Yankees beginning to show signs of life

Jun 5, 2007 7:19 AM

The baseball season is more than a third complete with division races having taken clear shape.

Three leaders hold advantages of more than five games. Boston has the biggest lead of any leader, a full 10½ games in the American League East. And that margin is not over the second place New York Yankees, but second place Toronto. The Yanks are in fourth place, 12½ back and six games under .500. NY is just a game ahead of last place Tampa Bay.

New York has been beset by an unusually high number of injuries, but that really cannot be used as an excuse. The weakness entering this season was expected to be the bullpen. For the most part, the relievers have been healthy. Injuries have hampered the starting rotation, they have basically performed well since struggling in April.

It’s been the offense that has struggled for much of the past month and a half. Even though slugger Jason Giambi will be lost for an extended period of time, the Yankees have started to hit a bit better of late — especially Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano. Look for the Yanks to have a very good month of June and get back in contention for the Wild Card.

It’s still a long season and Boston has a history of second half fades. However, the Red Sox have played as if they are the best team in baseball and will be tough to catch.

But, not impossible.

The New York Mets continue to set the pace in the National League East despite the absence of their entire starting outfield over this past weekend. The Metsies have gotten better than expected starting pitching from guys such as Jorge Sosa and Oliver Perez, while John Maine and Tom Glavine have been steady. This appears to be the best team in the NL, although Atlanta looks to again be a challenger to make the postseason.

The NL West has a three way tie starting the week as the Dodgers and Padres have been joined by fast improving Arizona. The Diamondbacks have a solid one-two force at the top of the rotation with Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson, who appears to be in excellent form following some injury interrupted seasons in New York.

Milwaukee continues to lead the NL Central and is the only one in that six-team division with a winning record. St. Louis has climbed to second place and has shown signs of ending its offensive drought. But the starting pitching remains a major concern and Milwaukee’s edge in that aspect of the game could have the Cardinals playing second fiddle all season.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have emerged as the most solid team in the AL West, although both Oakland and Seattle have enough strengths to make a division title hard work for the Halos. Los Angeles has the best pitching staff in the division although Oakland’s rotation is also very good. Seattle has the deepest lineup and that is one of the Angels biggest weaknesses, aside from Vladimir Guerrero.

Cleveland currently leads the AL Central, but figures to battle Detroit all season. Minnesota and Chicago also have enough talent to contend and it could be one lengthy winning or losing streak in mid-to-late August before the division has a clear definition.

Many starting pitchers have had at least 10 starts for the season and have been able to be identified as "go withs" or "go againsts" in favorable or unfavorable situations.

As a general rule, we look to play ON certain pitchers, especially those on otherwise weak teams when they are underdogs. Similarly, it’s best to look to go AGAINST certain pitchers on otherwise strong teams when they are favored, especially on the road.

Interleague play resumes this weekend and will continue for five straight series through the latter part of June, concluding on Sunday, June 24. The AL may not repeat its dominance of last season when winning just over 61 percent of interleague games. The AL did go 24-18 in the first round of 2007 interleague games a few weekends ago.

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

Mets at Tigers: Both teams made the playoffs last season and are contenders again. The Mets have the more potent offense when healthy, but injuries have caused several starters to miss time already. Detroit has a lineup that has been productive much of the season but its strength remains pitching. That strength has been weakened by the loss to injury of a pair of key late inning relievers.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Mets as underdogs in starts by Tom Glavine, John Maine or Oliver Perez.

”¡ Detroit as dogs in starts by Jeremy Bonderman or Justin Verlander.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher in matchups matching a pair of these pitchers.

”¡ OVER 9 or less if Detroit starts Chad Durbin, Nate Robertson or Mike Maroth.

Angels at Cards: There are several former Angels on the Cards and vice versa. There could be some pretty accurate scouting reports when these two meet, often an edge for the pitchers. The Angels have the big edge on the mound, while St. Louis has a batting advantage, even though the Cards have only recently begun to hit as expected.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Angels as underdogs in any matchup, +125 in starts by Ervin Santana or Jered Weaver.

”¡ St. Louis as a dog in a start by Braden Looper.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in all matchups except when the Angels start Bartolo Colon, John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar.

”¡ UNDER 8 if St. Louis starts anyone other than Kip Wells.

Red Sox at D’backs: Boston has the best record in baseball and Arizona is playing much better than expected. Boston has the bats and Arizona the arms, although Red Sox pitching and D-backs’ hitting have exceeded preseason predictions. Arizona has gotten timely hitting while the Red Sox have had steady starting pitching up and down the rotation. Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez have struggled more often than not.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Boston as underdogs in any matchup.

”¡ Arizona as dogs against ex-Diamondback Curt Schilling.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in nearly any matchup.

”¡ OVER 7 in a start by Arizona’s Brandon Webb.

A’s at Giants: This is one of several rematches from the first round of interleague play. Oakland took two of three from the Giants at home last month with two games very low scoring. Oakland has the edge in starting pitching and both lineups are pretty even. The focus continues to be on Barry Bonds’ assault on the all time home run record, but he does not have great support around him.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Oakland as underdogs in any matchup or a -125 favored when starting Danny Haren.

”¡ San Francisco as dogs of any price in a start by Matt Cain, except against Haren.

”¡ UNDER 8 or less in starts by Oakland’s Haren, Gaudin or Blanton when facing the Giants’ Cain, Lowry, or Lincecum.

”¡ OVER 8 or lower if Oakland’s Kennedy faces San Francisco’s Morris or Zito.