MLB News and Notes June 20

MLB News and Notes June 20

Friday's Tip Sheet
By Josh Jacobs

The boys of summer will get the weekend started in a packed 15-card Friday. Whether interleague play is your forte or you’d rather view and bet on the traditional AL and NL schedule, the fact remains that the next 10 days or so will be chock full of hardball action.

Chicago White Sox (Danks) at Chicago Cubs (Lilly) – 2:20 p.m. EDT

What better way to start Friday off with a bang then to schedule out the age old Red Line Rivalry? And if things couldn't get any better for baseball, both Chicago clubs are in first place position in their respective divisions.

In their last seven head-to-head pairings, the Cubs own a distinct advantage with a 6-1 record. But it’s a new season for both clubs and the Cubbies must be concerned that the White Sox are making contact for a .291 BA in their last 10. But then again, the Sox will enter Wrigley Field with a not so impressive 17-20 record on the road versus the Cubs’ top home performance in both leagues at 29-8.
Speaking of home park advantage, the Cubs are a blistering 11-0 in the last 11 played inside the confines of Wrigley. Twelve of their last 15 games have been on the road so logical thinking says that the North Siders will be happy to return home after the long travel stint. The Cubs have gone an average 6-6 during this recent road trip (averaging 4.1 runs per game while giving up 3.8 runs per game).

Lefty starter Ted Lilly (7-5, 4.76 ERA) will get the nod in Game 1 of this series. Lilly is 2-1 with a 6.60 ERA and a BAA of .279 in three starts versus the White Sox over a three-year period. The southpaw has been an integral part of the ‘over’ going 5-2 during his last seven starts. Lilly has surrendered an average of 3.1 runs per game over the same course of starts, while the offense has produced 6.9 runs per game (a total of 10 runs in his last seven starts).

Backers haven’t had the best of luck when riding the White Sox in the last 10. The ChiSox are 5-5 but a debt of -431 during the same 10-game stretch has lowered the team’s money line profit to a current +8.10 units.

While the Sox starting rotation has logged in a 4.36 ERA in the last 10, the pen has been spot on with a 0.84 ERA. Digging deeper, the Cubs have owned Game 1 of a series this season with a 15-9 record. The White Sox haven’t trailed far behind with 14 wins and 10 losses when facing the same scenario.

The Cubs are 6-5 in their last 11 games played at Wrigley versus the Sox.

L.A. Angels (Santana) at Philadelphia (Easton) – 7:05 p.m. EDT

Books have already opened up Philly as a $1.14 home favorite as of Thursday afternoon, but with L.A.’s starter Ervin Santana (8-3, 3.40) taking the mound, this number could soon become an even closer pickem’.

Santana is coming off his worst outing of the season, losing to Atlanta in a 9-4 offensive rout. The Angels’ right-hander was tagged for six earned runs on nine hits in only 5.2 innings. Before then, Santana was able to hold opponents down to no more then two runs in three straight starts. The three-year vet had surrendered just 2.3 earned runs per game before the Jun. 14 meltdown.

The Phillies have disappointed bettors by dropping six of their last nine games. The six defeats have come on the heels of books installing them as favorites in each game. This has amounted to a money line loss of -789 in those seven, equating to a -467 deficit in the club’s last 10.

A good reason for Philadelphia’s slump is being outscored 31-18 in the last six losses. The bullpen has been able to maintain momentum with a 2.93 ERA, but starters like Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers (who have combined for a 5.73 ERA during June) have helped inflate the rotation’s ERA to 3.98 in the last 10.

It hasn’t been since 2003 that both teams met on the diamond. L.A. holds the 2-1 edge in head-to-head play in the last three meetings, while the ‘under’ is a perfect 3-0. has installed the early total at 9 ½-runs.

Cleveland (Lee) at L.A. Dodgers (Kershaw) – 10:40 p.m. EDT

The Indians have been an erratic club all season, but backers should feel confident that starting slinger Cliff Lee (10-1, 2.55) will be heading out to the diamond on Friday. Lee will be looking to book his 11th win of the season.

