Three weeks of the 2004 season are in the books and there are some alarming concerns in several major league cities.
New York’s Yankees and Mets are a combined 15-23. The Mets were expected to be bad this season, given a chance to win at best half their games by the Sports Books that posted "over/under" total season wins. But the Yankees were expected to take the American League pennant with 100 wins.
At 8-11, it is way too early to panic but certainly there is reason to be concerned. Despite by far the game’s highest payroll the Yanks have been inept at the plate, losing six of seven to hated rival Boston. The Yanks begin the week having scored three runs or less in five straight games. In fact, through their first 19 games, the Bronx Bombers have tallied three runs or less a dozen times.
In San Francisco, things are just as bleak. The defending NL West champs have started 7-12 after winning three division and finishing second four times in the past seven seasons. Barry Bonds already has nine home runs but has been given little support by his teammates. So little that he rarely sees any pitches to hit, thus making his early season start that much more impressive.
The Expos have disappointed home fans in both Montreal and San Juan. Through 19 games the Expos have scored more than three runs just twice, have been shut out five times and have scored a single run three other times. Their pitching has been decent, allowing under four runs per game. It’s no wonder the "under" is 15-4 in Expos games thus far.
The fans in Philadelphia are booing a disappointing 7-10 start. The Phils did win five of six against lowly Montreal, but are just 2-9 against the rest of the league including 0-6 versus Florida. Four teams with winning records in 2003 are also off to disappointing starts. Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona are a combined 25-47 through Sunday.
Similarly there have been some pleasant surprises during the season’s first three weeks. Five teams are tied with baseball’s best record, 12-6. They include Boston, the Chicago Cubs, Florida, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fans of Baltimore, Detroit, Cincinnati and Texas have to be pleased with winning records through nearly 20 games.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Cubs at Cards: Unlike most recent seasons the Cubs are clearly the more complete team in 2004 with great overall balance on offense and arguably the best starting rotation in baseball. St. Louis has pitching problems. None of the five starters has an ERA below 3.60, which is very unusual this early in the season.
Of Chicago’s five starters only Greg Maddux has an ERA above 2.90. And Maddux, a slow starter in recent seasons, was outstanding in his most recent effort against the Mets. Play the Cubs as an underdog in any game. Despite Chicago’s outstanding rotation bet "over" using a guide of 8 or lower in starts by Kerry Wood, Matt Clement or Carlos Zambrano. Bet "over" at 9Â½ runs or lower in starts by other pitchers.
Marlins at Giants: Barring midweek rainouts, by the final day of the series the Giants will have played 17 straight days. That’s an awfully long stretch without rest for this early in the season and should take a toll on the already battered pitching staff. San Francisco has already used six different starters and only Jerome Williams has an ERA under 4.00. Four of the other five, including ”˜ace’ Jason Schmidt, are above 5.
Florida is an average team on offense but has a standout pitching staff. All five starters have averaged over six innings per start. Play Marlins as dogs in any game. Bet "under" at 9 or higher. Florida should follow the strategy of limiting the number of times they actually pitch to Bonds until other Giants begin to do damage at the plate.
Royals at Yanks: In the final two games against Boston this past weekend the Yanks managed a total of eight hits in 21 innings, scoring two runs Saturday and being shutout Sunday. In both games they wasted great efforts by Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. Still, the Yankee bats have plenty of potential.
"Over" is the play at 10 or higher in games not started by Brown or Vazquez. Use 8 in games in which these two hurlers toe the rubber. Kansas City’s best chance might be against struggling Mike Mussina, whose 6.68 ERA after five starts is a major concern. The Royals may also be worth a look if they face Jose Contreras whose double digit ERA after three starts is also disturbing. In either case, get a price of +200 before backing KC.
Angels at Twins: The Twins’ strength is their outfield, considered to be one of the best in the game. Anaheim has had to rely on offense. Three of the five starting pitchers have ERAs over 6 and only ”˜ace’ Bartolo Colon has pitched as expected. No starter has emerged as the ”˜ace’ for Minnesota with all five starters posting ERAs of at least 4.50. Even supposed ”˜ace’ Brad Radke has allowed more hits than innings pitched.
The "over" and "underdog" are the preferred plays throughout the series in games not started by Colon. Play "over" at 10Â½. The Angels may be backed as a favorite up to -150 should Colon start. If he does, bet "under" no lower than 9.