AL East race is on!

Aug 24, 2004 7:29 AM

Within the context of a full season, one week is a very small time frame to measure success or failure. But when that week occurs in August or September those successes and failures become magnified.

In the American League East, the New York Yankees held a double digit lead over the Boston Red Sox following a weekend in which the Yanks won two of three games in Seattle while the Sox were dropping two of three at home to Chicago. Since then, Boston has reeled off six straight wins while New York dropped two of three in Minnesota and was swept in a three game series by Anaheim.

That once seemingly insurmountable lead over Boston has been to a very manageable 5½, including just five in that all important "loss" column. With six games remaining between the clubs (three each at Fenway and Yankee Stadium) during the season’s final two weeks, Boston can control its destiny in the division.

A week ago Sunday, the Minnesota Twins salvaged the final game of a three game series in Cleveland that prevented the Tribe from tying the Twins atop the AL Central. That loss was the start of a seven game skid for Cleveland, while Minnesota won five of six games to build its lead to a fat seven games. Chicago is eight back.

St. Louis still has baseball’s best record, winning nearly two of every three games and owning a commanding 14½-game lead in the NL Central. Los Angeles has seen its lead in the NL West sliced to just 4½ games over San Francisco and seven over San Diego.

Atlanta leads Florida in the NL East by 7½, while baseball’s tightest divisional race remains in the AL West where Oakland has a slim half game edge over both Anaheim and Texas with barely 40 games remaining.

The Wild Card races remain tightly contested as well. Boston holds a one game edge over both the Angels and Rangers in the AL. Cleveland and the White Sox are no longer viable contenders. In the NL, San Francisco clings to a half game edge over the Chicago Cubs with San Diego 2½ back. Only Florida is within five of the Giants. Both Philadelphia and Houston are less than seven back and just one unbeaten week away from being legitimate contenders.

Here’s a preview of four series to be played this weekend.

Astros at Cubs: The Cubs took two of three in Houston last weekend to remain in the Wild Card chase. Houston is the biggest disappointment of the season and might be lethargic the rest of the way. Roger Clemens still battles each time he takes the mound but his teammates show little of that competitive edge.

Chicago is worthy of play in any game if favored by no more than -140. Chicago has now won eight of the last 10 meetings. The "under" is also preferred in the series with four of the six played at Wrigley staying "under" the total. Winds will naturally be a factor in setting the total, but in ”˜neutral’ conditions use a limit of 9 for playing "under."

Giants at Braves: The Giants won two of three home games against the Braves when they met in late April. Two of the three went "over" the Total as the teams combined to average just over 12 runs per game. Giants ace Jason Schmidt is the dominant pitcher in this series and may be played as a —140 favorite against his former teammates.

The Braves are likely to be favored in all other matchups and may be played if favored by no more than -125 against any other Giants hurler. Fundamentally the "under" shapes up as the preferred totals at 9 or higher.

White Sox at Indians: Cleveland has been a surprise contender much of the season until losing seven straight games. Chicago was in contention until they lost Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez to injury within the past month. The White Sox hold an 8-7 lead in the season series with eight going "over" the total. The teams have combined to average nearly 12 runs per game.

Chicago has the better starting pitching and is playable as a —120 underdog in the series. The "under" is playable if Chicago starts Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle or Jose Contreras and Cleveland starts Jake Westbrook or C.C. Sabathia. In matchups involving either one or none of these pitchers, play "over" if the total is 9 or less.

Twins at Angels: A potential playoff preview. The teams have split the six games already played this season and all were in Minnesota. Four of the six went "under" the total with the teams combining to average just over seven runs per game.

Minnesota has the edge in starting pitching, especially with Johan Santana and Brad Radke. Either may be played as a —125 favorite. Otherwise the underdog is the play in the series at +120. For totals use 9 as your guide. Play "over" if 8½ or less, "under" if 9½ or higher.