No relief

Apr 22, 2003 7:25 AM

Baseball’s first month is drawing to a close and the early season surprises remain the top stories of April.

The New York Yankees, Kansas City and San Francisco have each lost just three games in the first three weeks of the season while assuming control of their respective Divisions. As has been the case in recent seasons, the play of the Boston Red Sox has gone largely unnoticed.

The Red Sox, as is often the case, trail the Yankees in the AL East. However, Boston is off to a solid 13-5 start ”” good enough to lead three of baseball’s six divisions. Still, the Yanks begin the week with a two game edge.

What might be also considered a surprise is the parity in the AL West. Oakland and Anaheim were expected to easily lead the division, but both are off to mediocre starts. In fact, Seattle has a one game lead over Oakland and last place Texas is just three out of the lead. That’s stunning since the four teams have not played any games outside the division through the first three weeks.

The Detroit Tigers continue to look like one of the worst teams of all time. With just one win in 17 games, the Tigers are on a course to win fewer than 50 games all season. Untested starting pitching and a lineup that has been ice cold is responsible. Yet, much of the blame falls on ownership which has neglected what had been a solid farm system for many decades.

The Tigers are already 13 games out of the AL Central lead, currently held by surprising Kansas City. The Royals continue to play well, leading the Chicago White Sox by 3½games.

The NL East is as competitive as the AL West with just three games separating first place Montreal and the last place New York Mets. After struggling for the first week or so of the season the Atlanta Braves have played better, winning seven of their last 10 games to finally crack the .500 level.

Here’s a look at some series this weekend.

Giants at Phils: Both teams have solid starting pitching. San Francisco’s steady bullpen will be strengthened with the return of closer Robb Nen. Barry Bonds continues to be the most feared hitter in baseball. Play San Francisco’s Schmidt, Rueter and Moss if made underdogs. Phils starters to back are Padilla, Wolf and Millwood. Any matchup involving two of these pitchers can be played UNDER at 9 or lower. Bet OVER and against SF’s Jensen and Philly’s Myers and Duckworth.

Cubs at Rockies: The Cubs have been winning with solid starting pitching, anchored by Wood, Prior and Clement. Any of the three may be played as underdogs in this series except against Colorado’s Chacon. From last season’s 5-11 record and a 5.73 ERA, Chacon has begun 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA following Sunday’s shutout at hitter friendly Coors Field. Play Chacon up to -150 and UNDER at 12 or less. All matchups not involving these four starters may be played OVER at 14 or less.

Twins at White Sox: Minnesota has played well when facing any team not named the New York Yankees. The Twins are 0-7 against the Yanks and 9-3 against the rest of the league. Minnesota is worth a look throughout the series as an underdog. They have solid though unspectacular starting pitching. However starts by Chicago’s Buehrle and Colon can be played UNDER at 9 or more. In starts by other White Sox hurlers, play the OVER at 9 or less.

Red Sox at Angels: Boston is likely to be solidly favored in starts by Martinez and Lowe. The Angels may be backed as underdogs against each if getting +150 and they throw Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn or Kevin Appier. The series is likely to go OVER the total and can be played at totals of 8 or lower in starts by Martinez and Lowe. Play OVER at 9 or lower in all other matchups.