Sweeping results from interleague openers

May 23, 2006 4:44 AM

The initial series of interleague play resulted in a lost weekend for five teams that were swept by their rivals.

Three broom users were from the National League as Colorado won three from Toronto, St. Louis three from Kansas City and the Dodgers routing the Angels 31-7 in their series. In the junior circuit Seattle swept San Diego and Tampa Bay took three from the Florida Marlins.

Overall, the American League holds a two game edge, 22-20, over the National, having split evenly between stadiums in each league. Scoring was pretty much in line with past results from interleague play. Teams combined for just below 9.3 runs per game in the 42 games over the weekend. The UNDER held a 24-17 edge with one push.

Play resumes within each league this week. Interleague play picks up again in mid June with 2½ weeks of games until a few days before July 4 Independence Day.

The past week has seen some distancing in several division races. St. Louis is four up on Cincinnati in the NL Central. The Mets are three ahead of Philadelphia prior to their midweek series this week in New York. Colorado has a slim half-game lead over Arizona in the NL West, which has gone from baseball’s weakest to perhaps best balanced, most improved and competitive division.

All five teams are above .500 with last place San Francisco just two games out of first starting the week. Collectively the five teams are 19 games above break even. Those wins came at the expense of the NL East and Central teams and those AL teams in interleague play.

The AL features three tight races with Boston 1½ games ahead of the Yankees heading into their three game series played Monday through Wednesday in Boston. Oakland and Texas are tied atop the AL West.

The big story in baseball, aside from Barry Bonds finally hitting number 714 to tie the Bambino, is the change in leadership in the AL Central. The team with the best record in baseball is no longer the Chicago White Sox, but the Detroit Tigers at 29-14. The Sox are right there, one game back.

In 2003, the Tigers were an embarrassing 43-119. Just three seasons later, the development of young pitchers Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson plus the infusion of veteran talent and new manager Jim Leyland’s leadership have the Tigers in contention approaching Memorial Day. Maroth and Bonderman were a combined 15-40 in that disastrous 2003 season. They have started 9-5 in 2006 and the Tigers have won 11 of their combined 17 starts.

Detroit appears very much legit, allowing the fewest base runners per inning in the majors. On offense, the Tigers are third in the majors in homers and above average in most categories. It’s still early, but it appears Detroit, not Cleveland, will provide Chicago its stiffest challenge in defending their division title and returning to the playoffs.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

D’backs at Reds: Arizona took two of three in the desert three weeks ago when the Reds were playing their best baseball. Cincy has gone 4-8, while the Diamondbacks have won 6-of-11. The Reds have gotten better than expected starting pitching from Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, but are still known for offense. The Reds have scored six runs or more in seven of their last 20 games, but just two or less nine times in that span. Arizona has gotten contributions on the mound and at the plate with starter Brandon Webb (7-0) emerging into a premier pitcher

Preferred plays: UNDERDOG with Webb, Harang or Arroyo. UNDER 8 if two of the three face each other; ARIZONA as dog against Eric Milton. OVER 9 if Harang, Arroyo and Webb not involved.

Rockies at Giants: Colorado took two of three from SF at home. Unlike past seasons, the Rockies (12-9) have won away from Denver. The biggest reason for their place near the top the NL West is pitching. No starter has an ERA above 5.00, remarkable for a staff pitching half the time in a hitter’s paradise. Especially impressive have been Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis. The Giants have a mixture of good and bad efforts from their starters. Jason Schmidt has regained his All Star form, but Matt Morris has struggled since leaving St. Louis.

Preferred plays: COLORADO as a dog except if Schmidt is matched against a pitcher other than Cook or Francis. UNDER 9 in all matchups.

Indians at Tigers: At 22-22, the Indians are off to a disappointing start. Five of their losses have been against Kansas City. Detroit has baseball’s best record, largely due to a pitching staff that leads the majors in ERA. The offense has some pop with four regulars hitting at least nine homers and five above .300. Cleveland’s offense has cooled in recent weeks, but the pitching has been bolstered by ace CC Sabathia following a month on the DL. Also, Jake Westbrook has pitched better of late.

Preferred plays: CLEVELAND as dogs with Sabathia or Westbrook. UNDER 9 in their starts. UNDER 9½ in other matchups.

A’s at Rangers: Tied atop the AL West, the Rangers and A’s are just a game above .500, bringing back fond memories of last season’s NL West. Oakland is traditionally a slow starting team, playing its best ball after the All Star break most of this decade. The teams have split six games this season, four going to the road team. The teams played close to the posted totals, just one of the six missing by more than a run. Oakland’s Barry Zito and Danny Haren are in top form. Five of Kevin Millwood’s last six starts for Texas have been solid, but the rest of the rotation is at best inconsistent.

Preferred plays: TEXAS -130 with Millwood against other than Zito and Haren. OAKLAND -120 with Zito or Haren against any pitcher other than Millwood. OVER 9 in games not involving Millwood, Haren or Zito.