4 away

Oct 7, 2003 8:12 AM

The National League Championship Series is featuring two surprising teams ”” Florida and the Chicago Cubs.

The Marlins defeated favored San Francisco in four games after dropping the opening game of the divisional series. The Cubs needed the full five games to eliminate Atlanta. Both the Giants and Braves won at least 100 games during the regular season and are now on the sidelines.

In the American League, the New York Yankees lost the first game to Minnesota before winning three in a row to advance to the ALCS. The Yanks will face either Boston or Oakland, which needed a fifth and deciding game in their divisional series. The A’s were 0-8 in series-clinching contests in recent years.

The Cubs opened as —210 favorites to defeat Florida. Early action was on the underdog Marlins. Chicago is currently 2-1 favorites to eliminate the Wild Card winner and advance to the World Series for the first time in more than half a century.

At that price, the Marlins carry an excellent value to win. Florida won three more games than the Cubs during the regular season, though the Marlins made the playoffs as a Wild Card. The teams had similar records over the past two months but over their last 100 games the Marlins won 10 more games.

Much is made of the Cubs outstanding starting pitching but the Marlins also have a solid and balanced rotation. They don’t have starters as dominant as Chicago’s Kerry Wood or Mark Prior but they have four solid, capable starters. Neither team has an explosive or consistent offense. Over the last 10 games, including the postseason, Chicago has scored 47 runs, Florida 50. The Cubs do have the power of Sammy Sosa in the lineup.

The Cubs won four of six meetings this season and outscored the Marlins 31-16. Four of the six games went UNDER the total with one other game ending in a push. UNDER should be the way to go in this series because of the inconsistent offenses and the depth of starting pitching. The underdogs present the best values, especially at prices of +125 or higher. Our pick: Chicago in 6.

The Yankees will be solid favorites (around -150) over either Oakland or Boston. Oakland won six of nine games against New York, including two of three in Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, the A’s would be without lefty Mark Mulder and ace Tim Hudson, the latter having to leave his Game 4 start against Boston with a pulled muscle.

The absence of either or both will be huge. Hudson and Mulder were the starters in five of Oakland’s six wins. New York’s three wins came in two starts by Barry Zito and one by ex-Yankee Ted Lilly. Seven of the nine games went UNDER the total and the nine games featured an average of just 7.3 runs per start.

Take out a wild 10-7 win by the Yankees and the other eight games averaged just over six runs per contest. The Yankees have four solid starters with Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells with Jose Contreras available in the bullpen to bridge any gap to closer Mariano Rivera who once again is in fine form. Our pick: Yankees in 5 or 6. The Yanks may be backed in any game in which they are underdogs or favored at -140 or less. The UNDER is playable at 8 or higher. You can play the UNDER at 7 when Zito starts, though by starting Game 5 against Boston, he would b limited to just two starts barring rainouts.

The Yankees will receive much more or a test from Boston. What a series this would be. New York won 10 of 19 games with the teams combining to average 10.6 runs per game. The OVER held a 12-7 edge.

Pedro Martinez made four starts against the Yankees, with New York winning three times. Boston’s bullpen has been a concern all season