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Sunday Night Baseball Preview

   by ASA - 07/18/2008

With the first half of the MLB season now behind us, its time for the stretch run. Or at least sort of. Of course the true stretch run will be coming in a few months but this is where teams begin to position themselves for that final kick to the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs, we have two teams that fully expect to be playing in October. As of Friday afternoon, both of these teams were on top of their respective divisions. As they begin this three game series in Los Angeles, the Angels and Red Sox have the two best records in the American League. The Halos have a fairly comfortable six game lead in the A.L. West over Oakland. The Red Sox, on the other hand, are clinging to a half game lead in the A.L. East thanks in part to Tampa Bay’s seven game losing streak leading up to the All Star break. On Sunday night, ESPN brings us a match up of one of the best pitchers in the American League vs. possibly the hottest pitcher in the American League.

The Angels All Star hurler Joe Saunders steps to the hill on Sunday night with a 12-5 record. Those 12 wins give him the second most wins by a starting pitcher in the Majors sitting one win behind Arizona’s Brandon Webb. Saunders has definitely been a pleasant surprise for L.A. this year. The Angels expected him to be a solid starter in the rotation, but they definitely were not looking at him as an All Star caliber pitcher. Coming into the season Saunders had just 15 career wins and a 4.71 lifetime ERA in his three seasons in the big leagues. This year the lefty sits at 12-5 with an ERA of just 3.07. He has been eating up both right handed and left handed hitters over his last 10 outings. Lefties hit just .235 against him while right handed bats are trolling along at just .238 vs. Saunders. He has been a cash cow for bettors as his money numbers are among the top 15 in the Majors this year at +$740.

Saunders should be extremely well rested for this start as he has thrown just 12 pitches in the last 10 days. His last start was back on July 8th in Texas where he threw a complete game six hitter but lost 3-2. He was slated to start again last Sunday, however his wife gave birth to their first child on Saturday night so he did not make his scheduled turn. He threw one inning in the All Star game throwing just 12 pitches on Tuesday for his latest action.

As good as Saunders has been this year, perhaps the hottest pitcher in baseball will be his opposition on Sunday night. Veteran knuckle baller Tim Wakefield has been extraordinary his last nine outings. He has allowed just 15 earned runs in his last nine starts for an ERA of just over 2.00. Over his last 10 starts, he has been embarrassing opposing hitters with regularity. Left handed clubbers have hit just .208 vs. Wakefield while righties have not faired much better at .223. He has pitched at least seven innings in eight of his last nine starts giving some relief to the BoSox bullpen. His most recent start on July 12th might have been his best. Wakefield allowed just one run on only two hits in his 12-1 win over Baltimore last Saturday. He didn’t allow a base runner in the final 13 batters he faced prompting Boston manager Terry Francona to say it might be the best he’s ever seen Wakefield pitch.

With both starters clipping along at a run stopping pace you can probably expect this game to be lower scoring. The Angels have been an “underâ€쳌 team all season as over 61% of their games in 2008 have slipped below the posted total. Before Friday’s series opener, the Angels over/under record is 34-54-7 favoring the “underâ€쳌. In fact, only two teams in MLB have fewer “oversâ€쳌 than the Angels and those are the Yankees and Braves. Despite being the second best hitting team in the Majors at .280, the Sox have also struggled to push games over the total. Starting this huge series, Boston stood at 42-45-10 favoring the “underâ€쳌.

This one will be interesting. The Angels are by far the best road team in the Majors with a record of 31-18. The problem is, this one is in L.A. where they are “justâ€쳌 26-20. Boston, on the other hand, has been lights out at home with a record of 36-11. Their road record has left a lot to be desired, however at 21-29. Something has to give when two of the best teams in baseball square off on ESPN Sunday night.

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