AL flexingits muscleagainst NL

Jun 12, 2007 5:42 AM

Most teams have now played at least 62 games this season which means barely 100 remain before the playoffs start in early October.

Though not as meaningful a milepost as say, Memorial Day or July Fourth, the passage of 62 games gives us a pretty good view of just how good or bad major league baseball’s 30 teams truly are.

Most teams will have had to deal with injuries of varying impact by the time two and a half months have passed. Teams that have been able to play the best through those lost man-games are well situated to make moves over the next month. It is their hope to strengthen their rosters and improve the chances of making the postseason.

After going 24-18 in the first of six interleague series last month, the American League teams posted an even better 27-15 record this past weekend. The overall record in 2007 now favors the AL by a 51-33 margin — just over 60 percent and almost on pace to match last season’s 154-98 mark.

Interleague continues with four consecutive series this week and next, concluding for the 2007 season a week from this Sunday. AL vs NL play remains very popular with the fans despite the claims of some who suggest there is nothing exciting about a Colorado matchup with Tampa Bay. Well, neither is a regular interleague series between Texas and Kansas City.

The fact is that in the 11 seasons since interleague play began, fans have been able to witness some of the best players in the game compete in ballparks in both leagues. More importantly, the fans have seen some natural rivalries develop from meaningful games that count in the standings. That’s better than having to "settle" for the occasional spring training games that allowed for the only regional bragging rights for many years.

The race between Boston and the New York Yankees has gotten more interesting over the past week or so, even though the Red Sox still lead by 9½ games. Sox fans know all too well about the ability of the New Yorkers to make strong second half surges and the Yanks have started to play solid all around baseball.

Once again, these long-time AL East rivals figure to make headlines when their head to head rivalry resumes again later this season.

The NL West is producing a very contentious race with Arizona and San Diego essentially tied for the division lead as the week begins. The Los Angeles Dodgers are just 1½ games out. Even last place San Francisco is within one decent winning streak of contention, just six games below .500 and facing the smallest deficit of any last place team.

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

Braves at Indians: Atlanta had gotten strong starting pitching early in the season, but recent injuries (the latest being Tim Hudson) have caused the Braves to reshape their rotation. Some untested arms have been called upon to deliver quality innings. Cleveland’s pitching is often overshadowed by the offense, but the Indians have gotten solid seasons from CC Sabathia and young Fausto Carmona. Cliff Lee and Paul Byrd are still rounding into shape. Atlanta’s offense has missed the bat of Chipper Jones, but historically the Braves start to heat up around mid June.

Preferred plays:

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in any matchup.

”¡ Atlanta as underdogs in starts by John Smoltz or (if not the DL), Hudson.

”¡ Cleveland as underdogs in any matchup.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower except in starts by Smoltz or Sabathia.

”¡ UNDER 7½ or higher if Smoltz faces Sabathia.

Tigers at Phillies: Detroit has battled injuries to its pitching staff, yet still control the AL Wild Card. The offense has been both extremely hot and cold. The Tigers hammered a pair of Mets lefties this past weekend, who had been pitching well. The Phillies are trying to play themselves back into contention with a rather average pitching staff. The offense is starting to heat up, greatly due to the exploits of slugger Ryan Howard who had a horrible April and May.

Preferred plays:

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

”¡ Phillies as underdogs against any other Detroit starter and if Cole Hamels opposes Bonderman or Verlander.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower if Bonderman or Verlander don’t start.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Bonderman or Verlander oppose Jon Lieber or Hamels.

Mets at Yankees: The Mets took two of three in the first go round. At that time, the Mets were hot and the Yankees were not. Now the momentum has reversed. The Yankees have won 9 of 11 beginning the week, getting solid pitching from a rotation that has just welcomed back Roger Clemens. The hitting has been timely with the bats of Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano coming alive. The Mets have been in a hitting slump the past two weeks and the once solid starting pitching, aside from "El Duque" (Orlando Hernandez), has started to struggle.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Yankees as +125 underdogs or -125 favorites in any matchup.

”¡ Mets as +140 underdogs at least in starts by John Maine, Tom Glavine or Hernandez.

”¡ OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower when the Yankees start rookie Tyler Clippard and another "fifth" starter (likely on Saturday).

Cards at A’s: This is an intriguing matchup on many levels. It marks the return of St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa to his former managerial location in Oakland where he managed the "Bash Brothers" of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire to multiple post season appearances nearly, gulp, 20 years ago. The Cardinals have the edge on offense with a relatively weak pitching staff. Oakland’s strength is the starting pitching with an average bullpen and average offense. Up and coming ace, Danny Haren, was acquired in a trade from the Cardinals a few seasons ago.

Preferred plays:

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher in starts by Oakland’s Haren, Chad Gaudin or Joe Blanton.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in starts by Oakland’s Joe Kennedy or Lenny DiNardo.

”¡ St. Louis as underdogs in starts by Kennedy or DiNardo.

”¡ Oakland as -130 favorites or lower in starts by Gaudin or Blanton.

”¡ Oakland -150 or less in Haren’s start.