Ness’s Notes (August 4)

As I’ve said so many times, “fortunes change very quickly in the MLB.” Just the latest examples are the current destinations of the LA Dodgers and the St Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers won 3-0 last night in the debut of Greg Maddux’s team (six innings and no hits!) and enter the weekend with the longest active winning streak in MLB (six in a row).

My free game for Friday is Oak A’s over the Sea Mariners at 10:05 ET. Tonight in the MLB, I’ll be throwing one of my signature LEGEND plays (4-0 in the 2006 MLB), as I look to snap out of an ugly nine-day skid. Be sure to check out over the weekend my play at this year’s NFL Hall of Fame Game on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were blown out 8-1 by the Phillies last night as Chase Utley had three hits for the Phillies and extended his hitting streak to 35 games. The Cardinals have now lost seven straight games, the longest active losing streak in MLB. Not too long ago, things had been very different for these two teams.

The Dodgers opened the second half of the season by losing 13 of their first 14 games (they were outscored 81-29) and had lost eight straight before their three-game home series with the Nationals last Friday. The Dodgers won a week ago tonight by a score of 13-1 and have outscored their opponents by a combined 42-16 in their winning streak.

The Cardinals were struggling going into the break and had lost 13 of 16 games after dropping the first game of their four-game series with the Astros in Houston on the final weekend of the first half of the season. However, the Cardinals took the last three games of that series and then opened the second half by sweeping a four-game series in Los Angeles against the then-slumping Dodgers.

Now the Cardinals are struggling again, allowing 34 hits and 24 runs in their last two games while being outscored 50-26 in their current slide. The Dodgers will try to extend their winning streak this weekend in Florida as the Cardinals try to end their streak against the Brewers at home. St. Louis opened with a minus $1.85 favorite despite their losing streak as Chris Carpenter starts and starting money already has them hovering around minus $2.00.

Speaking of $2.00 favorites, Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs open Friday’s 15-game schedule as under-$2.15 favorites when they host the Pirates at 2:20 ET. Zambrano (12-3, 3.26) has won his last nine decisions, last losing on May 31. He is 7-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 11 career starts and two relief appearances against Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh starts Tom Gorzelanny, who is coming off his first ML win in his last outing. However, at 13-40, the Pirates own the worst road record in MLB.

Three American League teams opened as $2.00 favorites on Friday and they’re all playing on the road! Randy Johnson goes for the Yankees when they visit the Orioles tonight at 7:05 ET and is 11-9 with a 5.07 ERA. However, the Orioles send Bruce Chen to the mound, he’s 0-6 with a 7.07 ERA, if he’s wondering why the Yankees are such a heavy favorite.

The Red Sox visit the Devil Rays in Tampa tonight at 7:15 ET and with Curt Schilling on the mound, they opened as under-$2.30 favorites. Boston dominated the series at Tropicana Field from 2001-04, going 28-10 in that span. However, since the start of last season, the Red Sox have gone 6-10 in Tampa Bay and have lost their last three series there, including both this season.

Curt Schilling (13-4, 3.84 ERA) has also had his problems at Tropicana Field this season, losing both of his starts there to account for half of his losses. Meanwhile, Boston’s starting rotation has posted a 2-5 record, a 7.47 ERA and a .342 batting average over his last 11 games. So why are the Red Sox heavy favorites? The answer is Tampa’s rookie starter James Shields. The right-hander is 0-5 with a 7.26 ERA in his last seven starts after going 4-0 in the first five outings of his career.

Minnesota’s Johan Santana (12-5, 3.11 ERA) is 9-3 with a 3.74 ERA in 25 career appearances against the Royals, including 14 starts. He’ll attempt his 10th career win against the Royals tonight at 8:10 ET, a team that owns the worst overall record in MLB (38-70) and is just 8-22 against starters. lefties this season. Mark Redman (7-6, 5.40) goes for KC and the Twins have had little trouble hitting Redman. He lasted just 1 2-3 innings in a 7-3 loss to Minnesota on April 27, allowing six hits and five runs. Redman is 0-3 with a 6.14 ERA in seven career starts against the Twins.

NFL ratings

The 2006 NFL preseason kicks off Sunday night from Canton, Ohio, with the Hall of Fame Game between the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles (8:00 ET on NBC). The Eagles are favored by three points with a total hovering around 36 or 36 1/2. I’ve been teasing the upcoming NFL season all week and will begin my countdown to the 2006 season in earnest next week.

It’s important to note that fortunes change quickly in the NFL, just as they do in the MLB. Consider that since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and two four-division conferences, 21 of the 32 teams have won at least one division title (65.6 percent) and 26 teams (81.3 percent) have made at least one appearance in the playoffs.

The six entrants who have not made the playoffs in the last four years are the Cardinals (who last made the postseason in ’98), the Bills and Lions who last made the playoffs in ’99, the Saints (who last made the playoffs in ’00) and the Dolphins and Texans. Miami, which incidentally ended the 2005 season with a six-game winning streak, last made the playoffs in 2001, while the expansion Texans are 4-0 in their four years since becoming franchise number one. 32 in the NFL in 2002.

Speaking of the playoffs, last year’s 12-team playoff field included seven teams that hadn’t qualified for the postseason in 2004. The league adopted its current 12-team playoff field in the 1990 season and, beginning in 1991, it is not unusual for a year’s playoff roster to be populated with teams that had not qualified for the postseason the previous year.

Last year’s total of seven was high, but one short of the 2003 playoff season, when eight teams in that year’s postseason field had not qualified for the previous year’s playoffs. The average playoff season (over these past 15 years) has seen their playoff roster filled with an average of 5.67 teams per season that hadn’t made the postseason the previous year. The 1994 season saw only four entrants who did not make the previous year’s playoffs, as five of the six NFC representatives had also been to the 1993 playoffs.

The AFC West has been the most volatile division in the league since 2002, as all four teams in that division have won division titles in the past four years. The Raiders won in 2002, the Chiefs in 2003, the Chargers in 2004 and the Broncos last year. The most stable divisions have been the AFC East and South, where the Pats (East) and Colts (South) have each claimed three straight division titles.

The Packers had won three straight NFC North titles prior to the 2005 season, as had the Eagles in the NFC East, but both streaks came to an end last year with the Bears 11-5 winning the North (GB had only 4-12). and the Giants 11-5 won the East (Philadelphia was just 6-10).

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

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