Angels, Rangers putting heat on A’s in AL West

May 14, 2002 9:58 AM

Six weeks into the 2002 major league baseball season and we’ve begun to see the normal shifts that annually take place.

Seattle still leads the American League West with baseball’s second best record. But its 5½ game lead is not over second place Oakland, but Anaheim. The Angels have played excellent ball over the past two weeks, getting strong pitching and solid hitting.

The Angels have exploded for 21 and 19 run games during this stretch. Meanwhile Oakland has faded and is now a game below .500, tied with Texas for third in the division. The Rangers have also played well over the past two weeks.

Cleveland also teased many of us during early April, reeling off 10 straight wins. But the Indians have gone 6-19 since and have settled into third place in the AL Central. Detroit lost 11 straight games to start the season while Tampa Bay ended a 15-game losing streak this past weekend.

Boston faced its first challenge last week, dropping two of three games in Seattle after sweeping three in Oakland. Still Boston has baseball’s best record beginning the week, 25-9, largely on the strength of winning 17 of 21 road games to open the season. Seattle also has played well on the road, winning 14 of 16.

One major story in the National League is in the East where Philadelphia has rallied to win eight of nine games to pull within just four of the lead, despite being last in the division.

The NL Central continues to be upside down with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the only teams above .500. Both were picked as also-rans. Houston, St. Louis and Chicago’s Cubs were considered contenders, but have all struggled.

San Francisco and Arizona continue to set the pace in the West with the Los Angeles Dodgers also in contention. San Diego gave up some ground with a rough road trip while Colorado has begun to play better of late.

Here’s a look at several series to be played this weekend.

Reds at Cards: The Cards took two of three at Cincy last weekend including overcoming an 8-0 deficit to win Sunday’s finale. Ken Griffey Jr. might return for the Reds this week and his presence bolsters the offense considerably. The Cards problems have been largely due to injuries. Eleven different pitchers have already made starts. Only Matt Morris has put up decent numbers.

If the Reds do not follow up Sunday’s disaster by being swept in their series at Milwaukee they are worth a play throughout this four game series, which concludes Monday. Cincy should be the underdog in each game. The OVER is also worth a play in all games except when Morris pitches.

Mets at Padres: Of late, the Mets have struggled at the plate, topping four runs just once in eight games. San Diego has also seen its offense stall, scoring four runs or less in nine of its last 11 games. That sets up nicely for the UNDER, especially when New York’s Al Leiter or Pedro Astacio take to the bump.

Similarly UNDER conditions would exist when the Padres send Brian Lawrence or Brett Tomko to the mound. Any other combination of starters would indicate a play on the OVER provided the line is no higher than 9. Should any of these four listed pitchers be an underdog, they are worth a play even if matching up against one of the other pitchers on the list.

STOPPER ”” Pedro helped Red Sox avoid a sweep in Seattle.

M’s at Red Sox: Seattle won the first two games of last week’s series against Boston before Pedro Martinez played the role of stopper. That win gave Boston 10 in 12 games and maintained an edge over the Yankees in the AL East. Boston’s strength has been pitching and that may be called upon again with the injury to Manny Ramirez. All five pitchers who have made at least four starts have ERAs under 4.00.

Freddy Garcia is the only Mariners pitcher who can make a similar claim, though Ryan Franklin and John Halama have pitched well in limited starts. The UNDER is again worth a look, especially given the outstanding control of Boston’s staff. Seattle is worth a play as the underdog when Jamie Moyer or Garcia gets the start. The best conditions for an OVER exist when James Baldwin starts for Seattle.

Angels at ChiSox: Anaheim continued its excellent play with a three game home sweep of the White Sox last weekend. The offensive explosion began on the last road trip with the Angels scoring at least six runs in five of six games.

Chicago’s weakness has been pitching with Mark Buehrle the only one showing strength and consistency. The OVER would again be preferred provided the line is less than 10. The Angels are attractive as underdogs in starts by Ramon Ortiz or Kevin Appier. Chicago can be backed up to minus $1.25 in starts by Buehrle or Todd Ritchie.