They’ve played almost daily for five and a half months and finally the best part of the baseball season has arrived. Just two weeks remain with much to be decided as to the octet of teams that will make the Playoffs and begin the chase to the World Series championship.
The American League playoff field is all but certain with Minnesota, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay and Texas likely to clinch post season berths within the next week. But the Twins, Yankees and Rays are all battling for the best record in the league and the top seed and home field advantage that accompanies that best record. At the same time the Yankees and Rays are embroiled in a tough race to win the AL East title with the runner up earning the wild card (and the number 4 seed). The Yankees and Rays are playing a four game series in New York from Monday through Thursday that could create a gap if either team can win 3 of 4 (or sweep) or keep New York a half game in front heading into the weekend if the teams split. Tampa took two of three from the Yankees at home last week.
Cincinnati is in great position in the NL Central, starting the week 6 games up on St. Louis. The Reds have a dozen games remaining, the Cardinals 14.
Philadelphia starts the week three games up on Atlanta as they host the Braves for three games from Monday through Wednesday. There is the possibility that the division race could be tied when the weekend arrives if the Braves can sweep the Phils as they just swept the Mets last weekend. Or the Phillies can extend their lead with a sweep of their own and virtually clinch the division. Entering the series the Phillies have won 7 in a row including a thrilling comeback on Sunday, scoring 4 in the ninth to win on a walk off homer by Jayson Werth.
But baseball’s main drama remains in the NL West where San Francisco begins the week a half game ahead of San Diego with both teams tied with 66 losses. Lurking just a game and a half behind the Giants, with just 67 losses, is Colorado. The Rockies are making their patented late season drive largely through the contributions of Troy Tulowitzski who is having a sensational September with 14 homers in his last 16 games. The Rockies and Giants play three games this weekend in Colorado and the Giants will host San Diego next weekend for the final three games of the regular season.
The NL Wild Card race is just as tight and could become even tighter if the Phillies do well against the Braves this week. Atlanta currently leads the wild card race with a two and a half game lead over San Diego and Colorado just a game further back.
As the football season continues to unfold and many questions are raised baseball is about to answer many of the questions that have existed since the season began last April.
With Texas, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati virtually assured of the Playoffs and a new representative from the NL West the 2010 Playoff field will have a much different look from a year ago.
Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.
San Francisco at Colorado: Two of the contenders in baseball’s best race square off. The week started with San Francisco leading the NL West by a slim half game over San Diego with Colorado just a game and a half behind the Giants. It’s been a low scoring series with 11 games staying UNDER and just 4 going OVER. The teams have averaged just 7 total runs per game and the Giants have outscored the Rockies by just 56 runs to 50.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Giants as underdogs in starts by Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain or if at least +150 in starts by Barry Zito or Madison Bumgarner; Colorado if favored by -150 or less against other than Cain or Lincecum; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup.
Cincinnati at San Diego: Cincinnati has all but wrapped up the NL Central title, leading St. Louis by 8 games at week’s dawning. They do have incentive to keep winning, however, as they are battling the three NL West teams for the second seed in the upcoming playoffs which would mean home field advantage in the opening divisional round. The games produced an OVER, an UNDER and a PUSH as the teams combined for just 28 runs for the three games.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: San Diego as underdogs or as favorites of -125 or less in any matchup; Cincinnati if plus at least 150 against Matt Latos; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher in any matchup
Minnesota at Detroit: Although Detroit is not in contention for the playoffs they do have the chance to foil, or at least slow down, Minnesota’s quest for the best record in the American League and the top playoff seed. They start the week just a game behind the Yanks and a half game behind the Rays. Minnesota has won 9 of 15 games against Detroit this season with the Totals evenly split at 7 and 7 with one PUSH.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Detroit as underdogs of +120 or more in any matchup or if favored by -125 or less in starts by Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer; Minnesota as underdogs of any price against other than Verlander or Scherzer; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Francisco Liriano or Carl Pavano oppose Verlander or Scherzer; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in none of these four pitchers are involved
Boston at New York Yankees: Boston’s playoff chances are all but nil yet they will still be up for this series against their bitter rivals. The Red Sox would enjoy pushing the Yankees behind Tampa Bay in the standings and that could occur depending on the outcome of the midweek series in New York between the Yankees and Rays and how Tampa fares over the weekend, playing lowly Seattle while the Sox and Yanks go at it in the Bronx. After 7 of the first 8 meetings went OVER while just one stayed UNDER, when these rivals last met, in early August after not playing for two and a half months, the four game series at Yankee Stadium produced a pair of UNDERs and a pair of PUSHes.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Boston as underdogs of any price in starts by Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz or if +125 or more against other than CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte; Yankees as favorites of -125 or less against other than Lester or Buchholz; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Sabathia or Pettitte faces Lester or Buchholz; OVER Totals of 8 or lower if just one of those pitchers is involved, OVER Totals of 9 or lower if none of these four pitchers is involved.