Never saw this in AL Central this baseball season

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We are 2½ weeks into the baseball season with the most shocking thing taking place in the American League’s Central Division.

There is an early season showdown for first place not involving favorites Chicago, Detroit or Minnesota. Rather, the Cleveland Indians visit Kansas City to face the Royals in a four-game series played Monday through Thursday with first place at stake.

It is not a misprint!

At 11-4 Cleveland leads 10-5 Kansas City by a game, and they are the only teams in the division beginning the week with winning records. In fact, the Tribe has the best record in the junior circuit. The Royals have the second best mark, tied with the co-leaders of the AL West, Texas and the LA Angels.

Colorado has the best record in all of baseball, 12-3, and has already opened up a four-game lead in the NL West. Only Philadelphia, 10-4, has as many victories.

Even with a pair of wins over the weekend, the highly touted and heavily favored Boston Red Sox have baseball’s worst record, 4-10. They’ve suffered from a combination of poor pitching and a lack of offense. In the few instances when the Sox have gotten good pitching the offense has struggled, and vice versa.

Of course it’s early and Boston will almost assuredly be a factor. But these early season woes can also be seen as a further validation of the old adage that games and pennants are not won on paper.

One of their prized off season acquisitions, Carl Crawford, has struggled greatly at the plate and enters the week hitting just .127, starting the season 7 for 55 with no homers and just 1 RBI.

Through the first 10 percent of the season home teams are winning 53 percent of the time (120-106) while OVERs have a narrow 110-106 edge versus UNDERS, with 8 games pushes and two no decisions.

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

Rockies at Marlins: Colorado has the best record in baseball at 12-3, while Florida has started 8-6. Sure, ace righty Josh Johnson has been brilliant in his three starts but the rest of the rotation has largely struggled. Only Ricky Nolasco has posted solid stats over his first three starts. The offense has been below average thus far although young Mike Stanton shows signs of being a future star.

Colorado’s ace Ubaldo Jimenez made one start before being placed on the DL but Jhoulys Chacin has emerged as a potential ace with his strong start (1.64 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 22 innings). Lefty Jorge de la Rosa has also been sharp. The offense may be the best in baseball, averaging over 6 runs on the road.

Preferred plays:

• Florida as favorites of -150 or less in a start by Johnson.

• Florida -125 or less in a start by Nolasco.

• Colorado as underdogs of any price against other than Johnson or Nolasco.

• Colorado -125 or less if Chacin or de la Rosa don’t face Johnson or Nolasco.

• UNDER 8 or higher in matchups of Johnson or Nolasco against Chacin or de la Rosa.

• UNDER 9 or higher if just one of those four pitchers start.

• OVER 8 or lower if none of those four pitchers start.

Braves at Giants: The Braves are averaging less than 3.5 runs per game both at home and on the road. Ace Derek Lowe is off to a strong start and 7 of the combined 8 starts made by Lowe and Tommy Hanson have stayed UNDER the Total.

The Giants have also struggled at the plate, especially at home where they’re averaging just 3.2 runs per game. Frisco has gotten quality starts from Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But the rest have struggled, producing no quality starts in the 9 games started by other than Cain or Lincecum.

Preferred plays

• Atlanta as underdogs of +150 or more in starts by Cain or Lincecum.

• Atlanta if favored by no more than -125 in starts by Lowe, Hanson, Tim Hudson or Jair Jurrjens against other than Cain or Lincecum.

• Giants if favored by -140 or less in starts by Cain or Lincecum against any Atlanta starter.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Cain or Lincecum oppose any of the four Atlanta pitchers just noted.

• UNDER 8½ or higher in any matchup.

Red Sox at Angels:

Boston’s starting rotation has struggled although both Josh Beckett and Jon Lester seem to be rounding into shape and have solid season to date stats. John Lackey and Clay Buchholz have both struggled mightily and vital to Boston’s chances of making the playoffs. The offense has averaged just 2.7 runs per game in 6 road games.

Ironically the Angels have also fared much worse at home than on the road, averaging just 2.8 runs per game through their first 6 home games. They have two of the top pitchers in the AL in Dan Haren and Jered Weaver while Ervin Santana is a very capable third starter, especially at home.

Preferred plays:

• Boston as underdogs of +140 or more against Weaver or Haren.

• Boston as favorites of -125 or less in starts by Lester or Beckett not facing Haren or Weaver.

• Boston as favorites of minus 125 or less against other than Haren or Weaver regardless of who starts for the Red Sox.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Beckett or Lester oppose Haren or Weaver.

• Under 8 or higher if just one of those 4 pitchers start;

White Sox at Tigers:

Both teams have struggled to find offensive consistency in the early going although the White Sox have had more success on the road, averaging 8 runs per game, than at home (4.0 rpg). The starting pitching has been respectable but the bullpen has not been able to protect late leads.

Detroit’s offense has been subpar to date and the Tigers have also fared better on the road than at home. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Philip Coke have pitched well. John Danks and Edwin Jackson have been the most effective starters for the Pale Hose while Philip Humber has displayed potential.

Preferred plays:

• White Sox +125 or more.

• UNDER 9 or higher.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Danks or Jackson oppose Coke or Verlander.

• OVER 9 or lower if Detroit’s Brad Penny or Rick Porcello don’t face Jackson or Danks.

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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