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Trade winds have 1 week to blow hard

Jul 29, 2003 6:33 AM

The dog days of August. By this weekend the trading deadline will have passed and less than two months will remain in baseball’s regular season.

More than 60 percent of the season has been played and several of the divisional races have tightened up, although two of the three National League divisions feature double-digit leads.

Atlanta leads Philadelphia by 10½ games while San Francisco leads Arizona by 11 in the West. Only the Central remains competitive with Houston leading St Louis by 2½ with the Cubs just 4½ out.

The wild card race is much more interesting. Philadelphia begins the week with a two-game edge over Florida and Arizona. Montreal, St. Louis, the Cubs, Los Angeles and Colorado are within 5½ games and have realistic chances at catching Philadelphia with more than 50 games remaining to be played.

All three AL divisional races are competitive with no leader having more than Kansas City’s four game edge over the White Sox in the Central. Even Minnesota is within range, just 6½ out. The Yankees are just 1½ games ahead of Boston after dropping two of three at Fenway Park this past weekend. Toronto is barely competitive, 10 games out.

In the West, Seattle leads Oakland by just three. Anaheim, now a game below .500, is 11½ behind Seattle and pretty much out of contention. Boston controls the AL wild card with a two game lead over Oakland. Chicago and Toronto were tied for third, but each is 8½ behind the Red Sox.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

D’backs at Cubs: The teams have yet to meet this season. Arizona had scored two runs or less in eight of nine games entering this week. Both teams have solid rotations, especially with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back for Arizona. Winds will dictate the Total lines in this series but play UNDER when Johnson, Schilling or rookie Brandon Webb start for the Diamondbacks against any Cubs starter except Shawn Estes.

If Estes starts against any other of Arizona’s starters, play OVER. The Cubs may be played as +150 underdogs against Johnson or Schilling in starts by Matt Clement, Kerry Wood or Carlos Zambrano.

Astros at Marlins: Houston has relied more on offense while Florida has benefited from some strong starting pitching. Play FLORIDA if made underdogs in any game of this series. Houston won the only three meetings this season but that was back in early May. Two of Florida’s starters in that series are no longer in the rotation.

All three games went below the total. UNDER 8 or higher is again the way to look when Houston sends Roy Oswalt or Ron Villone to the mound.

White Sox at Mariners: Seattle has won five of six meetings this season and four of the six have gone OVER the total. Play CHICAGO as an underdog in starts by Esteban Loaiza. Bartolo Colon or Mark Buehrle. Take UNDER 8 or higher if any of these three are opposed by Seattle’s Joel Pineiro or Jamie Moyer. Any other matchup favors OVER.

Yanks at A’s: Many observers believe it these teams will decide the AL pennant come October. Both have the deepest starting rotations in the league and have gotten solid contributions from their respective closers. Oakland has a new phenom in Rick Harden who joins Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson in the rotation. New York relies on the experience of Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte.

In any matchup, we recommend the UNDERDOG and UNDER at 8 or less. Oakland has won four of six meetings this year, with five going below the total. The teams have combined to average slightly below 7 runs a game. Pitching should once again dominate the series.