Believe it or not, the AL East race could be even tighter than it already is once the dust settles following action on Thursday. All five teams begin the season's 10th week above .500 and separated by just three games, and four of the five are pitted head-to-head in a couple of series which get underway Tuesday.
Tampa Bay holds a one-game lead atop the ranks and the Rays will be in New York to face the Yankees who are 1.5-games to the rear in third. Second place belongs to Baltimore with the Orioles visiting the Boston Red Sox. Toronto is tied with Boston for fourth place, each three games behind; the Blue Jays are in Chicago against the AL Central-leading White Sox as the MLB schedule heats up leading into the return of interleague play later this week.
It is the Orioles and Red Sox series opener on Tuesday (7:10 p.m. ET) that draws our interest with a fine mound matchup between Baltimore's Jason Hammel and Boston's Jon Lester. The game opened with the Red Sox priced at -165 and a 9-run total.
Baltimore's recent slide that Bruce Marshall discussed last week continued over the weekend at Tampa Bay where the Orioles dropped two of three to cede the division lead to the Rays. That leaves Buck Showalter's squad 1-5 to begin this 9-game road trip after being broomed in Toronto before the series in Tampa. The O's have won just three of their last 13, leaving their backers 7.3 units in the red during the stretch.
Hammel will be getting his second look at the Red Sox from the mound at Fenway Park after beating them on May 5 as a small road pup (+105). He was victimized by the home run in Toronto last Wednesday, yielding four bombs at long-ball happy Rogers Centre; Hammel entered that contest having served up just three homers in his first nine starts.
Boston has been heading in the opposite direction of the Birds the past couple of weeks with a 10-5 spurt that has put nearly $5.00 into the pockets of Red Sox bettors. Bobby Valentine's troops return home following a quick trip into Toronto where they took two of three, and have been cashing 'over' tickets at a 32-21-1 clip (60.4%) this season, 5-2 their last seven.
Lester's last three assignments have all skipped above the scoreboard mark, and the Sox have won three of his last four after beginning the year 2-5 when the lefty was on the hill. He didn't decision in Boston's 6-4 loss to the Orioles on May 4, a 13-inning triumph for Baltimore who was getting +145 in the affair.
Both teams list a key member of their lineups as probable for Tuesday's contest. Adam Jones has been bothered by soreness in each wrist, but should be in the Baltimore batting order. Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia missed the last six games with a bum right thumb, but all signs point to him being back in the Boston mix.
Dodgers, Phils Continue Clash at Citizens Bank Park
Shifting to the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers continue their series at the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday with a 7:05 p.m. (ET) first pitch in the second of a 4-game set. The series opened Monday with the Dodgers -120 behind Clayton Kershaw. Vance Worley was scheduled to return from the DL to start for the Phillies, and the total had dropped from an opening 7-run mark to 6½.
We originally previewed Monday's contest with Cliff Lee making the start for Philadelphia, but Worley's return from injury will push Lee back to Tuesday night when his counterpart will be LA's Chad Billingsley. The Phils opened as 175 favorites for Game 2 that is carrying a 7-run total.
Both teams dropped their series over the past weekend, with the Dodgers starting a 10-game road trip by losing two of three in Colorado while the Phils fell twice in three home games against the Miami Marlins. Los Angeles has been in a recent 1-6 plunge to see its NL West lead pared to just three games over the San Francisco Giants heading into Monday's tilt. Philadelphia was last in the NL East, but just 3.5-games behind a trio of clubs deadlocked in first.
History suggests Lee is facing the right team to finally pick up his first dubya of the 2012 campaign. He has made four career starts vs. the Dodgers, including Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS, and his clubs are a perfect 4-0 in those games with Lee owning a 0.29 ERA as LA has failed to score on Lee in his last 23 innings of work.
The Dodgers split Billingsley's six May assignments despite his 5.52 ERA for the month. Los Angeles has been a loser in the right-hander's last three road efforts, though they haven't exactly come against the cream of the crop in the Senior Circuit (Milwaukee, Houston and Chicago). He saw the Phillies once in 2011 and failed to get through the fourth of a 9-8 Dodgers defeat in LA.
Los Angeles is likely to get OF Juan Rivera (hamstring) back for this series but is still playing without the services of OF Matt Kemp (hamstring) and 2B Mark Ellis (knee). Philadelphia has been minus the right side of the infield all season, 1B Ryan Howard (Achilles) and 2B Chase Utley (knee), plus will not have Roy Halladay (shoulder) in the rotation until June 12 at the earliest.