If there’s one angle to key on then a 6-1 ‘over’ record in Cleveland’s last seven games could prove financially viable. Sure, the Dodgers have logged in a 6-4 ‘under’ record in the last 10, but with the Tribe sacrificing 4.7 runs per game in the last 10 and crossing the plate on offense for 5.1 runs per game (9.8 runs combined), the real question is will Lee be able to hold the fort down?

While it's not the worst of numbers, the southpaw Lee has been keyed by left hitters for a .253 BAA.  Around .8 runs per game have come from left-handed hitters tagging Lee.

For L.A., a five-game slide was halted with three straight wins against Cincinnati this week (outscoring the Reds 16-6). But despite the recent surge on both offense and defense, the Dodgers have had a tough June, batting .241 with only three runs per game logged in. The true disparity, or compliment to the team’s losing ways, is a pitching staff who’s surrendered 3.7 runs per game (almost a full run given up then scored).

This matchup is another series which hasn’t witnessed both teams clash head-to-head since the ’03 season. It was that year that the Indians went 3-0 in the record books, while logging in three straight ‘under’ plays.

Most books have installed an early money line of a close -106 in favor of the visiting Indians. A total of eight runs has been posted with most thinking that Cleveland’s blowout starter Lee will be able to keep the game under control for the duration of his pitching duties.

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Malinsky's ace watch: Can Volquez keep it going?

Every Thursday we focus on a key pitcher that will be in the rotation for his team this weekend. You can play along with us as we examine some of the significant elements behind his performances and whether he is likely to be a 'play-on' or a 'play-against' hurler in the series ahead.

Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds 

One of the most intriguing matchups of the entire season to date will take place in the Bronx Friday night when Edinson Volquez takes on a resurgent Yankee offense. It is the kind of game that can give the oddsmakers headaches as they are forced to put a pitcher with a sparkling 9-2, 1.64 ERA into an underdog role against a public team.

It leads to the rather obvious handicapping question - just how good can Volquez be?

If you are looking for chinks in the armor so far this season, there aren't any, save for only average control (4.5 walks per nine innings). But when you have only allowed 59 hits in 88 innings while striking out 105, you can afford to walk a few batters. And you can especially work around some walks when you have been almost impossible to take out of the park. Volquez has allowed just three home runs this season and one of those came in a relief outing at San Diego. So in 86.1 innings as a starter it has been 103 strikeouts versus two home runs.

That is nasty. It is also unexpected.

Here is part of the problem in terms of letting the cement dry on the Volquez season to this point: Through parts of three years with Texas he worked to a 3-11/7.20 tune over 80 innings, allowing 14 home runs. So he has taken quite a leap.

So how far can the leap go? Naturally there is going to be some regression, since no one is going to maintain his current rate at this playing level. But there is also real meat on the bone.

A big key to the Volquez surge has been his ability to develop a change-up, one that he throws with the identical motion and arm speed of his fastball. In some ways that makes him a right-handed Johan Santana (at this small sample, of course). So for him to have a breakout season is not a huge surprise, especially as he gets his first pass through a new league. That means a lack of scouting reports for the hitters.

So what do we watch for on Friday?

The whole mental package that comes along with the physical aspects of baseball. Volquez has not been burdened with a lot of pressure this season, because the expectations have been so low. Now not only is he facing the Yankees, but he is doing it from the same mound at which he may be starting the All-Star Game in a couple of weeks.

That is a significant weight to carry for someone that still has only 168 career major league innings. And that lone chink in the armor - the 44 walks over 88 innings this season - will be severely tested by a patient New York offense. The Yankees just forced Jake Peavy into 93 pitches over only four innings on Wednesday night, and by testing the patience of Volquez we are going to get an awfully good read as to how good of a performer he is.

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L.A. Angels (43-30) at Philadelphia (42-32)

Ervin Santana (8-3, 3.40 ERA) takes the hill for the Angels when they open a three-game interleague series at Citizens Bank Park against Adam Eaton (2-4, 4.57) and the Phillies.

Los Angeles, which took Thursday off, comes into this series having dropped two of three games to the Mets at home, including Wednesday’s 5-4 loss in 10 innings. The Angels, who have lost four of their last six games, are 2-9 in their last 11 after an off day and 1-4 in Santana’s last five against winning teams, but they are on positive streaks of 20-9 overall against the N.L., 9-2 against winning teams in interleague play and 8-3 coming off a loss.

