The final fourth of the regular season is underway with teams continuing to tweak their rosters in an effort to secure or maintain a berth in the Playoffs.
The most recent example was delivered by the team with baseball’s best record when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired veteran Curtis Granderson from the New York Mets. Grandy has recovered from a poor start to have a pretty decent season but even more than his on the field performance he is an excellent locker room presence.
His experience should be a huge plus for a team that, despite regular season success over the past several seasons, has been a major disappointment in October. The Dodgers remain the favorite to reach – and win – the World Series for the first time since 1988.
As discussed last week, the AL Wild Card race continues to be extremely competitive. Through Sunday eight teams are separated by five games or less from the second Wild Card, with the Yankees having just a two-game lead for the first Wild Card (over Minnesota and the Angels).
With less than 40 games to be played each game, especially those between teams in contention, are critical and may be micro managed (in other words, games lasting 3.5 hours or longer). Depending on the specific matchups, those game might best be approached by looking UNDER the Total before looking OVER, as managers should be quick to make pitching changes before games get too one-sided.
Houston continues to play sluggish baseball and their grip on the top seed in the American League is now being challenged. At 76-48 the Astros’ lead over 71-52 Boston is down to just 4.5 games through Sunday. Even Cleveland is creeping closer, trailing the ‘Stros by just 7 games. Over their last 30 games Houston is just 13-17 whereas both Boston and Cleveland are 18-12.
Here’s a preview of three weekend series.
Milwaukee at LA Dodgers
The Dodgers continue on a pace that threatens the all-time regular season record on 116 wins and are virtually assured the top seed in all of baseball for the Playoffs. Milwaukee is involved in both the NL race, starting this week 2 games behind the Cubs in their Division and 2.5 games behind Arizona for the second NL Wild Card. Their only prior series this season was played in early June when the Dodgers took 2 of 3 in Milwaukee although all three games were close, decided by 1, 2 and 3 runs. In fact, both teams scored an identical 12 runs in the series and in combining to average just 8.0 runs per game there were 2 UNDERs and 1 OVER.
Both Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish are on the DL for the Dodgers, greatly reducing the quality of their starting rotation for this series. That evens the playing field somewhat as only Alex Wood has given the Dodgers a nice above average performance. Milwaukee has gotten solid seasons from Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson (who was just reactivated from the DL) and both can be backed at +150 or higher against Wood or +130 or higher against other Dodgers starters.
The Dodgers are likely to be heavy favorites throughout the series but should LA be favored by -125 or less (perhaps with a lightly tested starter) they can be played subject to the just noted situations with Nelson and Anderson. Both lineups have pop and if we get typical Dodger Stadium Totals of 7.5 or less the preference is to look OVER the Total. Even at 8 the first look would be OVER. With Kershaw and Darvish sidelined, none of the other Dodgers starters is averaging 6 innings per start (Wood is tops at 5.9 IPS). Nelson, at 6.1 IPS, has been the Brewers’ most durable starter.
Seattle at NY Yankees
In their only prior meetings this season, the Yankees took 3 of 4 games in Seattle about a week following the All Star break, outscoring the Mariners 20 to 12. Despite averaging just 8.0 total runs per game there were 2 OVERs and 2 UNDERs. The Yankees lost 2 of 3 in Boston over the weekend to fall 5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. But the Bronx Bombers started this week with a two-game lead over both Minnesota and the LA Angels for the first Wild Card, which carries with it the home field for the one game Playoff.
Seattle is just 1.5 games behind those teams, tied with Kansas City. Thus this becomes a big series for both teams with each team looking to win at least 2 of the 3 games and certainly looking to avoid a three-game sweep.
The Yankees may have the overall starting pitching edge with James Paxton and Felix Hernandez both sidelined for the Mariners. Luis Severino is having a breakout season for New York and the recently acquired Sonny Gray has performed well since coming over from Oakland at the trade deadline.
At prices of -150 or lower either can be backed against any Seattle starter. Starts by Severino and Gray can also be played UNDER Totals of 8.5 or higher. Otherwise look to play OVER 8.5 or lower in starts by other Yankees starters except CC Sabathia.
The veteran lefty has made 20 starts this season and 14 of them have stayed UNDER the Total. Seattle can be played as an underdog of +130 or more with any starter against other than Severino, Gray or Sabathia.
Tampa Bay at St. Louis
Tampa is in the bunched AL Wild Card race whereas the Cardinals are challenging the Cubs for the NL Central Title while also closing to within four games of the NL Wild Card. Both teams have been streaky this season although the Cardinals have a history of playing well late in seasons in which they are contending for the postseason. The Cards have gotten solid but unspectacular starting pitching with Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn each having strong statistical seasons.
Mike Leake and Michael Wacha have been inconsistent but each has had more above average starts than below average ones. Tampa’s Chris Archer has had a season similar to that of Martinez and Lynn – solid but not dominant – and is the ace of the Rays’ staff. Young Jake Faria has shown promise but was just placed on the DL and will miss this series but Alex Cobb is slated to return and had pitched well prior to being sidelined with turf toe.
Fundamentally this should be a low scoring series and look to play UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup or UNDER 8 or higher if Martinez or Lynn oppose Archer or Cobb. The Cardinals are playable with Martinez or Lynn as favorites of -140 or less against Archer or Cobb or at -160 or less facing other Tampa starters. The Rays are playable as underdogs of +125 or higher with any starter against other than Martinez or Lynn.