The 2003 season is barely a week old but, as is always the case, there are some significant early season surprises and disappointments.
With a six-month season featuring almost daily play, a week’s results provide a poor and often misleading barometer of what to expect as the season unfolds. Still, while some of these early season developments will reverse direction in short order, there will also be some that will continue throughout the season and result in what will later be looked back upon as having confounded most pundits.
To nobody’s surprise the Yankees have started strongly by winning five of six despite the loss of star shortstop Derek Jeter. Boston has almost kept pace but its bullpen situation is a major source of concern. New manager Grady Little’s "closer by committee" concept has not worked as the late relief ruined a pair of outstanding starts by ace Pedro Martinez that resulted in Boston’s only two losses.
Kansas City’s 5-0 start is the biggest story of the first week. Expected to contend with Detroit for the basement in the weak AL Central, the Royals have gotten outstanding starting pitching in going unbeaten. Detroit is every bit as pathetic as expected in losing its opening six games, scoring a grand total of six runs.
Oakland’s quick start in the AL West is also no surprise, rather a continuation of its fine play of last season despite a change in the manager and closer.
In the National League, the quick start by Pittsburgh is a major surprise especially since its 5-1 record was fashioned entirely on the road. Cincinnati opened its new stadium by dropping three straight to the Pirates and lost star Ken Griffey Jr for an extended period of time to a dislocated shoulder.
In the West San Francisco’s perfect 6-0 start is surprising mainly due to the changing faces on the roster. The defending NL champs have a reshaped starting pitching staff and a new manager. All this coupled with having to replace All Star Jeff Kent. At the other end is the disappointing 1-5 start by defending division champ Arizona. The Diamondbacks have started 1-5 despite aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling making a combined four of six starts.
Here’s a look at some series to be played this weekend.
Pirates at Cubs: The red hot Bucs have a short series against Milwaukee to open their home season early this week and could be 7-1 when they travel to Wrigley Field for the weekend. The Cubs have a pair of promising starters in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior but Pittsburgh’s Kris Benson has had two outstanding efforts in finally showing the vast potential he displayed before a serious injury sidelined him a couple of years ago.
Benson is the play if made an underdog. Also consider the UNDER at totals of 10 or higher which will be the case if the winds are blowing out. The Cubs are worth backing when favored by -120 or less, except against Benson.
Dodgers at Giants: The Giants are off strong even with a revamped roster and the absence of closer Robb Nen for the early part of the season. The Dodgers have been just average but have to be encouraged by the early efforts of starting pitchers Hideo Nomo and Kevin Brown.
The Giants also have gotten some strong early performances from Kirk Rueter and Jason Schmidt. This has the appearances of a low scoring series and the UNDER should be considered throughout. The underdog may also be worth playing in a matchup featuring two of the above pitchers or in a matchup involving none of the four pitchers.
Twins at Blue Jays: Minnesota has historically had a strong homefield advantage playing in the Metrodome, but last weekend was outscored 19-6 in dropping a three game series to the Blue Jays. Toronto’s outburst was a surprise considering the Yankees had just swept it at home.
This series should be more competitive and the Twins pitching should perform better. As an underdog, Minnesota should be played to win at least two of three in the series. A look towards the OVER will also be warranted at totals of 9 or less.
A’s at Angels: Oakland swept the Angels in its three game home series last weekend and two of the A’s three main starters did not even pitch. Oakland should prove itself to be the best team in the AL West over the course of the season. Despite the tendency to jump on the quick revenge angle this weekend, Oakland will always be worth a play when made an underdog against any team other than the Yankees.
Anaheim has a decent enough pitching staff to suggest the A’s won’t match their 18 total run output of this past series. The UNDER, especially at totals of 9 or higher, should be considered