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The first significant milepost of the 2012 season occurs this weekend as Memorial Day traditionally represents the first true point at which teams’ performances to date can be said to have significance.

Entering this week teams had played a quarter of the season and the statistics compiled by hitters, pitchers and teams themselves can be said to be meaningful.

The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League and all of baseball with a 28-13 record and just completed a three game sweep of defending World Series champion St. Louis this past weekend.

But the bigger surprise is in the American League where the Baltimore Orioles, at 27-15, have the best record in the junior circuit. The Birds are getting it done with just decent starting pitching, a slightly better than average bullpen and some timely hitting. That type of success would indicate that they are benefitting from excellence on the bench and Buck Showalter has thus far made all the right moves.

Atlanta and Texas are the other two teams winning better than 60 percent of their games to date with both Tampa Bay and Washington just shy of that winning percentage.

Another early season surprise sees the Cleveland Indians – from whom little was expected at the start of the season – sitting atop the AL Central at 23-18, three games ahead of the heavy division favorite Detroit. As the week started the Tigers were in third place and had a losing record (20-21).

The first of six series of interleague play took place this past weekend and American League teams won 24 of the 42 games.

Surprisingly the American Leaguers fared much better on the road than at home. In fact the AL was just 8-10 in games played in their ballparks but were 16-8 at National League venues.

Totals results were fairly even with 19 games going OVER, 21 staying UNDER and another 2 ending in pushes. The average total runs in the 42 games was 8.1 per game, slightly lower than the current non-interleague average of 8.4.

Regular intraleague play resumed on Monday, uninterrupted for a couple of weeks until the final five series of interleague play resumes on June 8.

Here’s a look at three series to be played this weekend.

Nats at Braves: Atlanta leads second place Washington by 1½ games at the start of the week as these teams meet for the first time this season. Atlanta has the decided edge on offense, averaging more than a run per game more than the Nationals. But that edge is almost offset by Washington’s edge on the mound where the Nats are allowing a run per game less than the Braves. 

Washington has gotten excellent starting pitching, led by Stephen Strasburg but ably backed up by Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. But even their other two starters have been productive with Russ Detwiler being the laggard on the staff with his 3.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP the highest of the five. 

Brandon Beachy has been the defacto ace of the Atlanta staff with his 1.34 ERA and 0.89 WHIP through eightstarts. Veteran Tim Hudson has also been solid in his five starts since starting the season on the DL.

Potential plays:

• Washington as underdogs of any price in any matchup.

• Washington +130 or more against Beachy.

• Atlanta as underdogs of any price in a start by Beachy against any Washington starter.

• UNDER 8 or less in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher in a start by Beachy.

Phils at Cards: These teams meet for the first time since the Cardinals defeated the Phillies in last season’s NLDS for a four game series beginning Thursday. Despite significant personnel changes both on the field and on the bench the Cardinals start the week a half game ahead of Cincinnati atop the NL Central, albeit with just a 22-19 record. 

The Phillies are just 21-21 but that has them alone in last place in the NL East. Philly has been without slugger Ryan Howard, who was injured in that NLDS, as well as without Chase Utley since the season began. As such the Phillies have had to rely much more on their pitching. And their starting trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is the best in MLB. 

St Louis has gotten surprisingly solid efforts from their own trio of Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook whose stats are right on par with those of the Phils’ trio. 

Potential plays: 

• In matchups involving two of the aforementioned six pitchers, play the underdog at any price and UNDER 7 or higher.

• If one of either team’s top trio faces a starter not among the other’s top 3 play the above-named pitcher at no more than -140 and consider OVER 8 or less.

• In matchups involving the fourth of fifth starters for both teams play OVER 9 or less.

Rays at Red Sox: Boston has already won 4 of 6 games against the Rays this season. The six pack of games has averaged 9.0 total runs per game with the first three games going OVER, the next two staying UNDER and their most recent contest pushing. Boston is the only team in the AL East with a losing record (20-21), starting the week 4½ games behind second place Tampa. 

The Rays begin the week two games behind first place Baltimore. Despite injuries that have sidelined a number of Red Sox hitters for part or all of the season the bats have performed well. Boston is averaging more than five runs per game, both at home and on the road. Tampa Bay is averaging just over four with their only injured player of note being star Evan Longoria. 

Tampa does have a decided edge in starting pitching although the rotation has shown solid improvement in recent weeks with ace Josh Beckett off a pair of outstanding starts. David Price and Jeremy Hellickson have put up Tampa’s best stats. Ace James Shields had been rather (4.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) although the Rays have managed to win 7 of his 9 starts.

Potential plays:

• Boston +125 or more against Hellickson, Price or Shields.

• Boston underdogs of any price against other Tampa starters.

• Boston as -150 or less in starts by Beckett or Jon Lester not facing Hellickson, Price or Shields.

• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.

• OVER 9 or lower if Beckett, Lester, Hellickson or Price is not involved.

Jays at Rangers: In their only prior series this season Toronto took 2 of 3 at home from the Rangers. Two of those games went OVER as the teams averaged 12 runs per game for the series. Texas has had a solid balance of offense and pitching all season, rating high in both starting and relief pitching as well as on offense. 

Toronto has gotten better than expected starting pitching with Brandon Morrow’s 1.90 ERA and 0.94 WHIP clearly the best of any of the two teams’ starters. Both teams have stark contrasts in their offensive productivity that, if this series follows that form, could produce surprisingly low scoring games. 

Toronto is averaging 1.4 runs less per game on the road (4.0) than at home (5.4), which is typical from most teams other than the degree of magnitude. But Texas’ offense has been something of an anomaly as the Rangers have averaged just over a run and a half less at home (4.8) than on the road (6.4). 

Potential plays:

• Toronto as underdogs of any price in a start by Morrow against any Texas starter.

• Toronto +125 or more in starts by Ricky Romero or Henderson Alvarez not facing Yu Darvish or Neftali Feliz.

• UNDER 9 or higher in games not started by Morrow, Romero, Darvish or Feliz.

• OVER 9 or lower in starts by Toronto’s Kyle Drabek or Texas’ Matt Harrison unless either is facing one of the aforementioned starters.

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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