Cream rises to top in AL

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It sounds a bit peculiar because baseball season just started, but with over one-third of this shortened regular season in the books, believe it or not, we must begin to look at the postseason picture.

The Yankees own the best record in baseball and the top-spot in the AL East at 16-6. No surprise there. The Rays (14-9) are making a solid showing and show no signs of slowing down. But did anyone think the Red Sox would be this bad (6-17)?

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The Twins, as many expected, are separating themselves in the AL Central. But the Indians are playing solid as well. The Astros are starting to stride, even without some of their recent years’ top pitchers. Yet, they still trail the A’s by 3.5 games in the West. It doesn’t look like the top two teams in each of the AL division are going to be beaten.

The biggest surprise in the National League has to be last season’s World Series champs, the Nationals. They’re not just stalling coming out of the gate, they are downright idle, sitting in last in the East at 8-12. The only team in the division looking consistent is preseason favorite Atlanta (14-10).

The Central has been the most competitive division in baseball the last several years. This year, the Cubs are doing something they rarely do, win on the road. This makes them very dangerous. They lead the Brewers and Cardinals by 3.5 games and the Reds by 4.5 games. I feel of all the divisions in baseball, this one will be the toughest to predict, and once again will be a true dogfight.

To round it out, the Dodgers have solidified their place atop the West and with one of the strongest lineups and pitching staffs in the Majors, they certainly look, yet again, to be the team to beat in the NL.

I said it before and I will say it again here, with the shortened season, there is no room for error. Teams must win and keep winning to make it to the playoffs. Short season or not, it’s going to be one exciting ride. So enjoy!

Speaking of enjoyment, we had a very good week with the selections in my last column, going 3-0. I’ll do my best to repeat for us. Here are this week’s Best Bets (all records, stats, and trends are as of Tuesday and may change as can starting pitchers):

Thursday

Indians at Pirates: As the season progresses, we can clearly see Cleveland (13-9) making a play in the AL Central, while Pittsburgh is not just in last place in the NL Central, but sports the worst record in all of baseball at 4-14.

While it really doesn’t matter which pitchers for either team gets to start here, I do like the expected Shane “Don’t call me Justin” Bieber against Trevor Williams. Bieber is off to the best start of his career (30-13, 3.49 ERA lifetime) at 4-0 with an ERA of 1.30, fanning a whopping 54 batters in 34.2 IP.

Williams is just 1-3 with an ERA of 3.89 this season and has gotten very little run support and even less help from the league’s 26th ranked pitching staff (Team ERA of 5.55). The Indians, who come off a three-game sweep of the Tigers, have seen their lineup come alive, outscoring their division rivals, 21-11, while their top-ranked pitching staff (2.68 Team ERA) has been stellar.

Pittsburgh is 1-5 the last six home games and 1-10 the last 11 interleague games. Cleveland is 5-0 the last five road games and 5-1 the last six games vs. right-handed starters. INDIANS RUN LINE

Dodgers at Mariners: The Dodgers, who started the season a bit slow, have now rattled off six straight wins to climb atop the NL West at 17-7. On the flipside, the Mariners have lost six in a row to dwell in the AL West cellar at 7-17. The Dodgers, like many teams, have dominated the Mariners, taking eight of the last nine meetings.

You can expect a high price here as three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (2-1, 2.65 ERA in 2020) should be starting against Yusei Kikuchi (0-1, 5.28 ERA in 200). Whether these two go or not, I side with the potent L.A. squad which tops the Majors in scoring at 5.79 RPG and ranks second in pitching with a Team ERA of 2.71. Seattle ranks towards the bottom of the barrel in both departments (27th in scoring at 3.96 RPG, 29th in pitching, 5.86 Team ERA). DODGERS  RUN LINE

Diamondbacks at Athletics: I know this season has been very tough on those of us who put stock in starting pitchers. I like this particular matchup because of the two expected starters. Actually, I like going against Sean Manaea. If he does not go, it changes how I look at this game. So be sure he is on the mound here.

Oakland has certainly gotten the attention of many as the A’s sit stop the AL West and lead Houston by 3.5 games. However, Arizona is starting to gain traction, as the Diamondbacks have won five straight contests and sit right in the mix of the most competitive division in baseball, just 4.5 GB of Los Angeles. 

Going back to Manaea, the left-hander has been absolutely atrocious. In his five starts, he has not made it past five innings, going 0-2, striking out just 18 batters in 20 IP. Even with him throwing, we should be able to get a good price here on the D-Backs. Alex Young should be going. The lefty is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA, whiffing 15 batters, in 14.0 IP.

Arizona has taken six of the last 10 meetings in this series, including Game 1 on Monday, 4-3. The A’s are 4-9 the last 13 vs. the NL West. The Diamondbacks are 13-4 the last 17 interleague games. DIAMONDBACKS

Last week: 3-0

Season: 6-4 

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