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Thursday, July 13

   by Larry Ness - 07/13/2006

The 2006 MLB season resumes play tonight with a seven-game schedule, highlighted by the A's and Red Sox opening a four-game series in Fenway at 7:05 ET on ESPN2. The NL led Tuesday's All Star Game 2-1 with two outs in the 9th and Trevor Hoffman on the mound. What followed then, has become typical for the NL this last decade.

My free play for Thursday is on the Fla Marlins at 7:05 ET. I'm looking to open MLB's second half like I closed the first half. My exclusive Las Vegas Insiders finished the season's first half on a money-making 22-10 run (since May 1) and tonight is another chance for everyone to get on the "inside" and win!

Konerko singled and Glaus followed with a ground-rule double. The Rangers' Michael Young then hit a bases clearing triple on an 0-2 count, giving the AL another All Star win, 3-2. The NL has not won an All Star Game since 1996, making the AL's 9-0-1 stretch since 1997, the second-longest unbeaten streak in the classic since the NL won 11 straight games from 1972 to 1982.

The NL has also lost seven of the last 10 World Series, including losing four-game sweeps in each of the last two years. Considering that the AL dominated the NL during interleague play this year (154-98) and that Tuesday's win gives the AL home field advantage in the World Series for the fifth straight year, it's likely the AL will make it eight World Series wins in 11 seasons come this October.

San Diego is the only team opening the season's second half with a winning streak of more than three games (Padres have won five straight), while MLB's longest active losing streak heading into the break was just three games. Five teams resume play on three-game skids, Colorado, Houston, Milwaukee, Oakland and Washington.

The Tigers (59-29/plus-$2,727) and the White Sox (57-31/plus-$1,589) own both the two-best records in MLB as well as the majors' two-best moneyline records. The Tigers lead the league in runs allowed with 328 (3.73/game), while the White Sox are the only team to have scored as many as 500 runs (520 or 5.91/game) in the season's first half.

Runs scored and runs allowed are important statistics and a quick check may give us an insight into which teams may or may not do well in the second half. Three teams are playing under .400 at the break with the Pirates 'leading' the way at 30-60 (.333). The Royals are at 31-56 (.356) and the Cubs at 34-54 (.386). The Pirates are MLB's biggest "moneyburners" at minus-$2,522 and the Cubs are second-worst at minus-$1,830.

However, the Royals are nowhere near as bad as the other two teams, finishing the first half at minus-$179. That being said, both the Pirates and Cubs have better run differentials than the Royals. The Royals have been outscored by a ML-high 132 runs, as the team's 528 runs allowed or 6.07/game, are the most in the majors. The Royals have overachieved in the first half, especially against the moneyline.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have been outscored by 94 runs and the Pirates, despite a ML-worst 30-60 mark, by just 60 runs. Don't be surprised if the Pirates play much better in the second half. Consider the fact that the Milwaukee Brewers have been outscored by 74 runs in the season's first half (14 runs more than the Pirates), yet find themselves just two games under .500 (44-46).

The Braves have been outscored by just nine runs so far but open the second half at 40-49. Likewise, the Marlins are 10 games under .500 at 38-48, but have been outscored by just 11 runs. The Braves have won 14 straight division titles and while they won't make it 15 straight this year, they will likely be better in the second half. The Marlins had a big June but then slumped right before the break. Over all, at plus-$1.00 vs the moneyline, the Marlins are better than their record.

The Reds are the only team above .500 (just barely at 45-44) to have been outscored by their opponents in the first half (minus-15 runs). They may not do as well in the second half. Conversely, only the Mariners and Indians have outscored their opponents, yet own losing records. The Mainers have barely outscored their opponents (426-421) and their 43-46 record is within the margin of error. However, the Cleveland Indians are another story.

Only the White Sox have scored more runs than the Cleveland Indians this year (488 or 5.61/game) and through their first 87 games, the Indians have outscored their opponents by 45 runs. Despite this stat, the Indians open the second half with a 40-47 record and rank as MLB's fifth-worst team against the moneyline, at minus-$1.510 (rank dead-last among AL teams). Expect the tide to turn in the second half for the Tribe.

From the "who'da thunk it" department comes these facts.

The AL's leading hitter is Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, who is batting .378 in 76 games. While playing 35 games in '04 he hit .308 and in 131 games last year, hit .294. Nomar Garciaparra hit .308 in 81 games for the Red Sox and Cubs in '04 with nine HRs and 41 RBI. He hit .283 in 62 games for the Cubs last year, with nine HRs and 30 RBI. So naturally, he currently leads the NL with a .358 average plus already has 11 HRs and 53 RBI in 68 games.

Both the AL and NL ERA leaders at the break are rookies. Francisco Liriano of the Twins made six appearances last year, including four starts. He posted a record of 1-2 with a 5.70 ERA. At the break, Liriano is the majors' ERA leader at 1.83, sports a record of 10-1 and owns a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 102-23! He's the first rookie pitcher to enter the break with an ERA of under 2.00 and at least 10 wins since Jerry Koosman did it for the 1968 Mets (11-4 / 1.94).

The NL leader is Florida's Josh Johnson. Johnson made just four appearances last year, including one start with a 3.65 ERA. In 19 appearances (12 starts) this year, he's 8-4 with an NL-leading 2.21. Throw in Detroit's Justin Verlander, who has gone 10-4 with a 3.01 ERA and we may just have a rookie win 20 games this year. It last happened in 1954, when Bob Grim went 20-6 for the New York Yankees. FYI, Grim went 41-35 in seven subsequent seasons.

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET.

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