‘Major’ gaps developing in races

July 23, 2002 10:10 AM
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The gap between the contending teams and the also-rans in baseball is as wide as its been in recent years.

Consider that there are just six teams with winning records in the American League, each playing close to .600 ball. There’s a 9½-game gap between the sixth best team in the AL, Oakland, and the next best team, Baltimore.

The top six are fighting for four playoff spots which suggests two pretty good teams will come up short. The Yankees, Minnesota and Seattle are the current Division leaders with Anaheim holding the slimmest of leads, a half game, over Boston in the wild card chase. Oakland is just a game back of the Angels.

There’s only slightly more parity in the NL. Seven teams are above .500 with only Atlanta, owning baseball’s best record, playing better than .600. There are, however, four more teams within three games of .500. Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona are the division leaders with San Francisco currently controlling the wild card.

Several deals have already been made including the acquisition by St. Louis of veteran lefthander Chuck Finley and the likely trade by Texas of lefty Kenny Rogers to Cincinnati.

Earlier, the Yankees acquired pitcher Jeff Weaver and outfielder Raul Mondesi. Oakland received New York’s Ted Lilly. Montreal’s addition of Cliff Floyd was an attempt to bolster their NL wild card bid.

Scott Rolen of Philadelphia is another player who’s been long rumored on the trading block. Despite his free agent status at the end of this season it might not be a reach to see one of the contending teams essentially "rent" Rolen for the balance of this season. 

Teams with a "we have a chance to win now" mentality should be in the market for a player of Rolen’s capabilities. A quality third baseman might be the deciding factor in the three team NL West race among Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Keep an eye on transactions over the next week or so. A flurry of activity might indicate some optimism that a work stoppage will be averted, or last for just a week or two at the most.

Here’s a look at a quartet of interesting and significant series to be played this weekend, including three rematches from last weekend.

Reds at Mets: The Mets have gotten the better overall pitching this season and only recently has the offense started to break out of its season long slump. Cincinnati does not have an "ace" and thus the Mets are worth a play in any game favored by minus 130 or less.

Two of last week’s games went OVER and this should also be high scoring. Cincinnati’s best pitcher is Elmer Dessens but he’s likely to face Al Leiter in a rematch of Sunday’s contest won by the Reds 9-1. Leiter is a big game pitcher and can be expected to reverse that result. That is the most likely game in the series to go UNDER, especially at a line of 8 or higher.

Dodgers at Giants: The Dodgers continue to struggle plating runs following the All-Star break, averaging less than three runs per game. The Giants were without an injured Barry Bonds at the start of the week but the slugger is expected back for this series. The Dodgers starting pitchers do not have outstanding stats except for Odalis Perez. But Perez has been hammered of late.

Last weekend’s series saw two of the three games easily go UNDER. The same should occur here. The Dodgers, as underdogs, would be attractive as plays throughout the series if they can show signs of an offensive resurgence during their midweek series at San Diego.

Orioles at BoSox: Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove has done an outstanding job keeping his Orioles around the .500 mark. Boston has been a contender in the AL East all season, but has been fading of late, beginning the week four games behind the Yankees. The bullpen has been less effective in recent weeks and only Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez have maintained the high level of starting pitching displayed in April and May.

The Orioles can best be viewed as a scrappy club that does not quit. The OVER might be worth playing at 10 or less since both offenses are producing lately. The O’s as underdogs are worth a look.

Angels at M’s: The M’s are likely to be favored in all three games of this series, including a rematch with Jarrod Washburn, winner of 12 straight decisions. Despite the importance of this series for Seattle, Anaheim is attractive only as an underdog of at least +120.

Mariners ace Freddy Garcia and the rest of the starting rotation has not distinguished itself lately. Anaheim’s hurlers are rounding into form with both Aaron Sele and Kevin Appier joining Washburn and Ramon Ortiz as a formidable top four starters. Injured closer Troy Percival may be back during this series. All three games last weekend went OVER. Look for a reversal with at least two games going UNDER. The UNDER is playable at 8 or higher.

Next week, we’ll analyze both baseball and the NFL.