Just three weeks remain until the playoffs begin and things have become extremely interesting with several tight races to be decided over the final 20 games of the season.
Three of the six divisions appear set as Texas, Cincinnati and Minnesota each have leads of at least 6 games. Of the three, Texas and Minnesota are playing the best baseball. Cincinnati starts the week having lost 7 of their last 10 games but second place St. Louis has not fared much better as they attempt to chase down the relatively inexperienced Reds, only able to have split their last 10 games. The Reds would appear to be the most vulnerable of the three teams with comfortable leads but the schedule is their friend and time may run out on St. Louis’ attempt to catch Cincy.
The races in the East divisions of both leagues remain extremely close as Philadelphia starts the week leading Atlanta by a single game in the NL East and the Yankees cling to a half game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL East. The Yankees are at Tampa for a three game series Monday through Wednesday.
The real fun is unfolding in the NL West were San Francisco has caught San Diego and the two are tied for the division lead. The Padres have two more games to play than the Giants. But as the calendar turned to September it signaled the start of the annual late season run by Colorado. The Rockies begin the week as winners of 10 straight games and are just a game and a half behind the co-leaders. Colorado also hosts San Diego for three games Monday through Wednesday while the Giants host the Los Angeles Dodgers for a trio of games starting Tuesday.
The AL Wild Card almost assuredly will go to the second place finisher in the AL East, either the Yankees or Rays. But there are still three teams vying for the NL Wild Card. Atlanta starts the week a game ahead of the Giants/Padres combo with Colorado just two and a half games back.
While many of you have turned your attention to the dawning of the football season, be sure not to miss out on the excitement of these baseball races that quite possibly might not be decided until the final weekend, if not the final day, of the regular season.
Here’s a look at four series this weekend.
San Diego at St. Louis: This four-game series starts Thursday and has the suddenly very vulnerable Padres visiting the very desperate Cardinals. In their only previous series, the Pads took 2 of 3 at home in late May when the teams combined for just 15 total runs. Both teams’ pitching staffs have been the strength although the Cardinals have the more potent lineup. The Padres have been losing of late because their offense has virtually disappeared. In 11 of their last 16 games, San Diego has scored 2 runs or less, scoring 4 runs three times and 3 runs in the other 2 games. St. Louis has also been prone to outages on offense though not to quite the same extreme. The Cardinals have the better overall starting pitching with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia being matched on the Padres by only Mat Latos. San Diego’s real strength has been their bullpen.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: San Diego as underdogs of +140 or more against Wainwright, Carpenter or Garcia. Padres as underdogs of any price in a start by Latos or if favored in his start by -125 or less; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher in any matchup.
Colorado at Los Angeles Dodgers: The Rockies have a chance to make up ground in the NL West race by facing what increasingly seems to be a very disinterested Dodgers team playing out the string. Manager Joe Torre is contemplating not returning to the Dodgers next season and the owners’ messy divorce case is depleting the front office of resources. Colorado has begun its seemingly annual drive by winning 10 in a row heading into Monday’s showdown with San Diego. The Dodgers have won 7 of 12 games this season with the home team winning 2 of 3 in three of their four previous series, the exception being the Rockies winning 2 of 3 in L.A. in mid August. Both teams have gotten steady pitching but the Rockies have had the more timely hitting over the past month or so. 8 of the 12 games have stayed UNDER the Total including 5 of 6 in Chavez Ravine.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Dodgers as favorites of -125 or less in starts by Clayton Kershaw or Hiroki Kuroda (or as underdogs); Rockies as favorites against other than Kershaw or Kuroda or as underdogs against any other Los Angeles starter; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup.
New York Yankees at Baltimore: Since Buck Showalter took over as Baltimore manager the Orioles have been very competitive, even taking two of three in New York last week after losing 10 of 12 games earlier this season. A major reason behind the improved play has been steadier pitching, especially from the starters. The Yanks come in off of a three game series against rival Tampa Bay which followed being swept in Texas. The starting pitching has struggled aside from CC Sabathia although lefty Andy Pettitte is scheduled to return from the DL and start on Sunday. The pressure here is all on the Yanks as they face their former manager. Baltimore is playing loose and should be heavy underdogs throughout this series.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Baltimore as underdogs of +200 or more in any matchup or if plus at least 150 in starts by Jeremy Guthrie or Brian Matusz against any Yankees starter; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup.
Oakland at Minnesota: At 71-71 Oakland is having a moderately successful season with a roster largely featuring youth. They have a fine young pitching staff that has been key in their improvement. Minnesota appears headed to the AL Central championship but cannot take the A’s for granted which could be easy as the Twins have won 5 of 6 meetings this season. Still, the Twins have the best home record in the American League and that will be reflected in the prices of these games.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Oakland as underdogs of +125 or more in starts by Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez; Minnesota as favorites of -150 or less against other than Cahill or Gonzalez; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup.