Interleague play began last week with a pair of series at National League parks. Play between the leagues continues this week at American League venues before taking a break for an odd midweek series within leagues.
Many have whined and complained about interleague play, citing the unattractiveness and irrelevance of such series as San Diego vs. Detroit or Cincinnati vs. Tampa Bay. Of course these same people overlook similar "minor-league" matchups such as Cleveland vs. Detroit or Milwaukee vs. Pittsburgh.
While these series are indeed between division rivals, the teams are so far out of contention that they also have no impact on the races.
At the same time we are treated to some intriguing interleague matchups such as we saw last week when Philadelphia hosted both Seattle and Oakland. Not to mention the much-ballyhooed Yanks-Cubs series, the first at Wrigley Field since the teams met in the World Series more than 60 years ago.
There are also interesting and newly developing rivalries between the Yankees and Mets, Dodgers and Angels, Giants and Athletics, Cubs and White Sox, etc.
Seattle and Atlanta begin the week with the best records in baseball at 42-19. Not surprisingly, the Braves and Mariners have the largest leads of any division leaders. Atlanta leads Montreal by six games in the NL East, while Seattle is eight ahead of Oakland in the AL West.
In the 84 interleague games played thus far, the average total runs scored has been 10.45. AL games have averaged 9.84, while the NL average is 9.22.
Here’s a look at four of the more interesting interleague series this weekend.
Cards at Yanks: New York owner George Steinbrenner may have complained about the quality of interleague opponents his team must face but for fans it doesn’t get much better than last week’s series against the Cubs or this one. The Yanks and Cards are contenders again this season. And, of course, New York’s Joe Torre use to play for and manage St. Louis. New York is just 17-23 over its last 40 games.
In this series St. Louis is worth a play if starters Woody Williams or Matt Morris are made underdogs. The one Yankee hurler worth backing is "rookie" Jose Contreras, who has looked very sharp since being made a starter. The OVER at 9 or less should be bet when the Cards start anyone other than Williams or Morris.
Astros at Red Sox: Jeff Bagwell finally gets to play a regular season game at Boston. The former Red Sox farmhand returns to his hometown and leads a potent lineup into Fenway Park, which has seen its share of monstrous home runs over the decades. Both teams begin the week in first place and this series has OVER written all over it. Boston’s most effective starter of late has been Derek Lowe, whose last two starts have been much more like his outstanding 2002 season.
Ace Pedro Martinez was scheduled to make a mid-week start following time on the DL, but it might not be a total surprise if he is used out of the bullpen for a few weeks as he regains his strength. Imagine Pedro Martinez as a closer! Could happen. Neither Roy Oswalt nor Wade Miller has been as effective this season as expected for Houston but lines are still based on reputations. Bet OVER at totals of 10 or less while the most attractive side plays might be Houston when Tim Redding starts. Boston is the play if an underdog against either Oswalt or Miller.
Braves at Mariners: This has the makings of an outstanding series between the two teams with the best records in baseball. Atlanta is 38-11 since starting the season 4-8. Seattle has been steady all season. Atlanta has relied mostly on their offense and closer John Smoltz to overcome the departure of three solid starters from last season’s rotation. Seattle has featured a balanced offense, not to mention strong pitching from the starters and bullpen. The underdog is worth wagering in each game regardless of who starts for either team.
Seattle’s starting five this season has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. Only Freddy Garcia has struggled but he seems to be rounding into form. Interestingly, Greg Maddux is the only Braves starter to allow more hits than innings pitched. At less than 9, bet OVER. Take UNDER if above 9.
Expos at A’s: Both teams have relied more on starting pitching than offense. Montreal will be without Vladimir Guerrero, currently on the DL. As with the Atlanta- Seattle series, the underdog is worth a look. However, a much stronger case can be made for totals plays on the UNDER. Montreal’s Tomo Ohka is the only Expos regular starter with an ERA above 3.70, yet he has been involved in three OVER and eight UNDER results in 13 outings.
Oakland’s starters have been also impressive. Prior to Aaron Harang being roughed up in Philadelphia on Sunday, John Halama was the only Oakland starter with an ERA above 4.00. Now, Halama has been relegated to bullpen duty. The other four Oakland starting pitchers have each been involved in more UNDER than OVER results. Bet UNDER at 8 or higher in any matchup not involving Harang or Montreal’s Sun Woo Kim.