Damn Yankees!

Aug 22, 2006 7:23 AM

Time is dwindling for teams to make their moves from the middle of the pack upward.

All three American League divisions show the leader more than four games ahead of the second place teams with less than 40 games remaining. The New York Yankees and Oakland have extended their leads over Boston and Anaheim respectively, while Detroit still maintains a 5½ game lead in the Central. Minnesota and Chicago battled one another for second place this past weekend and will meet again this coming weekend.

The New York Mets have all but mathematically clinched the NL East with a 14 game lead over second place Philadelphia even after losing 3-of-4 to the Phillies last week. Los Angeles has opened up a four game lead over both Arizona and San Diego in the West. St. Louis clings to a slim 2½ half game lead over Cincinnati in the Central.

Just about 10 days remain until the rosters expand Sept. 1. That’s when many teams out of contention begin to play their top minor league prospects to give them a taste of the major leagues and assess their ability to play at the top level.

The National League Wild Card race remains extremely competitive with nine teams within seven games of Cincinnati. The bad news is that only the Reds are above .500. Arizona and San Diego are tied for second in the Wild Card with records of 62-62.

Three teams are realistically in the AL Wild Card chase with Chicago a game up on Minnesota and four ahead on Boston. Texas is in sixth position in the Wild Card race, nine games behind the White Sox. With a record of 65-60, the Rangers are a half game better than the NL Wild Card leading Reds.

It would certainly appear the AL will again win the World Series, especially with the best NL team, the New York Mets, facing some major problems in their starting rotation due to injuries.

Want a National League longshot? How about the Los Angeles Dodgers. They are healthy and playing well, although their bullpen does have issues.

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

Phils at Mets: Philly took three of four from the Mets last week. The Phils remain below .500, but in contention for the Wild Card. The Mets are dealing with a starting rotation that has been depleted. Pedro Martinez is on his second stint on the DL and Tom Glavine’s possible blood clot could end his season. Because of those losses the Mets are weak in the rotation and that could mean plenty of runs being scored.

Preferred plays: OVER 9 in any matchup. PHILLIES as an underdog in starts by Brett Myers, Jon Lieber or the newly acquired Jamie Moyer.

Dodgers at D’backs: When healthy, the Dodgers have one of the best offenses in the NL. The addition of veteran Greg Maddux has strengthened the starting rotation and the Dodgers have been on a roll over the last three weeks. They have created some separation atop the NL West. Arizona has a chance to narrow the four game gap that exists at the start of the week. The series has seen the teams split their first dozen meetings.

Preferred plays: DODGERS as underdogs in starts by Maddux, Derek Lowe or Chad Billingsley. UNDER 8 if any of the three oppose Arizona’s Brandon Webb. OVER 9 if none of these pitchers start.

A’s at Rangers: As they have for the past several seasons, Oakland is playing phenomenal baseball following the All Star break. The A’s have opened a 4½ game lead in the AL West. Texas took the final three games of the weekend series in Detroit and trail the A’s by just 5½ games at the start of the week and a chance to make up some ground here. Texas has won 7 of 13 meetings. Oakland has the pitching edge although closer Huston Street is on the DL. Texas has the edge at the plate.

Preferred plays: ATHLETICS as an underdog in any matchup or as a -125 favorite if Danny Haren starts. OVER 9 except if Kevin Millwood faces Haren or Barry Zito. UNDER 9 if that pitching matchup happens.

Twins at White Sox: Minnesota took two of three at home last weekend from the Sox. Neither team can afford to be swept here. Both are contending for the AL Wild Card with faint hopes of catching Detroit for the AL Central title.

Preferred plays: TWINS as an underdog against other than Jon Garland or Jose Contreras. WHITE SOX as an underdog in any matchup other than Johan Santana. WHITE SOX +150 if facing Santana. UNDER 8 if Santana faces Garland, Contreras or Javier Vazquez. OVER 9 if not.