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Jul 8, 2008 7:03 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | This weekend’s games leading up to next Tuesday’s All Star Game at Yankee Stadium marks the figurative midpoint of the season even though more than half the schedule has been played.

The next important date for the pennant races is July 31, aka the trading deadline whereby players need not clear waivers to be dealt to teams in either league. Several deals between contending and non-contending teams will be made, starting with Cleveland trading their pitching ace and defending AL Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, to the Milwaukee Brewers for a quartet of prospects.

Milwaukee, which has not made the postseason since 1982, begins this week tied with St. Louis for the Wild Card lead in the National League and just 3½ games behind first place Chicago in the Central Division.

With Sabathia and Ben Sheets, the Brewers have as formidable a 1-2 tandem as any team in the league to complement their outstanding offense. Barring injuries (always an issue with Sheets), the Brewers have become the clear favorite to win the Wild Card and should challenge the Cubs.

Los Angeles Angels lefty Joe Saunders is one of four pitchers who has greated benefitted from his team’s offense. The Angels have 13 of his 17 starts. Saunders has a 3.05 ERA and WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) of 1.16, both very solid numbers.

The other three pitchers each have an ERA above 4.00 and WHIPs above 1.30. The New York Yankees are 12-3 with the currently sidelined Chien Ming Wang despite his 4.08 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. Tampa Bay is 14-4 for Andrew Sonnanstine even though his ERA is 4.31 and his WHIP is 1.35.

Perhaps the hardest results to explain belong to veteran Tim Redding, whose Washington Nationals (22 games below .500) are 14-4 in his 18 starts. His ERA is a rather mediocre 4.06 and the WHIP a rather ordinary 1.34. Had you backed Redding in each of his 18 starts you’d be ahead by 12 units thus far this season.

Redding’s teammate, lefty John Lannan, is one of three "hard luck" pitchers whose teams have lost at least eight more games than they have won when he starts. Lannan’s stats are better than Redding with an ERA of 3.60 and a WHIP of 1.31. Yet the Nats are just 4-13 in Lannan’s 17 starts.

Also 4-13 are Cleveland when Paul Byrd takes the mound and the Phillies when the now-demoted Brett Myers started. But both Byrd (5.54 ERA/1.33 WHIP) and Myers (5.85/1.56) have stats that suggest solid losing records.

Next week will feature a look at starting pitchers and some very extreme results for overs and unders.

Here’s a look at four series to wind up the pre-All Star break part of the schedule:

D’backs at Phillies: The teams split their four game series in Arizona when the teams met in early May. After a sizzling 21-9 start to the season, Arizona has steadily declined to the point of a 44-45 record starting the week and a slim one-half game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West.

The Phillies continue to lead the NL East, but at 48-41 are also hearing the footsteps of both Florida and the Mets. The Phillies’ success has been predicated on what has been the NL’s second most productive offense and rather ordinary starting pitching, save for the excellent Cole Hamels. A recent offensive slump, principally by star Chase Utley, has clearly exposed some major Philly flaws.

Preferred plays:

• Phillies -125 or less in most matchups.

• Phils even money or underdogs against Brandon Webb or Danny Haren.

• D’backs at least +150 in any matchup.

Over 9 or lower in games not involving Webb, Haren or Hamels.

Under 8 or higher if Webb or Haren opposes Hamels.

Marlins at Dodgers: The teams met once this season with the Dodgers sweeping the three-game series in Florida at the end of April. The Marlins are unexpected contenders in the NL East, just 2½ games behind Philadelphia. Florida has been surprisingly good at the plate with only Philadelphia and the Cubs scoring more runs.

The Dodgers, at 43-45, are getting healthy with the return of Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones to the lineup. However, their main catalyst, Rafael Furcal, has suffered a setback and will continue to be sidelined for at least eight weeks.

Preferred plays:

• Marlins as underdogs in starts by Ricky Nolasco or Scott Olsen.

• Marlins +125 or more against Chad Billingsley, Chan Ho Park or Eric Stults.

Under 8 or higher if Nolasco or Olsen oppose Billingsley, Park or Stults.

Over 8 or lower if none of these pitchers is involved.

Twins at Tigers: The home team has won 8 of 11 meetings this season with Minnesota holding a 7-4 advantage. The Twins have been one of the hottest teams in all of baseball and start the week just one game behind Chicago in the AL Central.

Detroit is just six games behind the Twins having finally gotten back to .500 after a miserable April and May. Detroit continues to be plagued by injuries to key offensive players but the starting pitching seems to have turned the corner. The Tigers seem poised for a run back into contention in the coming weeks.

Preferred plays:

• Either team as +140 underdogs or higher.

• Twins as underdogs of any price in starts by Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey.

• Tigers -125 in a start by Armando Galarraga or against Minnesota’s Livan Hernandez.

Under 9 or higher if Blackburn, Baker or Slowey oppose Galarraga or Justin Verlander.

White Sox at Rangers: The teams have yet to meet this season. The White Sox are 32-13 at home, but just 19-24 on the road. Chicago is a better offensive team than generally perceived, while their pitching is among the best in baseball. Only Oakland has allowed fewer runs in all of baseball. But those problems winning on the road are a concern.

The Rangers were not expected to be contenders, but start the week three games above. 500 and just five games out of the Wild Card lead. But it’s the same old story for Texas. The good news is they lead the majors in runs scored (488). The bad news is they lead the majors in runs allowed (511).

Preferred plays:

• White Sox at least +125 underdogs in any matchup.

• Rangers -120 tops facing Javier Vazquez or Jose Contreras.

Over 9 or lower in starts not involving Chicago’s John Danks, Gavin Floyd or Mark Buehrle.

Under 10 or higher if Danks, Floyd or Buehrle face Kevin Millwood or rookie Scott Feldman (11-2 to the under).