Races tightening with 50 games left

Aug 7, 2007 6:40 AM

Barely 50 games remain in the regular season and most of the pennant races and the two Wild Card races have tightened up over the past week.

Boston, with baseball’s best record, still has the largest division lead at seven games in the American League East over the New York Yankees. The Sox led by twice that margin less than two months ago.

Of the other five divisions only the New York Mets (NL East) and Los Angeles Angels (AL West) have leads of more than 1½ games. The Mets are up by 4½ over Atlanta with the teams scheduled to play three times this week. Philadelphia is just a half game behind the Braves and will host Atlanta for a three game series this weekend.

In handicapping August baseball, keep an eye on those starting pitchers, often in their first few seasons, who are approaching a career high in innings pitched.

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

Braves at Phils: The road team has won 7-of 9 meetings. The teams have not met since late May when the Phillies were struggling. The OVER holds a slim 5-4 edge. Each team has a premier starter with Philly’s Cole Hamels emerging in his second full season. Atlanta’s John Smoltz is still strong in the latter stages of career and Tim Hudson is also having a very solid season.

Preferred plays:

”¡ PHILS as an underdog in a start by Hamels.

”¡ BRAVES as an underdog in starts by Smoltz or Hudson.

”¡ Either team as +125 or higher dogs in other matchups.

”¡ OVER 9 or lower in starts from other pitchers.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Hamels faces Hudson or Smoltz.

Cubs at Rockies: The Cubs swept a three game series at home in late June, outscoring the Rockies 24-18. All three games went OVER the total. The Cubs have been the hottest team in baseball since early June led by ace Carlos Zambrano. The offense has also contributed, although the loss of Alfonso Soriano for up to a month will be felt. Colorado has gotten its offense largely from Matt Holiday and Todd Helton but there have been contributions throughout the lineup. The pitching has been better than many expected, even at home.

Preferred plays:

”¡ Colorado as a +140 underdog against Zambrano.

”¡ Each team as a +125 dog.

”¡ UNDER 10 or higher if Zambrano or Ted Lilly face Jeff Francis or Aaron Cook.

”¡ OVER 10 or less if only one of those four pitchers start.

”¡ OVER 11 or less if none of the four pitch.

Yanks at Indians: In their only meeting, the Yankees swept a three game home series in mid April. None of the three Yankees pitchers who started in that series are on the roster. All three contests went OVER the Total as New York outscored Cleveland 27-11. The Indians offense has been slumping lately, scoring two runs or less in eight of their last 13 games.

Preferred plays:

”¡ YANKS as underdogs except against Fausto Carmona or CC Sabathia.

”¡ INDIANS at -125 max in Carmona’s or Sabathia’s start.

”¡ OVER 9 ½ or lower in games not started by Carmona or Sabathia.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher if eother Carmona or Sabathia faces Chien Ming Wang or Mike Mussina.

Twins at Angels: The home team has won 2-of-3 in each series. Despite combining to average 11 runs in the six games, the OVER is just 3-2-1. Minnesota’s bullpen plays a larger factor in their wins than their starting pitching except for staff ace Johan Santana. The Angels have the best offensive player on the field, Vladimir Guerrero.

Preferred plays:

”¡ ANGELS as +150 underdogs against Santana.

”¡ TWINS as +130 underdogs against Kelvim Escobar or John Lackey.

”¡ ANGELS as -130 favorites in a start by Jered Weaver.

”¡ Either team as an underdog against other starters.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 8 or higher if Escobar, Weaver or Lackey opposes Santana or Scott Baker.