Baseball draws line nobody likes

August 20, 2002 11:09 AM
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The date has been set.

The Players’ Union has drawn a line in the sand for Aug. 30, 2002. If a resolution between players and owners is not reached by that date the players are set to walk out and go on strike.

It will deal a severe blow not only to those directly involved in major league baseball but by many of the auxiliary industries and businesses such as sportswear manufacturers, stadium parking attendants and eateries located by ballparks. A work stoppage of a length that causes regular season games or the post season to be canceled, as in 1994, could signal the beginning of the end for baseball as we have known it for more than a century.

The hope is that both sides will resolve their disputes and that fans will be treated to what promises to be an exciting final month of uninterrupted action. A tremendous three-team race continues to be waged in the American League’s West Division, while both leagues have tightly contested wild card races entering the home stretch.

It appears as though there will be no one to hit 70 home runs this season. The current leaders, Alex Rodriquez and Sammy Sosa, are on pace to hit about 58 or 59 homers. Curt Schilling is on pace to win 26 games but likely will clinch the NL Cy Young award. Schilling has more wins (20) than walks allowed (19). Add to the mix his 250 strikeouts and his 2002 season will go down as one of the more phenomenal achievements of the past 25 years.

Atlanta has an 18½ game lead in the NL East and now is the only team in the Division playing better than .500 baseball. In the NL Central St. Louis has opened up a five game lead over Houston with Cincinnati a half game further back. Arizona has assumed clear control of the NL West with a seven game lead over Los Angeles and San Francisco four games behind the Dodgers. Los Angeles currently holds the NL Wild Card with their four game lead over San Francisco. Houston is six and a half games behind and Cincinnati is seven back.

Minnesota has a commanding 14½ game lead in the AL Central while the New York Yankees have now opened a 7 game lead over Boston in the AL East. The exciting race in the AL West has Seattle beginning the week with a slim half game lead over Anaheim and Oakland is just two games behind the Mariners. Seattle and Anaheim begin the week tied with 49 losses. Anaheim holds the lead in the AL Wild Card race, leading Oakland by a game and a half and Boston by three and a half games.

Here’s a look at four of the more interesting series to be played this weekend.

Reds at Astros: Prior to Mon-day’s series finale the Reds had taken 2-of-3 at home from the Astros. Houston is the more balanced team and has made up quite a bit of ground over the past month, largely on the strength of starting pitching. Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller continue to pitch well and either can be backed in this series at -140. At a total of 9 or lower the preference is OVER. Cincinnati has rebuilt its rotation over the past month, acquiring Brian Moehler, Ryan Dempster and Shawn Estes. Dempster has started to pitch well after a shaky start and can be backed as an underdog of at least +125.

Braves at Dodgers: This is a potential playoff preview if the Dodgers can make win the NL wild card. Pitching should be the key to this series and we are likely to see totals of 7 or 7½ throughout the series. Nevertheless the UNDER will be preferred in any pitching matchup. Atlanta is worth playing if made the underdog in any game. The Dodgers are worth playing as underdogs against Greg Maddux. Los Angeles has more to play for trying to chase down Arizona in the division while looking to keep the wild card lead. The Dodgers can also be played in Sunday’s game if avoiding a sweep.

Rangers at Yanks: The series features a pair of outstanding shortstops, both of whom are on a course to become Hall of Famers. Alex Rodriguez currently leads the majors in both home runs and RBI and is fourth in the AL in batting. New York’s Derek Jeter is the leader of baseball’s most dominant team and is among the league leaders in runs and stolen bases while batting over .300. The Yankees will be solid favorites in the series despite a starting rotation that has been shaky over the past month. The OVER is preferred, especially at totals of 10 or less. Texas has won 7-of-10 beginning the week. The only way the Rangers should be considered as a side play is if they are at least +250 in any game.

Angels at Red Sox: This is a critical series for Boston. Anaheim has gotten balanced hitting and solid starting pitching to become a contender this season after a horrible April. Lefty Jarrod Washburn is developing into one of the top pitchers in the league and can be played as an underdog if he opposes either Pedro Martinez or Derek Lowe. In starts by Martinez and Lowe the UNDER is attractive if the total is 8 or higher. Anaheim can be played as an underdog against any other Boston hurler and backed as a favorite of up to —120 if Washburn faces one of Boston’s other starters.