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Sunday Night Baseball Preview

   by ASA - 05/23/2008

ESPN may not have expected a battle of division leaders when they scheduled this Sunday Night Baseball contest. But that sure is what they’re getting. Many anticipated the visiting Angels would be sitting atop the AL West but few would have guessed the White Sox would be occupying that same spot in the AL Central.

Chicago has jumped to the front of the surprisingly disappointing Central Division behind solid pitching, a taste for the longball and the 8-game winning streak it brought into this series. The White Sox are second in the American League with a 3.46 ERA, trailing only the Oakland A’s. Four of their five starters own ERAs under 4.00, including Jose Contreras’ 3.17 mark.

Contreras has bounced back from a down 2007 campaign to regain the form that earned him a spot on the 2006 All-Star team. He is 5-3 with a nifty 1.14 WHIP and has allowed just three earned runs over his last three starts, a run that stretches 20 innings. Contreras has shown a bit of inconsistency, though. Of his nine starts this year, he has allowed exactly one earned run in five of those outings. In the other four starts, he has allowed exactly four earned runs. Which Contreras will show up?

The White Sox are far from the best hitting team in baseball, hitting at a .248 team clip, good for 26th in all of baseball. Most of their production has come courtesy of the home run. Chicago has deposited 57 pitches into the stands, good for the fourth most in baseball. Outfielder Carlos Quentin has been the biggest surprise, using his first full-time gig to post an AL-high 12 home runs.

Angels starter John Lackey could combine with Contreras to make this contest a pitcher’s duel. Lackey has returned from a strained triceps as though nothing every happened, picking up exactly where he left off. He has made two starts and gone seven innings in each while allowing just one earned run in both outings.

Los Angeles has built a 2.5-game lead in the West Division despite being in the middle of the pack of nearly every offensive category. The Angels are 11th with a .262 team batting average, 16th with 4.5 runs per game and 16th with 43 home runs. Injuries have limited both Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick and the rest of the lineup has been unable to pick up the slack.

Mediocre offenses from both Los Angeles and Chicago have combined with solid pitching on both sides to produce a bevy of ‘unders’. The under is 27-18-4 in LA’s 49 games and 27-19 in Chicago’s 46 games. These two teams met in Los Angeles for a 4-game set earlier this year with three of those four games staying under the total and averaging 5.3 total runs per game.

Lackey and Contreras met earlier this year in Lackey’s return from the disabled list. They went toe-to-toe through seven innings with each hurler allowing just one earned run. The difference in that meeting was the bullpen. The White Sox scored five runs in two innings off of the Angels’ pen, giving them the 6-1 win.

Will the Angels and Sox engage in another low-scoring affair? Will they combine to light up the scoreboard? Will one team embarrass the other in front of a national audience? The only way to find out is to tune in.

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