AL still strutting

Jun 24, 2008 7:05 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Through this past Sunday, 167 of the 252 scheduled interleague games have been played. And, again the American League has fared better.

The AL has a commanding 96-71 (57.5 percent) lead largely due to their outstanding home record of 52-31 (62.7 percent). National League teams have fared better at home, but the AL still holds a 44-40 (52.4 percent) lead when traveling.

The Chicago Cubs continue to have the best record in baseball, 48-28, following their weekend home sweep of the crosstown rival White Sox. They meet again this weekend with the White Sox playing host.

The Sox began the week leading the AL Central by just 1½ games over surging Minnesota. Detroit is getting back into contention. The Twins and Tigers are each 8-2 in their last 10. Detroit is at home this entire week, while the Twins play three on the road and then are home for the weekend.

In addition to the Cubs, only Boston and the LA Angels are winning more than 60 percent of their games. The Red Sox are 1½ games ahead of pesky Tampa Bay and five up on the hot New York Yankees in the AL East.

It’s questionable as to whether or not Tampa can keep pace over the second half of the season but history strongly suggests the Yankees will be a major factor in the season’s second half.

Slumping Philadelphia continues to set the pace in the NL East, but fourth place Atlanta is just four behind. At 11-27, the Braves have the worst road mark in baseball but it’s offset by their 27-12 home record. That’s the third best home record in the majors, trailing just Boston and the Cubs. The Cubbies are a remarkable 32-8 at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field!

This past week was marked by an oddity as three managers (for the Mets, Mariners and Blue Jays) were fired within a few days of each other. That hasn’t happened since May 1991.

One option available to baseball bettors is the run line, a topic covered in this column in years past. Often laying 1½ runs with a heavily favored team presents an attractive alternative to either playing a team straight (at a price often near or in excess of -200) or its inclusion in a parlay where you are asking more than one team to win.

Several teams this season have demonstrated a strong ability to win by two runs or more. Nearly one quarter of all teams have won by at least two runs 75 percent of the time.

Those seven are Atlanta (34-4, 89.5 percent), Detroit (30-6, 83.3 percent), the White Sox (34-7, 82.9 percent), Cleveland (29-6, 82.9 percent), the Mets (30-7, 81.1 percent), Boston (37-10, 78.7 percent) and the Cubs (36-1, 75.0 percent).

All 30 have won by two runs or more in at least 55 percent of their victories. Baltimore (21-17, 55.3 percent), San Francisco (18-14, 56.3 percent) and Washington (17-13, 56.7 percent) at the bottom of the list. The other 20 are between 60 and 75 percent.

Overall, home teams are 650-489 (57 percent). The unders have a 576-505 edge (53.3 percent) compared to overs.

Here’s a look at four of the more attractive matchups to be played in the final weekend of interleague play.

Cubs at White Sox: The Cubs swept the series this past weekend, outscoring the Sox 22-11. The Sox had two-run leads in each of the first two games before their pitching (a strength for most of the season) let them down. The Cubs were favored in all three games but no more than -135.

The Sox could be small favorites in all three games, not having to face Cubs’ ace Carlos Zambrano. Despite their outstanding home record, the Cubs are just 16-20 on the road. The Sox are a solid 24-11 at home.

Preferred plays:

• Sox to win at least 2 of 3.

• Sox -125 in any matchup or as underdogs

Under 9 or higher.

Over 8 or lower.

Reds at Indians: Cincinnati swept the three game series in mid May at home. Though Cleveland manager Eric Wedge’s job may not be on the line in this series, a repeat of those three losses will not help his job security. CC Sabathia is rounding into top form while fellow lefty Cliff Lee is enjoying the best season of his career.

The Reds have some fine young pitchers in Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, who have provided the help lacking from staff aces Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Even rookie Daryl Thompson was solid in his major league debut last week at Yankee Stadium.

Preferred plays:

• Reds +125 underdogs except facing Sabathia or Lee.

• Indians as underdogs or up to -130 favorites against Arroyo, Cueto or Thompson.

Under 9 or higher in matchup not involving Sabathia, Lee, Volquez or Harang.

Under 8 in those that do.

Yankees at Mets: This is a four-game series that includes one game at Yankee Stadium as part of a Friday day/night doubleheader to make up a rained out contest when the teams met last month. The Mets won both of those earlier meetings, but the Yankees are playing their best ball of the season, going 7-2 in their three Interleague series since.

The Mets are 4-2 in interleague action since the first matchup with the Yanks. Both teams have been disappointing throughout the season’s first half although both have shown signs recently of playing to their potential.

Preferred plays:

• Yankees as underdogs in most matchups.

• Yankees at least +120 facing Johan Santana.

• Yankees at least +120 facing Johan Santana.

• Yankees -120 or as dogs starting Mike Mussina or Andy Pettitte against anyone other than Santana.

• Mets as underdogs or -120 tops facing Darrell Rasner.

Under 8 or higher if Mussina, Pettitte or Joba Chamberlain face Santana or John Maine.

Over 9 or lower not involving Mussina, Pettitte, Chamberlain, Santana or Maine.

Angels at Dodgers: The Angels won 2 of 3 home games against the Dodgers when they met in Anaheim last month. The Angels have the best road record in baseball (24-12) and are just one of five teams with a winning away mark. They recently swept a three-game series at Philadelphia.

The Dodgers have not fared well in play against the AL, going just 2-7. Most recently, the Dodgers dropped 2 of 3 at home to Cleveland. The Dodgers are just 19-17 at home this season, suffering from a lack of offensive consistency and starting pitching that has not lived up to expectations.

Preferred plays:

• Angels as underdogs in most matchups.

• Angels at least +110 in starts by either Jon Garland or Jered Weaver.

• Angels -125 tops with John Lackey.

Under 8 or higher if Lackey, Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana oppose Derek Lowe or Chad Billingsley.