Will McGwire’s return help Cards vs. Reds

May 29, 2001 10:43 AM

Historically the Memorial Day weekend has been a significant point of the baseball season.

All teams have played slightly more than a quarter of the schedule and the teams leading the pennant races have established themselves as the season’s front-runners.

In 2001 there are some familiar names atop the standings as well as several surprising teams that have managed to start quickly and maintain their momentum almost one third of the way through the season.

In the National League Philadelphia not only leads Atlanta and the Mets in the Eastern Division, but the Phillies have the best record in the league.

The Braves and Mets remain below .500 as neither has been able to get on a sustained run.

The N.L. Central is shaping up as a four team topsy turvy race with St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs currently tied for the lead with Milwaukee and Houston lurking not to far behind.

Things remain the tightest in the N.L. West where only three games separate first from last place. Leaders Arizona and Los Angeles begin the week having swept weekend series and there is no reason to think that any team will be able do distance themselves from the rest of the division.

The Yankees began Memorial Day atop the A.L. East by just half a game over rival Boston, with whom they play three games over eight days. The major story in the Division is not that Toronto is just three games back but that Baltimore trails the Yanks by 3½ games after having finally evened their record.

Minnesota continues to surprise in the A.L. Central, beginning the week with the slimmest of leads, a half game, over Cleveland. The Twins and Indians have opened up a double-digit gap over third place Detroit.

Seattle continues to lead the A.L. West by more than a dozen games as the Mariners have fashioned the best record in all of baseball, beginning the week 36-12.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

Cincinnati at St. Louis - The Cardinals took two of three last weekend in Cincinnati but now get Mark McGwire’s bat back.

The Cards have one of the best offenses in the game but they’ve slumped lately, scoring more than five runs just once in their last nine games, all of which were on the road, however. Following that lengthy 12 game road trip, look for the Cards to again start swinging hot bats against fairly weak Cincinnati pitching.

The Reds will be hard pressed to match runs with St. Louis and Cincinnati’s lengthy streak of over 200 games without being shutout came to an end last week in Chicago. But then they were shut out by St. Louis’ Darryl Kile just three days later again! The plays in this series will have to be on St. Louis but only when they are favored by -140 or less with a lean towards playing the games over, especially at totals of nine or less.

Los Angeles at Houston - The Dodgers swept their three game series at home against the Astros last weekend including a dramatic 12th-inning rally in the series finale after the ’Stros scored a deuce in the top of the inning.

Houston’s bats had gone silent during their seven game losing streak, four of which came at home. The Dodgers will have to overcome the absence of Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros, both of whom have been sidelined by injuries. Their pitching will determine if they remain a contender in the N.L. West.

Given the loss of those two powerful bats, it’s hard to recommend the Dodgers or the over in this series, even at hitter-friendly Enron Field. Yet at a total of nine or less; the over would be preferred as would a play on the Dodgers if struggling Jose Lime starts for Houston.

A play on Houston would be preferred in starts by pitchers other than Lima if the Astros are favored by no more than -130.

Boston at Toronto - Boston took two of three at home last weekend from the Blue Jays in a series in which all three games went well under the total. Conditions in the Skydome should make this series higher scoring.

It’s also been historically a good play to go against pitchers who threw shutouts against the same opponent in a recent meeting. Thus if Hideo Nomo starts in the series for Boston, the Blue Jays are worth a play. Likewise Boston would be a play against Toronto’s rookie lefty Chris Michalak.

It’s quite possible we won’t get these chances based on the projected rotation, but we should get the chance to over the total in games that are posted at 10 or lower. Toronto is also worth a play against David Cone and Tim Wakefield. Boston should be considered against Steve Parris or Joey Hamilton. In a match-up involving any of these four pitchers the over is worth looking, even if the total is higher than 10.

Minnesota at Texas - This is an intriguing challenge for Minnesota as it travels to face a Texas team that is much more talented on paper than its play on the field would suggest. The Rangers have struggled on the mound all season even with the strong offensive support provided by Alex and Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Rusty Greer and others.

Minnesota has used a "no-name" offense and a trio of solid starting pitchers to stay atop the A.L. Central. Brad Radke, Eric Milton and Joe Mays are enjoying All-Star seasons and each can be backed in this series if laying no more than -120. The success the three have enjoyed thus far probably keep the total to a manageable 10 or less and the over would be preferred.

Minnesota’s pitchers will face their toughest lineup of the season and Texas should be able to put some runs on the board. But the Twins’ improving offense should also be able to take advantage of weak Rangers’ pitching.