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Surprises surface in playoff chase

We can take some comfort in knowing that some things never change. Things like Bryce Harper getting in scuffles with umpires and the National League preseason favorites being right on course.

The Braves, Cubs and Dodgers are all leading their divisions. But if you look at the American League, not only will you be surprised, you will be downright shocked. Currently, none of the division leaders: the Rays, the White Sox and the A's, were chosen to take their perspective divisions. They were touted as being strong teams, but they were not expected to take the Yankees, Twins or Astros. As a matter of fact, if the season ended Tuesday morning, New York wouldn't even make the postseason.

Regarding the playoffs, it's not the easiest situation to figure out. You would need a degree from MIT, charts, graphs, and an abacus. LOL. With the regular season more than two-thirds gone, we must start to look at the playoff picture. Here is a basic rundown of how it will work:

The top three seeds are the division winners and the next three seeds are the second-place teams. The final two spots go to the remaining teams with the best records. There was discussion last month of moving the entire postseason to "bubbles" in Texas and California. But that has not been finalized.

The Wild Card Round is a best-of-three series with all three games at the higher seed's ballpark. The League Division Series is a best-of-five series. Both the League Championship Series and the World Series are best-of-seven series.

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Believe it or not, outside of the first round (Wild Card), where you get home-field advantage, there is benefit no winning the division. With no fans in the stands, it also lessens the benefit of playing at home anyway.

One final note, there won't be any tiebreakers. This is to speed up the postseason. All ties will be resolved mathematically.

With less than 20 games left in the regular season, it's time to look at which teams made big acquisitions at the trade deadline and which are in the hunt for the postseason. This will aid when choosing your daily plays.

Here are this week's Best Bets (all records, stats, and trends are as of Tuesday and may change as can starting pitchers):

Thursday 

Royals at Indians: The pitchers are most likely to be Brady Singer and Aaron Civale. Singer owns a 1-4 mark with an ERA of 5.58 in 2020. The right-hander opened up the campaign with a ND vs. Cleveland. His first few outings in July, he pitched well. But since August, the 24-year old has steadily declined. Despite a 3-4 record, Civale owns an ERA of only 3.63, striking out 49 batters in 52 IP.

Cleveland has taken the last three meetings in this series (all since Sept. 1) by a combined score of 20-3.

The only thing worse than KC's 19th-ranked pitching staff is the Royals' 29th-ranked offense. If there's a change in starters, I still like the Tribe here. If the line is alluring, play the money line. If it opens up or rises quite a bit, don't be afraid to play the run line. INDIANS  

Red Sox at Rays: As of Tuesday, this game's starters have not been named. But it won't matter. Boston threw in the towel on the 2020 season a few weeks ago when they traded away some big names. It will help their farm system down the road, but as far as this season is concerned, put a fork in this team. 

Tampa Bay owns the best record in the AL at 28-14. They have taken five of the six meetings in this division rivalry this season, including the last four consecutive matchups. The Red Sox are outclassed both on the mound and at the plate. They own the worst pitching staff in baseball and just can't seem to score runs with any consistency. The Rays bring in a top-10 team both on the rubber and in the batters box. 

Whomever gets the nod for Tampa Bay, will still be better than any counterpart and also have the luxury of some run support. Once again, if the money line is doable, play it. If it opens or soars, play the run line here. RAYS 

Dodgers at Diamondbacks: May and Bumgarner have been scheduled here. In eight starts in 2020, Dustin May is 1-1 with a 2.88 ERA. "Big Red" has not allowed more than two earned runs in any outing this season. The right-hander will completely shut down the sputtering Arizona lineup which has mustered a mere 2.12 RPG in their eight losses over their last nine contests. 

Madison Bumgarner is a far cry from the pitcher he was several seasons ago. The "Mad Bum" is living up to his nickname in more ways than one, as he hasn't had a winning season since 2016. He is 0-4 in five starts with a colossal ERA of 8.44. 

The Dodgers are a monstrous team, ranking first in scoring and second in Team ERA. They are a tough enough mountain to climb for any opponent, especially for a team that ranks in the bottom third in both areas.

History repeats itself. So, if the price is reasonable, take the money line. If it opens up high or skyrockets, play the run line even if pitchers change. DODGERS

Last week: 1-2

Season: 9-8