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As we go to press on Monday just seven weeks remain until the regular season concludes on Sunday, Oct. 1. Slightly more than 40 games remain for each team that will determine their fates relative to making the Playoffs.

This has been a most unusual season in that three Divisional races were all but decided by the All Star break, barring an epic collapse or an epic comeback.

It is all but certain the Los Angeles Dodgers will finish with the best record in baseball and thus have the top overall seed. If they advance to the World Series the Dodgers would enjoy home field advantage by hosting games 1 and 2 and, if necessary, games 6 and 7.

Starting the week at an incredible 83-34, the Dodgers are on a pace to win 115 in the regular season or more than 70 percent of their games to date. They are running away with the NL West with an 18 game lead over Arizona and Colorado, who are tied for the two National League Wild Cards with 65-52 records. St. Louis is chasing, 4.5 games back.

For most of the season Houston had the second best record in baseball but their recent slump, caused by ineffective pitching and some hitting woes, has the Astros starting the week with a record just one and a half games better than Washington. It is important for Houston to maintain that edge over the Nats as if the Astros and Nats were to meet in the World Series the Astros would enjoy the home field advantage. The Astros should cruise to the AL West title, starting the week with a 12 game lead.

It is not far-fetched that the Nationals would win the NL pennant although they are hopeful Bryce Harper’s knee recovers enough for the Las Vegas native to be available to perform at peak level come October. Washington, which leads the NL East by 14 games, strengthened its main weakness by adding quality bullpen depth.

Chicago’s Cubs lead the NL Central but are 9 games behind Washington for the NL’s second best record. The NL Central may end up being the only Divisional race that has any suspense as the season winds down. The AL Wild Card race should be full of suspense deep into September as will be discussed shortly.

Boston is starting to break away in the NL East and Cleveland is doing the same in the AL Central. By taking 2 of 3 in New York this past weekend the Red Sox extended their lead over the second place Yankees to 5.5 games. Cleveland has a 4.5 game lead over Minnesota in the NL Central with Kansas City at half game behind the Twins. By this time next week the AL Central could be even more of a runaway for the Indians or have become more of a two team, or possibly three team, race than it was at the start of this week.

It appears the most drama will unfold in the chase for the two AL Wild Cards. A surprising 9 of the dozen teams not leading their Divisions are within 4 games of a Wild Card with a quarter of the season remaining. The Yankees (61-55) and the Angels (61-58) started this week in control of the two Wild Cards. Of the seven teams in pursuit of that duo the team furthest behind is Toronto. The 56-61 Blue Jays are just 4 games behind the second Wild Card holding Angels with Minnesota, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Baltimore and Texas in between.

Conventional wisdom holds that a team such as Toronto, needing to leap over seven teams to gain control of that second Wild Card, has a very remote chance of doing so.

Here’s a look at three weekend series.

St. Louis at Pittsburgh

The Cardinals have gotten solid pitching from starters Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha. Pittsburgh’s best starter has been Gerrit Cole. Ivan Nova pitched very well in April and May. He’s struggled on the road over the past two months but has remained solid at home. In 10 home starts this season Nova has not allowed more than 3 earned runs in any start and has posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 63.3 innings in front of the home fans. His only start against St. Louis resulted in one those 2-1 losses in St. Louis in April.

Look first toward the UNDER in this series, especially at totals of 7.5 or higher. Look to back Pittsburgh in starts by Cole or Nova if favored by -130 or less or in the unlikely role of home underdogs (perhaps against Martinez or Lynn). Otherwise look to back the Cardinals with any starter against other than Cole or Nova, either as underdogs of any price or as favorites of -125 or less.

Cleveland at KC

In three prior series the road team took 2 of 3 games although in their most recent matchup the Royals took 2 of 3 in early June. Lefty Danny Duffy has been Kansas City’s most consistent starter but might rank third or fourth in Cleveland’s rotation. Corey Kluber is Cleveland’s ace and likely finishes second to Boston’s Chris Sale for the AL Cy Young Award. Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger have also pitched very well.

On the road the Indians might be reasonably priced to back when those three starters take the bump. Kluber can be played against any KC starter if laying -160 or less. Carrasco and Clevinger can be backed at -130 or less. The Royals can be backed against other than that trio as favorites of -125 or less in a start by Duffy or as underdogs of any price behind any other starter against other than Kluber, Carrasco or Clevinger. That Cleveland trio has combined for a 36-21-1 UNDER edge. Look to go UNDER 8 or higher in their starts. If Duffy starts against any of those three consider UNDER a Total of 7.5 or higher.

Arizona at Minnesota

Arizona has a decided edge in starting pitching with Zack Greinke, Zack Godley and Robbie Ray all fashioning solid seasons with each having ERAs below 3.20 and WHIPs below 1.25. Ray is still sidelined following a late July concussion and his status for this series in uncertain. Veteran Ervin Santana has been Minnesota’s best starter with 23-year-old Jose Berrios developing nicely as their second best starter. At 59-57 starting the week the Twins can be considered overachievers with their minus 50 runs differential.

Look to play UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup. If Greinke, Godley or Ray opposes Santana or Berrios UNDER 8 or higher are acceptable, whereas if only one of those starters is involved use 8.5 or higher as your guide. Minnesota as underdogs of +120 or more against the Arizona trio is worth considering while Arizona can be played behind those starters if laying -125 or less. Minnesota can be backed at -125 or less in starts by Santana or Berrios against other than Greinke, Godley or Ray.

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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