The first weekend of Interleague play for this season is history and there are some very interesting observations that can be made about what took place last weekend. The National League won 24 of 42 games, more impressive considering that the American teams were all at home.
This will also be the case in the series that will be played Monday through Wednesday. The NL teams will host every series not only this weekend but for the next three series overall before regular league play resumes on June 24. Thus the AL will have to contend playing without the DH and with pitchers taking their hacks at the plate.
Logical thinking would hold that games in NL parks would be lower scoring than games in AL parks because of the lack of the DH. In AL parks, starting pitchers who are pitching effectively do not have to be removed in the late innings of a tightly contested low scoring game. Through last weekend, in the 42 interleague games played, all in the AL cities, the average total runs scored was 8.98. That’s almost a full run lower than the average number of runs scored in AL stadiums during regular league play. There were 17 OVERs and 25 UNDERs this past weekend.
A third of major league baseball already has to make up at least 10 games in divisional play over the final 100 games of the season. Two of the races have already developed gaps of at least five games. Atlanta has a 5Â½-game lead over three teams in the NL East where Florida, the Mets and Montreal are each playing exactly .500 ball. Minnesota has a five game lead over Chicago in the AL Central with Cleveland another half game back.
The other four divisions have very tight races. Boston leads the Yankees by 1Â½ in the AL East. These are the teams with the two best records in baseball. Seattle has a one game lead over Anaheim in the AL West. Oakland has started to play better of late, going 8-2 in the last 10 games to close within six of the Mariners. With a fine starting rotation that has now gotten several solid starts from rookie Aaron Harang the Athletics are still a team to be feared. Especially given their recent history of strong play following the All Star break.
Cincinnati holds a one game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central. A small gap exists behind those two with Pittsburgh clinging to a one game lead over Houston for third place in the division although both the Pirates and the Astros are below .500. If Cincinnati makes a move to bolster their starting pitching the Reds might contend for much of the summer. St. Louis appears to be clearly the best team in the division.
A three team race continues in the NL West where Arizona has a two game lead over Los Angeles and the Giants are just 1Â½-games further back. The Giants’ third place record would be good enough to be tied with Cincinnati in the NL Central and one game behind Atlanta in the NL East.
Here’s a preview of four series to be played this weekend.
ChiSox at Cubs: The White Sox have stumbled of late, going 3-7 in the last 10 games entering the week. The Pale Hose had gone 14 straight games scoring six runs or less before exploding for 13 runs in Sunday’s win over Montreal. The Cubs have started to show signs of improvement as Fred McGriff is heating up to support the majors’ home run leader Sammy Sosa. If the oft-injured Moises Alou can start to hit the Cubs might go on a bit of a winning streak since their pitching has been above average.
Jason Bere is the only Cubs starter with an ERA above 4 and is the one "automatic" play against in this series provided the White Sox are not more than —150. The White Sox’ Mark Buehrle is the one pitcher to play in the series if no more than minus $1.50. Buehrle is the only Sox starter with above average control although teammate Jon Garland has also been pitching extremely well of late. Garland would be a play if no more than —120. The series figures to be more low scoring than high, but we’ll use the linesmaker as our guide. The OVER is preferred only at totals of 8 or less. The UNDER becomes a play at a line of 10 or higher.
Yanks at Mets: The major story surrounding this series will be the appearance of Yankees’ ace Roger Clemens having to bat and perhaps face some retaliation for his beaning of Mets’ star Mike Piazza two seasons ago. But there are always other stories surrounding the Mets/Yankees series, the first to be played since the tragedy of September 11th. Despite the overall fine efforts of the starting staff the Mets’ woeful defense and a lack of consistent offense have them struggling.
The Yankees have not been as fortunate with the health of their starting rotation, having started nine different hurlers. The Yanks have used the long ball to sport baseball’s second best record, often overcoming late inning deficits. The Mets’ Pedro Astacio is the only starter on either team with an ERA under 3. The OVER is recommended in any game in which the posted total is less than 9. The one exception is Ted Lilly, who has seen all nine of his starts for the Yanks go UNDER the total. The Yankees are 19-6 when either David Wells or Mike Mussina start. The Mets’ best plays would be in starts by either Astacio or Jeff D’Amico, as long as they don’t oppose Mussina or Wells and are priced no higher than minus 125.
BoSox at Braves: The starting pitchers should dominate this attractive series. Both teams have plenty of quality at the position, which should mean less work for both bullpens. Atlanta’s Tom Glavine is having an outstanding season and arguably would be the NL Cy Young Award winner at this point over either Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson. Greg Maddux, Damien Moss and Jason Marquis are also pitching well, although both Maddux and Moss are averaging just under six innings per start.
Boston has won 29 of the 35 games started by Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and John Burkett. Lowe is averaging 7.0 innings per start and sports an 1.81 ERA, allowing barely five runners to reach base every six innings. The Underdog is worth a play when any of the seven listed pitchers takes the mound. The UNDER is recommended with a line of 8 or higher. Boston’s starting pitchers have excellent control, a quality that should serve well later in the season as innings pile up.
Angels at Dodgers: Both teams are playing well and begin the week in second place in their respective divisions with a chance at being in first place by the time this series gets underway. Both teams have benefited from extremely solid and consistent starting pitchers and each team has an outstanding closer. Troy Percival has been closing well for Anaheim for seasons. But Eric Gagne has been a huge surprise for the Dodgers and currently leads the majors with 21 saves.
This series shapes up as being low scoring with the only pitchers for whom an OVER recommendation can be made being Anaheim’s Aaron Sele or the Dodgers’ Omar Daal. All other combinations present solid UNDER opportunities. Additionally, with no single outstanding starter on either staff now that Kevin Brown is on the DL, the Underdog also represents the preferred play throughout the three game series.