Memo to Boston: 70 games left to blow lead

Jul 17, 2007 6:12 AM

Welcome to the dog days of summer — that time between baseball’s all star break and the start of the football season. Baseball is at the center of the sports universe with most of the media’s attention being paid to America’s National Pastime.

The second half of the season is well underway. Divisional and Wild Card races continue to develop. Injuries and fatigue take more of a toll as temperatures approach triple digits in many stadiums across the country.

Teams have roughly 70 games remaining — more than 40 percent of the season. No team, regardless of how well it has played to date, is assured of making the postseason.

Keep in mind that only Boston, Detroit and the Los Angeles Angels are playing .600 baseball. And, barely at that. In fact, a loss by any of the three in their next game would push them below .600.

The top team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers, is 52-40, a winning percentage of just .565. That projects out to a full season record of just 91-71, which is hardly a sign of domination.

Thus we can expect to see some significant changes in the standings over the next two months. Even in the American League East where Boston was up by 14 or so games a month ago. The lead has been reduced to just 9 over the New York Yankees. That remains the largest lead of any division leader with the other first place teams enjoying margins of 3½ games or less.

Leads that can be erased in a week’s time.

The Philadelphia Phillies are just 46-45 as the week begins. But, of their 46 wins, 41 have been by at least 2 runs or more. Only five wins have been by one run. They have been just as productive on the road (21-1) as they have been at home (20-4). You might wish to keep this in mind when you consider playing on the Phillies, especially when favored.

There have been some unusual team performances this season worth mentioning that might point to an added winner or two at the betting window as these performances go against the norm.

For example, the Florida Marlins are 44-48 overall, have a winning record on the road (25-22) and a losing record at home (19-26). Baseball’s greatest home/road contrast is held by the Milwaukee Brewers. Currently leading the NL Central, the Brewers are a baseball best 32-14 at home and only 19-26 on the road.

Several teams have identical home and road records through last Sunday. Atlanta (25-21), San Diego (25-20) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (26-20) have played just as well on the road as at home. And, should the Mets have won their series opener Monday night in San Diego, they would join that group with a home and road record of 26-20.

These facts may prove useful in making wagers since teams will generally be more attractively priced on the road than at home. A team that plays as well, or better, on the road than it does at home presents good opportunities for profits.

The linemaking process has become much more sophisticated in recent years in all sports. However, there will always be teams that perform at the extremes, or opposite of conventional wisdom. By finding and focusing on such teams, edges can be uncovered and exploited.

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

D’backs at Cubs: The teams have not yet met this season. Arizona started the season strongly but has struggled of late, though still very much in the NL West race. The Cubs struggled through April and May, but have been on fire since the start of June. They are 25-15 in their last 40 games, the best record in the National League over that span. Their surge has coincided with the return to form of ace starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. The offense has also been more consistent and the Cubs figure to be a force both in the Central and the Wild Card race for the balance of the season.

Preferred plays:

”¡ ARIZONA as underdogs in a start by ace Brandon Webb.

”¡ CUBS as dogs in any matchup

”¡ CUBS at -140 or less except against Webb.

”¡ OVER 9 or less in any matchup except one.

”¡ UNDER if Webb faces Zambrano.

Mets at Dodgers: The teams met here in mid June with the Dodgers winning all three games, outscoring the Mets 18-5. Despite having the better offense on paper, the Mets have struggled plating runs for the past several weeks, scoring 4 runs or less in 8 of their last 12 games. The Dodgers have scored at least 5 runs in 13 of their last 17 games. Both teams have a pair of solid starters at the top of the rotation, yet have also gotten generally acceptable results from the entire staff. Both have solid closers.

Preferred plays:

”¡ METS as underdogs in starts by Tom Glavine, John Maine or Orlando Hernandez.

”¡ DODGERS as dogs in starts by Derek Lowe, Brad Penny or Chad Billingsley.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 7 or higher if Maine or Hernandez opposes Lowe or Billingsley.

Angels at Twins: The Angels took 2-of-3 from the Twins when the teams met at Anaheim in early June. The Angels begin the week tied with Boston for baseball’s best record. Minnesota is within 6 of the lead in the AL Central. The improved play has much to do with the recent dominating form of ace lefthander Johan Santana, who has been baseball’s best second half starter the past several seasons. The offense is led by Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. This could be a preview of the ALCS should the Twins catch Detroit and Cleveland.

Preferred plays:

”¡ ANGELS as underdogs in any matchup but at least +140 against Santana.

”¡ TWINS as dogs in starts by Boof Bonser or Scott Baker.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower except if Santana opposes John Lackey or Jered Weaver.

Indians at Rangers: Cleveland won a pair of high scoring home games in the only previous meeting in late April. The Indians have been at or near the top of the AL Central since the season began. Texas has been an also ran in the AL West but the combination of a potent offense and weak pitching make for entertaining games. It should be mentioned, however, that Texas closer Eric Gagne appears fully healthy and might be traded as the deadline nears at the end of July. After back-to-back complete game shutouts in early June, Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia has struggled, perhaps indicative of a yet undisclosed injury.

Preferred plays:

”¡ RANGERS as +125 underdogs or more in any matchup except against Fausto Carmona.

”¡ INDIANS as -120 favorites in a start by Carmona. ”¡ OVER 10 in any matchup except when Carmona pitches.

”¡ OVER 9 or less when Carmona starts.