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AL back for more fun with NL

Jun 10, 2008 6:56 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Interleague play returns for the second time this weekend.

In the first round of Interleague play last month, the American League won 11 of 17 home games against National League teams while going 11-13 in NL parks. That’s an overall 22-19 record. One game between New York’s Yankees and Mets was postponed and is expected to be made up as part of a two stadium, day/night doubleheader when the teams meet for a weekend series at Shea Stadium over the final weekend of this month.

There will be five consecutive series of interleague play beginning this Friday and winding up on Sunday, June 29 barring postponements that will be made up later in the season. With the imbalance of teams in each league there will be one series between two NL teams while the other 28 teams are involved in interleague play.

The AL East is baseball’s best division. All five teams are at .500 or better. Division leading Boston is percentage points behind the Los Angeles Angels for the league’s best record. The Sox are also one of only two teams to have already won at least 40 games.

The NL West is baseball’s weakest division with all but first place Arizona below .500. The same situation exists in the AL Central but that division leader, the Chicago White Sox, have a much better record than the NL West’s Diamondbacks.

Surprisingly, only the Angels at 21-12 have a winning road record in the AL. Two NL teams (Philadelphia at 18-13 and St. Louis at 17-14) have winning road records.

The best record in baseball (40-24) is held by the Chicago Cubs, who are getting well-balanced play from both their offense and the pitching staff.

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

Cubs at Blue Jays: The Cubs have the best record in baseball and the Blue Jays are attempting to contend in the AL East. Toronto has been bolstered offensively by the return of Vernon Wells to the lineup this past weekend and its pitching staff remains a strength.

The Cubs are well balanced with an offense that has few easy outs. The Jays won 2-of-3 in Philadelphia in earlier Interleague games. The Cubs were one of two NL teams that did not participate in Interleague play last month.

Preferred plays:

• Cubs as +130 underdogs in any matchup.

• Cubs at -125 tops in a start by ace Carlos Zambrano.

• Blue Jays at -125 tops in starts by Sean Marcum, Roy Halladay or Jesse Litsch.

Under 8 or higher if Zambrano opposes Halladay, Marcum or Litsch.

Over 9 or less if anyone else starts.

Dodgers at Tigers: Both teams have been disappointing thus far, especially the Tigers who begin the week 10 games below .500. Detroit has gotten poor pitching to go with a weak defense. The Dodgers have not gotten productive seasons from their top two hurlers, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny plus the offense has been very weak.

Both teams were 1-2 in last month’s Interleague play and 5-of-6 games went under the total. Fundamentally, both staffs have decent starting pitching and perhaps that will be in evidence this weekend.

Preferred plays:

Either team as a +125 dog if Armando Galarraga doesn’t pitch.

• Tigers at -120 with Galarraga.

Under 9 or higher.

Red Sox at Reds: Boston’s roster has been hit with injuries to DH David Ortiz and starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, but the Sox have managed to finally overtake Tampa Bay for first place in the AL East. They still have a formidable lineup and a well rounded pitching staff that has been anchored by closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Cincinnati has gotten good production from its lineup as well, but has also gotten solid starting pitching from youngsters Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Both teams swept their first Interleague series. The Sox won three home games against Milwaukee, while the Reds took three home games from Cleveland.

Preferred plays:

• Reds as underdogs in starts by Cueto, Volquez or Aaron Harang.

• Red Sox at -125 tops against ex-teammate Bronson Arroyo.

Over 8 or less in any matchup.

Under 10 or higher.

Yankees at Astros: Both teams begin the week with almost identical records. Whereas Houston’s flirtation with .500 comes somewhat as a surprise, the Yankees are clearly underachieving with their 32-31 mark through Sunday. New York has had prolonged droughts on offense as star Alex Rodriguez has struggled in key situations.

Houston’s 1B Lance Berkman is having an MVP season. Neither team has had great starting pitching. Houston ace Roy Oswalt, with a 5.38 ERA, has lasted at least six innings and yielded two earned runs or less just once in 13 starts.

Preferred plays:

• Over 9 or lower in any matchup.

• Astros as underdogs against Chien-Ming Wang or Joba Chamberlain.

• Yankees as underdogs against Roy Oswalt.

• Yankees at -120 tops in starts by Mike Mussina, Darrell Rasner or Andy Pettitte.