With interleague play complete for this season, save for the World Series and the Fourth of July milestone in the rear view mirror, the next highlight of the season occurs at the end of the month with the annual trading deadline.
The American League again won the regular season interleague title with a record of 131-121. The junior circuit was 72-54 at home while the National League also had a winning home record of 67-59.
Of course the title means little as the home field advantage for the World Series will go to the winner of the All Star game. Perhaps baseball should consider awarding that edge to the league with the better record during interleague play, using the All Star game as a tie breaker should the leagues split the interleague games.
Interleague play produced an average of 8.2 total runs per game, which resulted in 106 OVER and 125 UNDER with 21 games resulting in pushes or no action. Not surprisingly, games played in AL ballparks produced a significantly greater total runs per game (8.9) than games played in NL stadiums without the designated hitter (7.5).
Each team has now played more than half of the 162-game schedule and thus Division and Wild Card standings start to take on some relevance, especially in terms of how teams will approach the trading deadline.
Perhaps just Houston and the Chicago Cubs have no chance of making the playoffs, although realistically another half dozen teams or so can pretty much write off their chances. Currently there are eight teams within nine games of the AL Wild Card lead and nine clubs in the NL.
In addition to six Division leaders that means 23 of the 30 MLB teams have about 75 games or so to make a run to the postseason.
The next few weeks will be ripe with rumors of impending trades, most of which will not take place but which make for interesting discussion and speculation.
Perhaps the most intriguing will revolve around the financially strapped New York Mets and the decisions they will make as the end of July approaches. Their .500 record (42-42) gives them legitimate reason to believe they can contend for the Wild Card, especially once third baseman David Wright returns and if ace lefty, Johan Santana, can come back from surgery that has sidelined him all season.
But with three high priced veterans either playing under onerous contracts or about to enter free agency, the Mets might be sellers if they conclude their chances are slim at best. Thus, shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez might all have new addresses one month from now.
This weekend marks the end of the figurative first half of the season with the All Star game taking place next Tuesday, July 12, in the middle of the three-day All Star break.
Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.
Braves at Phillies: Atlanta started the week in second place in the NL East, four games behind the Division leading Phillies. Philly has the best record in all of baseball. Atlanta’s 49-36 mark would be good enough to lead four of baseball’s other five Divisions including the other two divisions in the National League.
These teams have played nine games thus far this season with Atlanta holding a 5-4 edge. The games have produced less than seven total runs on average with 3 OVER, 4 UNDER and two pushes. While the Phillies have gotten more notoriety for their outstanding pitching rotation, the Braves’ have been almost as good.
While veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe have been respectable, youngsters Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy and especially Jair Jurrjens have been outstanding. Jurrjens has made 15 starts and in a dozen he’s lasted at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or less, producing an ERA of 1.89 and WHIP of 1.06 in 104 2/3 innings.
Cliff Lee had a brilliant June before his consecutive scoreless inning streak ended at 34 in his first July start this past Sunday. Although Roy Oswalt is currently on the DL, mates Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay each have ERAs below 2.50 with WHIPs right around 1.00.
• Braves as +150 underdogs or more against Halladay, Hamels or Lee in any matchup.
• Braves as +120 underdogs in starts by Jurrjens or Hudson.
• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.
• UNDER 7 or higher if Halladay, Hamels or Lee opposes Beachy, Hanson or Jurrjens.
Reds at Brewers: The home team has won six of nine games as the teams meet for their fourth series of the season. In what’s developing into a four team race in the NL Central, Milwaukee is tied with St Louis for the lead with Cincinnati in fourth but just two games out.
Milwaukee has a dramatic contrast in its home and road performance, 18 games above .500 as hosts but 13 games below break even on the road. As a result the Brewers have averaged nearly two runs per game more at home.
The Reds have been basically a .500 team both at home and on the road. Milwaukee has a nice starting rotation but has been shaky in the ‘pen.
While Reds pitching has not been overall as strong as Milwaukee’s, Johnny Cueto has developed into a solid anchor with outstanding stats through his first 10 starts.
• Reds as underdogs of any price in starts by Cueto against all Milwaukee starters.
• Reds as +125 underdogs or more in starts by Mike Leake or Homer Bailey against any Milwaukee starter.
• Brewers as -150 favorites or less if Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf don’t face Cueto, Leake or Bailey.
• OVER 9 or lower in starts by the Reds’ Bronson Arroyo or Edinson Volquez against other than Wolf or Marcum;
Rays at Yankees: These teams have played just two games in the first half of the season, splitting the pair in Tampa back in mid May. Much of the hype surrounding this series will be the Yanks’ Derek Jeter’s chase to 3,000 career hits which could well be achieved during this four game series if “The Captain” did not get the 6 hits he needed when in the early week series at Cleveland.
Tampa sits in third place in the AL East but just four games behind the first place Yankees, making this a series in which the road warrior Rays (26-16 away from home) can make up some ground. Even a split of the series would be considered successful.
Tampa has again gotten solid pitching both from their starters and the bullpen. Although overall below average on offense, Tampa does average more runs per game on the road (5.2) than at home (3.3). The Yankee offense has been arguably the most potent in baseball and has been well balanced, averaging 5.2 runs per game on the road and 5.3 at home.
New York has also gotten better than expected starting pitching from what is now a deep rotation and a solid bullpen with CC Sabathia remaining the staff ace.
• Rays +150 underdogs or more in starts by David Price, James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson against Sabathia.
• Rays as underdogs of any price in starts by those three against any other Yankee starter.
• Yankees as -160 favorites or less not facing Price, Shields or Hellickson.
• UNDER 8 or higher if Price, Shields or Hellickson oppose Sabathia, Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon.
• OVER 9 or lower if none of these pitchers is involved.
Mariners at Angels:
The Angels and Mariners are very much in contention for the top spot in the AL West as they meet for a third series this season. The previous two were played in Seattle where the hosts won three of five.
Those games produced a total of just 23 runs with four games staying UNDER the Total and one going OVER. The Angels’ top two starters, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, started in four of the games as did Seattle’s Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, both of whom are having fine seasons.
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez has yet to face the Angels this season. Both teams rely much more on pitching than on offense and despite the change in venue this series handicaps as another low scoring set of games between Division rivals.
• UNDER 7 or less in any matchup.
• Mariners as +150 underdogs or more against Weaver or Haren.
• Mariners +120 more against any other Angels pitcher in starts by Fister, Vargas, Hernandez or rookie Michael Pineda.
• Angels as -125 favorites or less (or underdogs) in any matchup.