My turf

Jun 22, 2004 7:22 AM

Two thirds of Interleague play is complete with the American League holding a 91-76 edge over the Nationals. Last week, when all interleague games were played in NL parks the host won 46 of 84 contests.

As expected scoring has been considerably higher in AL parks, where the designated hitter replaces the pitcher at the plate. In the 83 games played in AL parks the average total runs scored has been 10.16. This compares to 8.8 in 84 games played in NL parks.

In NL stadiums, the "unders" held a 45-35 edge against the "over" with four games pushing. Eight of those 10 net "unders" came this past Sunday.

The story in baseball over the past week, aside from Ken Griffey Jr reaching the 500 home run club, has been the play of Tampa Bay. This long forlorn ball club which has never won even 70 games in a season begins this week having won 11 straight games. Decent pitching and timely hitting have fueled the surge but much of the credit must go to manager Lou Piniella. He has the team believing in itself.

If anyone doubts the ability of a manager to make a difference, look back no further than just a few short years to Seattle. After losing Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez, the Mariners under Piniella, set an AL record with 116 wins in 2001. The Devil Rays won’t approach that mark but don’t be surprised if they do set a franchise record in wins and even approach .500.

Even with that surge Tampa Bay is double digits behind the Yankees in the AL East. Boston is the only other team in the Division less than 10 games out, trailing New York by four and a half games.

Last week we reported overall historical results for baseball’s run line in which a bettor may take 1½ runs with an underdog or lay it with the favorite. The run line comes into play relatively infrequently, only about 30 percent of the time when games are decided by one run. But even that figure is overstated. About 43 percent of the times, the underdog wins by one run. Favorites win by exactly a run around one time in six.

The ”˜spread’ between the straight price of a game and the adjusted run line price varies according to whether the favored team is at home or on the road. Although this is just an example in a typical situation of a —150 favorite. If the favorite is on the road, the -1½ price might be even money. The —150 home team might be +135 on the run line.

Much of this difference is because in a tie game after eight innings (or in extra innings) the road team can score an unlimited number of runs while the home team will get the win once they have one more run than the visitors (absent a multi-run ”˜walk off’ homer).

Additionally the road team is assured of having nine at bats while the home team may only get to bat eight times if they are ahead by one or more runs after the road team bats in the top of the ninth. It is thought that the home team will have a more difficult time winning by more than one run and is compensated by a more favorable price in the run line.

Interestingly, home teams win games by exactly one run 18 percent of the time when they are favored. Home teams win by more than one run 40 percent of the time and lose outright 42 percent of the time when favored. Road teams win by exactly one run 12 percent of the time. They win by two runs or more 44 percent of the time.

Higher favorites are more likely to win (and by greater margins) than are lower priced favorites. But the facts are that favorites win by at least two runs more than 40 percent of the time and more than 70 percent when they win at all. This suggests it’s more favorable to lay the 1½ runs rather than taking it.

Here’s a look at four of the more intriguing interleague series this weekend before baseball goes back to intraleague play.

Cubs at White Sox: Both teams are contenders this season, which will add to the festivities surrounding this series. The Cubs bring the better starting pitching into the matchup while the White Sox arguably have the better lineup. Sammy Sosa is back for the Cubs and that strengthens their offense considerably. The Cubs may be backed as underdogs in any matchup as the White Sox do not have what could be considered a "stopper."

The "under" would also be playable at 8 or higher. The White Sox would be playable as underdogs in starts by Mark Buehrle or Esteban Loaiza. That role would more likely occur if the Cubs throw any starter other than Glendon Rusch to the mound. Against other than Buehrle or Loaiza, the Cubs can be played as favorites no higher than —120.

Mets at Yankees: Back in April the Yankees lost six of seven to Boston. It was a long time ago as the Yankees have fashioned the best record in baseball and own a 4½ game lead over the Red Sox. The Mets are playing better than expected, having won as many games as they have lost.

There is no arguing that the Yankees are clearly the better team. But the value will be with the Mets as underdogs. They have the better starting pitching and are the preferred play in starts by Tom Glavine or Al Leiter at +125. In starts by Steve Trachsel or Matt Ginter the price should be +140. Under 8 or higher is also worth a look in a series that figures to be decided by pitching.

Giants at A’s: The battle for Bay Area supremacy features a pair of teams playing very good baseball over the past month. The Giants have won 21 of their last 30 games while Oakland is 18-12 over that same stretch. No pitcher in baseball is sharper right now than Jason Schmidt of San Francisco. He may be played as a —140 favorite and under 7.

Oakland’s top trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito may also be involved in "under" games provided the total is at least 8 or higher. The "over" may be played in any game not involving these four starters provided the line is no higher than 10. The Giants would be attractive as dogs against either Oakland starters Mark Redman and Rich Harden. Similarly the Athletics are playable as dogs against any starter other than Schmidt.

Angels at Dodgers: The Freeway Series finds a pair of contending teams but neither has played well over the past month. The Dodgers have won just 15 of their last 30 games while the Angels are 12-18 in the same stretch. The Dodgers have, as usual, relied more on pitching than hitting. Anaheim’s pitching has been better than expected, but the offense (hot through April and much of May) has finally started to succumb to the accumulation of injuries.

This is the only series this weekend played in a NL stadium and figures to be low scoring. The "underdog’’ is worth a play throughout since neither rotation has a legitimate ”˜ace.’ But before blindly playing the "under" insist on a total of at least 8. The one game that might go "over" would be if Hideo Nomo starts for the Dodgers. Recent injuries and a 7.28 ERA suggests the end may be near for the one time phenom and only pitcher to hurl a no hitter in Colorado.