BoSox backin first place musccno

Jun 28, 2005 6:15 AM

As we approach the July 4 weekend, the major league baseball division leaders are Washington, St. Louis and San Diego in the National League and Boston, Chicago and the Angels in the American.

Boston has been red hot over the past week, scoring seven runs or more in six of their last seven games. The Red Sox have overtaken Baltimore for the AL East lead and, given the current struggles of the New York Yankees, may not look back the rest of the season. And, the Sox have been without ace Curt Schilling all season except for three early season starts.

Last weekend marked the end of interleague play for this season with the AL gaining a 136-116 edge over the NL. Home teams quite dominant. The NL 72-54, the AL an even better 82-44 — better than 65 percent.

In the 256 interleague games, the "under" held a 132-105 edge versus the "over" with three games pushing the posted total. The games produced an average of 9.07 total runs per game. Interestingly, nearly a full run more per game was averaged in games played in NL stadiums where the designated hitter was not used.

In regular interleague games, more runs per game are scored in the AL. The gap between the leagues is quite narrow — just 0.29 total runs per game through Sunday.

Baltimore holds the AL wild card lead, with Minnesota one game back. The NL wild card is currently controlled by Atlanta, 1½ games better than Florida.

Several weeks back, the subject of walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP) was briefly discussed briefly. WHIP is a good measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness in preventing base runners. The lower the WHIP, the more effective the pitcher. A WHIP of 1.20 or less is considered solid pitching while 1.00 or lower is excellent. Conversely, 1.50 is cause for concern while pitchers at 1.60 or higher won’t last long.

Of the starting pitchers who have pitched at least 50 innings this season, 30 pitcher have a WHIP of 1.20 or lower. Collectively, their teams have won 263 of 420 starts, or 63 percent. The record is even more impressive when you eliminate games in which both starters had great WHIPs. At the other extreme there are 18 pitchers with WHIPs of 1.60 or higher, who have pitched at least 50 innings. Collectively their teams are 110-142 for just 44 percent winners.

In evaluating which starting pitchers to back or to avoid, give close scrutiny to WHIP. The results bear out the importance of this statistic.

Here’s a look at four key series to be played over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Nationals at Cubs: Washington Manager Frank Robinson has gotten the most out of his collection of generally average talent. The bullpen has been solid and the offense has done just enough. The Cubs have played better of late and, with starting pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood back from injuries, second half prospects are bright. The offense is keyed by Derrek Lee, arguably the MVP for the first half of the season. Preferred plays: Cubs at -140, except if Livan Hernandez or John Patterson pitch. Washington at +120 in starts by Hernandez and Patterson. "Over" 10 in any game not started by Mark Prior.

Braves at Phils: Atlanta has overcome injuries that have sidelined three of their starting pitchers plus slugger Chipper Jones to win eight of their last 10. Andruw Jones has carried this team with the best stretch of his career. Philadelphia was unable to follow up a 12-1 homestand of early June, going 2-4 in the following road trip and then dropping five of six during interleague play. The Phils have lost lefty Randy Wolf for the season. Preferred plays: Atlanta as underdogs. Phils as underdogs in starts by Brett Myers, Jon Lieber or newcomer Rob Tejeda who has put up impressive numbers in his three starts. "Over" 9 or lower in what should be an offensive series.

Indians at Orioles: The Indians rate the overall edge in starting pitching with Jake Westbrook, Kevin Millwood, Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia forming a solid rotation. Even fifth starter, Scott Elarton, has shown signs of emerging into a reliable starting pitcher. Baltimore’s rotation has slumped and the most effective starter Eric Bedard is still sidelined. Preferred plays: Cleveland has a winning road record. Take the Tribe as a +110 underdog. Use a total of 9 as your guide. Play "over" at 8½ or less, "under" at 9½ or higher.

White Sox at A’s: Chicago has had solid starting pitching all season and the offense has been improving. Their three dominant starters ( Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland) have combined to lead the Sox to wins in 34 of 45 starts. Each have ERAs lower than 3.60 and averages at least seven innings per start. Oakland has also gotten solid starting pitching of late from young guns Rich Harden, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Kirk Saarloos. Veteran Barry Zito has started to show signs of good form. Preferred plays: "Under" at 8 or higher. Either team as a +125 underdog or higher.