The first interleague series of 2001 are history and once again there have been mixed reviews. There was enthusiasm in many of the high-profile and regional rivalries but this was offset by apathy in other cities where the interleague games were just three more games in the midst of a long season. Following this weekend, interleague play will take a break for a few weeks, resuming just before the All Star break next month.
But the story of the 2001 season remains the Seattle Mariners who begin the week with an incredible 48-13 record, tied with the 1939 Yankees for the second best all time record after 61 games. There’s a chance they can record 50 wins before any other team in the majors reaches 40. The M’s hold a commanding 17 game lead over second place Anaheim in the AL West. Seattle has to play only three games over .500 during their remaining 101 games to finish with 100 wins. Wow! Double wow when you consider the loss of Alex Rodriguez this past offseason following the departure of Ken Griffey Jr. a year earlier and ace lefty Randy Johnson a season before that. Seattle is on pace to be the baseball story of the century which is only a couple of years old. It’s still early but it’s hard to see anything that would be more remarkable than what Seattle could accomplish that could occur during the remainder of the 21st century.
Except, of course, a new single season home run record. And San Francisco’s Barry Bonds in on pace to shatter Mark McGwire’s record of 70 dingers set just a few years ago.
Cleveland and Minnesota continue to duel it out in the AL Central and the pair continue to be double digits ahead of the third place White Sox. Chicago has played very well of late but they started off so poorly it’s tough to imagine them being much of a factor even in the Wild Card race, especially with more starting pitching woes.
In the AL East Boston has a two game lead on the Yankees in a race that will likely be tight all season. The pair have opened a bit of a gap between themselves and third place, surprise, Baltimore while Toronto continues to struggle after a strong six weeks to open the season.
In the NL East the Phillies continue to set the pace but the Atlanta Braves have awoken and are threatening to catch Philadelphia by the end of next weekend. After taking two of three from the Yankees, Atlanta is now seven games over .500 and just three games out of the division lead. No other team is over .500 in the East, including last season’s NL champion Mets who blew a chance to make up some ground when they lost two of three in Tampa to the team with baseball’s worst record.
The Cubs continue to lead the NL Central and have opened up a five game lead over favored St. Louis with Houston just a game further back. Even Milwaukee remains at least a viable paper contender at .500 but the Cubs show no signs of fading as we reach the 100 games remaining plateau. Keep in mind, however, that the Cubs have been very streaky already this season and did lose eight straight before suddenly reversing direction to take the division lead.
In the West things have started to open up somewhat with Arizona holding a four game lead over the Dodgers as we go to press. Colorado and the Giants are just a couple of games further back while San Diego has fallen back to nine games out of the division lead. It was just a few weeks ago when the five teams were separated by just three games but it was just a matter of time before gaps in the standings would develop.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting and intriguing interleague series this weekend.
New York Yankees at New York Mets - This has been one of the most eagerly awaited series of the season. Not only because it is a rematch of last year’s World Series which by itself would be enough to generate interest. But the Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza saga was set to continue. But barring a late change of plans, Yankees manager Joe Torre will not pitch Clemens in this series since Clemens would have to take a turn at bat and be faced with potential retaliation for last year’s incidents involving him and Piazza. That aside, this is an important series for the Mets if they hope to get on a bit of a roll and at least reclaim some of the sports headlines in the New York newspapers. The starting pitchers to key on in the series are the Yankees’ Clemens, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte and the Mets’ Al Leiter, Rick Reed and Kevin Appier (who has pitched very well of late). Any game involving two of these pitchers should first be looked at as an under while if just one of the listed pitchers starts against any non-listed pitcher the side play on the listed pitcher is preferred. This should be a very competitive series and both managers figure to be at the top of their game, making the over difficult to recommend in any match-up.
Boston at Atlanta - This is one of the more intriguing series of the weekend with Boston somehow managing to maintain first place in the AL East more than a third of the way into the season despite the absence of SS Nomar Garciaparra. His return remains uncertain but his teammates have certainly managed to be productive while he mends but now C Jason Varitek will be lost for several week. Boston’s success is also linked to their pitching staff, anchored by Pedro Martinez. But the Sox have also gotten much better than expected seasons from both Hideo Nomo and Frank Castillo and surprisingly David Cone is showing some improvement with each successive start. And the bullpen has been well above average most of the season. Atlanta still relies mostly on their pitching but they’ve been getting more timely hitting in recent weeks. Tom Glavine still is having control problems but his struggles are being offset by the sensational season being fashioned thus far by John Burkett and the very steady improvement of lefty Odalis Perez. John Smoltz is regaining strength and form and Greg Maddux remains, well, Greg Maddux. This series shapes up very much as an under series and that will be the preferred play in all games. The underdog is also worth a play and the Braves will be in that role should Martinez get a start.
Texas at Houston - This is one of three interleague series rematches from last weekend. The battle for the state of Texas, the Sequel, features perhaps baseball’s most underachieving team against another that has been struggling but not to the same extent. The most obvious way to look in this series is to the over even though the line might be as high as 11Â½ or 12. Both teams have long ball power and players who can hit for average. Last week’s series produced an over, an under and a very late push but Houston’s Enron field is one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. Either side is also worth backing as an underdog of at least +125 (although neither team was as highly favored last week) in what might be the weekend’s most entertaining series, at least as far as offense is concerned.