'Nationalism' was Monday

Apr 1, 2008 7:00 PM

3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Not including Tokyo or the first game in Washington’s new ballpark, the "real" Opening Day to the 2008 baseball season occurred Monday.

The journey to the postseason consists of a grueling 162 game schedule played on virtually a daily basis over six months. In last week’s column we had Boston, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels to win their respective AL divisions with Seattle gaining the Wild Card. Thus the 13-year streak of the New York Yankees making the postseason is expected to come to an end.

In the NL, the expected division winners are the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. The Los Angeles Dodgers should earn the Wild Card. Thus former Yankees skipper will extend his postseason streak to 13 (the Yanks made the AL playoffs in 1995, the season before Torre took over the Bombers).

In looking at playoff possibilities Cleveland appears to be the strongest of the AL contenders largely because of a proven, solid starting rotation and their deep lineup. With one more season of experience this is the season for the Tribe to return to the Fall Classic as the American League pennant winner.

It’s hard to argue against the chalk in the NL where the New York Mets enter the season as the team to beat. Sure, they may have lingering memories of their historic September collapse last season but they may be far ahead of their NL East rivals this season that a repeat of their fade may not be possible.

The Mets may threaten or exceed the 100 win plateau with a formidable lineup that can score runs in many ways. The forecast calls for the World Series to match the Cleveland Indians from the vastly superior AL against the Mets.

Assuming both teams are healthy with none of their key players sidelined for the post season the Mets have to be given the nod to win the World Series in five games.

Recent years have seen more and more options available to bettors including 5 inning wagers. These are similar to first half wagers in the point spread sports of basketball and football. This wager is mostly offered offshore.

The 5-inning wagers are especially attractive to bettors who like to play unders, with this bet usually taking relief pitching out of the equation. Both starters in a "quality" matchup are likely to last at least 5 if on form. That means the under wager has a chance to be successful even at low totals of 4, 4½ or 5 that are the most frequent lines.

Here’s a look at four series to be played over the first full weekend of the season:

D’backs at Rockies: These teams duked it out in the NL West at the end of last season with Colorado winning four of six in the season’s final month and then sweeping the Snakes out of the playoffs in the NLCS. Arizona has the better overall pitching, while the Rockies clearly have the better lineup. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in the first few weeks of the season and that makes Arizona an attractive play.

Plays: Arizona no more than 120 either as a favorite or dog against pitchers other than Francis. With Francis, take Colorado -140 tops. Take under 10 or higher.

NY Mets at Braves: The Mets appear to be the class of NL, while Atlanta seemingly is in a transition season even with aging veterans Tom Glavine and John Smoltz to anchor the starting rotation. Chipper Jones is the heart of the Atlanta offense. The Mets have a very well balanced offense, an outstanding starting rotation, above average relief pitching with a proven closer in Billy Wagner.

Plays: Mets at 130 either as a favorite or dog in starts by John Maine or Oliver Perez. Over 8 or less when Santana or Pedro don’t pitch. Under 8 when they do.

White Sox at Tigers: The White Sox could be a surprise team if they can stay healthy. Detroit’s already strong roster was bolstered with the key offseason trade for lefty starter Dontrelle Willis and 3B Miguel Cabrera. Detroit has one of baseball’s more potent lineups but their pitching, especially in the bullpen, is a major concern. Major questions regard starters, Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson.

Plays: Detroit -150 tops in starts by Willis, Bonderman and Verlander. White Sox as dogs against Rogers and Robertson. Under 9 with Willis, Bonderman or Verlander against Chicago’s Mark Buehrle or Javier Vazquez; Over 9 or less if Robertson or Rogers face other than Buehrle or Vazquez

Red Sox at Blue Jays: The Jays have an impressive rotation, anchored by veterans Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett. Josh Beckett anchors the Red Sox rotation, but starts the season on the 15-day DL with his timetable for return uncertain. Beckett may be available for this series or could be held out until the Fenway opener next week. Both teams have solid offenses.

Plays: Toronto as dogs in any matchup. Over 9 or lower not involving Halladay or Burnett against Matsuzaka or Beckett; Under 8 or higher if Halladay or Burnett face Matsuzaka or Beckett.