Pitching hits high with Lowe

April 30, 2002 9:50 PM
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Much has happened in baseball’s opening month, including three managerial changes and two or three more perhaps in sight.

Detroit’s Phil Garner, Milwaukee’s Davey Lopes and Colorado’s Buddy Bell have already been replaced and the current form being shown by Kansas City, Philadelphia and Toronto suggest that Tony Muser, Larry Bowa and Buck Martinez need a rapid reversal of momentum.

Pitching was last week’s story with the highlight being Boston’s Derek Lowe tossing the season’s first no-hitter. Conventional wisdom suggests that Lowe should be played against in his next start, which should come this weekend at Tampa Bay, the team he tossed his no-hitter against.

There were other outstanding efforts from the Mets pitchers Shawn Estes and Pedro Astacio, the Dodgers’ Odalis Perez and Andy Ashby and the Yankees’ Ted Lilly in a one hit, 1-0 loss at Seattle. You might consider playing against these hurlers, especially if they are favored in their starts.

The outstanding pitching got underway last Thursday when Pedro Martinez tossed seven innings of one-hit shutout ball in a win at Baltimore. That effort followed a similar eight inning effort a week earlier and suggests that Pedro’s early season struggles following last season’s injuries may be over.

Boston has used strong overall pitching and a solid lineup to fashion the best winning percentage in baseball. The Red Sox begin the week leading the Yankees by a game and a half.

The AL Central is already shaping up as an expected three-team race but Minnesota lost some great opportunities over the past week to take early command of the Division. While rivals Chicago and Cleveland were facing tough foes the Twins dropped five of six games at Tampa Bay and Detroit, both of whom remain under .500 even following their success against Minnesota.

Seattle sets the pace in the AL West with the most wins in baseball and a three game lead over Oakland. There’s a gap to Anaheim and Texas but both of these trailers should perform better in coming weeks after having spent a good part of the first month playing, and losing to, Seattle and Oakland.

Montreal continues to play well and at 15-10 is tied for the lead with the New York Mets in the NL East. The Expos and Mets are the only teams in the Division above .500 with last place Philadelphia a major disappointment at 8-17.

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh remain surprises atop the NL Central where both favored teams, St. Louis and Houston, struggle with records below .500. Both the Reds and the Pirates have gotten better than expected pitching. Cincinnati’s offense is warming up and may be further aided by an earlier than expected return of Ken Griffey Jr. It’s hard to see either the Reds or Pirates remain in contention past Independence Day.

The St. Louis injury problems continue to decimate the starting rotation. Houston may take charge and even the disappointing Chicago Cubs can be a factor. The Cubs have generally gotten pretty good pitching but the offense has scored two runs or less in 11 of their first 23 games.

Arizona and Los Angeles are tied for the lead in the NL West with San Francisco and San Diego within reach. Colorado is the Division’s only team below .500, despite a weekend sweep against Philadelphia.

Here’s a look at several interesting series this weekend.

Mets at Astros: The Mets were expected to contend in the NL East because of a beefed up offense. The concern was pitching, but it has been outstanding and has made up for hitting and defense slump.

Houston has scored at least five runs in half its games. The Mets can be backed when Al Leiter takes the mound unless he faces Roy Oswalt. Play the OVER throughout this series, especially if Steve Trachsel gets a start for the Mets.

Braves at Cards: The Cards had to place several starters on the DL and called upon relievers and minor leaguers to fill in. Ten different pitchers have started, while the battered Braves are right behind with eight.

Atlanta’s problems are more related to a lack of offense, which has been an early-season trait in recent years. Righties Matt Morris and Darryl Kile along with Atlanta lefty Tom Glavine are worth an UNDER bet. Otherwise, take the OVER, even if Greg Maddux starts for the Braves.

M’s at Yanks: The Yankees took two of three in Seattle last weekend with the one loss being Ted Lilly’s one hitter. Of the six pitchers who started, only Seattle’s James Baldwin was ineffective and all three games went UNDER the total. This rematch also shapes up as low scoring.

Take UNDER unless Roger Clemens or David Wells starts for New York. They have been involved in a combined nine OVERs and two UNDERs. The OVER is in order when Paul Abbott starts for the Mariners. Abbott has allowed more than two baserunners per inning.

A’s at ChiSox: Oakland swept Chicago at home last weekend and outscored the Pale Hose, 32-5. Chicago should have better success in the rematch, especially if Todd Ritchie or Mark Buehrle start. Both should rebound from bad starts. The White Sox are worth backing if favored by minus 140 or less when either pitcher goes.

Take the OVER if either Jon Garland or Jon Rauch pitch. The UNDER is good when Oakland’s Erik Hiljus pitches. Buehrle or Ritchie against Tim Hudson has the best shot at an UNDER if the line is no lower than 8½.