Memorial Day means
14 done for year

May 25, 2004 6:01 AM

The approaching Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the first key assessment date of the baseball season.

If the early form is an accurate barometer, the four American League playoff teams will come from New York, Boston, Chicago, Minnesota, Anaheim, Oakland and Texas. Thus half of the league’s 14 teams are considered "playing out the string" for more than 100 games.

In the NL, it can be argued that no fewer than 10 teams will be realistic contenders later this season including all six in the Central Division. Considering that last place Pittsburgh is just two games below .500 and just 4½ games out of first, it is too soon to suggest that any of those teams does not have a shot. Ultimately Chicago, Houston and St. Louis are expected to separate themselves from the other three, although it’s hard not to be impressed with Cincinnati.

The Reds and Texas has been baseball’s top surprises. The biggest disappointments to date have been Seattle (Kansas City to a lesser extent) and Arizona.

In continuing with our examination of "over / under" plays, extreme "over" pitchers are usually a combination of pitchers struggling but getting excellent offensive support. Pitchers with an extreme tendency towards "under" are usually in pretty good form and control, while not getting great support from the offense.

Through this past Sunday, there have been six pitchers who have been +6 "over" and two that are +6 "under" in their starts. Not surprisingly this latter duo pitching for Montreal sport solid ERAs and WHIP ratios (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). Tomo Ohka and Zach Day are each 7-1 "under" this season. Both have ERAs below 4.00 and neither has gotten much run support.

In Ohka’s eight starts the Expos are averaging just 1.2 runs. Day fares only slightly better, getting 2.0 runs per start. Until Montreal’s offense starts showing improvement it’s hard to recommend playing "over" when either of these hurlers is on the mound.

Teammate Livan Hernandez has a 7-3 "under" record with even better pitching stats. Hernandez has received, however, a whopping 3.3 runs of support.

Of the six starters with extreme "over" profiles, all pitch for teams in the NL West. San Diego’s Brian Lawrence, the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo and San Francisco’s Brett Tomko have combined for a 22-3 "over" record with three "pushes." Each has received at least five runs of support on average and allowed at least 1.6 base runners per inning. Lawrence has the ”˜best’ ERA (4.81), while Nomo is at 7.14 and Tomko 5.49.

The three AL "over" hurlers represent each of the divisions. Boston’s Derek Lowe has an 8-0 "over" mark, while both Anaheim’s Jarrod Washburn and Chicago’s Mark Buehrle are 8-1 in that category.

Buehrle has actually pitched rather well, with an ERA of 3.83 and a WHIP of a respectable 1.35. But he has received a very healthy 7.8 runs of support. Washburn has received an astounding 8.6 runs per game of support. No pitcher who has made at least three starts has received more run support.

Here’s a look at four potentially entertaining series to be played over the Memorial Day weekend.

Braves at Phils: Atlanta seems ready to hand over its NL East crown to the team projected to be the heir-apparent. Philadelphia has lately played to expected form. The pitching has improved with all five principal starters sporting acceptable ERAs below 4.50 and only Eric Milton failing to average at least six innings per start. Atlanta has battled injuries that have severely hampered their production at the plate. The Braves no longer have a ”˜stopper’ to send out every fifth day and their starters have been very average at best.

Young lefty Horacio Ramirez arguably has been their best starter, despite struggles with his control. At totals of 9 or less, play OVER throughout this four game series. The Phillies will be the preferred side in any underdog role or when favored by no more than —125. Play Atlanta when Ramirez pitches at no more than -120 in his start.

Cardinals at Astros: Roger Clemens has been the best Houston starter this season and the Astros have won 7 of his 9 starts. Roy Oswalt has been the most unfortunate starter, winning just two of his nine outings. Houston’s normally potent offense is giving Oswalt just 3.3 runs of support.

St. Louis has gotten better starting pitching than expected with only Woody Williams having an ERA above 4.00. The Cardinals bullpen has been their sore spot. The dog and OVER should be the plays throughout this series, especially at totals of 9 or lower and when the dog is +120 or better. This suggests that St. Louis is likely to be the play in at least two of the three games of this series.

Rangers at Jays: Kenny Rogers has been solid and will be worth a play if he starts in this three game series. Ryan Drese is another starter worth backing at a price of at least +140. Toronto has been very disappointing on offense and its starting pitching has struggled. Justin Miller has the best stats on the staff. Even 2003 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay sports an ERA above 4.00.

The "under" will be the preferred play at totals of 10 or less despite the impression most have of these two teams. Texas has been a solid "under" team all season and Toronto has also been involved in more "under" results. Over the last 10 games, each team is averaging just 4.2 runs. Texas is also a preferred play as an Underdog throughout the series.

Angels at White Sox: This should a very entertaining and high scoring series. Surprisingly Anaheim’s Aaron Sele is the only Angels starter with an ERA below 4.40 (it’s a solid 2.25). The Angels have won all five of his starts. Chicago’s top four starters have all been solid, but the White Sox are just 1-6 when the No. 5 starter takes the mound. The White Sox have been explosive at the plate of late, averaging more than 7 runs per game in their last 13 contests.

The Angels have started to feel the effects of injuries that have taken away several strong bats. Within the past week, Anaheim had a stretch of four straight games scoring two runs or less. Still, using 9 as a guide, the OVER is the preferred play. Chicago may be played as an underdog or when favored at -130. A potential Mark Buehrle-Jarrod Washburn matchup is a solid 16-2 "over" with one push.