Arizona, M’s shaky choices

July 30, 2002 5:11 AM
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With just over a third of the baseball season remaining, the pennant races in the AL West and NL West are heating up and supplying plenty of excitement for fans looking for games that mean something.

The trading deadline is only a couple of days away so by July 31 these teams might make some changes and tip the scales in their favor. Time will tell.

In the NL West, the defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks and their dynamic pitching duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson are setting the pace. The D’backs seem to have enough gas left to hold off the hard charging Giants and surprising Dodgers.

For the past couple of years the Giants and D’Backs have seemed to match wins over the last two months of the season. Look for that trend to continue. The Dodgers, who have been slumping, should get back on track and add pressure to the front-runners.

Schilling has already recorded 17 wins to head a stellar pitching staff. Randy (the Big Unit) Johnson (14-3) is rolling along, Rick Helling (7-8) is due back from a sprained ankle in early August and Miguel Batista (5-7) has shown signs of life. Craig Counsel has done an outstanding job setting the table for the middle of the order and right now he’s the team MVP.

Luis Gonzalez has come alive since being moved into cleanup spot in early July, collecting 15 RBI through last Thursday’s games. After last year’s 57 round trippers, home runs have not come easily for Gonzalez or the D’Backs. Steve Finley (13) and Junior Spivey at 10 are currently the only others to post double figures.

Bettors should know that Arizona has had a profitable year despite the heavy ”˜chalk’ that always accompanies Johnson and Schilling. The duo continues to pad bankrolls with Johnson at +540, while Schilling +865.

The Giants and Dodgers have been solid UNDER plays. The Dodgers have had great starting pitching all year. The development of Eric Gagne as a closer has kept run counts down. Leading hitter Shawn Green has supplied power and is a solid MVP candidate.

The Giants don’t quite have the starting pitchers of Arizona or Los Angeles but have plenty of bullpen support and the lowest ERA behind the Braves. Ryan Jensen has moved into a starting role and leads the team with 10 wins. The Giants also have Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and a solid supporting cast competing for the division crown.

The D’backs, with Schilling and Johnson are the pick to hold on and win the NL West pennant while the Giants have the inside track for the wild card.

In the AL West, the fun is just beginning. The Mariners are having a much more difficult time than a year ago when they coasted into the playoffs with a record tying 116 wins. Pitching has again been strong, posting second lowest ERA (3.81) in the league. Fred Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Jamie Moyer and John Halama have done their jobs in compiling a 36-19 record.

Kazuhiro Sasaki continues as one of the premier closers in the game with 25 saves and a 1.42 ERA. Ichiro, Ruben Sierra and John Olerud have carried the Mariners offense, currently sixth in the AL in runs scored.

Safeco Field is also a pitcher’s park, which has become more of a factor this season. The M’s will square off against the Angels and A’s for 12 of their last 16 games of the season. If the pennant is still in doubt expect some close pitching battles to close out the season with Âí­UNDERS being the play.

The resurgent Anaheim Angels went out and got a pitching staff. Jarrod Washburn (12-2) and Ramon Ortiz (9-7) have set the tone with help from Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele and Scott Schoeneweis.

Washburn, a left-hander, is 12-2 with a 3.22 ERA and hasn’t lost since April 13 against Oakland. Reliever Troy Percival (22 saves) is returning from an Achilles heel infection and should pick up where he left off prior to the All Star game.

Tim Salmon, recovering from an off year, has joined Garrett Anderson, Darin Erstad and Troy Glaus to supply the power in the Angels lineup.

Oakland A’s fans can only wonder what might have been if Jason Giambi had stayed in the Bay Area for one more year. Starting pitchers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito (a combined 25-8 with a 3.23 ERA) are having excellent seasons.

Tim Hudson (7-9) has been a disappointment coming off an 18-9 record last year but he still holds the key to the A’s success. Zito became the AL’s first 14-game winner July 23 when as the Athletics beat the Angels 2-1. Shortstop Miguel Tejada (22 HR’s, 77 RBI’s and .299 BA), and Eric Chavez (20 HR) have been the offensive leaders but they need help.

Jermaine Dye still isn’t up to par after a hamstring problem in June and if the A’s are to stay in contention Dye needs to step it up. Oakland acquired second baseman Ray Durham (.299, 9 HR, 48 RBI in 96 games) from the White Sox.

The division race should go right down to the wire, with the edge to Seattle. We give Anaheim the edge over Boston for the wild card.

HOW WEST WAS WON

NL

O/U

Home

Away

Arizona

52-44

26-20

26-24 

LosAngeles

44-53

23-28

21-25

SanFrancisco

40-53

17-27

23-25

AL

O/U

Home

Away

Seattle

43-51

21-24

22-27

Anaheim

45-47

19-28

26-19

Oakland

42-47

28-23

14-31

(results through July 24 games)