Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe | It’s been exactly 100 years since both the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series and owning baseball’s best record entering June.
But, as of this week, the Cubs stood 35-21 and kicked off June with a series sweep over Colorado that concluded a 7-0 homestand. Chicago opened up a 2½-game lead over St. Louis in the National League’s Central Division.
Tampa Bay continues to surprise in the American League and has the best record in the Junior Circuit. The Rays are one game better than defending World Series champion Boston and sit atop the AL East. After never winning more than 70 games in the decade-old history of the franchise, the Rays are on pace to win 99 games.
It is hard to envision the young Rays maintaining that pace or perhaps even contending for the playoffs come late August. But few expected this team to play nearly as well as they have played this deep into the season.
Colorado, the loser of the 2007 World Series, has been one of the more disappointing teams in 2008. The Rockies begin the week at 20-37, the worst record in all of baseball. True, they have suffered injuries that have placed several key players on the disabled list, but when healthy the Rockies were not playing well.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend:
Phillies at Braves: Philadelphia took 2-of-3 from the Braves when the teams met at Philly in mid-May. Both of the Phillies wins stayed under the total. The lone over came in Atlanta’s win. The Phils have been the hottest hitting team in baseball over the past few weeks, scoring at least a dozen runs four times in their past 11 outings through Sunday.
Atlanta has been very streaky on offense all season. It’s been feast or famine for the Braves, who are led by the amazing Chipper Jones and his assault on a .400 batting average. But their pitching has been average at best and that was thought to be an advantage they would have over the Phillies.
• Phillies as underdogs or if favored by no more than -120 in a start by Cole Hamels.
• Phillies as +140 underdogs in any other matchup.
• Over 9 or lower in most any matchup.
• Over 8 or lower in starts by either Hamels or Atlanta’s Tim Hudson.
• Under 8 or higher if Hamels opposes Hudson.
Cubs at Dodgers: The Cubs swept the only other series they played against the Dodgers when they met in Chicago last week. A total of just 11 runs were scored in the three-game series with the Dodgers tallying just a single run in each game. All three games went well under the total. This four-game series begins on Thursday.
The Cubs have the more balanced and potent lineup along with better overall pitching. The two best starters for the Dodgers have been Hideki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley while their top two aces (Derek Lowe and Brad Penny) continue to struggle.
• Cubs as underdogs of any price in any matchup.
• Cubs as -125 favorites or less when Carlos Zambrano starts.
• Dodgers as underdogs against Jason Marquis or Sean Gallagher.
• Under 8 or higher.
Tigers: These teams split their only two previous games when they met at Cleveland in mid-April. Both teams have been major disappointments thus far with each expected to contend. Yet both have losing records as this week begins. This is a four-game series that concludes on Monday.
Cleveland has the better balanced roster in terms of both hitting and pitching. However, the pitching has generally been above average and the offense weak. Detroit has suffered from below average production in all three areas of hitting, pitching and defense.
• Indians as +120 underdogs in any matchup.
• Indians as -120 favorites in starts by CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee or Aaron Laffey.
• Tigers as +120 underdogs when Armando Galarraga starts.
• Over 9 or lower in starts not involving Cleveland’s Lee and Sabathia or Detroit’s Galarraga.
Angels at Athletics: These teams split a four-game series in Anaheim just over a month ago. Both Angels wins came in low-scoring games that stayed under the total while both of Oakland’s were high scoring games that flew over. These are the top two teams in the AL West.
Both teams have benefited more from solid pitching than potent offenses. That suggests this should be a low scoring series and both the under and the underdog may provide the best wagering shots.
• Either team as +125 underdogs.
• Under 8 or higher in any series matchup.