NL is stillbehind AL

Jun 26, 2007 6:59 AM

This past weekend marked the conclusion of interleague play prior to the World Series.

Again, the American League had the better record though not nearly to the extent that they dominated play last season when the junior circuit was 154-98, winning just over 61 percent of the games.

This season the AL margin was less than half of last season’s 56 game edge, going 137-115 (54 percent). The breakdown shows the AL was 72-54 at home and 65-61 on the road. The over held at 129-108 edge in interleague play with 15 pushes. The average was 10 total runs per game.

To put that average in perspective, the NL games have averaged just 8.8 total runs per game while AL games have averaged 9.5 a contest.

Despite the AL’s whopping edge over the NL in 2006, the World Series was won by a National League team — a very mediocre St. Louis Cardinals at just 83-78 during the regular season before getting hot in the playoffs.

By sweeping cross town rival White Sox over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs had the NL’s best record (8-4) in interleague play. At 10-8, Colorado was the only other NL team more than one game above break even in interleague play. And the Rockies might have fared better, but were swept over the weekend in Toronto.

Several NL teams were absolutely horrid in play against the AL. Atlanta was the worst with a 4-11 record. Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers were almost as bad, each going 5-10.

Only three of the 14 AL teams had losing interleague records. Chicago’s White Sox were by far the worst at 4-14, although Baltimore’s 6-12 and Tampa Bay’s 7-11 were also disappointing.

Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels were each 14-4 against the NL, while Boston was next best at 12-6. Not surprisingly, all three teams currently lead their respective divisions with the Angels 8 up on Seattle and Boston ahead 11 over second place Toronto. The New York Yankees struggled the past week to fall a half game behind Toronto in the AL East after being swept in Colorado and losing two of three in San Francisco.

The other AL Division leader, Detroit, is up just 2 over Cleveland in the AL Central. The Indians, currently the Wild Card leader, are up 3 over Seattle and 4 on Oakland.

Within the next week the majority of teams will reach the mathematical midpoint of the season by playing game 81. Rumors will begin surfacing as to which high profile players will be shopped around by the trading deadline at the end of July.

Currently, such names as White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and Cincinnati slugger Ken Griffey Jr are most often mentioned. With both the White Sox and Reds far out of contention, both could bring in a slew of young talent in looking to build for the future barring a sudden lengthy winning streak.

Despite all the controversy that has surrounded Yankees slugger Alex Rodriquez since his arrival in New York, he is the frontrunner for the AL Most Valuable Player award. He is currently on pace to hit 62 home runs and drive in 170 while batting .333. After a hot April and cold May, A-Rod came on once again in June to help fuel what had been the Yankees’ rise back into contention before the past week’s road swoon.

If the Yanks are to make another run -- likely given their recent history — Rodriquez likely shall be a main contributor.

For the National League MVP, how about Prince Fielder? He’s been largely responsible for Milwaukee’s ascension to the top of the NL Central from an offensive standpoint with his 26 dingers and 61 RBI. Typical of many power hitters of days gone by his batting average is acceptable though not outstanding at .283.

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

Mets at Phillies: The Mets started the season as if they were going to repeat last season’s runaway in the NL East. Philadelphia began as if having no intention of contending. Yet over the past month the fortunes of both teams have been reversed. The Mets begin this week leading second place Philadelphia by just 3. Much of the shift is due to the declining offense of the Mets, especially from such sources as Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado.

The Phillies resurgence has been led by last season’s MVP, Ryan Howard. The Mets still have the solid edge in pitching, but they’ve averaged just below 4 per game in their last dozen outings. That includes scoring 20 runs in a three game weekend sweep of Oakland. The Phillies have won 4-of-7 meetings this season including a 3-game sweep of the Mets in New York earlier this month.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Either team as a +125 underdog or more.

”¡ Mets as underdogs in starts by John Maine or Orlando Hernandez.

”¡ Phillies as dogs of any price in a start by Cole Hamels.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher in a start by Hamels.

Padres at Dodgers: Both teams are contending with Arizona for the top spot in the NL West. San Diego has won 5-of-9 meetings with the home team winning 6-of-9. Surprisingly there were six OVER results, even though the teams have averaged just 8.3 runs per game. Both teams have solid pitching with the Padres rating the overall pitching edge with their outstanding bullpen. These teams are pretty even in terms of overall talent with San Diego’s slight pitching edge offset by the Dodgers’ edge on offense

Preferred picks:

”¡ Dodgers as underdogs in starts by Derek Lowe or Brad Penny.

”¡ San Diego at dogs in starts by Jake Peavy or Chris Young.

”¡ UNDER 7 or higher if Penny or Lowe starts against Peavy or Young.

”¡ OVER 8 or lower if Kuo or Randy Wolf faces Greg Maddux or David Wells

Twins at Tigers: The road team won 2-of-3 in both series. Detroit has been a strong team all season, while Minnesota has started to play well of late. The Twins have also been a solid second half team the past few seasons. Detroit has been hot on offense over the past couple of weeks and has played well overall, starting this week on a 7-game win streak. The Tigers have the edge in starting pitching, but the Twins have the better bullpen. Detroit has a slim lead in the division over Cleveland while the Twins are looking to be players in the wild card race.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Detroit as underdogs in any matchup, including against Johan Santana.

”¡ Detroit as -150 favorites in starts by Justin Verlander or Jeremy Bonderman.

”¡ Detroit as -125 favorites if either starts against Santana.

”¡ Minnesota as a +125 dog or more against any other Tigers starter.

A’s at Yanks: Oakland, normally s strong second half team, has a better record than the Yankees. The A’s have relied on solid starting pitching with a relatively weak offense. The Yankees have the far more potent offense, but those bats have suffered through prolonged slumps several times. On balance, the starting pitching has been better than expected, but the Yankee bullpen is still a major concern. Oakland took 2-of-3 in mid-April.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Oakland as an underdog of any price in a start by Danny Haren.

”¡ Oakland as a +125 dog in a start by Joe Blanton.

”¡ Yankees as -150 favorites against any other Oakland starter.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Oakland’s Haren or Blanton faces Wang or Pettitte.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in games started by a pair of other pitchers.