Before any strike comes NY Yankees at Boston

May 21, 2002 8:02 AM

That ugly talk about a work stoppage has surfaced once again. One can only hope that baseball does not suffer an interruption during the season.

Unlike the last major stoppage that caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, the public will not return this time. Enough damage was done and there are fewer enthusiastic young fans today.

Boston owns the best record in baseball but just a two game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. The teams meet in Boston for a four game series that begins Thursday. The rest of the division trails Boston by double-digits.

In the AL Central, both Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox have each dropped seven of their last 10 games. The Twins begin the week with a half-game edge over the Chi Sox for first, with Cleveland four games out. The Indians also played under .500 ball over the past 10 days and failed to gain ground.

Seattle continues to lead the AL West but Anaheim is the hottest team in baseball, having won 18 of 21 games beginning the week. The Angels are solidly in second place, six games ahead of both Oakland and Texas. Anaheim’s next true test will come in mid July when Oakland and Seattle are the opponents for 11 games, followed immediately by series against both Boston and the Yankees.

The New York Mets, Florida and Atlanta are all tightly bunched in the National League East. The Mets are currently displaying the best combination of pitching and offensive balance. Atlanta continues to struggle at the plate, while Florida has an inconsistent bullpen. Montreal has cooled of late but the Expos begin the week only three games out of first while Philadelphia’s recent road woes have erased the momentum established two weeks ago.

Cincinnati continues to sit atop the NL Central, leading fast charging St. Louis by four games. Houston has also played well of late and is just another game back. Pittsburgh has started to fade while Chicago’s Cubs have yet to fire.

As the season unfolds it might still come down to a race between the Cardinals and Astros, but the Reds have yet to show signs of fading.

The Cubs may well be the biggest disappointment in all of baseball as they struggle to win barely one game in three this deep into the season.

Arizona leads San Francisco by a half game in the NL West with the Dodgers just three back. Even San Diego is playing .500 baseball. At a collective 25 games over break, this is baseball’s best division. The Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks play each other over the next two weeks.

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

Roger hits Fenway.

Marlins at Mets: This four game series ending next Monday will enable Florida to show they are legit or enable the Mets to become the team to beat in the division. New York figures to be solid favorites in each game. The Mets have used only five different starting pitchers all season and, for the most part, each has been effective. Al Leiter and Pedro Astacio have been especially sharp but Shawn Estes, Jeff D’Amico and even Steve Trachsel have pitched well. Estes (4.33) is the only starter with an ERA over 4.00, which is not bad for a staff’s fifth starter.

Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett have been effective starters for the Marlins, while Ryan Dempster and Brad Penny have struggled. Florida has issued too many walks. The Mets should do no worse than split the series. Go UNDER when the totals line is 9 or higher.

Dodgers at D’backs: Two of the top three teams in the NL West square off while remaining contender San Francisco visits Colorado. Both teams have used solid starting pitching to contend. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling have combined to go 17-2 for Arizona. The other four starters have delivered just 11 wins in 25 games and none of the four has an ERA below 5.50.

The Dodgers have gotten surprisingly solid seasons from starters Odalis Perez and Kaz Ishii, while Kevin Brown is getting back to the top of his game. Andy Ashby has been effective and closer Eric Gagne has been one of the most pleasant surprises in all of baseball. If the Dodgers are underdogs in games against other than Johnson or Schilling, they are a solid play. The UNDER is an attractive play when one of Arizona’s other starters takes the mound, especially Miguel Batista.

Yanks at BoSox: Boston won three of four when hosting the previous series in mid April. The UNDER shall again be the preferred play. Both teams have gotten excellent starting pitching with Boston’s Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and John Burkett all excelling. Even Darren Oliver has been sharp. For the Yankees Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez and fill-in starter Ted Lilly have posted good numbers. Mike Mussina has struggled of late after an outstanding start but the Moose and David Wells often come up big in the marquee games.

The UNDER is also aided by the absence of Manny Ramirez from the Boston lineup. But also note that Yankees have enjoyed a power surge this season and currently lead the majors in home runs. Any underdog priced at plus 125 or higher worth backing in addition to the UNDER.

Twins at Angels: Minnesota got off to a strong start but struggled against the few winning teams faced on the schedule thus far. The Twins were swept in six games by the Yankees within the past 10 days. The starting pitching, supposedly a strength, boasts only Matt Kinney with an ERA under 4.75. The Minnesota offense has generally been better than expected.

Anaheim’s offense has exploded and the starting pitching has rounded into form. Jarrod Washburn, Kevin Appier and Ramon Ortiz have been solid. At —130 less the Angels are worth backing. To back the Twins, the price should be plus $1.70. Take the OVER if the totals are 10 or lower.