National security calls for ‘under’

Aug 16, 2005 4:48 AM

More than two thirds of the baseball season is in the books and almost every team still has the potential to make a run for the postseason. With seven weeks remaining it is not unrealistic to expect that a team is capable of making up one game per week in the standings for either a divisional or Wild Card race.

The American League is considerably less contentious. Boston, Chicago and the Angels begin this week with divisional leads and Oakland controls the Wild Card. Realistically only the New York Yankees, Toronto, Cleveland and Minnesota are contenders on the outside, but each has a shot to make up ground.

The fun is really in the National League where realistically only Colorado, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have no shot at the playoffs. Atlanta, St. Louis and San Diego currently hold division leads with Houston controlling the Wild Card. That leaves nine other teams capable of a late season charge into the Playoffs.

The season has been marked by some outstanding efforts from starting pitchers. In the NL a case can be made for Dontrelle Willis, Chris Carpenter or Roger Clemens as the Cy Young Award winner. All are enjoying spectacular seasons.

The performance of Clemens is especially noteworthy. He just celebrated birthday 43. In 24 starts this season he has 21 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less. He is allowing less than a base runner an inning and his ERA after more than 160 innings is a microscopic 1.32.

Arguably his season is the most dominant since Bob Gibson’s spectacular 1968 campaign despite having just 11 wins. Had the Astros given him more than just an average support of 3.7 runs per game he might have attained 20 by now.

Though AL starters have not been as dominate as the NL’s big three, there are many pitchers enjoying solid seasons. In fact, the overall caliber of pitching has been strong. There have been 53 AL games that featured a combined total of three runs or less.

Are we witnessing a resurgence of pitching? Has baseball’s minor league systems finally been able to replenish the quality of pitching talent that was diluted with the addition of four new franchises in the 1990s? Or are we seeing the effects of a dramatic reduction in the use of "banned substances" brought about by all that has happened since the end of the 2004 season?

There are no concrete answers to these questions, but as handicappers and bettors we have to at least acknowledge these facts and put them to use in hopefully a profitable way.

Here’s a look at four key series this weekend.

Nationals at Mets: The Mets have won six of 10 meetings. They are without solid outfielder Make Cameron following his bone chilling collision with Carlos Beltran last week in San Diego. Beltran might also suffer lingering effects of the collision though he should be back in the lineup this week. Washington seemingly has broken out of its slump. The starting pitching has been solid. Both teams have struggled on offense all season. The Nats have the much better bullpen.

Preferred plays: UNDER 8 or higher, METS as +125 underdogs, NATS as +110 underdogs reflecting the bullpen edge.

Padres at Braves: Atlanta has overcome numerous injuries both to their starting rotation and to their everyday lineup. San Diego has been a major disappointment, largely due to an ineffective offense. Still there was a time this season when the Padres were the hottest team in baseball. Back in mid-May they swept a three game series from the Braves in San Diego. Atlanta is likely to be favored throughout this series except when San Diego pitches Jake Peavy. His start is the only one where it’s comfortable to back the Pads.

Preferred plays: PEAVY at -130, BRAVES -150 or less. Atlanta should be able to win at least two of the three games in this series. Bet OVER at 8½ or less, UNDER at 9½ or higher.

Yankees at White Sox: New York’s starting pitching has been a shambles all season. When the Yanks did get a pair of well-pitched games against these Sox last week in New York, the offense disappeared. Chicago scored just two runs in each game, but won two of the meetings by 2-1 scores. All three games easily went below the posted total. Two of New York’s starts were by new members of the rotation, Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher, any UNDERDOG of +125, SOX as -120 favorites or less.

Red Sox at Angels: This four game series should be high scoring much as the first meeting back in Boston in early June. The Sox took two of three games, which produced at least nine total runs per game and 39 in the series. The Angels are above average in both starting pitching and lineup. Boston’s pitching is average at best, but the offense is well above average.

Preferred plays: OVER 9 or lower, ANGELS as underdogs in starts by John Lackey, Bartolo Colon or Jarrod Washburn.