The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Perhaps no story in the seasons first half has been as uplifting as has been the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays.
In the first decade of its existence the Rays had never won more than 70 games in a season. Yet barely more than a week ago Tampa Bay was atop the American League East with a lofty 55-32 record, ahead of both the defending World Series titlist Boston and the 26-time champion New York Yankees.
Yet as baseball takes its annual recess the Rays have lost seven straight and are now a half-game behind the Red Sox in the standings.
One of the major disappointments of the first half of the season was the New York Mets. Yet, at the All-Star break, the Mets are the hottest team in baseball, winners of nine in a row. New York has benefitted from some outstanding pitching performances in addition to the awakening bats of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado.
The Cubs begin the post All-Star period atop the NL Central and tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in baseball. Milwaukee is a half game behind St. Louis for second place in the division. Both teams Chicago and Milwaukee figure to make the playoffs if they can get rid of the pesky Cardinals.
Arizona leads the Dodgers by a half game in the NL West despite a losing record and it would appear that the Wild Card will not be coming from out West. The NL East is now shaping up as a three team race with the Phillies currently a half game up on the Mets and 1½ ahead of Florida.
The AL East race is likely to go well into September. The Rays open up the post All-Star break with home series against Toronto and Oakland. The final six games of their current losing streak came on the road. Tampas problems can be traced to a complete lack of offense, scoring 4, 0, 1, 2, 0, 4 and 2 runs during the seven-game slide.
Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox continue to play well in the AL Central and Detroit cannot be written off as well. While the Angels have a healthy six-game lead in the AL West, both Oakland and Texas are Wild Card contender.
Only one pitcher (lefthander Tom Gorzelanny) has been involved in at least nine more over than under.
Heres four attractive series.
Phillies at Marlins: The season series stands 3-3 with each winning two of three at home. Phils slugger Ryan Howard leads the majors with 28 homers and the NL with 84 RBI. Florida leads in homers and these NL teams rank 2-3 in runs scored.
Over 9 tops in most matchups.
Under 8 if Cole Hamels opposes the Marlins Ricky Nolasco.
Phils -130 tops with Hamels.
Marlins -120 tops with Nolasco except facing Hamels.
Either team at +130 or higher.
Dodgers at Dbacks: LA swept a three game home series at home against Arizona, while the teams were 1-1 in the desert. Both teams, especially the Dodgers, have been hit hard by injuries to key offensive players.
Dodgers as underdogs in starts by Derek Lowe, Hideki Kuroda or Chad Billingsley.
Dbacks at -140 in starts by Brandon Webb or Danny Haren except facing Lowe, Kuroda or Billingsley.
Under 8 or higher if any two of those five start against one another.
Over 8 or lower if Arizonas Micah Owings or Randy Johnson faces other than those three named Dodger starters.
Athletics at Yankees: The Yanks, without Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, have scored two runs or less in a third of their games. Its hard to argue with the success GM Billy Bean has had over the years in fashioning the As into a consistently competitive team. New York won two of three at Oakland in mid-June.
As as an underdog in a start by Justin Duchscherer or against the Yankees Darrell Rasner.
Yankees at -150 tops against other than Duchscherer in starts by Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte or Joba Chamberlain.
Under 9 or higher if Duchscherer starts against Mussina, Pettitte or Chamberlain.
Over 9 or lower if Rasner or Sidney Ponson face Joe Blanton or Dana Eveland.
Red Sox at Angels: The consistent Angels went 2-1 in Boston back in April with the Angels scoring six runs or more in each game. Boston has won despite the absence of slugger David Ortiz for more than a month and the reliance on some young starting pitchers. The Angels have one of the best starting rotations, but are the ALs fourth lowest scoring team.
Under 9 or higher in any matchup.
Under 8 or higher if the Angels start John Lackey, Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana against Bostons Daisake Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, or Jon Lester.
The underdog in a matchup of two of those six named pitchers.
Angels as underdogs against any other Boston starter.
Red Sox at -140 tops facing any other Angels starter.