodgers at +1000 could be a great bet to win the division.
NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals have dominated this division in recent years and find themselves in a two-team race with a surprising team, the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals have a half game lead behind an excellent combination of pitching and hitting. Their 3.29 ERA is second best in baseball and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday continue to form a formidable power duo at the plate. A surprising cast of characters leads the Reds. Joey Votto has come from practically nowhere to be near the league lead in batting average, home runs, and RBI; Scott Rolen, previously considered done by some, has resuscitated his career in Cincinnati. Although the Reds’ pitching has been average, it has been bolstered by rookie Mike Leake, who skipped the minor leagues altogether.
The overall skill of the Cardinals can’t be overstated. In addition to having one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in baseball, they have perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia. With the exception of Garcia, all of these players have won pennants and excelled in clutch situations. Cincinnati is a nice story but I don’t expect their inexperienced roster to be able to stay with the Cardinals for the course of an entire season.
NL East: After a couple of down seasons, the Atlanta Braves are trying to return to their perch atop the NL East. Behind a balanced offensive attack and outstanding team pitching, the Braves have built a four and a half game lead over Philadelphia, the preseason favorite to win the division. Although Roy Halladay has been absolutely brilliant, the Phillies have largely failed to live up to expectations as they’ve struggled with consistency, especially on offense. The Mets and Marlins are both within eight games but neither seems capable of mounting a charge strong enough to supplant the two front-runners.
To be fair, a main reason the Phillies have underachieved is injuries. Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have all been on the DL. There’s no reason to think this team won’t regain its continuity though. They’ve made the World Series the last two years and have kept largely the same lineup. They have the overall team power and experienced pitching that will enable them to get past the Braves and win the NL East.
Wild Card: This will ultimately be the most congested race in baseball and will be decided by the teams that narrowly miss winning their own divisions. If my divisional predictions hold up, that leaves Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the LA Dodgers as the primary contenders. Depending on how they finish their seasons, Colorado, Florida, and the New York Mets may play themselves into contention as well.
At this point, a prediction may end up being no more useful than a coin flip. However, out of the seven teams mentioned, I see the Braves prevailing. Knowing this is Bobby Cox’s last year and likely Chipper Jones’s as well, they are playing with a definite purpose. They have a perfect combination of motivation, experience, and outstanding pitching; one that I believe will clinch a playoff spot for them.
MLB: Yankees start west trip in Arizona
Owners of baseball’s best record, the New York Yankees theoretically shouldn’t have much trouble beating the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, still whether or not bettors are willing to lay the -160 at Sportsbook.com with a Yankees’ team due for a potential letdown after a big series win over the Mets and having traveled cross-country is another question altogether. Let’s take a look at Monday’s contest. For more on this game, click over to the GAME MATCHUP.
With New York’s 4-0 win over the Mets on Sunday coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to Florida, the Yankees (43-26) moved into sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since April 21. The Yankees, who have 16 more victories than the Diamondbacks (27-43), wrapped up a nine-game interleague homestand with six wins, and play their next six games at NL parks.
The absence of a DH poses some problems for New York, as manager Joe Girardi has been using both Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada at that position as they work their way back from injuries. “We’ll go day by day just to see how each one of them goes,” Girardi told the Yankees’ official website.
The Yankees start A.J. Burnett (6-5, 4.33 ERA), who allowed six runs, six hits and four walks in a season-low 3 1-3 innings of Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to Philadelphia. The right-hander has recorded a 9.00 ERA in losing his three June starts. He has also given up six homers over 16 innings during his losing skid after allowing four in his first 11 starts.
This could be trouble against an Arizona team that is fifth in the majors with 82 homers, and 15-3 when hitting at least two in one game. Also, with the DBack hitting just .253 for the season, StatFox cites a potential strong angle suggesting to fade Burnett:
· BURNETT is 13-27 (-19.8 Units) against the money line vs. an NL team with a team batting average of .255 or worse since 1997. (Team's Record) The average score was BURNETT 3.6, OPPONENT 4.5 - (Rating = 1*)
Burnett, who hasn’t faced the Diamondbacks since 2005, is 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA in five career starts against them.
Like Burnett, Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez (2-6, 4.70) has also struggled of late, going 0-4 with a 5.14 ERA in his last five starts. However, the right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his last three starts against the Yankees, but hasn’t faced them since 2007. Of course, these teams haven’t met since the Yankees swept a three-game series in New York in 2007.
Arizona is returning home after going 1-5 on an interleague trip. Their bullpen continues to struggle and is the worst in baseball in several categories, including WHIP and ERA. That could prove to be the most important factor in handicapping tonight’s game, as it often is. Take a look at the powerful FoxSheets Super Situation being offered up:
· Play On - Road teams (NY YANKEES) - AL team with a high on-base percentage (>=.350) against a team with a bad bullpen (WHIP >=1.550), playing on Monday. (56-30 since 1997.) (65.1%, +27.4 units. Rating = 2*)
The StatFox Game Estimator calls for a relatively easy 6.5-4.2 win by the Yankees in this game and ARIZONA is 12-31 (-14.5 Units) against the money line as an underdog of +100 or higher this season. In that sense, perhaps the emotional letdown and travel issues just aren’t enough to overcome what figures to be a mismatch in talent in this series.
The first pitch for Monday’s game is set for 9:40 PM ET.