At least Detroit has Pistons, Red Wings to cheer

Apr 16, 2002 9:39 AM

Thank goodness for the Red Wings and the Pistons. At least for the next month or two, the Detroit area fans will have a reason to cheer.

Detroit’s NHL and NBA teams have captured high seeds for their respective Playoff runs while the baseball franchise, the Tigers, still seeks their first win of the two week old season. At 0-11 the Tigers are off to their worst start in almost a century.

The biggest positive surprise thus far has been Cleveland. The Indians have won 11 of 12 games and are riding a ten game winning streak entering the week. Seattle is also off to a strong start, winning ten of 13 games and yet to lose on the road as the week starts. But Texas continues to disappoint with only three wins in twelve games. Their failure to beef up the pitching may prove even more costly during the heat of a Texas summer.

There are no extreme performances in the National League where San Francisco has the best record of 9-3 and Milwaukee has the worst at 3-9. The NL East is the most tightly bunched division with only a game and a half separating first from fifth. The division races are taking on unique personalities already. The NL East should wind up as the most balanced division at season’s end.

Injuries are always the unknown factor and barely two weeks into the season there have been significant and potentially costly injuries. Ken Griffey Jr of Cincinnati, Mo Vaughn of the Mets and closer Troy Percival of the Angels have already found their way onto the disabled list. Dodger ace Kevin Brown had to leave a weekend start with some elbow trouble and other starting pitchers have also been pulled early in games due to injury. The long 162 game season and the frequency with which injuries occur, even those which require missing just a couple of games, suggest that the teams with the best depth, especially pitching depth, are the teams most likely to make it to the postseason playoffs.

Here’s a preview of four series to be played this weekend.

Giants at Astros: This is an attractive early season series between a pair of teams that figure to be solid contenders for the playoffs. Despite leaving last Sunday’s game with a pulled hamstring muscle, San Francisco’s Barry Bonds should be healthy and play in this series and he enjoyed great success in this ballpark where he clubbed his record tying 70th homerun last October.

Houston has the starting pitching edge but the Giants may have the better bullpen especially with setup man Felix Rodriguez and closer Robb Nen. Livan Hernandez has been a very pleasant surprise in his first few starts for the Giants and the overall pitching numbers have been solid for San Francisco. Neither team has enough of a decided advantage to recommend backing as a ­­favorite. Take Underdog.

Rockies at D’backs: Colorado was swept at home in a four game series for the first time ever last weekend by Arizona ”” including the first wins this season by Arizona when other than Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling started. Colorado’s normally potent offense struggled in their first home series of the season, averaging under five runs per game and scoring more than five runs just once. The Rockies have historically performed poorly on the road and until they break out of their hitting slump may represent a risky play away from Coors Field, even as solid underdogs. Arizona will be too high priced to back with Schilling or Johnson but may be played when any other pitcher starts in this series. The UNDER is also worth playing if no lower than 9½

Indians at Twins: After splitting their first two games of the season Cleveland has reeled off 10 straight wins heading into their midweek series in Chicago. Despite losing the bats of Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez the Indians have scored five runs or more in all but one game ”” and they even won that game in which they scored just three times. Bartolo Colon and C C Sabathia have gotten off to solid starts as the top two starters in the rotation. Cleveland won all four games against the Twins at home last week and if Minnesota hopes to challenge in the AL Central a better performance is needed here. Brad Radke and Eric Milton pitched better in their starts over this past weekend as the Twins recovered to sweep winless Detroit. Minnesota is the play in this series but only when made the underdog. The OVER is also preferred when the posted total is 10 or less.

Angels at A’s: Oakland took two of three at Anaheim last weekend on a low scoring series. The three games produced six, nine and five runs and the rematch should be equally as low scoring. Oakland’s offense clearly misses the big bat of Jason Giambi from the past few seasons. Anaheim is loaded with potential but most of the lineup has struggled in the early going. David Eckstein, hitting .340, begins this week as only one of two starters with a batting average of greater than .250. Oakland will be sizable favorites in this series and Anaheim would be worth a look only if getting at least plus 140 as an underdog. The preferred play throughout this series is the UNDER if the total, as is expected, is at least 8 or higher.