Philadelphia, which like the Angels was idle Thursday, dropped two of three in its interleague home series against Boston, winning the opener and losing the next two. Still, the Phillies are on a 9-4 run at home and are 18-5 in their last 23 Friday games, 37-16 in their last 53 in series openers and 18-8 in their last 26 following a loss, but they are 6-18 in their last 24 interleague contests against winning teams.

These two teams haven’t met since 2003, when L.A. took two out of three at home.

The Angels have lost their last two games behind Santana, including a 9-4 home setback Saturday against Atlanta. Santana got knocked around for six runs (all earned) on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings, the most runs he’s given up all season. The right-hander had allowed just two runs in each of his previous three starts over 23 innings (2.35 ERA), going 2-0 with a no-decision.

Santana, who was 1-10 with an 8.38 ERA on the road last year, is 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA in eight starts as a visitor in 2008, winning his first four on the highway before going 1-1 with two no-decisions in his last four. The 25-year-old is making his first career start against Philly.

The Phillies had won three in row with Eaton taking the ball before Saturday’s 3-2 loss at St. Louis. In that game, the right-hander gave up all three runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Eaton is 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA in six home starts this season, and the Phils have won five of those six outings. The 30-year-old is 2-1 with a 5.26 ERA in five career starts against the Angels.

The under is on a 9-3-1 run with Santana starting, but the over is 11-5-2 in his last 18 road outings. With Eaton hurling, the under is on streaks of 14-3-1 overall, 9-0 at Citizens Bank and is also 5-0 when he throws on five days’ rest.

Furthermore, the under trends for Los Angeles include 37-16-5 overall, 14-5-2 on the road, 8-3-1 against winning teams and 10-4 in series openers, though the over is 8-3-1 in the Angels’ last 12 interleague road games. For Philadelphia, the under has cashed in 12 of the last 16 games overall and is 6-0 in the last six against the A.L. West, but the over is on runs of 8-2 in interleague play and 14-5 in series openers.


Cleveland (33-40) at L.A. Dodgers (34-38)

A pair of southpaws will square off when the Indians send Cliff Lee (10-1, 2.55 ERA) to the bump against rookie Clayton Kershaw (0-1, 3.75) and the Dodgers an interleague matchup of underachieving clubs.

Cleveland arrives in Los Angeles after getting swept in a three-game series at Colorado, losing 6-3 in Thursday’s finale. The Indians have lost four of their last five and they’re 7-17 in their last 24 games against losing teams and 2-8 in their last 10 interleague outings. One positive: Despite getting swept by the Rockies, the Cleveland is still 15-5 in its last 20 against the N.L. West and 12-3 in Lee’s last 15 interleague starts.

Los Angeles held off Cincinnati 7-4 Thursday to complete a three-game road sweep – the team’s first sweep of any kind since taking three straight from the Reds at home from May 19-21. The Dodgers, who had dropped five in a row prior to the Reds series, return to interleague play, where they have really struggled over the years, going 15-36 in their last 51, including 1-5 this year. They’re also 3-14 in their last 17 facing the A.L. Central and 0-5 in their last five against lefty starters. On the bright side, Joe Torre’s club is on a 50-21 roll at home versus losing teams.

These two teams last met in 2003, with L.A. sweeping a three-game road set.

Lee had won four straight games and was on his way to a fifth after allowing just two runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings Saturday against San Diego, exiting with a 3-2 lead. But the bullpen blew up, allowing six runs, including five in the 10th inning of an 8-3 loss. Lee has gone 4-1 with a no-decision in his last six games, despite allowing 22 runs (21 earned) and 50 hits over 34 2/3 innings, posting a 5.56 ERA in that stretch.

Lee is 7-1 with a solid 2.92 ERA in eight road starts this year, and he’s won his last three on the highway, though that was primarily due to Cleveland totaling 28 runs in those contests. This will be Lee’s first career start against the Dodgers.

The 20-year-old Kershaw has gotten four no-decisions in his first five big-league starts, with the Dodgers going 3-2 in those games. On Sunday at Detroit, he allowed two hits in four scoreless innings, but departed after a lengthy rain delay and the Dodgers were ultimately dealt a 5-4 loss. Kershaw has pitched six full innings just once so far – in his May 25 debut, when he got a no-decision against St. Louis in which he allowed two runs on five hits in a 4-3, 10-inning victory for L.A.

