Phils good ‘bet-against’ after dumping ’06

Aug 1, 2006 6:30 AM

It’s now August and baseball’s trading deadline has passed. Looking back as we hit press time, the most significant trade was between the Yankees and Phillies.

Outfielder Bobby Abreu and starting pitcher Cory Lidle went to Philadelphia in exchange for Las Vegan Matt Smith and three minor leaguers. Smith compiled a perfect 0.00 ERA with the Yankees in 12 games. The southpaw pitched a total of 12 innings in relief, striking out nine and walking a very high eight. He did hold opposing batters to a .105 average.

Philadelphia has not yet said what their plans are for Smith, but the trade did open up two roster spots. Smith’s major league experience gives him a shot not being sent down.

Detroit increased its offense with Monday morning’s acquisition of 1B Sean Casey from Pittsburgh for a minor league pitching prospect. The Tigers are clearly not taking a division title for granted, strengthening their lineup for a postseason run.

Often we can use how teams handle the trading deadline as indicators of their beliefs as to their chances to make the playoffs. The Phils, though just five games behind Cincinnati in the Wild Card chase, have sent a signal that can’t make up the ground and pass the four teams between them and the Reds. That’s somewhat surprising considering there are nearly 60 games left.

Phillies fans have to feel angry that management has seemingly tossed in the towel on 2006. More importantly, the players probably have similar and even stronger feelings. Philly should be a solid ”˜go against’ for the balance of the season as more of the young players see additional playing time. Philly is starting to play for next year.

Four of baseball’s six division leaders have leads of 3½ games or less. The Mets have all but wrapped up the NL East with a 13½-game lead. Detroit enjoys an 8½-game edge over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

The Wild Card races are truly competitive with four teams within eight games of the Yankees in the AL and nine teams within 6½ of Cincinnati in the NL. Over the next few weeks, teams will begin to fall out of playoff contention. For now, it appears that several Divisional races and both Wild Card chases will continue deep into September.

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

BRAVES/REDS: Atlanta took three of four in Cincy prior to the All Star break. The Braves have cooled since then. The Reds have played winning baseball all season. Three of the four games in July between these teams exceeded the posted run total, with the one ”˜under’ game the only contest below 11. Both teams struggle in the bullpen. The only quality starting pitchers are John Smoltz (Atlanta), Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo (both Cincy). Both Harang and Arroyo have slipped of late. Expect a lot of offense.

Preferred plays: ATLANTA as a dog or a -120 favorite facing either Harang or Arroyo. OVER 8 if Smoltz or Horacio Ramirez oppose Arroyo or Harang; OVER 9 if just one of the four start. OVER 10 if none do.

ROCKIES/GIANTS: Colorado has won five of nine prior meetings, with the home team winning six. The ”˜under’ has a 5-4 edge. The Rockies have benefited from excellent starting and relief pitching. Not so for the Giants. Noah Lowry and Matt Cain have been slow to continue their 2005 development. Jason Schmidt, on the trade block, has slowed down after a torrid start. Barry Bonds is hitting just .244 through Sunday. Moises Alou has battled nagging injuries all season. Still, both are in the thick of the NL West race.

Preferred plays: COLORADO as an dog in starts by Jeff Francis, Jason Jennings or Aaron Cook. UNDER 8 in starts by Francis, Jennings or Cook. OVER 9 if none of the three start and the Giants don’t pitch Schmidt.

CHISOX/JAYS: The home team taking two of three each time in this series. Chicago is still a formidable team and a threat to repeat its World Series title, despite being overshadowed by Detroit’s amazing season. Toronto has one of the best offenses in baseball, but inconsistent of late and vulnerable to better starting pitching. The White Sox have the staff to take advantage of this.

Preferred plays: CHICAGO as an underdog in any matchup except facing Toronto’s Roy Halladay. TORONTO -130 with Halladay pitching. OVER 8 in any matchup. OVER 9 if Halladay opposes Jose Contreras. OVER 9½ in all other matchups.

RANGERS/ANGELS: The Angels hold a 4-2 series edge. Bartolo Colon is on the DL once again, but young phenom Jered Weaver has exceeded expectations and allows the Angels to maintain a major edge on the mound. Texas is better at the plate, increased with the acquisition of Carlos Lee. Weaver and John Lackey are almost automatic plays. Young Ervin Santana has been significantly better at home than on the road. Texas’ ace Kevin Millwood has been sharp most of the season.Vicente Padilla has had more good starts than bad the past couple of months.

Preferred plays: TEXAS +150 against Weaver or Lackey in starts by Millwood or Padilla; ANGELS -130 in any matchup. UNDER 9 if Millwood or Padilla face Lackey, Weaver, Santana or Kelvim Escobar.