The figurative halfway point of the baseball season occurs after this weekend as major league baseball takes their annual All Star break. Baseball’s bigwigs along with many of its best players will gather in Seattle at the start of next week to partake of All Star festivities.
Seattle could also be the site at which the 2001 season will end in late October. The Mariners (59-21) are on pace to set an all time record for wins. In fact, such a proposition was recently posted at several Sports Books here in Las Vegas. Stardust posted a proposition as to whether Seattle would win more than 114 games, breaking the AL record set by the New York Yankees just three seasons ago. The prop opened with the ”˜No’ a 3-1 favorite. In less than a week the ”˜No’ was bet up to -725, or more than 7-1, before it was taken down. The sharp handicappers recognize just how tough it is to set a new record and, despite Seattle’s current pace, a three game losing streak reduces that pace considerably. The estimate here is that Seattle will win between 101 and 105 games.
Two other propositions of interest remain available, including one as to whether or not Barry Bonds will eclipse Mark McGwire’s record of 70 home runs. Once again, the sharp money is on the ”˜unpopular’ side of the wager, the ”˜No.’ The prop opened with the ”˜No’ favored at -160 and by week’s end it had risen to -550. Too many things can happen, most of which are negative, which suggest McGwire’s record is safe. The projection here is for Bonds to end up with 63 home runs.
Last week the concept of WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) was discussed. It was mentioned that pitchers with an ability to keep runners off base have a tremendous advantage over their more generous counterparts. As a rule of thumb, any pitcher with a WHIP of 1.25 or less is a pitcher worth backing while a WHIP of 1.60 or higher is indicative of a pitcher to avoid or go against. This concept can also be applied to playing totals. A matchup of pitchers each of whom has a WHIP of 1.25 or less presents a solid opportunity for an under play. Conversely, a pair of hurlers each of whom has a WHIP of 1.60 or higher provides a spot for an over play. The only problem with the latter situation is that pitchers with such high WHIPs are often out of the rotation after a-half dozen starts. There are exceptions, especially on teams that are short on arms and whose high-WHIP pitchers are established veterans. By looking at starting pitchers’ WHIPs you are likely to be pointed in side or total directions in several games each day. At least this tool provides a good starting point from which to handicap other aspects of the matchup.
Round two of interleague play concludes the first half of the season and will also mark the first week of play following the All Star break. There will be several rematches of series played last month and also some meetings that will occur for the first time.
Here’s a look at four of the more intriguing series to be played on the final weekend before the All Star break:
New York Mets at New York Yankees - The Yankees took two of three when these teams met at Shea Stadium last month, a series in which all three games were decided by one run and two went over the total. Roger Clemens should pitch this time around since he will not have to come to bat and pay his penance for last year’s incidents with Mike Piazza. Piazza may miss this series as the result of a broken toe suffered last weekend. Interestingly, three of the starters on each team have WHIPs of 1.25 or lower, suggesting an under play when the Mets throw Al Leiter, Rick Reed or Kevin Appier against the Yanks’ Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte or Roger Clemens. In such matchups look to go under totals of 81/2 or higher and also consider playing the underdog in such a matchup. Clearly this will again be an intensely played series with the Mets looking to salvage their season while the Yankees continue to battle Boston for the lead in the AL East. The best prospects for a high scoring game would be if Glendon Rusch starts for the Mets or if Randy Keisler takes the mound for the Yanks. These would also be the ”˜go against’ pitchers in this series. Of special note should be the recent performances of Appier. After a sluggish start to the season Appier’s been very solid of late and is likely to be an underdog in his expected Friday or Saturday start. The Yankees were 5-4 in the first round of interleague play. The Mets were 4-5.
St. Louis at Cleveland - Both teams were favored to win their divisions this season but as the All Star break approaches each team trails surprising division leaders by a few games. St. Louis is battling Houston and Milwaukee in the NL Central behind first place Chicago. For a while it appeared the Cardinals had caught fire and would assert themselves as division front-runner. But inconsistent starting pitching aside from Matt Morris combined with a struggling Mark ÂÃ‚ÂMcGwire has St. Louis fighting to maintain a .500 record. Cleveland has one of the best offenses in baseball, but also one of the weakest starting pitching staffs. They’ve been bolstered by the acquisition from Atlanta of closer John Rocker but the starters have been horrible over the past month. No starter in the rotation has a WHIP below 1.40 and rookie C.C. Sabathia’s 4.79 ERA is the best amongst the staff. St. Louis has gotten decent efforts from Morris and Darryl Kile although the latter was better earlier in the year. Look to the over especially at totals of 10Â½ or less. Even going over a total of 11 would be sensible if St. Louis starts anyone other than Morris or Kile. The Cards are the better-balanced team and should be considered for play in any game as an underdog. Should Morris or Kile deserve a play if favored by no more than $1.25. The Cleveland staff is in disarray, and because the starters are struggling, even more pressure is put on the bullpen. It is difficult to have much comfort playing the Indians in virtually all scenarios. Cleveland was a disappointing 2-7 in last month’s interleague play, while St. Louis split its six games by sweeping the White Sox after having been swept by Kansas City. The Cards only played two interleague series because of the National League having two additional teams.
Atlanta at Boston - Boston took two of three when these teams met in June and the currently inured Pedro Martinez did not pitch in that series. In fact, the BoSox starters were Rolando Arrojo, Hideo Nomo and Frank Castillo and the Sox won games against Greg Maddux and Odalis Perez. Atlanta’s John Burkett was masterful in shutting out the Red Sox over eight innings, allowing just two hits and one walk in Atlanta’s lone win. Boston’s injuries continue to mount and the job manager Jimy Williams is doing is worthy of recognition. After showing signs of breaking a seasonlong offensive slump, the Braves were checked by the Mets’ pitching last weekend. Atlanta’s solid pitching and sputtering offense, along with Boston’s above average pitching and numerous injuries, suggest the under as the preferred play. Attractive underdog plays would be David Cone and Atlanta’s Perez while Tom Glavine would be a ”˜go against’ when favored. Atlanta’s Greg Maddux would be worth a side play if he’s a road favorite of no higher than -140. Overall Atlanta was 4-5 in interleague play last month and Boston was 6-3.
Seattle at Los Angeles - This might be the weekend’s most compelling series as surprising Seattle goes up against some solid pitching in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have gotten a solid effort from rookie Luke Prokopec in addition to the expected strong seasons being enjoyed by Kevin Brown and Chan Ho Park (both of whom have ERAs under 3.00 and WHIPs below 1.10). Seattle’s Freddy Garcia is emerging as the ace of the Mariners’ staff with both Aaron Sele and Jamie Moyer making solid contributions. Even Paul Abbott has pitched well of late. Seattle’s bullpen has been outstanding all season with Kazuhiro Sasaki leading the league with 28 saves entering this week. The under will be the first way to look, especially when it is eight or higher. The underdog will also be an attractive play, especially when Seattle is in that role against Brown or Park. Seattle was 6-3 in interleague play last month while the Dodgers were only 4-5.