Breaking down the MLB playoff scenarios

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The final week of the regular season is at hand and whereas the Playoff field for the American League has been determined there is still uncertainty in the National League.

In the American League Boston has clinched the top seed and will face the winner of the Wild Card game in their Divisional Series.

Cleveland has clinched the third seed and will face the winner of the AL West with that Division winner, most likely Houston, having the home field edge.

Starting play on Tuesday Houston had a 4.5 game lead over Oakland in the West and might have clinched the Division title by the time you read this on Wednesday.

Thus Boston will most likely face the winner of the Wild Card game between Oakland and the Yankees with the game most likely played in New York as the Yanks entered Tuesday’s play with a 1.5 game lead over the A’s for the top Wild Card. The Yanks lead by two games in the loss column and have the tie breaker edge.

In the National League only Atlanta has clinched a Playoff spot by virtue of having won the NL East. There are still races in both the NL Central (where the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals can still win) and the NL West (with the Dodgers and Colorado in a tight race).

Through Monday the Cubs and Dodgers led their Divisions, each by a 1.5 games, with Milwaukee having a three-game lead over St. Louis for the top Wild Card and St. Louis leading Colorado by just a half game for the second Wild Card.

Much of the discussion in recent months concerning the winner of the National League Cy Young Award has centered around the Mets’ Jacob deGrom who has put up outstanding statistics except in the one area that has long been outdated as a measure of a pitcher’s performance – his win/loss record. Getting woeful support from the Mets’ offense, deGrom’s record this season is just 9-9 despite a stellar 1.77 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 31 starts in which he’s pitched 209 innings. His stiffest competition for the award is thought to come from Washington’s Max Scherzer and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola, both of whom have solid credentials.

But there is a fourth “under the radar” contender who not only deserves mention but also serious consideration. Colorado lefty Kyle Freeland has had an outstanding season pitching for the Rockies. In 196 innings over 32 starts Freeland has compiled a solid 2.84 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Those stats are not on par with the aforementioned trio but 14 of his 32 starts have come at mile high Coors Field. In those starts he’s pitched a 2.37 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Those home stats are better than the stats from his road starts which are still a decent 3.23 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 18 starts. The Rockies have won 12 of his 14 home starts and 10 of his 18 starts on the road.

He won’t win the award and likely will finish fourth but keep an eye on the up and coming lefty next season. And, for that matter, the rest of this season should the Rockies make the Playoffs as either NL West Champion or as a Wild Card.

Handicapping the final week, and especially the final weekend, of the regular season is often an exercise in frustration as most teams have either long been out of Playoff contention and can’t wait for the season to end or have already clinched a Playoff spot and are shuffling their starting rotations and resting regulars to be best prepared for the post season.

That is especially true this season in the American League as all five Playoff teams have been determined and the seeding order of the teams is all but certain to be settled by the time the final weekend series begin.

In the National League there are likely still to be Playoff teams and/or seedings to be determined even though there are just six teams vying for the five spots as of the start of Tuesday’s action. The reason why there will likely be meaningful games, at least on Friday, is four teams were separated by less than two games with two Division races featuring leads of just 1.5 games.

Rather than provide thoughts on specific weekend series this week, here are thoughts on how to approach potential spots that might appear in the National League.

St. Louis ends the season in Chicago facing the Cubs. The Cardinals are in the weakest position to win the NL Central but entered Tuesday’s play in control of the second NL Wild Card, leading Colorado by a half game. The Cubs held a 1.5 game lead over Milwaukee for the Division title with a two-game lead in the loss column.

If the Cubs have clinched the Division they will likely rest regulars. St. Louis may still be playing with a chance to win a Wild Card. In approaching this series look to play on the Cubs if they need still to win in order to win the Division and avoid the Wild Card game. But lay no more than -150 in doing so.

If the Cubs have clinched the Division and St. Louis still needs to win to remain in contention for the Wild Card, the play would be on St. Louis if they are either underdogs or favored by no more than -120. If favored, the Cardinals must be starting Miles Mikolas or Carlos Martinez. The latter has been pitching out of the bullpen but might be summoned to start if the Cards are in a “must win” situation.

Colorado will be hosting disappointing Washington and the Nats have long been out of contention. The Rockies will likely need to sweep the series to either earn a Wild Card or win the NL West should the Dodgers falter. Look to play Colorado -1.5 runs if they still need to win. If they have been eliminated or have already clinched the NL West title (unlikely but possible) then pass the game(s).

The Dodgers will be in San Francisco likely still needing at least one win to wrap up the NL West title or to earn a Wild Card. The Giants are ending a second straight disappointing season and are reduced to attempting to play the role of spoiler against their long time rivals. If the Dodgers are still in a need to win situation the Giants would be playable at +200 or more.

In next week’s column the Playoffs field will be set. The AL Wild Card game is scheduled to be played Tuesday when GamingToday goes to press so a specific prediction will not be able to be provided with the location and starting pitcher matchup unknown.

Assuming Oakland is at the Yankees, the early preference is to back the Yankees at -150 or less, with the starter likely to be Masahiro Tanaka, although both Luis Severino and JA Happ being under consideration. At a price above -150 the play would be the Yankees on the run line.

There likely would not be a preference for a Totals play as my guidelines would be to play OVER a Total of 7.5 or less or UNDER a Total of 9 or higher.

The column will also preview the NL Wild Card game and the potential plus known Divisional Series matchups.

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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