Mets looking down at major parity

Apr 18, 2006 6:15 AM

Two weeks into the baseball season can be described in one word — parity.

The New York Mets have baseball’s best record, 9-2, Kansas City Royals the worst at 2-9. Of the other 28 teams, 19 are within two games of .500.

In the American League, only Boston is more than two games above break even, at 8-4. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians have gotten off to rather mediocre starts at 7-5 while the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels have started 6-6. Oakland is 6-7.

Things are not much different in the National League although it is worth noting that Pittsburgh is the only team in the six-team Central Division with a losing record. Houston sits atop the Central, but is yet to play a division rival. The Astros and Yankees are the only teams in baseball to not have yet played a division game.

The high scoring phenomena of Week 1 lessened slightly during the past seven days. The average total runs per game is now 10.2, but the totals results are even more pronounced. Through this past Sunday, there have been 23 more OVER outcomes than UNDER (98-75-8) for a 56.6 percentage.

Albert Pujols’ three homer performance Sunday has him tied for the major league home run lead (8) with surprising Chris Shelton of Detroit. Pujols has surpassed Barry Bonds as baseball’s most feared hitter. This is accentuated by Bonds’ poor start to the season, going homerless in 35 official at bats and batting a paltry .174.

There has not been much public commentary that suggests his poor start is related to the absence of performance enhancing supplements, but this is his worst start to a season since 1998. That was the year before he allegedly began to take those "supplements" — if a pair of recent hard-hitting books are to be believed.

Still, Bonds’ poor start has not kept his San Francisco Giants from taking the lead in the NL West. It’s still early, and their record is just 7-4, but given Bonds’ struggles and projected No. 3 starter Noah Lowry on the DL the Giants appear to be the best team in the division due largely to above average pitching.

Mound performance can also be credited with Boston’s 8-4 start in the AL East. Both Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett have won their first three starts and have pitched impressively in each outing. Considered at best a question mark entering the season, solid pitching by the BoSox would give them a decided edge over the Yankees. Add in the performance of current closer Jon Papelbon (six saves, seven appearances, no earned runs) and the Sox could neutralize New York’s advantage in closer Mariano Rivera.

And that’s with Manny Ramirez struggling at the dish, with no home runs and a .214 ba ting average through Sunday.

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

Reds at Brewers: Both teams have started 7-5. Milwaukee has relied on solid starting pitching, the Reds more on strong offense to overcome a rather ordinary pitching staff. The Reds have scored at least six runs in eight of their first dozen games. Outfielder Adam Dunn is off to a hot start with seven dingers. Contrast Cincy’s offense to the Brewers, who have scored more than four runs just four times in 12 games. Three of those came in their six home games to start the season.

Preferred plays: Cincy at least +120 with Eric Milton, Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo pitching. Milton has suffered from ”˜homeritis’ in the past two seasons but has a stellar 2.63 ERA in two starts. Milwaukee -120 with Ben Sheets, Doug Davis or Chris Capuano or as underdogs. UNDER 9 or higher if two of these six are on the mound. If not, OVER 10 or lower.

Cubs at Cards: The Cubs swept the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, outscoring their longtime rivals 16-7 in the three games. This series concludes an odd road trip that saw the Cubs visit the Dodgers in midweek after playing in Pittsburgh last weekend. St. Louis should be a solid favorite in each game of the series and likely to win at least twice in seeking to avenge that opening week sweep.

Preferred plays: Cards -150 behind any starting pitcher. OVER 9 or lower except in starts by Chicago’s Greg Maddux or Jerome Williams. Otherwise UNDER 9½ or higher if either starts.

D’Rays at Rangers: Both teams will rely much more on offense than pitching for whatever success they may enjoy. Tampa has scored at least four runs in 11 of 13 games. Texas has not gotten the consistent hitting expected of its potent lineup, which largely explains a disappointing 5-8 start. To be fair, the Rangers have faced some pretty strong starting pitching. It can be argued that every starter faced by Texas is equal if not better than Tampa ace lefty Scott Kazmir. The Rangers should be favored throughout the series.

Preferred plays: Rangers if laying no more than -140, except facing Kazmir. Than take TB as a moderately priced dog. OVER 11 or lower.

Angels at A’s: First meeting. The Angels won the division in each of the past two seasons after Oakland had a won a pair the two seasons previous. Each team has a solid starting rotation and reliable closer. The Angels have arguably the more potent lineup but Oakland is deeper. Anaheim has scored more than five runs just twice in a dozen games; Oakland just 3 times in 13 games. Good pitching contains good hitting and last season the ”˜under’ was 12-4-1 in this matchup.

Preferred plays: UNDER 8 or higher. Bet UNDERDOG at 125 or higher throughout this series.