Boston, AL West closing gap on Yanks

Aug 31, 2004 6:19 AM

Less than a month remains in the regular season and several races appear as though they will not be decided until the final week. And a race previously thought determined has now become contested.

Boston got off to a great start in April but languished through much of May, June and July while the Yankees were able to build and hold a double digit lead as recently as two weeks ago. By winning 16 of their last 20 games, while the New Yorkers could do no better than split their last 20 contests, the Red Sox have closed to 4½ of the Bronx Bombers in the American League East.

The Sox are just four back in the loss column and get six more cracks at the Yankees in the final two weeks of the season. Very quickly the team considered the preseason favorites to unseat the Yankees as champs of the AL are positioning themselves to make a serious run at doing just that. Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez form an overpowering starting pitching duo in both five and seven game series. Stay tuned.

Minnesota remains seven games clear in the AL Central. Atlanta is up by 8½ games in the NL East. Los Angeles has a five game lead over a pair of teams in the NL West. And, St. Louis has lengthened its leading in the NL Central to a whopping 15 games.

The AL West continues to be a three team race with Oakland unable to shake free of both Anaheim and Texas. The Angels trail the Athletics by two games and the Rangers are just 3½ back.

Both Wild Card races are likely to go down to the final week of the season and perhaps even that final Sunday. Three teams are tightly bunched in the AL race and five teams are in contention in the NL.

Boston has a 1½ game lead over Anaheim and a three game edge over Texas in the AL but the NL chase is even more intriguing. Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco begin the week tied for the lead in the NL, each team 12 games above .500 (the Giants have played two more games, winning one and losing one).

There is a four-game gap back to both Florida and Houston with all five teams having more or less 30 games left. It would take a major surge for the Phillies to be a factor. At .500, the Phils would need to go something on the order of 22-10 and have the other contenders play no better than .500 to overcome their current six game deficit. Unlikely. But baseball is a funny game!

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Cubs at Marlins: These teams have not yet met this season thus making this the first meeting since the Marlins came back to defeat the Cubs in last season’s NLCS, highlighted by the Steve Bartman incident. Of course this series is in South Florida (they’ll meet in Wrigley next weekend).

Both teams are rich in starting pitching which points to the "under" as the strongest play throughout the series, especially at a total of 8 or higher. Florida is playable as underdogs against any Cubs starter. The Marlins have the better bullpen. Chicago has the better offense.

Dodgers at Cards: These teams are meeting for the first time this season and will face each other again in Los Angeles next weekend. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball and have looked like the team to beat in the NL since early this season. They have not been challenged in months. The Dodgers have been able to distance themselves from the Giants and Padres but a poor effort in these games could tighten up the NL West race again.

Several potential MVPs will be on display with St. Louis stars Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols opposing the Dodgers standout third baseman Adrian Beltre. The Dodgers are playable as underdogs in any matchup with St Louis having several similar but not outstanding starters. Play the "over."

Rangers at Red Sox: Texas has a chance to close ground on the Red Sox in the Wild Card race. Boston needs to keep winning and remain within a few games of the Yankees in the AL East. The home team has won five of six meetings this season. The Schilling/Martinez duo has only one start between them against the Rangers and it was a loss in Texas back in May when Pedro was hit hard in the second game of a doubleheader.

Texas is playable in this series but only as underdogs of at least +200, which likely occurs against either of Boston’s aces. The Red Sox are playable up to -140. The "over / under" was evenly split in the six games. Use 8 or lower for playing "over" and 10½ or higher for the "under."

Angels at Indians: This has been one of the more unusual series this season. The teams have met six times thus far (all at Anaheim) and Cleveland has won five. Anaheim is hot right now while the Indians have been all but eliminated from the AL Central and Wild Card races in the past two weeks. Despite averaging a combined 11 runs per game, four of the six matchups went "under" the total.

Look for this to be a higher scoring series. Neither team has an outstanding starter and arms are tired this time of the season. Both teams have deep offenses, which makes "over" playable at totals of 10 or higher. Anaheim is playable in any matchup if favored by no more than -130.