The Cycle: Too much of a good thing

Ryne Sandberg

Yahoo! Sports' MLB analyst Ryne Sandberg previews four weekend series worth focusing on each week in The Cycle.

I know Major League Baseball loves interleague play. But I would like to see it shortened a bit.

It's not fair in many cases. This year, the Chicago Cubs take on the first-place Chicago White Sox for six games, the Yankees for three games, the Red Sox for three games and the Blue Jays for three. All four teams are tough.

Division-leading St. Louis, meanwhile, has three games against the last-place Kansas City Royals and three against the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays before facing the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.

The disparity could make or break a season.

Plus, the players don't always see the cross-city games as a rivalry. When I played against the White Sox in 1997, it meant more to the fans than to me as a player. I think the Cubs-Cardinals or Yankees-Red Sox rivalries are much more interesting.

Six games between the Mets and Yankees or Cubs and White Sox is too much of a good thing. Three would be enough.

Four series I'll be following:

Home run

Atlanta Braves

Record: 23-17
1st, NL East

at Boston Red Sox

Record: 23-17
2nd, AL East

The Braves are trying to run away with the NL East as they've done in the past. If their pitching stays hot, they soon could do it. The Red Sox, meanwhile, seem like they're waiting around before they erupt on a long win streak.

Who's hot: Andruw Jones. The Braves center fielder has six homers in his last seven games.

Who's not: The Braves' bullpen. Bobby Cox moved closer Dan Kolb to middle relief after he squandered another lead on Tuesday.

Marquee matchup: A starter to be determined vs. Tim Wakefield on Saturday will be interesting, especially for National Leaguers not used to Wakefield's knuckler. My goal facing the Niekro brothers during my career was to not let one day of swinging and missing at Bugs Bunny pitches put me in a slump for a week or pull a muscle.

Prediction: The Braves take two of three.


Los Angeles Angels

Record: 23-17
1st, AL West

at Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 22-18
3rd, NL West

The Angels are starting to turn it on, but they'll have to get strong pitching performances out of Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey and Paul Byrd to slow down the Dodgers' offense.

The Dodgers are getting healthy with Eric Gagne back, and they soon will make up some space in the NL West. Getting a guy like Gagne back gives the whole team a lift. Yhency Brazobán, who was closing and doing a great job in Gagne's absence, now becomes the setup man. A guy like Gagne makes the whole pitching staff better.

Who's hot: Dodgers leadoff hitter César Izturis has been consistent getting on base all season, and he turned it up a notch this week with four consecutive multi-hit games.

Who's not: Angels infielder Chone Figgins is hitting .151 in May.

Marquee matchup: Lackey vs. Brad Penny on Saturday features two pitchers who have the ability to throw great games, but for some reason they haven't found it this year.

Prediction: Dodgers win two out of three games.


New York Yankees

Record: 21-20
3rd, AL East

at New York Mets

Record: 22-19
4th, NL East

Mets manager Willie Randolph returns to face his old team and coaching buddies – at the wrong time. The Yankees have won 10 of their last 11 games.

Who's hot: Jason Giambi is up to .225 from .198 a week ago thanks to a six-game hitting streak. Out of spring training, he was my candidate for comeback player of the year. I think he still has a chance.

Who's not: Carlos Beltran has one RBI in his last nine games.

Marquee matchup: Randy Johnson vs. Kris Benson on Saturday. Any time that Johnson takes the mound is an event.

Prediction: Yankees sweep.


Chicago White Sox

Record: 29-12
1st, AL Central

at Chicago Cubs

Record: 18-20
3rd, NL Central

The Cubs just swept a pair of games from the Pirates in which they twice rallied in the ninth inning to win. These could be the wins that finally get them going in the right direction.

On the other hand, they're facing the wrong team at the wrong time in this series. The White Sox have baseball's best record as they continue to find ways to win games.

The Cubs won't have to face Jon Garland, who already has eight wins. However, they will face Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez. All have been solid.

Who's hot: White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski has five homers in his last six games.

Who's not: Jason DuBois supplanted Todd Hollandsworth in left field. But neither guy has taken off with the job.

Marquee matchup: Contreras vs. Carlos Zambrano on Saturday. Zambrano, whose most recent start was cut short by tightness in his forearm, can be lights-out. He also has a way of irritating opponents. Watch for fireworks.

Prediction: White Sox take two out of three, but Mark Prior wins the finale on Sunday.