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Friday, July 28

   by Larry Ness - 07/28/2006

It's not often that a last place team has the distinction of owning the longest active winning streak in MLB. However, as we enter another weekend of baseball, the Washington Nationals (just 46-56 overall), take a six-game winning streak into their three-game series at Dodger Stadium (10:40 ET).

My free play for Friday is on the Bal Orioles over the Chi White Sox at 7:05 ET. After passing two of the last three days, I open the weekend with just one play on Friday. It's a Las Vegas Insider, as I try to improve on my 25-13 run since May 1 with these exclusive plays.

All of Washington's six wins have come at home (three vs the Cubs and three vs the Giants) and while they will be on the road tonight (where the team is just 20-32), the good news is they are playing the Dodgers. LA has lost eight straight games (MLB's longest active losing streak) and is 1-13 since the break.

The Dodgers have been outscored 81-29 in that span and the team that went into the break with the NL's best batting average, just can't seem to hit (or score) these days. LA hasn't lost nine straight games since June of 1992, when the Dodgers suffered a 10-game losing streak.

Tonight's pitching matchup is hardly a classic, as Tony Armas goes for the Nats and rookie Chad Billingsley for the Dodgers. Alfonso Soriano is clearly not letting trade rumors bother him, as he's batting .422 since the break, leading Washington to an 8-4 record.

It's a full schedule of games tonight (15), with the Tigers/Twins meeting taking center stage. Detroit owns MLB's best overall record at 68-33 but no team has drawn more attention these days than the red-hot Twins, who have gone 34-8 since June 8.

Minnesota was 11 games out of the AL wild card spot prior to its current run but enters this three-game home series with Detroit tied with the White Sox at 59-41, just a half-game back of the NY Yankees (59-40).

The bad news for Minnesota is that the Twins are 2-7 vs Detroit this year (outscored 64-25), including a three-game sweep by the Tigers in Comerica Park back in late April, in which the Tigers outscored the Twins, 33-1! More bad news for the Twins comes in the fact that the Tigers' 30-13 record in the AL Central, is the best record of any team in MLB against its own division.

Tonight's game (8:10 ET) features two rookie pitchers, Zack Miner of Detroit and Francisco Liriano of the Twins. Miner has pitched in the shadow of Justin Verlander this year but after getting called up in early June, has pitched very well. He lost his first start but then won six straight, posting a 2.13 ERA.

However, Miner has been bombed in his last two outings, allowing 15 hits and 10 ERs in just 6.2 innings. That's not good news vs the Twins, a team that owns MLB's best home record at 37-11, after winning 20 of their last 21 home games.

Liriano of course, as been a major news story this year. He got his first start on 5/19 and has gone 11-2 in his 13 starts in 2006, posting a 1.93 ERA. He began the year in the bullpen and has faced the Tigers twice this season.

He allowed 11 hits and seven ERs in just 3.2 innings of work against Detroit in those two appearances and it should be noted that the Tigers are 23-7 vs left-handed starters this year, including 13-4 on the road. Those two relief appearances don't seem to me much a concern though, as the Twins are a minus-$1.75 favorite (and climbing!).

While the Tigers/Twins series is the weekend's marquee matchup, the Angels and Red Sox open a three-game series of note tonight, as well. The Angels are 17-5 in July and enter the weekend just a half-game back of the A's in the AL West.

The Red Sox own MLB's second-best record at 61-39 and while they've made the postseason in each of the last three seasons, including winning the World Series in 2004, they haven't won the AL East since 1995.

In fact, the archrival New York Yankees have finished first eight straight years and nine of the last 10. Boston enters the weekend with a 1 1/2 game lead over the Yankees in the East.

A quick check of the "moneyline" standings shows that the Tigers continue to dominate the majors, sitting at plus-$3,047 on the year. The Twins recent hot streak and Chicago's recent slide (White Sox are just 2-10 since the break and have lost 12 of their last 15), has caused a change behind Detroit.

The White Sox have fallen out to the top-five, at plus-$569. Meanwhile, Minnesota is up to No. 2 at plus-$1,870, the Red Sox are third at plus-$1,341, the Mets are fourth at plus-$1,028 and the Reds (just 54-48) are now fifth at plus-$641.

A look at the bottom-feeders show the Pirates at minus-$2,283, the Indians at minus-$1,968, the Cubs at minus-$1,808, the Astros at minus-$1,698 and the Phillies at minus-$1,579. Despite MLB's worst record (35-66), the Royals are just minus-$510 on the year.

The lines are out for the NFL Hall of Fame Game (Eagles are minus-3 and the total is 36), Week 1 of the preseason and Week 1 of the NFL's regular season. My NFL previews will begin on Monday.

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

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