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American League holds winning edge

Teams are approaching the one quarter point in the season as they play game 40 this week and the Divisional races are starting to take shape. While most of the attention has been focused on favored front runners there are a couple of teams that have played exceptionally well thus far that have been “under the radar.”

On Sunday, Cincinnati vaulted past St. Louis to take over first place in the NL Central by virtue of having taken two of three home games from the Cardinals. Though their record is a modest 21-16 and their lead is just a half game, the Reds may be serving notice that they intend to contend. There is a nice blend of youth and veterans on this team and if manager Dusty Baker can avoid overusing his pitchers the Reds might just be contenders well into the summer. St. Louis is still the class of the Division and with no team other than Cincinnati playing winning baseball, the Cards still rate the role of solid favorites. Perhaps it’s no small coincidence that former Cardinals’ GM Walt Jocketty – who built St. Louis into World Champs a few years back – now is in a similar capacity with the Reds.

The Toronto Blue Jays have the misfortune of playing in the AL East where the Yankees, Boston and Tampa Bay all reside. Thus the chances of the Jays to win the Division or even earn the Wild Card are difficult. Yet they have started the season 23-16 and in third place (ahead of Boston). Their current record would have them atop three other Divisions and close in the other two.

The fact that teams such as Toronto and Cincinnati are overshadowed by the bigger name teams, however, often works to the bettors’ advantage as such teams are often undervalued. Not as much as in past years as the linesmakers do a sharp job of staying on top of current developments and look beyond the standings in setting prices. But there is still a large influence in the betting marketplace from less savvy bettors which is a large reason why underdogs often represent the best plays – in all sports.

Backing winning baseball teams that are often – in the mind of the public – not thought of as being good teams (or at the level of, say, Division leaders) can lead to many a profitable wager.

This weekend brings us Inter-league play for the first time in 2010. Such play has been around for more than a decade and has mostly been received enthusiastically by fans around the country. Though there are still a handful of detractors that argue interleague play takes away from the purity of the game and devalues the World Series, such is not the majority opinion. It’s great for most fans who get to see intercity or regional rivalries renewed on an annual basis in addition to seeing their favorite team play the rest of the teams from the other league every few seasons.

The American League has dominated regular season interleague play for the past half decade, compiling records of 138-114 in 2009, 149-103 in 2008, 137-115 in 2007, 154-98 in 2006 and 136-116 in 2005. For those past five seasons the overall record is 714-546 in favor of the American League – a winning percentage of 56.67 percent!

Interestingly, the National League representative has won two of the past five World Series despite the junior circuit’s domination of interleague play.

Here’s a look at four of the more attractive series that kick off interleague play this weekend, noting that with the imbalance of teams in the two leagues, Atlanta will be at Pittsburgh in the lone non-interleague series.

Boston at Philadelphia: These franchises have combined to win half of the last six World Series and each is in position to contend again in 2010 although the Phillies are in better shape, both in terms of current form and the competition they face to make the post season. Both teams rely more on offense than pitching although both have decent rotations. Boston’s has largely underperformed this season as both John Lackey and especially Josh Beckett have struggled. Philly ace Roy Halladay has been just as advertised with an outstanding 1.59 ERA and 1.04 WHIP through 8 starts, 7 of which have been Quality. Boston arguably has the deeper bullpen especially with Philly closer Brad Lidge sidelined. Both offenses have been better than the MLB average with Philly’s actually slightly better on the road than at home.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Boston as underdogs of +150 or more against Halladay, +125 or more against Cole Hamels; Boston as underdogs of any price in starts by Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz; Phillies as underdogs of any price against Beckett or Lackey; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Halladay; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Halladay opposes Lester or Buchholz.

New York Yankees at New York Mets – Despite starting the week trailing Tampa Bay by two games in the AL East, the Yankees are off to a solid 24-13 start, winning all but two series to date. After giving their fans some glimmer of hope following a 9-1 homestand, the Mets have reverted to their mostly woeful ways, losing 11 of 16 including being swept at Florida in a four game series this past weekend to drop below .500 and into last place in the NL East. But that won’t matter when they face their more accomplished rivals this weekend at Citi Field, their beautiful new stadium that opened in 2009 and has been more pitcher than hitter friendly, much like their prior home, Shea Stadium. The Yankees have gotten outstanding starting pitching all season with Javier Vazquez the only weak link although he is off his best effort of the season in Detroit. Mets’ ace Johan Santana has been decent but not overpowering while Mike Pelfrey started the season extremely well before struggling in recent outings. The Yanks have the better lineup but have had numerous injuries, challenging their depth in recent weeks.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Yankees as underdogs of any price in any matchup or if favored by -140 or less in starts by CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte or Phil Hughes; Mets as underdogs of any price against A.J. Burnett or Javier Vazquez; OVER Totals of 8 or less in any matchup not involving Sabathia, Hughes or Santana except OVER Totals of 9 or less if the Yanks’ Vazquez faces the Mets’ John Maine, Jon Niese or Oliver Perez (who should have been banished to the bullpen by the time you read this); UNDER 8 or higher if Sabathia or Hughes faces Santana.

Los Angeles Angels at St. Louis: The reigning AL West champion Angels are down a couple of notches thus far in 2010, having suffered key losses to both their pitching staff and offense which they have yet to overcome. St. Louis is playing solid baseball as they start the week a half game out of first in the NL Central but playing at a pace to win 90 games. The Cards have as solid a one-two duo in all of baseball with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright but it’s been rookie lefty Jaime Garcia who’s put up the most impressive stats thus far with a 1.42 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 7 starts – all of which have been Quality Starts and all of which have stayed UNDER the Total. Brad Penny has also had a fine start to the season but has cooled a bit of late. The Angels’ best pitcher has been Jered Weaver although Joel Pineiro has also fared well. Only lefty Scott Kazmir has truly struggled thus far. Both teams’ offenses have been weak, each averaging barely above 4 runs per game both at home and on the road. This should be a low scoring series.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: St. Louis as favorites of -125 or less in any matchup other than when they start Kyle Lohse; Cardinals as underdogs against Weaver except opposing Lohse; Angels as underdogs of +135 in any matchup except in a start by Kazmir; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any game not involving Kazmir or Lohse;

Detroit at Los Angeles Dodgers: Both teams are expected to contend in their respective Divisions though neither is currently in first place. Detroit has gotten off to the better overall start (22-16) while the Dodgers’ 7 game win streak starting this week has gotten them to three games above breakeven. Normally strength pitching has not been a strong suit until recently for the Dodgers with Hiroki Kuroda the only regular member of the rotation with an ERA below 3.50 although rookie John Ely has looked good in his three starts. Detroit’s rotation has similarly struggled with ace Justin Verlander off to only a decent start although the Tigers have won 6 of the times he’s taken the mound.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Detroit as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup; Dodgers as underdogs of any price against Verlander or if favored by no more than -130 if Clayton Kershaw starts against other than Verlander; OVER Totals of 7½ or lower in any matchup except if Kershaw opposes Verlander in which case UNDER 7 or higher is playable.


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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