Beltway has newmeaning in D.C.

Jun 14, 2005 7:44 AM

Following midweek play within the major leagues, Interleague play will wrap up two weekends hence with many of the traditional rivalries that opened AL-NL play for this season last month.

Over the past week all games were played in National League parks where the designated hitters were not used. Over the coming week, games are played at AL venues and the DH will be in use. This gives NL managers the chance to adjust traditional in-game strategies with regard to handling pitching.

Only two teams in baseball are winning better than three in five games. The Chicago White Sox have the best mark (42-20) while St. Louis leads the National League at 40-22. No other team is playing .600 ball.

The NL East remains baseball’s most competitive and perhaps best division. All five teams are above .500 with the surprising Washington Nationals leading the equally surprising Philadelphia Phillies by 1½ games.

The last place New York Mets are just five out of first with a record that is one game above .500. Were the playoffs to start now, the Phillies would be the wild card entry.

St. Louis continues to lead the NL Central although the Chicago Cubs are just 6½ games back with nearly 100 games still to play. San Diego has a slight lead over both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona in the NL West.

The White Sox have a 5½-game lead in the AL Central over Minnesota. Despite their second place standing, the Twins actually have a better record than either of the other two division leaders — Baltimore in the East and the Angels in the West.

The preseason favorite New York Yankees begin the week fourth in the AL East, trailing the Orioles by six games and behind Toronto and Boston in the standings.

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

Cubs at Yankees: The Cubs have not been to Yankee Stadium in almost 75 years, since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It was exciting two years ago when the teams met in Wrigley Field and Roger Clemens was pitching for the New Yorkers. The cast is different this time with no Clemens for the Yankees and no Sammy Sosa for the Cubs.

This series still has plenty of intrigue given the current momentum of each. The Cubs have played better in recent weeks and the wild card is very much a realistic goal. Especially since they have been without Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, arguably their top two starters. Veteran Greg Maddux and the emerging Carlos Zambrano have been very steady and even Glendon Rusch has given several quality starts.

Preferred plays: The Cubs trio as +125 underdogs. The underachieving Yankees might be favored in all three games. Play rookie C.M. Wang (5-2 team record, +232 profit in his starts) at -115. Play "under" at 9 or higher in any matchup.

Rockies at Orioles: This has the potential to be one of the highest scoring series of the season. It will be hard to find a reason to play on Colorado, the team with the fewest road wins (four) in all of baseball. The Rockies will be solid underdogs throughout the series. The only starter worth even considering for backing on the road would be the currently injured Shawn Chacon, but only at +200 or better.

Baltimore has one of the better offenses in baseball and a starting pitching rotation that has begun to struggle over the past two weeks. Colorado’s offense is below the level of recent seasons, but still has enough bats to take advantage (even on the road) of weak pitching.

Preferred plays: Provided the totals are no higher than 11, it is hard to envision an "under" matchup. You have to go "over." Baltimore at -150 or less against any Colorado starter. In fact, laying 1½ with the Orioles might be the way to look in a series in which Baltimore has all the edges. The O’s should take at least two of three games and most likely will be a solid favorite to sweep.

Dodgers at White Sox: Throughout their respective histories the Dodgers and White Sox have relied on pitching and defense for much of their success. That certainly remains true for the White Sox, who have fashioned baseball’s best record with a solid starting rotation. Of the five regulars only "El Duque" Orlando Hernandez has posted average to below average stats. And the Sox are 8-2 in his starts.

Preferred picks: Chicago is likely to be favored in all three games but should would be playable as underdogs in any such matchup. Dodger starters worth backing as Underdogs would include Brad Penny and Derek Lowe at +125. The White Sox may be playable up to-150 against all but Penny and Lowe.

Padres at Twins: This could be a very interesting series with both teams having excellent chances at making postseason play although neither receives much national exposure. Both teams have solid pitching in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Each have underrated offenses. Minnesota may have baseball’s best young pitcher in lefty Johan Santana, but both Brad Radke and Carlos Silva have been dependable as well.

Perhaps the most under recognized strengths of the starting rotation have been their excellent control. Check out their walks per innings pitched stats and you’ll see that every starter is much better than average. San Diego ace Jake Peavy had the best ERA in the National League last season and is posting impressive stats again this season.

Preferred plays: Peavy would be the play as an underdog against Santana and if favored by -120 against any other Twins starter. The "under" is suggested throughout this series at 9 or higher for games not involving Santana or Peavy. Play "under" 8 if either of the two aces start. Take ”˜under" 7 if they face each other. We could see the lowest posted total in the history of the Metrodome. Play Padres as +125 dogs in a start by Adam Eaton. Otherwise, bet Minnesota -140 in all other scenarios.