Jun 18, 2002 11:17 AM

The first round of interleague play has been marked by some interesting scheduling quirks.

If you’ve noticed, all interleague games on a given day have been played entirely at American League ballparks or at National League ballparks. This will continue for the balance of interleague play this season.

After next week there will be one more series of interleague play to wrap up the battle of AL vs. NL teams until the World Series. The All Star break occurs in about three weeks and with it comes the virtual halfway point of the season.

If the playoffs were to begin now the AL Divisional champions would be Boston, Minnesota and Seattle. The Wild Card would belong to the New York Yankees although their lead over Anaheim is just one game in the loss column.

In the NL, Atlanta and Arizona lead their respective divisions with St. Louis and Cincin­­nati tied in the NL Central. If the playoffs began now, the Wild Card would belong to Los Angeles. The Cards and Reds would meet in a playoff to determine the NL Central champ.

Four of the six Divisions have teams in the lead by less than two games. Only Atlanta’s 5½-game lead in the NL West and Minnesota’s five game lead in the AL Central are comfortable margins. Ten of baseball’s 30 teams trail division leaders by at least 10 games. Colorado began the week 9½ out in the NL West.

St. Louis currently has baseball’s best home record at 21-10. Arizona and surprising Montreal are 22-11. The Expos have won despite threats of contraction, franchise move and consistently sparse crowds.

Boston has baseball’s best overall record largely due a major league best 26-8 road mark. The Red Sox have the pitching to make their race against the Yankees in the AL East interesting deep into September.

Oakland is 8-1 in interleague play this season, three games better than any other AL team. This is significant because it has enabled the A’s to gain at least three games on every other AL team, including those in contention for the West title or Wild Card.

The A’s have also been a very strong second half team over the last several seasons. Kansas City, at 2-7, has the worst interleague mark in the AL.

Atlanta has the NL’s best interleague mark at 7-2. Five other teams are 6-3. Colorado is just 2-7, while Milwaukee is just 1-5. Interleague scheduling in the NL is unbalanced because of the additional two teams and the six-team Central Division.

The leagues have split the 84 games played in AL stadiums while the NL is 25-17 at home. As expected games played at NL venues have been lower scoring than those in AL ballparks due to the elimination of the designated hitter.

Interleague games played in AL parks have seen the OVER go 43-38-1. The 84 games (several were stopped by rain) have produced an average of 9.45 runs per contest.

The UNDER is 23-18-1 in interleague games hosted by NL teams. The 42 games thus far have produced and average of just 8.40 total runs per game.

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

Cards at Cubs: Chicago’s Sammy Sosa leads the majors in home runs and teammates Fred McGriff and Moises Alou have started to swing the bat better. St. Louis has been plagued by injuries to its starting rotation. This should be a competitively priced series with Chicago’s home field edge offsetting a St. Louis advantage The three St. Louis pitchers worth backing at prices of up to minus $1.30 would be Matt ­­Morris, Woody Williams and rookie Jason Simontacchi.

The Cards are worth backing as an underdog with any starter. The Cubs’ best chance could come against an inconsistent Darryl Kile or when Jon Lieber starts. The best chance for an OVER would be if Jason Bere starts for the Cubs. The OVER is 9-5 inn Kerry Wood’s starts. The UNDER is 5-2 in Simontacchi’s outings.

A’s at Reds: Cincinnati has gotten much better pitching than expected, especially from its starters. Elmer Dessens begins the week with 2.62 ERA while teammate Chris Reitsma’s ERA is 2.90. There is a considerable dropoff after that. Oakland has also relied on strong pitching in its recent run. The A’s are 12-3 in Barry Zito’s starts.

Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson struggled early but both have shown signs of being in top form of late. Rookie Aaron Harang has been a true find as the fifth starter in their rotation. Oakland should be the play in this series provided they are favored by no more than minus $1.25. The UNDER is the preferred play except when Joey Hamilton starts for the Reds. That game is the best shot for an OVER against any of Oakland’s starters except Zito.

M’s at Astros: This is a most intriguing series between the teams involved in the huge Randy Johnson trade several seasons ago. The trade has benefited Seattle as one of the pitchers received, Freddy Garcia, has developed into a top starter. The Mariners are 11-4 in Garcia’s outings and 10-5 when Jamie Moyer pitches.

Houston’s ace has been Roy Oswalt although Wade Miller has been pitching exceptionally well following his stint on the DL. Seattle is worth a play anytime as the underdog. Moyer and Garcia are the "play on" pitchers for Seattle and can be played up to minus $1.25, even against Houston’s Miller and Oswalt. Seattle’s "play against" pitcher is James Baldwin but if the price against Baldwin is too high you might consider going OVER the total. The OVER is 10-4-1 in Moyer’s starts.

BoSox at Dodgers: Boston’s Pedro Martinez, one of the top hurlers in baseball, returns to where he began his career. However, Boston is 12-2 in games Derek Lowe has started. Lowe has been averaging 7.0 innings per start with a 1.85 ERA, while allowing less than one baserunner per inning. The Dodgers have gotten their share of solid starting pitching too. Odalis Perez, the "throw-in" for the Gary Sheffield for Brian Jordan trade, has been outstanding.

Andy Ashby has rebounded from an injury that sidelined him almost all of 2001 to have a very strong first half and rookie lefty Kaz Ishii has been solid. If Boston is an underdog against Ishii, the Red Sox are worth a play. Likewise, if Perez or Ashby are underdogs, the Dodgers are worth playing. The UNDER should be considered at lines of 8 or higher. A Lowe-Perez matchup should be played UNDER if listed at 7.

LAME ”” When Estes threw behind Clemens (R), drama ended.