One week in and Nationals
basically out 5pcol

Apr 10, 2007 5:55 AM

The 2007 baseball season is barely one week old and already there are some teams that have major concerns, if only based on a half dozen games.

The New York Yankees, for example, have played five games and the ERA of their starting pitchers is 9.97 — by far the worst in all of baseball. No starter has lasted more than five innings. What was considered to be their major weakness entering the season has been exactly such right out of the gate.

The Washington Nationals are living down to their forecast as the worst team in baseball. With an Over/Under total wins of just 66, the Nationals have lost 6-of-7 and managed to score more than three runs just once.

St. Louis may have the most to be concerned about after ace Chris Carpenter missed his second start of the season and expected to miss another outing this week. The defending World Series champions have also scored 1 run or less in four of the first six games. The thin starting rotation was expected to be a problem for the Cardinals, although converted closer Adam Wainwright was sharp in his initial start.

The loss of Carpenter for more than a couple of starts would be costly as the NL Central appears to be baseball’s deepest Division. Rival Houston has also struggled out of the starting blocks. Their perceived weakness (a lack of offense) has been the Astros story line in the season’s first week. Houston is one of only two teams (San Francisco is the other) yet to score more than five runs in a game.

Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston won just once in the season’s first week. Cleveland and Seattle have a pair of wins each despite playing just three games. Their entire four game weekend series in Cleveland was postponed by snow!

There have been quite a number of outstanding pitching performances already. In 49 NL games through this past Sunday, there have been 21 occurrences of starting pitchers going at least seven innings and allowing one earned run or less. That’s better than one in five starts, which can be considered dominating. There have been 11 such starts in 37 AL games.

It’s still early in the season, and pitchers usually are ahead of hitters especially in games played in cold weather. The struggles at the plate for Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez will not last long. Within the next few weeks more headlines will be made by hitters rather than pitchers as the weather warms up and players get into their routines.

Despite the aforementioned starting pitching woes of the Yankees, the early play of Alex Rodriguez may be a positive omen. His game winning walk off grand slam homer on Saturday was one of four homers he’s already hit this season. Perhaps this is the start of an MVP caliber season in which the New York offense clearly will have to be the catalyst to postseason play.

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

Reds at Cubs: Cincinnati took 2-of-3 at home against the Cubs to open the season last week. All three games stayed well under the total. There is a clear gap between the top starting pitchers and the rest of the rotation for both teams. For Chicago, it’s ace Carlos Zambrano and then a huge drop off to, at best, mediocrity. For Cincinnati it’s Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and then a big gap.

Preferred plays: Winds always are a major factor in setting totals at Wrigley Field. A Zambrano matchup against either Harang or Arroyo should only be played under. OVER in any matchup not involving any of the three as both teams have plenty of offense. REDS +150 will be attractive against Zambrano. At -130 or less Zambrano is playable. CUBS +120 against Harang or Arroyo. Play the two Cincy hurlers if required to lay -120 or less. Otherwise, it’s underdogs.

Giants at Dodgers: Both teams figure to rely on their pitching for most of the success this season. Each side has a solid starting rotation and a strong bullpen. The Dodgers do have the better offense and should be favorites throughout the series.

Preferred plays: UNDER at 7-to-7½ range or if the total is 8 or higher. Any underdog of +125 or more will be the best plays. UNDER should the total be placed at 8 or higher.

Angels at Red Sox: The Angels have the pitching edge and Boston has the nod on offense. An intriguing early season series. Boston’s offense has gotten off to a slow start prior to opening its home season against Seattle in midweek. Japanese ace Daisake Matsuzaka was outstanding in his first start for the BoSox, but that was against Kansas City. The Angels will present more of a challenge largely due to the presence of Vladimir Guerrero in the middle of the lineup.

Preferred plays: We don’t recommend playing the Angels against Dice-K unless they were underdogs of +200 or more. ANGELS both at +130 underdogs against all other Boston starters, including Curt Schilling and when John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar or Ervin Santana face anyone other than Dice-K. UNDER 8, but go with 9 as the guide unless Dice-K opposes Lackey or Escobar.

Yanks at A’s: The Yankees starting pitching woes were detailed earlier, but there are no problems with the offense. For Oakland is it pretty much the reverse. The A’s having a solid rotation even with the departure of Barry Zito. It appears Rich Harden is back in top form, plus both Danny Haren and Joe Blanton have great upside. The offense leaves much to be desired. although DH Mike Piazza does provide pop potential.

Preferred plays: Should the A’s be underdogs in starts by any of their top three starters they become the play. UNDER 8 or higher if Harden, Haren or Blanton start. OVER 9 in starts by other Oakland pitchers. Yankees as underdogs in starts by Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina. In such starts, also go UNDER. If the A’s were favored, it would mean one of their top three pitchers was starting.