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Tampa Bay still a very good play

Aug 19, 2008 7:03 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Tampa Bay continues to be the biggest story this season in baseball as they continue to rule the American League East.

And, don’t look now but the banged up Rays are just 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the major leagues.

Tampa begins the week 4½ games ahead of Boston with the New York Yankees 9½ back and virtually out of playoff contention after 13 straight seasons of postseason play.

The AL East is the best overall division in baseball with only last place Baltimore having a losing record. And, the Orioles are just three games under .500. No other last place team is less than 14 games below break even.

The Rays will be tested over the final six weeks of the season as they are without Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and closer Troy Percival, all on the DL.

The Rays also have a tough remaining schedule, mostly against winning teams.

In fact, of their remaining 39, their only games against teams with losing records are seven against 60-63 Baltimore and four against 60-64 Detroit – not exactly a pair of hapless teams.

In addition, the Rays do not have a scheduled day off after Sept. 11, playing 17 straight days to end the regular season. They end the season with eight straight road games, including a Tuesday doubleheader in Baltimore and a four-game series in Detroit.

If the Rays are able to weather what figures to be a very challenging final two weeks of the season, they will have to be considered a formidable playoff team. Yet at the same time, that challenging schedule gives the Red Sox still a realistic shot at winning the division.

Even the Yankees cannot be counted out although they are a longshot to overtake both Boston and Tampa. They do have six games remaining against each Boston and Tampa but anything short of a sweep of those 12 games almost assures they will not make the playoffs.

The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing excellent baseball as the week begins. The Mets are up by two games in the NL East over Philadelphia and the Dodgers are tied with Arizona for the lead in the West. Manny Ramirez has made a huge difference in the Dodgers’ offense and this team could be a factor if they make the playoffs.

Here’s a look at four intriguing series this weekend:

Dodgers at Phillies: This four- game series concludes on Monday and anything other than a series split will hurt the playoff chances of each. In their only meeting this season just last week, the Dodgers swept all four. Both teams now have true power threats with the Phils’ Ryan Howard matched by the Dodgers’ Ramirez. Citizens Bank has been a hitter’s park so we could see plenty of runs. The teams combined for 38 in four games in LA.

Preferred plays:

• Either team as +125 underdogs.

• Dodgers as dogs with Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw.

Over 8 or lower in most matchups.

Under 8 if Cole Hamels faces Billingsley.

Marlins at D’backs: Neither team can afford to be swept in this three-game series. Florida holds a 5-1 edge, all at home. The under is also 5-1 with one push Pitching remains the strength of both teams. Arizona has a solid starting trio of Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson. Florida has emerging youth in starters Chris Volstad, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson.

Preferred plays:

• D’backs -150 tops in starts by Webb, Haren or Randy Johnson.

• Marlins +160 underdogs against Webb or Haren.

• Marlins +150 against Johnson.

Under 9 in any matchup.

Under 8 if Webb, Haren or R. Johnson faces Nolasco, Volstad or Josh Johnson

Rays at White Sox: Tampa has won 4 of 7 meetings this season, all in Tampa. Their first game went over the total, but the other six went under. Both teams have benefitted from solid starting pitching. The Sox have one of baseball’s best home records (42-19) whereas Tampa Bay has a losing record (30-31) on the road.

Preferred plays:

• White Sox -140 or less in starts by Mark Buehrle or John Danks.

• Rays +125 in starts by Scott Kazmir, James Shields or Matt Garza except against Buehrle or Danks.

• Rays +150 facing Buehrle or Danks.

Under 9 in any most matchups.

Under 8 if Buehrle or Danks faces Shields, Kazmir or Garza.

Twins at Angels: These teams opened the season in Minnesota, where the Angels won three in a row after losing the first. The Twins tallied just eight runs in series. This is a four-game series that starts Thursday. The Angels are the more complete team with the better starting pitching. The Twins have been swinging hot bats of late, scoring at least four runs in 13 straight games.

Preferred plays:

• Angels as underdogs in any matchup.

• Angels -125 in starts by John Lackey, Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana.

• Twins +125 in starts by Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey against Lackey, Santana or Saunders.

• Twins -125 against Jered Weaver or Jon Garland.

Under 9 or higher in any matchup involving Lackey, Saunders or Santana.

Over 9 in starts by Weaver or Garland.