The “over” has been the play when Lee takes the ball, going 4-1-1 in his last six overall, 6-1-1 in his past eight interleague matchups and 20-7-2 when pitching in a series opener. Meanwhile, the total has alternated in each of Kershaw’s first five outings, with Sunday’s game at Detroit barely staying under the total. Both of his home starts have stayed low.

In addition, the over for Cleveland is on a 6-2 run overall and is 6-2 in the last eight series openers, but otherwise for the Tribe, the under is on streaks of 10-2-1 in interleague road games, 16-2 in interleague roadies against left-handers and 16-6-2 on the highway against lefties. Finally, for Los Angeles, the under is on a 9-3 spree at home and is 5-0 in the last five against left-handers, but the total has gone high in 23 of the Dodgers’ last 34 series openers.


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Baseball Today

Cleveland at Los Angeles Dodgers (10:40 p.m. EDT). Cliff Lee (10-1, 2.55 ERA) tries again for his 11th win when he leads the Indians against promising youngster Clayton Kershaw (0-1, 3.75) and the Dodgers. Kershaw is still looking for his first career victory.


-Jermaine Dye, White Sox, went 3-for-4 with two homers, a double and six RBIs in a 13-8 win over the Pirates. Dye also scored three times.

-Dave Bush, Brewers, carried a no-hitter into the eighth and gave up one run on two hits and a walk before the bullpen nearly squandered a big lead in an 8-7 victory over the Blue Jays.

-Justin Upton, Diamondbacks, hit an eighth-inning tiebreaking homer in a 2-1 win over Oakland, and also doubled and scored Arizona's other run.

-Carl Crawford, Rays, went 3-for-5 with his second career grand slam to power a seven-run seventh inning and an 8-3 win over the Cubs.

-Zack Greinke, Royals, gave up one run on two hits and a walk over seven innings of a 4-1 win over St. Louis, striking out seven.

-Joba Chamberlain, Yankees, struck out a career-high nine while allowing four hits and one run over 5 2-3 innings, but got a no-decision in a 2-1 win over San Diego.

-Matt Kemp, Dodgers, homered and drove in three runs in a 7-4 win over Cincinnati.


Brewers starter Dave Bush took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning before it was broken up by the player he was traded for, Lyle Overbay, and Milwaukee held off Toronto 8-7. Bush (3-7) began the day with a team-high 5.73 ERA, but retired the first 15 Blue Jays. Juan Nieves pitched the only no-hitter in Brewers' history, 7-0 against Baltimore on April 15, 1987.


The Braves lost their major league-record 22nd straight one-run game on the road when Texas rallied for a 5-4 victory, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous mark was 21 by Kansas City during a stretch over the 2000-01 seasons. Atlanta hasn't won a one-run game on the road since Aug. 10, 2007.


It was quite the day for Tampa Bay. The surprising Rays scored seven times in the seventh inning to rally for an 8-3 win over Chicago, climbing 14 games over .500 (43-29) for the first time in franchise history with their third sweep of a first-place team. They also signed high school shortstop Tim Beckham, the No. 1 pick in this month's baseball draft, to a minor league deal that included a $6.15 million signing bonus.


The Royals completed their first sweep of in-state rival St. Louis since 2001, with Zack Greinke throwing a gem in a 4-1 win. The Royals are 7-2 in interleague play, with road series wins at Florida and Arizona, despite an overall record of 31-42. KC has won five straight.


Chicago scored six times in the second inning and pounded out 15 hits in a 13-8 win over the Pirates, two days after collecting 19 hits in a 16-5 win in the series opener. The White Sox scored 37 runs, had 44 hits and hit 10 homers in the three-game set with Pittsburgh.


The Dodgers seem to pick on the Reds no matter where they play. Los Angeles arrived in Cincinnati with a five-game losing streak and an offense that could barely score, but won three in a row for the first time since their three-game sweep of the Reds in L.A. from May 19-21. The Dodgers are 7-1 this season against Cincinnati.


