Only Philadelphia and Boston are winning 60 percent of games

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The 2011 baseball season continues to produce its share of pleasant surprises and unanticipated disappointments as divisional races take shape.

Teams have less than 100 games remaining which represents a substantial amount of time to become or remain contenders. And this season is shaping up as one of parity or mediocrity.

Take your choice.

Only Philadelphia (40-26) and Boston (39-26) are winning 60 percent of their games and starting the week, no leader was up by more than two games in any of the six divisions.

Only Houston and the Chicago Cubs were winning less than 40 percent of their games.

Several teams that started slowly or struggled throughout much of April have started to get hot, most notably Boston.

The Red Sox began 0-6 and 2-10, but begin the week as winners of nine in a row and having the best record in the American League. Boston is two games ahead of arch rival New York, from whom the Sox have won eight of nine this season including a pair of three game sweeps at Yankee Stadium.

Milwaukee was another team that struggled through the early part of the season but, following a three game sweep of St. Louis the past weekend, is first in the NL Central.

The Brewers have won eight of their last 10 games and are a well balanced team with better pitching than St Louis and Cincinnati, at least in the starting rotation.

Atlanta and Minnesota also begin the week having won eight of their last 10 and showing signs of contending for the postseason.

The Twins got off to a horrible start and not too long ago had the worst record in all of baseball. They trail first place Cleveland by nine games but have made up nearly that margin in less than two weeks.

The Indians were the surprise team of baseball through all of April and well into May, opening up a lead that threatened to grow to double digits as, for a while, the Tribe were the only winning team in the AL Central.

But their luck seems to have faded. Cleveland begins the week losing nine of 10 and seeing that lead all but disappear. The Indians are tied with Detroit, ahead by just percentage points by virtue of having played two fewer games.

The Indians are not alone in their current misery as Florida has also dropped nine of 10 to fall back in the pack in the NL East with a record of exactly .500. The Marlins are just a half game ahead of the New York Mets, a team that has to be considered a surprise to be near .500 considering the key injuries they’ve suffered.

In the final year of his contract, Jose Reyes is having an MVP type season. The Mets shortstop has already has hit 11 triples this season in addition to stealing 20 bases and hitting .341 from the leadoff position.

Scoring remains low, just below 8½ total runs per game. But as the lines have been adjusted downwards (totals of 6 and 6½ are being routinely seen in BOTH leagues), OVERS have pulled nicely past UNDERS at the betting windows.

Through Sunday night there have been 478 OVER the closing total, 450 UNDER and 56 pushes or no action.

Beginning this weekend and continuing for a total of five series is the resumption and conclusion of interleague play. The first round of play between the leagues took place last month and produced even results.

Each league won six more games at home than they lost. The AL was 15-9 in games played in their ballparks while the NL as hosts was 12-6.

UNDERS were 15-9 in games at AL venues with an average of 9½ runs scored. Conversely in the 18 games played in NL stadiums the UNDER held a 10-6-2 edge. Those games averaged just 6.4 total runs per game.

Here’s a look at four of the more interesting interleague series this weekend.

Yankees at Cubs: These long historic franchises meet at “the friendly confines” in opposite frames of mind. The Cubs have suffered numerous injuries both to their offense and pitching staff. There’s been a great deal of tinkering with the lineup with below average production coming from the heart of the order.

The Yankees have a powerful 1-5 in their lineup, but it’s been shaky after that. New York’s strength has been better than expected starting pitching from the back end of their rotation, although Bartolo Colon – enjoying a rejuvenation of sorts – is now on the DL. The winds at Wrigley will always be the predominant factor in setting totals. On the surface it would appear to be a high scoring series.

Preferred plays:

• Yankees -150 or less in a start by CC Sabathia, -130 otherwise.

• Cubs +150 or more all matchups.

• OVER 9 or lower.

Marlins at Rays: Florida took two of three from the Rays in Miami last month. Although only 20 total runs were scored, the UNDER was 1-0-2. The Marlins are without their ace, Josh Johnson, who is on the DL. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is also sidelined although he’s been in pretty much of a season long slump when in the lineup.

Tampa’s ace is lefty David Price who is putting up solid numbers but stats that are not that much different from James Shields and rookie Jeremy Hellickson. The Marlins have slumped, but have some decent starting pitching with Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. We should see a repeat of the low scoring series we saw last month.

Preferred plays:

• Underdog in any matchup of Tampa’s Price, Shields or Hellickson against Florida’s Sanchez or Nolasco.

• Rays -130 or less if Price, Shields or Hellickson don’t face Nolasco or Sanchez.

• Florida -120 or less if Sanchez or Nolasco faces other than Price, Shields or Hellickson.

• UNDER 7 or higher if two of those five pitchers match up.

• UNDER 8 or higher if none of those five pitchers are involved.

Brewers at Red Sox: Two of the hottest teams in baseball square off at historic Fenway Park. Both teams have pretty solid starting pitching and potent lineups although the Sox have more offensive depth. Shaun Marcum has been the most effective Milwaukee starter with a 2.68 ERA and 1.01 WHIP through 14 starts. Both Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf have ERAs below 4.00.

Josh Beckett has been the Boston ace and an early Cy Young Award candidate with his 2.01 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 13 starts. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have shown signs of regaining their outstanding 2010 form. Boston’s offense, the best in baseball over the short term, start the week scoring at least five runs in nine straight games.

Preferred plays:

• OVER 9 or lower in any matchup.

• Red Sox -150 or less in starts by Beckett, Lester or Buchholz against any Milwaukee starter.

• Brewers +160 or more against Beckett, Buchholz or Lester.

• Brewers +125 or more against other Boston starters.

Rangers at Braves: An intriguing series between a pair of teams expected to contend for the playoffs. The Texas pitching has come around nicely with Alexi Ogando having a fine rookie season and leading the staff in several key statistics. Both CJ Wilson and Matt Harrison, a pair of lefties, have also enjoyed strong starts to their seasons.

Atlanta remains a team based on pitching and they’ve gotten solid seasons from several starters, most notably Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson have also had more ups than downs. On offense Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Martin Prado are on the DL. Both bullpens have solid closers.

Preferred plays:

• Rangers +125 or more against Jurrjens or Hanson.

• Rangers +140 or more against any other Braves starter.

• Braves -125 or less in starts by Jurrjens or Hanson.

• UNDER 7 or higher in matchups of Atlanta’s Jurrjens or Hanson against Ogando, Wilson or Harrison.

• UNDER 8 or higher in any other matchup.

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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