Yanks glad year goes past July

Jul 12, 2005 5:34 AM

Baseball’s annual mid-July classic occupies the first half of the week, as the game’s finest convene in Detroit for the All Star game and related festivities.

Teams within 10 games of a division lead in the majors can still harbor realistic hopes of contending for a title. Teams within 10 games of the wild card leader can also set their sights on a run. With this in mind, here’s our look at how the second half of the 2005 season might play out.

Washington, St. Louis and San Diego would be division winners in the National League based on current standings. Boston, the Chicago White Sox and the Anaheim/LA Angels would be American League division champs. Atlanta would be the clear cut NL wild card. Minnesota would barely edge a handful of teams for the AL wild card. The Yankees would miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

However, the Yanks enter the All Star break just 2½ games behind Boston in the AL East and just two behind Minnesota for the wild card. The season”˜s second half should be most competitive.

Ten of the AL’s 14 teams are playing at least .500 ball. An 11th, Detroit, is just two games below that mark. In the NL, only seven of the 16 teams are playing winning baseball. Four other teams are at or within four games of breaking even.

Baseball’s biggest leads are held by Central teams. St. Louis is 11½ games ahead of surging Houston in the NL. The Chicago White Sox have a nine game edge over Minnesota in the AL. Both the Cardinals and White Sox would have to suffer major collapses to not make the playoffs. Both are playing well over .600 ball — the only teams in all of baseball with that distinction.

San Diego is the lone NL West team playing winning baseball, owning a 5½-game edge over Arizona. That’s a small deficit to overcome, but the Diamondbacks just don’t have the pitching depth to compete evenly with the Padres. San Diego should widen its lead over the next few weeks.

It would not be a surprise if Arizona decides later this month to become a seller rather than a buyer of talent as the trade deadline approaches. Much will be learned this coming weekend as San Diego hosts Arizona in a four game series.

The Angels have a five game lead over Texas with Oakland 2½ further back. Following last weekend’s sweep of the Angels at home by Seattle, there is now a legitimate three-team division race. Nearly half of the Angels’ remaining games are against the AL East, where four of the five teams are at .500 or better.

Here are four interesting series that begin second half play.

ASTROS at CARDS: St. Louis has scored more than five runs just four times in their last 14 games, half played at home. Houston should have top guns Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte available.

Preferred plays: Bet any of the Astros trio up to -120. Take "under" at 8 or higher throughout the series. Go "under" 7 if the Cards send Chris Carpenter or Matt Morris against one of the Houston aces.

D’BACKS at PADRES: Zona has won five of nine meetings. At worst the D-backs need a split to maintain realistic hopes of catching the Pads in the NL West. San Diego has gone "under" in 24 of 40 home decisions this season.

Preferred plays: Play Arizona as underdogs in starts by Brandon Webb, Brad Halsey and Javier Vazquez. Bet "under" at 9 or higher. Play "under" 8 in starts by the Arizona trio against San Diego’s Adam Eaton, Jake Peavy, Brian Lawrence or Woody Williams.

YANKS at RED SOX: Boston has won five of nine, including that 17-3 massacre at Yankee Stadium that preceded a 7-2 Sunday night ESPN win. The underdog has won six of nine games. The average win price for the six pups was +138. This series gives Boston a chance to widen its division lead.

Preferred plays: Regardless of the pitching matchups, play the dog at +115. Play "over" at 10 or less.

RANGERS at A’s: Oakland’s offense has scored at least six runs in 10 of the last 14 games. Texas has scored at least six runs in eight of the last 11 contests. Texas has won four of five against the A’s. The Oakland rotation has started to gel and ”˜ace’ Barry Zito has been sharp in his last few outings.

Preferred plays: Oakland as underdogs and expect at least a series split. All five regular starters have ERAs below 4.50 and have pitched their best during Oakland’s current run. Play "over" at 9 or lower. Play "under" 10½ or higher.