Trade winds blowin’ smoke

Jul 24, 2007 4:49 AM

As the clock continues to count down towards the start of the football season the doldrums of midsummer baseball continue.

Over the next week or so rumors will fly as to which big name players will be traded to contending teams in exchange for prospects. In the two-plus weeks since the All Star break teams had an opportunity to see if momentum could be built coming out of the break.

For those laggards unable to generate much momentum, management will make the decision to focus the team’s efforts towards next season and will perhaps engage in the trading away of high priced, aging talent and allowing some of their younger, emerging players to see added playing time.

Potential players having impact that could be traded include Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. A pair of closers with good prior history may also be headed elsewhere. Texas might trade ex-Dodger Eric Gagne and cross-state rival Houston might be willing to part with Brad Lidge.

Recent history, however, suggests there will more likely be a handful of minor deals with few, if any, big names going elsewhere. As is often the case, the hype is larger than the reality. But certainly the next week will be filled with rumors which always makes for interesting discussion and debate.

Three division races remain extremely close. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers have slim one game leads and the Los Angeles Angels are up by two. Milwaukee and the New York Mets have 3½ game leads in their divisions. But the biggest lead is in baseball’s most intriguing division, the AL East.

Boston’s double-digit margin has been nearly cut in half as the New York Yankees begin this week just 7½ behind. New York’s bats came alive in a big way over the weekend, albeit against lowly Tampa Bay. Still, the Las Vegas Hilton as recently as last week had the Yankees from 15 to 20/1 to win the World Series.

Considering the long history of these two rivals, it would be foolhardy to count New York out. Especially with Boston’s David Ortiz nursing a lingering injury.

Congrats go out to Cal Ripken Jr and Tony Gwynn, both of whom enter baseball’s Hall of Fame this coming Sunday. They were easy first ballot honorees, well deserving of being enshrined in the Hall.

Both are among the final Hall of Famers to have played their entire 20-year plus careers with the same team. There are not many currently playing who can make that claim. Potential Hall of Famers with 10 or more years of service include Derek Jeter, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones. Even San Diego’s likely Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman pitched part of his first major league season for the Florida Marlins.

Here’s a look at four series to be played over the final weekend in July.

Brewers at Cards: Although St. Louis is the defending World Series champ, the Brewers have been the team to beat in the NL Central virtually all season. The Cardinals had a miserable first half of the season but have started to play better in July. Milwaukee has stagnated over the past 45 days and a once commanding lead has been reduced to just 3½ games over Chicago. And now ace starting pitcher Ben Sheets is lost for much of the balance of the season.

The teams have not met since early May, but the home team has won 4-of-5 this season, including a three game sweep in Milwaukee by the Brewers. Pitching has been the reason the home team owns a 35-8 edge in runs scored. The road team has failing to score more than 3 in any game. Neither team has what could be called an ace or quality stopper. That makes price the determining factor in all matchups.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Milwaukee +130 dog in any matchup.

”¡ St. Louis -125 or less, or as a dog, in any matchup.

”¡ OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 10 or higher in any matchup

Braves at D’backs: Both are alive in the Wild Card hunt, making this a fairly significant series. The teams are meeting for the first time. Atlanta is given a slight edge in offense but Arizona may have the overall better pitching. Atlanta’s ace is John Smoltz while Brandon Webb fulfills that role for the Diamondbacks. Beyond Smoltz and Webb the starting pitching on both staffs is rather ordinary. Both bullpens have had their share of problems. Atlanta has the overall edge in experience, but Arizona figures to improve.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Atlanta as a dog or a -125 favorite if Smoltz starts against anyone other than Webb.

”¡ Atlanta as a +120 dog in a start by lefty Chris James.

”¡ Arizona as a dog or a -125 favorite if Webb starts, even against Smoltz.

”¡ Arizona as a +120 dog in any other matchup.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in any matchup not involving Smoltz or Webb.

Twins at Indians: Minnesota seeks to further narrow the gap between themselves and both Cleveland and Detroit. The Twins have been a strong second half team in recent seasons. They begin this week seven games behind the Indians in the AL Central. The Indians trail Detroit by just a single game for first. These teams have not met since mid-May. Cleveland has won all five prior games, outscoring the Twins 36-14.

Cleveland has the offensive advantage, though Minnesota has good batters in its lineup and by far the best starting pitcher (lefty Johan Santana) and the better bullpen. Cleveland has a deeper rotation with CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and rising star Fausto Carmona. Veterans Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook are also capable of solid outings.

Preferred picks:

”¡ Minnesota -150 in a start by Santana or as +130 dogs against any Cleveland starter.

”¡ Cleveland +160 against Santana or a -130 favorite facing any other Minnesota starter.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Santana opposes Carmona, Lee or Sabathia.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in any matchup not involving Santana.

Tigers at Angels: Detroit has won three of five meetings this season with all five games going OVER the total. The teams have combined to score 67 runs (an average of 13.4 per game) and only twice has either team failed to score at least 5. Overall the Tigers are the stronger offensive team but the Angels have the single best offensive player, Vladimir Guerrero.

The fundamentals suggest pitching should dominate hitting but current season results between these teams suggest exactly the opposite

Preferred picks:

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

”¡ Angels as dogs at any price in starts by John Lackey or Kelvim Escobar.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher if Bonderman, Verlander or Kenny Rogers faces Lackey, Escobar or Jered Weaver.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower if Detroit’s Nate Robertson does not face Weaver, Escobar or Lackey.