Finally baseball grabs center stage in bets

Jun 19, 2007 6:17 AM

Now that the NBA Finals are complete and the NFL preseason is still six weeks away, the focus of the sports world for the next few months will be directed towards major league baseball.

The national pastime is rapidly approaching the midpoint of its long 162-game season with the annual All Star game but a few weeks away.

Within that span, teams will be forced into making the decision as to whether they are pretenders or contenders. Whether teams believe they have enough to make a second half run towards the postseason will dictate if the mindset is of suppliers or procurers of players that could make the difference.

Inter-league play concludes with midweek and weekend series. The American League had won 61 percent of its matchups with the National League last season and was on a similar pace this season as detailed a week ago. However, that margin has since dwindled during the past week.

Through this past weekend the AL held a relatively slight 91-77 lead over the senior circuit, winning just over 54 percent of the games. The AL has played a total of six more home games than the NL, a stat that will even out over the coming week.

Only five NL teams have winning records against the AL this season, and four are 7-5. Those teams are Colorado, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington. The Cubs are 4-2 as they have played two intra-league series against other NL teams during inter-league play. At the other end of the spectrum are Atlanta (3-6), the Los Angeles Dodgers (2-7) and San Francisco (3-9).

In the AL, four teams are 8-4 or better against NL competition — Boston, Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland. The best inter-league records (9-3) have been earned by the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees.

Two AL teams are just 3-9 in interleague play and that poor record cemented Baltimore’s decision to fire second-year manager Sam Perlozzo. The Orioles actually had been playing well (within three games of .500) before losing their last 8. Many of those losses were the fault of the bullpen and that brings into question the job security of pitching coach Leo Mazzone, former Atlanta Braves guru.

The other AL team at 3-9 is Chicago and manager Ozzie Guillen’s job is reported to be in jeopardy. So much for the goodwill earned by winning the World Series just two seasons ago. The suspicion here is that Guillen will survive the rumors and will at least finish the season.

But the next manager to hear those words uttered and reportedly attempted to be trademarked by Donald "You’re Fired," Trump may be Cincinnati’s Jerry Narron. The Reds made strides last season and appeared poised to show further improvement this season. But the Reds are currently in last place in the NL Central with the worst record in the league. Cincy is only a half game better than baseball’s worst team, Texas.

Inter-league play has also produced more OVERs (86) than UNDERs (72) this season in addition to 10 pushes. The average total runs per inter-league game has been 10.1, which is about 1 per game above the average for all contests played this season.

Here’s a look at four series to be played on the concluding weekend of interleague play.

Cubs at White Sox: The Cubs took two of three from the Sox when the teams met at Wrigley last month. All three games went OVER the Total. The Cubs have started to play better since then, while the White Sox have struggled. Carlos Zambrano has started to pitch to his historical form for the Cubs after pitching poorly in April and May.

Preferred plays:

”¡ CUBS as an underdog in starts by Zambrano or Rich Hill.

”¡ WHITE SOX as dogs or as a -125 favorite in starts by any other Cubs starter.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Zambrano or Hill face Mark Buehrle, Javier Vazquez or Jon Garland.

A’s at Mets: For much of this decade Oakland has had some of the best collective starting pitching in baseball. The Mets have always relied more on pitching than hitting throughout their 45 year franchise history. The Mets do have one of the most potent lineups in baseball this season, but the offense has been in a prolonged slump dating back to late May.

Preferred plays:

”¡ ATHLETICS up to -150 favorites in a start by Danny Haren.

”¡ METS as favorites of up to -130 in starts by John Maine or Oliver Perez.

”¡ UNDERDOG in all other matchups.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher in most any matchup.

”¡ OVER 9 or less if Oakland starts Lenny Dinardo or Joe Kennedy.

Tigers at Braves: The fortunes of these two franchises may have been reversed over the past 15 years had the Tigers not traded minor leaguer John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander back in 1987. Alexander propelled the Tigers to the postseason that year, but then nearly two decades of futility followed. Meanwhile just a few seasons later Smoltz emerged as a leader on the Braves pitching staff that made the postseason for 15 years. Things have leveled off and Atlanta finally missed the playoffs last season, while Detroit made it to the World Series.

Preferred plays:

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

”¡ BRAVES as dogs or up to -130 favorites in starts by other Tigers pitchers.

”¡ OVER 8 or lower in most any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Verlander or Bonderman oppose Smoltz.

Red Sox at Padres: Both division leaders are playing well and could meet in the World Series later this year. The Red Sox have gotten better than expected pitching that has often come through when their highly potent offense has struggled. San Diego is built on pitching and has one of the best bullpens in baseball. The offense is underrated but still is not on a par with Boston. Both teams have outstanding closers in San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman and Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon.

Preferred plays:

”¡ UNDERDOG at +120 or more in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher in most any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 7 or higher if San Diego starts Jake Peavy or Chris Young against Boston’s Curt Schilling or Daisake Matsuzaka.