Baseball suffering
an early case
of ‘runs’

Apr 11, 2006 7:11 AM

Form took a beating during baseball’s opening week as many long time ace starting pitchers were humbled by offensive explosions.

Through 90 total games, nearly half a run more is being scored. In 2005 the opening week saw an average of just below 10 total runs per game. This past week saw just above 10.5. What raises the level of concern is that the opening week generally features each team going once through the rotation with many teams having their ”˜ace’ and often the No. 2 pitcher each making a pair of starts.

In 2005, the overall ERA for starting pitchers in the first week was 4.23. That same ERA right now is 5.13! While barely four percent of the season has been played, these results do bear close watching.

The OVER/UNDER results are not skewed nearly as much as the sharp upturn in scoring might suggest. In the first week there were 48 OVERs, 39 UNDERs and 3 pushes, compared to 46-41-1 at this time last year.

There are no unbeaten or winless teams remaining after four finally suffered defeat or enjoyed initial wins last Sunday.

The two pleasant surprises have been the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers. Each had won its first five games before finally losing. The state of Pennsylvania had been winless through last Saturday before both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies won their first game this past Sunday.

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

Reds at Cards: Cincinnati has combined a potent offense and better than expected pitching to fashion a 4-2 record after one week of play. St. Louis split its first half dozen games, losing three straight after sweeping a trio in Philly. The Cardinals have struggled at the plate, scoring a total of just 15 runs in the five games following a 13-run explosion in the season opener. The starting pitching has been decent, but the bullpen has been unable to protect leads in low scoring games. St. Louis will be heavily favored throughout this series, so the first look will be on the underdog Reds.

Newly acquired Bronson Arroyo may represent Cincinnati’s best chance to get the money in this series. Both teams have power at the plate. It remains to be seen whether the new St. Louis ballpark will be hitter friendly or favor pitchers. Early season plays will best be predicated on fundamentals. Both the Cardinals and Reds are each more talented at the plate than on the mound, especially Cincinnati. Preferred play: OVER 9 or lower.

Giants at Dodgers: This bitter rivalry dates back nearly a century and has comprised nearly 50 years on each coast. The initial meeting of 2006 finds both teams having played well in the opening week. The Dodgers started 3-3, including a pair of wins in Philadelphia. After a trio of high scoring games at home against Atlanta, all three games against the Phillies went UNDER the total. Both teams’ starting pitching can be classified as above average at best. Neither team having an overpowering or dominant starter.

Dodger Stadium has always been a pitcher’s park and totals have been priced accordingly. The Giants will be playable as underdogs against Derek Lowe and ex-Giant Brett Tomko. The Dodgers are worth backing if dogs or favored by no more than —125 against Jason Schmidt or Jamey Wright. The one situation in which the Giants can be backed as favorites is in a start by newly signed Matt Morris at no more than -120. Preferred play: OVER 8 or less.

Angels at Orioles: The Angels have gotten off to a 3-3 start, although there are concerns about the health of ace starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. The Angels have one of the deepest rotations in baseball and a talented up and coming closer in Francisco Rodriguez. Baltimore has started just 2-4, largely due to a struggling offense. The Orioles scored 25 runs in their two wins, but just 0, 1 and 1 in three of their four losses. The pitching is very much a work in progress under new coach Leo Mazzone and can be expected to stay inconsistent until adjustments are made.

Neither team should be highly priced favorites in any game. The Angels can be backed as underdogs in starts by John Lackey, Jeff Weaver and Kelvim Escobar. Baltimore will be most attractive if Kris Benson, Daniel Cabrera or Bruce Chen are underdogs. Preferred play: UNDER 8 involving any of the six.

Indians at Tigers: Though very early in the season, both teams have shown that Chicago will be challenged to successfully defend its AL Central title. Detroit won five of six to start the season. Although the wins came against lowly Kansas City and Texas, all games were on the road. After dropping the season opener to the White Sox, Cleveland has won its next five. The streak consisted of a pair of wins in Chicago and a home sweep of Minnesota that included a victory over one of baseball’s top hurlers, Johan Santana.

At this point Cleveland is the better team, both at the plate and on the mound. The Indians have the more developed pitching rotation and proven offensive threats. Detroit vastly improved and has great upside potential. This series should be competitively priced. Preferred plays: Any UNDERDOG +125 or higher. OVER 8½, UNDER 9½.