Rays hot to 90 wins

Aug 12, 2008 7:03 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Rays!

Sunday’s 11-3 win in Seattle was victory No. 71 for this heretofore perennial doormat. That win established a franchise record for victories in a season. With 45 games remaining playing at even a .500 clip the rest of the way will have the Rays winning in the mid-90s.

Baseball’s biggest surprise of 2008 continues to impress and make believers of more and more observers all the time. Tampa begins the week 4½ games ahead of Boston in the AL East and another four ahead of New York.

It remains to be seen how Tampa will handle the pressure of the September stretch drive, especially with star outfielder Carl Crawford perhaps sidelined for the balance of the season. Still, the nucleus is in place for several more seasons of success that can build upon the experience of 2008.

The best team in all of baseball remains the Los Angeles Angels. At 74-43, the Halos are headed to the playoffs with a commanding 14-game lead over Texas in the AL West. They are fresh off of a three game home sweep of the Yankees, continuing to excel in all phases of the game.

With seven weeks remaining in the regular season six teams realistically are battling for the four AL Playoff berths with only the Angels a virtual certainty to make it.

Chicago’s Cubs have the best record in the NL and the addition of Rich Harden has strengthened an already solid rotation. The Cubs appear to be the team to beat for the pennant. There are eight teams are contending for the four NL playoff spots with the Wild Card likely to come from the Central Division.

The final part of the season figures to be quite interesting and challenging to handicappers as pitchers begin to show fatigue, especially the young starters who will soon be asked to pitch more innings than they have ever pitched before.

Here’s a look at four series of interest to be played this weekend:

Cubs at Marlins: In their only previous meeting a few weeks ago the teams split a four-game series in Chicago. The Cubs are the highest scoring team in the NL by a fairly wide margin. Florida’s offense has been productive as well but the Marlins have allowed more runs than they have scored.

Preferred plays:

• Cubs as underdogs except starting Jason Marquis.

• Cubs -130 in starts by Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster.

• Marlins as underdogs against Ted Lilly.

• Marlins -120 against Marquis.

Under 8 if Harden, Zambrano or Dempster oppose Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco or Chris Volstad.

Over 9 if Marquis or Lilly face anyone other than Johnson, Nolasco or Volstad.

Brewers at Dodgers: The Dodgers took 2 of 3 when the teams met in Milwaukee in mid-May. Even with Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers have averaged just 4.4 runs per game in going just 4-5. Milwaukee has a fine balance of offense and pitching.

Preferred plays:

• Brewers +120 or higher in starts by Manny Parra or David Bush.

• Brewers -140 tops with lefty CC Sabathia.

• Brewers as underdogs against Hideki Kuroda or Brad Penny.

• Dodgers -120 with Chad Billingsley or Derek Lowe except against Sabathia.

Under 7 if Sabathia opposes Billingsley or Lowe

Blue Jays at Red Sox: Boston has not been the expected powerhouse when the season started. The pitching has been solid though not spectacular and there have been some bullpen concerns in recent weeks. Aside from ace Roy Halladay and occasional displays of brilliance by A J Burnett, Toronto’s pitching has largely been disappointing. The home team has won 5 of 6 games in the series. The three in Boston went under.

Preferred plays:

• Blue Jays as underdogs with Halladay or Burnett against any Boston starter.

• Red Sox -150 with Josh Beckett, Daisake Matsuzaka or Jon Lester except against Halladay or Burnett.

Over 8 not involving Halladay, Burnett, Matsuzaka, Beckett or Lester.

Under 8 when two of these four start.

Rays at Rangers: Texas leads the majors in runs scored, averaging more than a half run more than the second best team in the AL. Unfortunately, Rangers pitching has allowed 706 runs. No other AL team has yielded even 600. Tampa has won 4 of 6 meetings this season, including 2 of 3 in Arlington.

Preferred plays:

• Rays as underdogs of any price in any matchup.

• Rays -125 with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza or James Shields.

• Rangers as underdogs against Edwin Jackson or Andrew Sonnanstine.

Under 9 in starts by Kazmir, Shields or Garza against Scott Feldman.

Over 10 by any other Tampa starter against any Texas pitcher.