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Not much advantage in AL-NL games

Jun 4, 2002 12:20 PM

The 2002 baseball season has passed the one third point and attention for the next few weeks turns to interleague play. Begun in 1997, limited play in games between the leagues has been popular with the fans with the exception of baseball purists. These games enable fans to see how career American Leaguers would fare in National League parks and vice versa.

Over 1200 interleague games have been played over the five seasons and the results are fairly even. The AL holds a 610-602 edge. Teams have enjoyed more success at home than on the road. NL teams have won 55 percent of their home games against the AL. The AL has won 56 percent at home against the NL.

Boston continues to have baseball’s best record while the Yankees and Seattle are battling for the next best mark. It’s still early in the season but right now there are some clear distinctions occurring throughout baseball’s six Divisions. All three National League divisions have two games or less separating the leader from the second place club and no division leader has more than Minnesota’s 3½-game lead in the AL Central.

Were the season to end today the AL would send Boston, Minnesota and Seattle to the playoffs as Division winners with the Yankees holding the AL Wild Card. In the NL, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Arizona lead their respective divisions with Los Angeles holding the Wild Card.

Eight of 16 NL teams are above .500 with two more teams within a pair of games of break-even. Only five AL teams are playing winning baseball with three other teams at or within a game of .500.

Interleague play accounts for about 10 percent of the schedule. Standings in each league can be significantly affected by the results of these games since, with the exception of the one NL series, teams cannot make up ground on other teams within their division or their league by themselves. These games can do quite a bit to shake up the Wild Card races in each league as well.

There will be 14 interleague series this weekend with Milwaukee at Pittsburgh the only series involving a pair of NL teams.

This season we’ll see a number of interleague matchups we’ve not seen before, including several attractive east coast vs. west coast series that begin this weekend. Keep in mind that the DH will be in use when games are played in AL parks.

Here’s a look at four of the more interesting interleague series this weekend.

SF Giants at Yanks: Just think of all the scenarios:

Ace Roger Clemens vs. Barry Bonds, or Bonds vs. Yankee Stadium and the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Last weekend Bonds moved into a tie with Frank Robinson for fourth place on the all time home run leader list. Now he gets to play in baseball’s most hallowed shrine. Barring rainouts, Clemens will face the Giants on Saturday but we won’t get to see Bonds against Mike Mussina.

The Yankees should be favored in all three games and they are clearly playing the better baseball of late. San Francisco’s best chances might be when Russ Ortiz, Kirk Rueter or Jason Schmidt get the start. If getting at least plus $1.50 when any of those hurlers takes the mound, the Giants are worth a look. The best play throughout the series might be the OVER. The only exception would be when the Giants’ Ryan Jensen gets a start. Eight of Jensen’s nine starts have gone UNDER the total.

D’backs at BoSox: This series may be as attractive, if not more so, than the Giants at Yankees. Pitching will be the marquee attraction with Arizona’s Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson dueling with Boston’s Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. Johnson might not pitch in the series and we might not get a chance to see Schilling vs. Martinez but the series is still full of intrigue, especially to see how Arizona will fare in Fenway Park.

The unfamiliarity of each team’s pitchers against the others’ batters might make the underdog worth a look throughout the series, especially if Schilling and Martinez do not face one another and therefore each would be solid favorites. Boston would be worth backing if not favored by more than minus $1.25 if John Burkett or Frank Castillo starts. The OVER is also worth playing if the totals are no higher than 9.

Braves at Rangers: Tom Glavine is having a sensational season while Greg Maddux is rounding into peak form after struggling early this season. Texas lives on their offense with Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmiero and others putting up the big numbers. The only Texas starter worth backing in this series is Kenny Rogers up to minus $1.50, although against either Glavine or Maddux he likely comes up the underdog.

Atlanta is worth playing as an underdog against all Texas starters except Rogers. We’ll let the linesmaker dictate the Over/Under strategy for this series. At a total of 10 or higher the preference is to play the UNDER. At a total of 8 or lower the preference is for the OVER. Atlanta has the pitching edge while Texas’ edge is on offense.

Cards at Royals: This regional rivalry is every bit as heated as other interleague rivalries such as Yankees/Mets, White Sox/Cubs or Angels/Dodgers. The bitterness of the rivalry dates back to the 1985 World Series when the Royals took advantage of an umpiring controversy to defeat the Cardinals in seven games.

A total of 21 different pitchers have started games for the clubs due to injuries. Both teams have the ability to score runs in bunches. Take OVER, especially at totals of under 10. The Cardinals have the stronger staff and should be favored throughout the series with the possible exception of when Paul Byrd starts for the Royals. The Cards are worth playing if an underdog when Matt Morris, Darryl Kile or Woody Williams starts. Kansas City is worth a look if either Byrd or Suppan start as underdogs.