Interleague closes with clear NL flavor

Jun 29, 2004 6:25 AM

Interleague play concludes this coming weekend with seven rematches largely involving two-team markets.

Only one of the 14 series will be played in an American League ballpark (Anaheim), which represents a reversal of last weekend and evens out the home vs. road splits for the two leagues.

As the halfway point of the season approaches, most teams know whether they are legitimate contenders for postseason play or if their focus should shift to the future. Over the next month, the major news in major league baseball will be the "renting" of big name players. Trades of top players, many slated to become free agents following this season, will occur between now and the end of July.

Two of the biggest prizes expected to be traded to contenders were dealt over the past week. Neither Boston nor the New York Yankees, both considered to be the primary shoppers, were involved.

Kansas City’s Carlos Beltran was the first big player to change addresses when he was sent to Houston in a three way trade that also saw Oakland acquire a much needed closer Octavio Dotel.

The Astros, who shortly before had traded Richard Hidalgo to the Mets, have suffered from a surprising lack of offense. The acquisition of Beltran is expected to fuel a resurgence at the plate for one of the three leading contenders in the NL Central along with St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs.

Perhaps the most prized pitcher thought to be available this summer (Seattle’s Freddy Garcia) was traded on Sunday to the Chicago White Sox. The Pale Hose are challenging the Twins in the AL Central and Garcia is enjoying a solid season, pitching much better than the raw statistics might indicate.

Expect the other major contenders to make moves by the July 31 trading deadline. The Yankees have to be happy with the apparent return to form of Cuban right-hander Jose Contreras, whose off the field family concerns have been resolved and now can concentrate on pitching — something he does very well.

As the week begins the Yankees have the best record in baseball and the biggest lead (5½ games) of any first place team. Boston is second and fighting off Tampa Bay. St. Louis has the best record in the NL, holding a five game lead over both the Cubs and Cincinnati.

Minnesota and Texas are the other division leaders in the AL. Florida and San Francisco lead the NL’s other two Divisions.

The Reds and Cubs are tied for the NL Wild Card in a race that currently features five other teams within two games of this duo. Boston has a slim one game lead over Oakland in the AL Wild Card race. Anaheim and the White Sox are each within two games. Surprising Tampa Bay, at .500, is only five games behind the BoSox along with another first half surprise, Cleveland.

Here’s a look at four of the interleague series to be played this weekend.

White Sox at Cubs: The White Sox took two of three from the Cubs at home this past weekend and bolstered their rotation by acquiring Garcia from Seattle. Along with Esteban Loaiza and Mark Buehrle, the ChiSox have as formidable a three-man rotation as any of the AL contenders. In a best of seven series, you can get by with three solid starters.

When Kerry Wood returns, the Cubs will have the best starting staff in the NL and should close the gap between them and the Cardinals. In this series the Cubs are likely to take at least two games and may be played in any game in which they are favored by no more than -150. At "Wrigley-neutral" with a total of between 8½ and 9½, the preferred way to look would be to the "under." We feel this way even though two of the three last weekend went "over" and the other pushed.

Yankees at Mets: After the Mets won the series opener Saturday, the Yankees stormed back to sweep Sunday’s doubleheader. Still, the Mets are playing better than expected and would be worth backing throughout the rematch as underdogs. The loss of the DH at Shea Stadium will work to the detriment of the more explosive Yankees.

Even though two of the three games went "over" the total last weekend, this shapes up as pitcher duels. Hence we will again look to go "under" if 8 or higher when the Mets send Al Leiter, Tom Glavine or Steve Trachsel to the mound. Use 9 as your guide should Seo or Ginter take the hill. Shea Stadium has long been a pitcher’s park and that should be the situation again this weekend.

Indians at Reds: Earlier in June, Cleveland swept the three game home series against the Reds. The Tribe came from behind to win by one run (twice) and two. The games flew "over" the total with 11, 15 and 18 runs scored. This should equally be a high scoring series and the "over" may be played at totals of 10 or less. Most likely we shall see 9 and 9½ during the three game series.

Neither team has an established ”˜ace’ although Cleveland’s C C Sabathia and Cincy’s Paul Wilson have been the most effective starters. Cleveland will be worth a look as underdogs in starts by Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook. Otherwise Cincinnati is the play if favored by no more than -130 in starts by other Cleveland pitchers.

Rangers at Astros: Texas took two of the competitively played three games last weekend at home, losing the finale 1-0 in which unheralded starter Ryan Drese pitched brilliantly. Houston has added Beltran to the offense and he might be the spark needed to ignite that unit, which has been dormant most of the season. Both teams are contenders for their division titles and the wild card.

The underdog will be worth a play in all three games. Based on the pitching, the "under" shows up as the preferred total and may be played at totals no lower than 9. The two exceptions that would favor the "over" would be if John Wasdin or Joaquin Benoit start for Texas. They would still be playable as dogs, but the "over" would also be good if the total was no higher than 10.