Parity, offenserule in majors

Apr 25, 2006 5:24 AM

Three weeks into the 2006 season and parity remains the best description for how things have unfolded.

Seventeen of baseball’s 30 teams are within three games of .500 — including all five in the NL West. There are ties for the lead atop two of the six divisions and three others have leaders just 1½ games ahead. The New York Mets are the only division leader up with some cushion — a modest three game edge in the NL East over Atlanta.

The "OVER" continues to hit at slightly more than 57 percent (ignoring pushes) as offenses continue to dominate the headlines. Last Saturday saw a feat not accomplished in more than 40 years with Milwaukee slugging five homers in a single inning en route to an 11-0 shutout of Cincinnati. The next day, Cincinnati won 11-0.

Totals per game (10.17) are up a full run compared to last season. Many theories have been offered, including ”˜juiced up’ baseballs or that some pitchers are ”˜off the juice.’ It could simply be that this is an early season phenomena that will level off as the season progresses. In 2005 the "OVER" accounted for just 47.5 percent of totals decisions, with 100 more "UNDER" results than "OVER."

Despite all this offense, there have been some notable pitching efforts. Nine pitchers have led teams to 4-0 records in their starts. Perhaps the best overall performance has been by Las Vegan Greg Maddux. The Cubs are 4-0 with Maddux, thanks to a stellar 0.99 ERA. He has allowed less than 0.75 base runners per inning, reminiscent of his dominating performances in the early to mid 1990’s when he was almost an automatic Cy Young Award winner.

The Mets’ Pedro Martinez, Boston’s Curt Schilling and the White Sox’ Mark Buehrle are just behind Maddux at 4-0 at less than a base runner per inning.

Keep an eye on the Detroit Tigers, who are a remarkable 10-2 on the road compared to 2-5 at home. Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

Astros at Reds: Both teams are early season surprises. The emergence of a pair of young starting pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Wandy Rodriguez have been instrumental in Houston’s fast start. Cincinnati has relied on their bats and better than expected starting pitching to fashion their early season success. Preferred picks: CINCY -130 with Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang except against Rodriguez or Buchholz. UNDER 9 or higher with those starters or Houston’s Roy Oswalt. OVER 9 or lower with Andy Pettitte, if not facing Harang or Arroyo.

Mets at Braves: Atlanta took two of three in New York with all three UNDER the total. The Mets have the edge on offense (especially with Chipper Jones sidelined) and relief pitching with closer Billy Wagner. Tom Glavine was outdueled by Tim Hudson in a 2-1 loss, continuing the veteran lefty’s lack of success against ex-mates. John Thomson has the best stats among Braves starters. Preferred picks: METS -125 with Pedro Martinez. BRAVES -150 against Victor Zambrano. OVER 9 or lower with Zambrano. Otherwise, UNDER 8 or higher.

Twins at Tigers: Both teams rely more on quality starting pitching with the Twins having the edge in experience. There should be great value all series in the underdog. Preferred picks: Either UNDERDOG at +120. TIGERS if Twins start struggling Johan Santana. UNDER 9 or higher in all games.

White Sox at Angels: The Angels dealt the White Sox their only postseason loss last year, winning Game 1 of the ALCS. With Angels ace Bartolo Colon on the DL the White Sox have an even greater edge. Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras have had outstanding starts with ERAs below 2. Chicago is 7-1 in their starts. Preferred picks: SOX -130 with Buehrle or Contreras. OVER 9 or lower with either Jon Garland or Freddy Garcia. ANGELS -120 against Freddy Garcia or Jon Garland. UNDER 8½ or higher if Buehrle or Contreras face Kelvim Escobar or John Lackey.