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All Star Break paves way for major moves

Jul 6, 2004 6:54 AM

The All Star Break is generally viewed as the halfway point of the major league season.

It is during this several day hiatus in regular play that the management of many team make decisions about the short term future of their baseball clubs and decide whether they shall be buyers or sellers of talent as the trade deadline nears.

Interleague play has ended with the exception of a rained out Philadelphia at Chicago White Sox game to be made up at the end of August. The leagues were virtually dead even, each winning 60 percent of their home games. The NL was 75-51 at home while the AL was 75-50.

There were also slightly more "overs" than "unders" during interleague play, a 125-112 figure with 12 pushes. As expected, scoring was higher in AL parks but not by much (0.6 more runs).

Despite being swept by the Mets this past weekend, the New York Yankees still have the best record in baseball and are the first team to 50 wins. The Yanks and the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the best record in the NL, are the only teams playing better than .600 ball.

The Yankees have opened up a 7½ game lead over Boston and the Red Sox are only half a game closer to first place than they are to last place. New York’s margin is the largest of any Division leader.

Chicago and Minnesota are tied for the lead in the AL Central with Cleveland just four games back and the improved Detroit Tigers surprisingly just six out of first. In fact, it will likely be just days after the All Star break that the Tigers will equal their total number of wins from last season and have a shot at a .500 finish this season.

Oakland has a slim half game lead over Texas in the AL West with Anaheim 4½ behind the Athletics.

There are three great races shaping up in the NL. In the East, the week begins with Philadelphia holding a two game lead over both the Mets and Florida. Atlanta trails by just 3½.

St. Louis holds a three game edge over the Cubs in the NL Central with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Houston all within seven of the lead. And last place Pittsburgh begins the week riding a nine game winning streak. It is expected that as the season wears on the Cardinals, Cubs and Astros will separate themselves from the Reds and Brewers. It is possible either Cincinnati or Milwaukee may seek to add players and remain in contention.

San Francisco begins the week with a deceiving half game lead over San Diego and 1½ game cushion over Los Angeles. All three teams have the same number of losses but the Giants have played a few additional games.

Texas had a 2½ game lead in the AL Wild Card, while the Chicago Cubs led the NL Wild Card race by two.

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

Mets at Marlins: Depending upon what happens in Philadelphia during the week the Mets could be in first place. Buoyed by their weekend sweep of the Yankees, the Mets are playing with confidence and are above .500. The rotation is anchored by Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Trachsel. The Mets have picked up five games on the Marlins over the last month.

Florida has lost 18 of its last 30 games, largely due to ineffective starting pitching of late. The Marlins did win five of seven against the Mets when they met in late May and early June. Since then the fortunes of these teams have reversed. The Mets are plays as underdogs throughout the series. The "under" is preferred at totals of 8 or higher.

Cubs at Cards: Each team has won seven times this year in this traditional rivalry. Six of the first eight went "under" the total but there have been four "overs," one "under" and one push in the last half dozen games. Chicago has outstanding pitching while St Louis boasts the better offense.

The Cubs have a better than average offense and St Louis has gotten much better pitching than preseason forecasts had projected. Good pitching usually stops good hitting and thus the "underdog" and "under" are the plays throughout this series. The "under" may be played at totals of 8 or higher with a total of 9 or higher especially attractive.

Rangers at Red Sox: Texas has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise in baseball and Buck Showalter is clearly the Manager of the Year at the halfway point. Boston has been very much a disappointment after its strong start. This is a key series on the Wild Card race. Other than Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling the rotations are a wash.

Texas is worth a play against either Martinez or Schilling provided they are least +200. The Rangers swept the first series between the teams when they met in Texas in early May. Texas should be an underdog throughout the series and worth a play other Red Sox starters when Kenny Rogers, Joaquin Benoit or Ryan Drese pitch. The "over" is also preferred at Totals of 9 or lower, even in starts by the BoSox "Big Two."

A’s at Indians: The Indians swept three games from the Athletics when the teams met here in late May. The wins were by a combined four runs and two of the games were started by Oakland stars Tim Hudson and Barry Zito. Cleveland is likely to be underdogs throughout the series and are again playable against any of the Oakland starters.

Two of the earlier games went "under" the total. The "under" will again be preferred in games started by Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia, Jason Davis or Cliff Lee provided the total is no lower than 9.