Frisco making Giant impression

April 09, 2002 10:00 AM
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The obvious headlines in the first week of baseball belong to Barry Bonds and his explosive start, slugging five home runs in his first three games as he attempts to challenge his record setting 73 home runs of last season.

Perhaps overshadowed by Bonds’ exploits has been the start of his team. The Giants have won all six games to open the season. The overall qualify and depth of the starting pitching remains a concern for the long run but the first two efforts by veteran Livan Hernandez have been exceptional and provide a reason for Giants fans to be optimistic.

Division rival Arizona has gotten a pair of outstanding starts from their aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. In winning all four starts the Diamondbacks’ Dynamic Duo has combined to allow just one earned run in 32 innings while walking just six batters and striking out 46!

With Johnson and Schilling likely to start a total of about 70 games the Diamondbacks may need only modest contributions from their other three starters to contend for the playoffs and a chance to defend their World Series title.

All five teams in the NL East begin the week with 3-3 records. This division may be the most balanced in baseball, top to bottom, with the top starting pitching in the majors.

Pittsburgh has overcome an anemic lineup with solid pitching to begin the season at 4-1. The Pirates perch atop the NL Central should be short lived following the coming weekend in which co-favorites Houston and St. Louis will have met six times within the season’s first two weeks.

The Yankees dropped their first game of the season before reeling off five straight wins, including three consecutive shutouts. The most impressive was the eight inning, one-hit performance turned in by “El Duque,” Orlando Hernandez. El Duque, considered to be the Yankees’ weakest link, appears to be fully recovered from the injuries and off-field problems that plagued him last season. If so, the rest of the AL East can quickly say, “Goodbye.”

Cleveland and Minnesota are also off to solid 5-1 starts in the AL Central. The division also boasts Detroit, the lone winless team beginning the week.

Oakland and Seattle have played well in the first week while Texas has started 1-5. What is alarming about the Rangers start is that their weakness was expected to be their pitching. Yet in the opening week Texas got several solid efforts from their starters but the feared bats did not produce. The lack of offense is a temporary condition but the Rangers cannot afford to waste good pitching.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend. Keep in mind that because of a greater likelihood of weather related postponements, projecting starting pitchers is much more of an iffy exercise now than in the next few months when temperatures warm up.

Braves at Marlins: Atlanta needed a 14th-inning homer by Marcus Giles last Sunday to avoid being swept at home by the Mets. Atlanta’s offense is expected to be among the league’s best but they tallied just 10 runs in the three games against New York. The Braves begin the season without ace Greg Maddux, who was put on the Disabled List for the first time in his career.

Florida got some decent starting pitching in the opening week but the bullpen has been horrible. Fundamentally this should be a low scoring series with both teams having pitchers capable of delivering seven solid innings per start. Florida, as an underdog, is worth a look in games started by Brad Penny or Ryan Dempster. The OVER results would be in starts by Florida’s Julian Tavarez or Atlanta’s Kevin Millwood should they see action.

D’backs at Rockies: The Rockies opened the season by dropping four of six road games and the offense averaged barely three runs per game. That should change at Coors Field. This is a four game series that begins Thursday and both Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling should get starts. Both hurlers are likely to win 20 games this season but they won’t win every start. Colorado’s conditions present a likely scenario for at least one of the two to suffer a setback.

Both Johnson and Schilling will be favored and the Rockies are worth playing in both games. In the other two games not started by Arizona’s aces the preferred play will be on the OVER even though the line is likely to be 14 or 15. Over the 320 games played at Coors Field in the past four years, the total runs average has been slightly under 14.

Yankees at Red Sox: Both teams got encouraging second starts from aces Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez after each was rocked in their 2002 debuts. The Yanks have gotten incredible starts after Clemens’ opening day struggles. Over their next five games Yankee starters allowed just one earned run in 352/3 innings.

Boston won three of their first four games with only Derreck Lowe and Frank Castillo starting in addition to Pedro. The Sox scored 11 runs on opening day but then totaled the same number in their next three games. The 18 games between these teams averaged just under seven runs per game. Eight produced five runs or less. The UNDER is again the preferred play in each day in the four-game series. The Yanks are a play should they be underdogs in any of the games.

A’s at Angels: Both teams opened the season with winning weeks. Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon are being counted upon to rebound from subpar seasons in 2001 for Anaheim. The Angels are also without closer Troy Percival who was placed on the DL. Anaheim has a solid though unspectacular starting rotation with no true ace. All five Angels starters can go deep into games which suggests the UNDER.