Mets climbing back into playoff picture

Jul 30, 2002 10:20 AM

The baseball season is two thirds complete and barring a work stoppage there are slightly over 50 games remaining in the regular season.

In the NL, Atlanta has a commanding 12½ game lead in the East with the four other teams tightly bunched within five of each other. The Mets are in second and thinking wild card.

The situation in the NL Central and West is identical. The divisional leaders, St. Louis and Arizona, opened five-game leads starting the week.

In the Central, Cincinnati has a one game edge over Houston for second place, while in the West the Dodgers have a similar lead over San Francisco.

Minnesota has all but clinched the AL Central, holding a commanding 14-game lead over second place Chicago at the start of the week.

The New York Yankees have a four game lead over Boston in the AL East in what has been a two-team race virtually all season.

The AL West is now the tightest Divisional race in all of baseball. Anaheim begins the week percentage points ahead of Seattle for the lead with Oakland just three games back.

D’backs at Mets: This is a four game series that ends Monday, meaning the Mets will have to face either Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson or both depending upon the weather during this week and how Arizona handled its off day. Arizona opened up a gap in the NL West, getting some effective starts by pitchers other than the Dynamic Duo. The Diamondbacks are 37-9 in games started by Schilling and Johnson and 27-32 in all other games.

However, the D’backs are only a game under .500 in starts by Rick Helling, Miguel Batista and Brian Anderson. For the Mets, Pedro Astacio has put up the best numbers. New York is 14-6 in Astacio’s starts.

Astacio and Al Leiter can be played if made underdogs against Johnson or Schilling. Against other Arizona starters, Astacio and Leiter can be played if favored by no more than —120. This projects as a low scoring series but the ­­UNDER should only be considered at 8 or higher.

Cards at Braves: Two division leaders meet in this three game weekend series. Both teams are candidates to make moves during this week. St. Louis has endured plenty this season with the death of team leader Darryl Kile and numerous injuries to their starting pitchers.

Still the Cards have a potent offense and that might be the key to this series. Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood are in excellent form for Atlanta while Tom Glavine, Jason Marquis and rookie Damien Moss have been less effective of late.

At totals of 8 or lower the OVER is worth a look. The Cardinals are worth playing as underdogs when Matt Morris or Jason ­­Simontacchi get a start.

Atlanta is likely to be favored throughout the series. If priced no higher than —150 against Chuck Finley or Andy Benes the Braves are worth a play.

In such games the OVER is also worth considering even as high as 9.

RedSox at Rangers: This is a four game series beginning Thursday that is likely to produce lots of offense. The Texas bullpen is putrid. Boston has been led by the pitching of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

Martinez has only recently begun to show his Cy Young Award winning form while Lowe has been solid all season. Yet with Ismael Valdes or Kenny Rogers on the mound, the Rangers are worth a play as solid underdogs

With the weakness of the Texas bullpen the OVER is also worth considering, especially at totals of 10 or less. The total might be 8 or less Lowe or Martinez start. The combination of playing Texas with Rogers and Valdes combined with the OVER should produce a profit. It would mean the bullpen either blows leads for the two Texas starters or that both Valdes and Rogers get plenty of run support and are allowed to pitch into the eighth or ninth inning.

Yanks at Angels: This very intriguing four-game series begins Thursday with Yanks finding themselves struggling in an area considered to be a strength when the season began. New York’s pitching, both starting and relief, has been inconsistent since the All Star break. The Anaheim lineup scores runs in bunches. The value in this series will be with the Angels, especially since they figure to be underdogs in at least three of the four games.

Roger Clemens may come off the DL and start for the Yanks in this series. Anaheim is worth a look as an underdog against Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells. Andy Pettitte has pitched well over the last month and can be backed against the Angels if favored by no more than —125.

Since coming from Detroit, Jeff Weaver has been hit hard and may be sent to the bullpen. If Weaver does start, then the Angels are a play if favored by —120. At totals of 10 or less, the games can be played OVER.