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More than two thirds of the regular season is complete and just over six weeks remain until the season ends with just eight teams remaining to participate in the 2011 Playoffs.

The list of realistic contenders for the post season continues to dwindle as the top teams in baseball have begun to distance themselves from the pack.

In the American League it would appear only seven teams have realistic chances at making the playoffs and that number is a bit misleading. Only one of three AL Central teams – Chicago, Cleveland or Detroit – will be playing in October by winning the division.

The AL Wild Card almost certainly will be the runner up in either the East or West. Boston starts the week with a half game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East. In the West, Texas awoke on Monday morning with a four game lead over the LA Angels. That lead could dwindle, expand or perhaps stay the same as the Angels host the Rangers for a four game series.

Realistically, just six teams are competing for the four playoff spots in the National League. Philadelphia – with baseball’s best record at 78-41 – has opened up a nine game lead over Atlanta in the East. Milwaukee starts the week five games ahead of St. Louis in the Central. And surprising Arizona has now leads the Giants by two games in the West.

None of the three third place teams in the three divisions is within 10 games of the lead. The NL Wild Card race is equally contentious with Atlanta up by four over San Francisco and five ahead of St. Louis.

Be wary of laying those huge prices that will start to show up more and more in matchups between contenders and also-rans. Teams such as Baltimore and Houston will be priced as nearly 3-to-1 underdogs when taking on the top teams. If you seek to take those juicy prices be sure they are facing one of the weaker starters on the opponents. And if you plan on playing such huge favorites consider laying the run and a half.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

Cardinals at Cubs: These long time rivals have met nine times this season with St. Louis going 7-2. Seven of the nine have gone OVER as the teams have combined to average 10.4 runs per game. The Cubs have played better baseball over the past month with a winning record since the All Star break. But at 53-68 the Cubbies are reduced to playing the spoiler role as the Cardinals seek to make up ground on red hot Milwaukee. The Cubs’ suspect starting pitching is now without the disgruntled and enigmatic Carlos Zambrano who’s been suspended, leaving Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster as the best members of the staff.

Chris Carpenter is pitching the best for St .Louis as both Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse have tailed off. With Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman the Cards have as good a meat of the order as any team in the National League.

Preferred plays:

• Cards as underdogs in any matchup.

• Cards -125 or less not facing Garza or Dempster.

• Cubs +150 or more against Carpenter.

• Cubs +130 or more against Garcia or Lohse.

• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.

• OVER 9 or lower if Carpenter, Lohse or Garza are not involved.

D’backs at Braves: In their only prior series this season Arizona swept a two game series at home in mid May. Both games stayed UNDER the Total with Arizona winning by scores of 5-4 and 2-1. Arizona continues to be beset with injuries, the latest being to 1B Xavier Nady and SP Jason Marquis, both of whom are likely out for the rest of the regular season. Atlanta has the much better offense, especially with the recent surge by Dan Uggla whose recent 33 game hitting streak and the return of Brian McCann from the DL.

Atlanta also has the better overall pitching although Arizona has gotten very solid seasons from both Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Even lefty Joe Saunders has performed better than expected. Atlanta has a couple of starters, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson on the DL which does weaken their rotation considerably.

Preferred plays:

• D’backs +125 or more not facing Tim Hudson or Brian Beachy .

• D’backs +150 or more against Hudson or Beachy;

• D’backs as underdogs of any price or if favored by -110 or less if Daniel Hudson or Kennedy don’t face Beachy or Tim Hudson.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Kennedy or Daniel Hudson oppose Beachy or Tim Hudson.

• OVER 8 or lower if none of the four is involved.

Indians at Tigers: Cleveland has won 6 of 9 meetings this season, including 2 of 3 at home just last week. The teams have averaged 8.3 runs per game as four games stayed UNDER and five went OVER. Both teams have aces at the top of their rotations with Detroit’s Justin Verlander perhaps the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award.

Cleveland’s Justin Masterson actually has a slightly lower ERA for the season although he’s allowed more base runners. Beyond the aces there’s a fairly significant dropoff to the number twos. Detroit has the better offense and a solid bullpen with closer Jose Valverde enjoying an outstanding season.

Preferred plays:

• Indians as an underdog or a favorite -120 or less if Masterson doesn’t face Verlander.

• Indians +160 or more against Verlander.

• Indians +125 or more against other Detroit starters.

• Tigers -130 or less not facing Masterson.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Detroit’s Verlander or Doug Fister oppose Masterson.

• UNDER 9 or higher if Masterson faces against any other Detroit starter

Rangers at White Sox: Texas has won 4 of 5 games between the teams with their last meeting nearly three months ago in late May. Four stayed UNDER the total as the White Sox and Rangers combined to average just 6.4 runs per game.

Both teams are playing great baseball, each having won 8 of 10 games starting the week. Texas has the much stronger offense while the White Sox’ edge in pitching is marginal. This should be an excellent series as both teams are playing with need.

Preferred plays:

• Rangers as underdogs of any price in any matchup.

• Rangers -120 or less in a start by Alexi Ogando against any Chicago starter.

• White Sox as underdogs of any price in a start by Mark Buehrle not facing Ogando.

• White Sox +120 or more against Colby Lewis.

• UNDER 9 or higher in most any matchup.

• OVER 8 or lower if Derek Holland starts for Texas against Gavin Floyd or Jake Peavy;

• UNDER 8 or higher if Buehrle, John Danks or Philip Humber start for the Sox against Ogando or Matt Harrison.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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