Oakland CF Ryan Sweeney singled in the sixth to extend his hitting streak to 13 games, the longest for the A's this season. ... Arizona has led the NL West for 67 straight games, one shy of the team record set July 16-Sept. 29, 2002. ... Atlanta stole two bases, giving Texas opponents 23 in a row when Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the catcher. ... Houston has lost a franchise-record six straight interleague games after a 7-4 defeat to the Orioles.


``It has been pretty tough, but in the end, it's a game where you're going to fail a lot, and it's something you have to live with. To play the way I did today, hopefully it turns things around.'' -Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, who had been 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts during a six-game homestand before hitting a double, the go-ahead homer and scoring both runs in a 2-1 win over the Athletics.

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Cubs, ChiSox battle for Windy City bragging rights

Interleague play delivers an all-Chicago battle this weekend as the Cubs and White Sox clash at U.S. Cellular Field. This is also a matchup between division leaders, as the Cubs hold a 3.5-game lead in the NL Central and the Sox are 4.5-games ahead in the AL Central.

The series gets started with two lefthanders on Friday, with John Danks on the mound for the Sox and Ted Lilly starting for the Cubs. Danks has recorded three straight no-decisions despite pitching six shutout innings against Colorado in his last start. Lilly is also coming off a strong outing in which he tossed six shutout innings while allowing only one hit against Toronto.

In Saturday’s matchup, Jose Contreras starts for the Sox and Jason Marquis takes the mound for the Cubs. Contreras dropped his second start in a row last time out after giving up three runs on seven hits over six 2-3 innings. Marquis is undefeated in his last three starts and held Toronto to one run on four hits in seven innings in his last start.

In Sunday’s series finale, the Sox hand the ball to Javier Vazquez while the Cubs will start Ryan Dempster. Vazquez was roughed up for five runs in six innings against Pittsburgh, but still earned a win after the Sox offense raked in a 16-5 win. Dempster picked up a no-decision in his last start, but it wasn’t due to a bad outing as he held Tampa Bay to one run in five innings.

Last season the White Sox and Cubs met up half a dozen times and the Cubs owned the series, winning five of six games.

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Friday's streaking starting pitchers

A look at a few of Friday’s hottest and coldest pitchers.


Aaron Cook, Colorado Rockies (10-3, 3.29 ERA)

The Rockies will have their ace on the mound as Cook tries to match Arizona's Brandon Webb for the major league lead in wins.The right-hander earned his career-high 10th win on Sunday, allowing three runs and 10 hits in six innings of a 5-3 road victory over the Chicago White Sox. He has won three straight starts and is 4-0 in his last five.

Cook is 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA in seven career appearances - five starts - against the Mets. He threw a four-hitter in a 4-1 win over them on May 25.

Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee Brewers (4-4, 3.68 ERA)

In 18 of the past 22 games, a Milwaukee starter has allowed three or fewer runs. Milwaukee's rotation is 13-4 in that stretch with a 2.87 ERA.

Suppan has been a big part of that success, going 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his last four starts. He limited Minnesota to two runs and seven hits over seven innings on Saturday, but was gone by the time the Brewers lost 9-4 in 12 innings.

The veteran right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.86 ERA in eight career starts against the Orioles, but this will be his first appearance versus them since Sept. 22, 2003 with Boston.


Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners (4-4, 4.14 ERA)

Bedard’s lack of a dominating presence has contributed to Seattle's underachieving. He gets the start for Seattle tonight, one day after the team fired manager John McLaren. Acquired by Bavasi in the offseason from Baltimore to shore up the front of the rotation, the left-hander has just two wins in his last nine starts and is winless since May 28.

Bedard has been plagued by an inability to pitch deep into games. He threw 99 pitches in six innings Saturday and allowed two runs against Washington before leaving without a decision in Seattle's 5-2 loss.

After that start, McLaren admitted to the team's website "we know Erik is a 100-pitch pitcher, and no use dwelling on it. It is what it is."

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Friday's best MLB bets

Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs -130 9½

As Cubs fans know all too well, disappointment is a fact of life on the North Side and there are signs that there could be a downside to this seemingly glorious season – and the frustration could begin soon.

The loss of Alfonso Soriano was manageable. The news about Carlos Zambrano hurts a little bit more. But the worst sign for the Cubs was their recent sweep in Tampa Bay at the hands of the Rays. It’s no shame to lose to a club like Tampa, but fans should be worried because it seemed to indicate that club that is wearing down.

Thanks to a Hall of Fame exhibition game scheduled (but rained out) for June 16, the Cubs have had only one day off in the last six weeks. Add the injuries to key players and it’s not surprising that this team is on the verge of a slump. The White Sox, conversely, have been heating up  both on the mound and at the plate – and don't expect Wrigley to save the Cubs in this series because the home team is only 7-11 when these teams meet over the last three seasons.

Pick: White Sox

Cincinnati at New York Yankees -138, 9

There’s a simple rule that all baseball bettors should follow: always take the hot team over the slumping team. The Yankees are finally starting to look like the Yankees again after winning seven straight games and they shouldn’t have a tough time improving on that against a Cincinnati club that has lost five straight and might be without Ken Griffey Jr. again today.

Despite New York’s ailing pitching staff, it hasn’t hurt them in their recent games. After Joba Chamberlain was moved to a starting role, a lot of onlookers thought the Yankees’ bullpen would be in trouble, but over the last 10 games, the relievers have been lights-out as they’ve protected leads effectively and posted a 1.98 ERA.

It also won’t hurt that the Yanks are hitting .293 off right-handers at home as they get their first look at Edinson Voloquez.

Pick: Yankees

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MLB cheat sheet for the weekend's best series

While the College World Series winds its way to a conclusion, MLB enters another weekend of interleague play.

The series of focus is in the Windy City when the Cubs host the White Sox in a battle of crosstown rivals. In addition, St. Louis battles Boston in Beantown while suddenly surging Detroit takes on the Padres in San Diego. Wrapping up our take on the weekend card is Jerry Manuel’s New York Mets visit to Colorado in a National League showdown.

Here’s our take of each of these series. All pitcher records are team starts unless noted otherwise. Best and worst arm records are versus this weekend’s opponent. Enjoy the games.


New York Mets at Colorado Rockies

Most Recent Series Result: Rockies 6-1 last 7 games

Most Recent Series Result at the Site: Rockies 6-1 last 8 here

Key Day/Month Stat: Mets 13-3 away on Fridays

Best Arm in the Series: Vargas 7-2 4.97 ERA career

Worst Arm in the Series: Perez 0-3 9.00 last 3 here


Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs

Most Recent Series Result: Cubs 6-1 last 7 games

Most Recent Series Result at the Site: Cubs 3-1 last 4 here

Key Day/Month Stat: Cubs 7-0 home Sundays

Best Arm in the Series: Lilly 7-2 6.22 ERA career

Worst Arm in the Series: Buerhle 0-3 7.26 ERA last 3; Contreras 0-3 5.24 last 3

St. Louis Cardinals at Boston Red Sox

Mot Recent Series Result: Red Sox 5-2 last 7 games

Most Recent Series Result at the Site: Red Sox 2-0 last 2 here

Key Day/Month Stat: Red Sox 13-1 home Saturdays

Best Arm in the Series: Colon 3-0 5.06 ERA career

Worst Arm in the Series: Beckett 0-4 last 4 starts and 0-3 6.50 ERA here career

Most Recent Series Result: Tigers 5-1 last 6 games

Most Recent Series Result at the Site: Padres 2-1 last 3 here

Key Day/Month Stat: Padres 14-6 Saturdays

Best Arm in the Series: Maddux 1-0 0.00 ERA career

Worst Arm in the Series: Young 0-2 1.80 ERA career

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Battle for the Windy City: Cubs-White Sox Preview
Robert Ferringo

When people bitch about the Evils of Interleague Play in Major League Baseball, this weekend is what they're talking about.

Let's see. We have several riveting series going this weekend: The Rangers-Nationals series is a can't miss. The Astros-Rays matchup is a crucial one. The Giants-Royals rivalry is one of the most underrated in the league. And let's not forget about the Orioles-Brewers or Tigers-Padres. Yup, I can feel the excitement bursting off my screen.

However, here is my rebuttal: this weekend we get the Second City Series as the Chicago White Sox head to Wrigley for three against their bitter cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Adding to the beauty and intrigue of the Windy City War is that both the Sox and the Cubs are presently in first place in their respective divisions. On top of that, you could make the argument that these have been the best two teams in baseball over the past two months.

