Thinking ‘under’in All-Star Game

Jul 5, 2005 6:41 AM

Baseball’s annual mid-summer recess is upon us following the games of the coming weekend.

The three-day All Star break hiatus is welcomed by most in and around baseball, save for the chosen few participating in the mid-summer classic next Tuesday in Detroit.

The All Star teams have been announced with the exception of two players (one from each league) to be chosen by the fans in balloting over the next several days. In what has been a season of many spectacular pitching performances, the "under" might be the preferred play in the All Star game, especially at 9 or higher.

Detroit has largely been a pitcher’s ballpark and familiar to AL Manager Terry Francona. Power numbers across baseball have been down and, with pitchers generally asked to go no more than an inning or two, conditions favor a low scoring contest.

Even though the American League fared much better in interleague play this season, there are some indicators that point to the National League as a betting play in the All Star game. Any wagers made on the All Star game (side, total or proposition) should be recreational at best. This is an exhibition game, despite the fact that the winning league claims home field advantage for its representative in the World Series.

The game is managed differently from regular season games. Although both teams and managers will try to win the game, they will do so only within certain limits. Managers try to give as many players some action in the game as possible. Most position starters are likely to play less than half the contest.

Based on the first half of the season, the Chicago White Sox are the best team in baseball. The Sox are winning better than two of every three games and have built a solid 8½ game lead over second place Minnesota. The Twins currently control the AL wild card. Their 45-34 record is just a half-game behind AL East leader Boston and four behind Anaheim for the lead in the AL West. Cleveland is in third place in the AL Central, 1½ behind the Twins and with a record that would be second in both the East and West.

A total of nine AL teams begin the week with winning records and a tenth, Oakland, is just one game below .500. Anaheim leads Texas by 7½ in the West, while the tightest AL race is in the East. Boston leads Baltimore by just 2½ games with the Yankees and Toronto each just five games back. Tampa Bay is buried in the AL East cellar.

St. Louis is running away with the NL Central, leading second place Chicago by 10½ games. The Cardinals sport the only winning record in baseball’s lone six-team division. With Kerry Wood and Mark Prior both back in the starting rotation, the Cubs should improve upon their current 40-40 mark and make a strong run at the NL wild card. There’s still a half season remaining but the Cardinals cushion looks very solid safe for the division title.

The NL East was supposed to be the most competitive division in all of baseball and it might well turn out that way later this summer. For now, the Washington Nationals continue to be the season’s biggest surprise. Their 50-32 record was just 1½ games behind St. Louis for the best record in the league. The Nats have opened up a 5½ game edge over Atlanta.

The Braves currently control the wild card but the New York Mets, in last place with a record one game below .500, are just 4½ behind Atlanta with Florida and Philadelphia in between. In fact, eight teams currently not with playoff seeds are less than seven behind the Braves in the wild card chase.

As the second half of the season begins keep an eye on Houston and Oakland. Both have been playing their best ball of the season over the past several weeks and have made up significant ground in their division and wild card races. Though both are longshots to win division titles, the Astros trail Atlanta by six for the NL wild card and Oakland is six behind Minnesota in the AL.

The Astros and Athletics have solid starting pitching and offenses that have warmed up with the weather. Both have several teams to overtake in their wild card chases but each has gone from potential seller to potential buyer as the trading deadline nears at the end of July. Both teams, especially Oakland, have been solid performers during the second half of the season in recent years.

Here’s a look at four attractive series that concluded the first half of the season.

Nationals at Phillies: The teams have split their six games this season with the road team each winning two of three in series played in April. Philadelphia slugger Jim Thome is back on the DL and lefty starter Randy Wolf is gone for the season. Neither team is explosive at the plate and both teams feature decent though not outstanding starting pitching.

Preferred plays: Washington to win at least 2-of-3. Nationals as underdogs in a start by Livan Hernandez. Back Hernandez as a -130 favorite. Bet the Phils’ best starter Brett Myers unless he faces Hernandez. In such a matchup, play "under" at 8 or higher. Otherwise, "under" at 9 or higher.

Cubs at Marlins: Florida has a 2-1 edge in the series this year. All three games at Wrigley Field went "over" as the teams combined for 44 runs. Florida’s new ace, Dontrelle Willis, was on the winning side of a 9-1 score. Chicago’s fill-in starter, Sergio Mitre, helped pitch the Cubs to a 14-0 win the following night. There are many similarities between these teams and expect the rematch in Florida to feature much less scoring. Both teams have solid rotations and underperforming offenses.

Preferred plays: The "underdog" at +120. The "under"at 8 or higher. A Mark Prior-Willis matchup is playable "under" 7.

Red Sox at Orioles: The road team has won six of eight meetings this season. Neither team has gotten outstanding starting pitching, although overall the Red Sox have the better talent. The concerns for Baltimore are many and the pitching has shown signs of fatigue. The offense has power but has been inconsistent. The combination of both lineups favor a high scoring series.

Preferred plays: The "over" at 10 or lower. The one situation that favors Baltimore is if injured pitcher Eric Bedard returns from the DL. He has clearly been Baltimore’s ”˜ace. Boston is playable as "underdogs" in any matchup.

A’s at White Sox: The host has taken two of three in both series, including a pair of wins by Oakland this past weekend. Chicago has fashioned the best record in baseball on the strength of its starting pitching and ability to win one run games. White Sox ace Mark Buehrle has struggled in both starts against Oakland. Chicago is the more fundamentally sound team but might be too highly priced to back.

Preferred plays: Oakland at +150 if facing Buehrle. The "under" at 8 in all three games. White Sox at less than -140, except in Buehrle’s start.