Less than a month remains in the regular season and whereas there has been little doubt about certain teams making the Playoffs much still remains to be decided over these final four weeks of play.
The Dodgers are showing they are indeed human, dropping 8 of 9 games through Sunday. Still, at 92-44 they are on a pace to win 112 games and no other team is on pace to win 100. Their lead over Washington for top seed in the National League is 10 games, an almost impossible deficit for the Nationals to make up, especially with star Bryce Harper still sidelined.
But the NL Wild Card race has gotten interesting, at least for the second spot. For most of the past four months Arizona and Colorado had separated themselves from the rest of the field. Neither had much of a chance since the middle of May of catching the Dodgers in the NL West but the Rockies and Diamondbacks were neck and neck for the two Wild Cards.
Following a weekend sweep in Colorado, Arizona has gained a 6.5 game edge over the Rockies for the top Wild Card. Colorado’s grip on the second Wild Card is just a half game over Milwaukee with St. Louis 3 games behind the Rockies and Miami 5 games back.
In the American League 7 teams are within 4 games of the second AL Wild Card. The Yankees control the first Wild Card with a 2 game lead over Minnesota. The Yankees, by the way, start this week 3.5 games behind Boston in the AL East after taking 3 of 4 from the Red Sox in their final regular season meetings last weekend.
Baltimore and the LA Angels trail Minnesota by 1.5 games with Seattle a half game behind that pair. Texas is 3 games behind the Twins with Kansas City a half game further back. Tampa Bay rounds out the field of Wild Card contenders, starting the week 4 games behind Minnesota.
There is still much to be decided over the final four weeks, although most of the drama will revolve around the Wild Card races in both leagues.
Four of the Divisions are all but mathematically decided with the AL Central and AL East races still giving hope to the Yankees and Milwaukee, who each start this week 3.5 games behind their Division leaders with about 25 games still to be played.
Here’s a look at three weekend series.
Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee still harbors hopes of catching the Cubs in the NL Central, trailing Chicago by 3.5 games starting this week. But the Brewers are now players in the Wild Card chase, trailing Colorado by a half game for the second Wild Card. The Cubs have won 7 of 12 games against the Brewers this season, although the road team has also won seven of the dozen.
The Cubs have played much better since the All Star break but the defending World Series champs have yet to go on a blistering run. Their starting pitching remains a concern, although Jake Arrieta has been brilliant over his last 10 starts dating back to early July.
The Cubs can be played on the Run Line, -1.5 runs, in a start by Arrieta against any Milwaukee starter. Otherwise, look to back the Brewers as underdogs in starts by Chase Anderson, Zach Davies or Jimmy Nelson. The Cubs have been pretty much a Totals-neutral team this season.
Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners
Both teams are very much in the AL Wild Card chase. Starting the week the Angels are tied with Baltimore, 1.5 games behind Minnesota for the second Wild Card with Seattle one game behind that duo. Both teams have made roster additions to aid their causes for making the Playoffs with the Angels bolstering their lineup with a pair of additions at the end of August, acquiring Juston Upton and Brandon Phillips while sending Cameron Maybin to Houston.
The Angels have won 9 of 13 meetings with Seattle including a four-game road sweep in mid-August. The Angels’ success has been largely accomplished without much quality starting pitching. Parker Bridwell has been their most effective starter with a 3.67 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 14 starts. His average of 6.0 innings per start leads the rotation. Seattle’s rotation has been beset by injury and their best starter this season, James Paxton, is close to returning but is still expected to miss this series.
The Mariners have had 17 different pitchers start games this season. The way to approach this series is to look toward the underdog and the OVER. Use a Total of 8.5 as your guide, looking to play OVER that Total or lower in any matchup. Also look to back either team as an underdog of +120 or more in any matchup.
San Francisco Giants at Chicago White Sox
The lone interleague series of the weekend features a pair of teams long out of contents and resigned to playing out the string, accumulating stats for off-season contract negotiations. Still, there will be betting lines available and thus opportunities for profit. Both teams figure to give significant playing time to their young players, including their September call ups.
Chicago’s Lucas Giolito, the hot prospect acquired in last season’s big trade with Washington, has shown signs of living up to his potential in his handful of starts and can be backed as a favorite of -125 or less. He would also be attractive as an underdog against Madison Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace can be backed up to -140 against other than Giolito. Both offenses have struggled all season and thus UNDER Totals of 8 or higher can be played regardless of the matchup.
When two teams are both out of contention the young players can be played without regard to “harming the integrity of the game” as no contending teams are impacted by the result of these games. Both the Giants and White Sox have been thinking 2018 since the All Star break.