I'm not a Chicago guy, so I don't have an innate sense of what this series means to the city. But from what I gather you're more likely to be stabbed leaving a Sox-Cubs game on the South Side than you are any other major rivalry in baseball. That's got to count for something.

The Cubs have the home field and they have a lot of things going for them heading into the weekend. They have won six of seven in this series dating back to 2006. They went a spectacular 5-1 against their nemesis last year, winning their five by an average of over three runs per game. The Cubbies are also a much better hitting team in the day (.283 to .259) and the opening two in this set will be played in the afternoon. Further, the Northsiders are a sparkling 38-13 in their last 51 games in Wrigley.

However, the White Sox are definitely going to be ready to pee in the Cubs' pool.

The Cubs are coming off a grueling three-game series against Tampa Bay down in the swamps of Florida while the White Sox have been lounging while taking the Pirates to the woodshed this week. The Cubs are the home team here yet they are the ones who have to worry about travel? You don't see that often.

Like any good rivalry, home field means squat. The road team is 11-7 over the last three years and the underdog is a very respectable 9-9. I expect the Southsiders to be puppies on Friday and Sunday, with a Saturday matchup of Jose Contreras vs. Jason Marquis likely to be around -110 on each side.

Throughout the Second City this weekend there will be wistful and foolhardy discussions about whether or not this is a World Series preview. I'll leave such nonsense to Jay Mariotti and the rest of the bobbleheads. (And if you're still wondering, the answer is a resounding "NO".) Instead I'm just worried about the best way to make a buck on their death match. Here's what I figured:

Pick one team and roll with it in a chase. The White Sox will likely have better odds, so it will likely be more profitable to side with them. They should be short dogs (-105 to +110) but it will be better than having to take losses on the Cubs laying the juice. The White Sox are 25-23 in this series over the last nine years and the road team is a very respectable 23 -25 during that stretch. The Sox are from the American League, and we all know that the A.L. are the big boys on the block. There has also only been one sweep in the last 18 series between these clubs, and that was a road sweep by the Cubs last year.

So the value is on the Sox, for a variety of matchup and intangible reasons. Remember, I'm not saying that the Sox will win the series. I'm just saying that I think they will win at least one game and are set up in a perfect chase situation.

Here's a quick game-by-game breakdown of this weekend's Second City Series:

Game 1: John Danks (+115) vs. Ted Lilly (-135)

I do believe that the Cubs have a very nice advantage in the pitching matchup. It's not that I think that Lilly is a much better hurler, but the Cubs are the second-best team in the league hitting against left-handed pitching (.291) while the White Sox are the second-worst batting against southpaw (.223). Now, that discrepancy alone would warrant a play. However, there is the residual letdown factor that the Cubs may or may not be going through after their heavy series down in Tampa. Also, the Sox are 4-2 in Game 1 of the series.

Game 2: Jose Contreras vs. Jason Marquis

At first glance this seems like a heavy pitching mismatch. But trust me, I've used Marquis a bunch for some very serious plays - Game of the Week and Game of the Month-type stuff - and he can definitely step up. Marquis owns a sensational 37-19 career record in day games and the Cubs are 17-5 in his last 22 home starts. Also, the White Sox are 0-3 in Jose's last three starts against the Cubs. Contreras had a string of six-straight starts giving up two runs or less before getting touched up for 10 runs in 12 innings in his last two starts, both losses. If you're playing this one straight up I think I'll love the value on the Cubs if they do lose Game 1. But if the White Sox dump the opener you have to like their odds to bounce back behind their ace.

Game 3: Javier Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster

The series finale is the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN and pits a pair of strikeout-happy hurlers in Dempster and Vazquez. Dempster has a pristine 2.76 ERA on the season and is 9-0 at Wrigley this season. He's also surrendered just three earned runs or less in 10 of his last 11. Vazquez has a 7.27 ERA in his last three starts but is a strikeout pitcher facing a team that is No. 8 in the league in Ks. Of the three games I think that this is the most likely to be a high-scoring affair, but a lot of that is going to have to do with the ever-swirling Wrigley winds and how the umps are calling them behind the dish.

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