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Mystery still swirls around final weekend

The baseball marathon that consists of roughly 26 weekly sprints comes to an end this weekend as the 8 teams to make the playoffs and begin the post season chase to the World Series title will finally be decided.

The American League playoff field is all but certain with both Texas and Minnesota having officially clinched division titles and both Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees within one win apiece, or one Boston loss, of making the playoffs. The two races that remain uncertain are whether the Rays or Yankees will win the AL East and which of three teams will have the best record and earn the American League’s top seed. New York and Tampa begin the week each with 93 wins while Minnesota has just one less victory.

In the National League both Cincinnati and Philadelphia are just one win away from winning the Central and East division titles. One more loss by St. Louis does the trick for the Reds as does a single Atlanta loss for the Phillies. The Phils are also on path to earn the top seed in the NL and a record of just 2-5 in the final week will clinch the top seed even if the other contenders go unbeaten.

The remaining drama revolves around the race in the NL West between San Diego and San Francisco as well as the NL wild card. The Giants start the week with a half game lead over the Padres, having played, and won, one more game. San Diego made up that game Monday night hosting the Cubs while the Giants were idle. The division race will almost certainly come down to the series this weekend when San Diego visits San Francisco for three games Friday through Sunday.

Colorado remains a longshot to win the West but should the Giants and Padres falter during their weekday series and the Rockies can sweep the Dodgers before closing the season with a four game series in St. Louis, things could really be interesting over the weekend. Colorado starts the week four and a half games out of first in the West and four games behind Wild Card leader San Diego.

The Pads begin the week a half game ahead of Atlanta for the wild card lead and host the Cubs during the week while Atlanta hosts Florida. While San Diego will end the season in San Francisco the Braves will host the Phillies in a series in which the Phillies will have already clinched the NL East and may rest players and tinker with their pitching rotation.

About the Phillies, it sure looks like they are the team to beat this fall. They are playing their best baseball of the season and are finally healthy. They had their 11 game winning streak snapped over the weekend but they are on pace to have the top seed in the NL playoffs. They have by far the best starting pitching trio of the playoff teams with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. In more than 50 percent of their starts each has gone at least 6 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less. That kind of stamina and performance will allow manager Charlie Manuel to effectively manage the bullpen.

 Oh, and by the way, the Phillies have won the last two National League pennants, defeating Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series and losing to the Yankees last season.

More on the playoffs next week, including a forecast on how they may unfold once the specific matchups are set once the season ends on Sunday.

Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.

Philadelphia at Atlanta: The Phillies have likely wrapped up the NL East title and the top NL seed by the time these teams meet. Atlanta should still be in the thick of the wild card race with either the Giants or Padres and perhaps with Colorado still giving chase. Philadelphia may well rest regulars over the weekend as they prepare for the playoffs that begin next week. The Braves will have no such luxury and will go all out to win each game in the series, knowing that a win allows them to pick up a game on either the Giants or Padres who are playing each other in San Francisco. The Braves have made a point of wanting to make the playoffs in manager Bobby Cox’ final season. They have the best home record in baseball (52-23) which could be even better after hosting Florida for three games earlier in the week.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Atlanta as underdogs or if favored by -140 or less in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup

San Diego at San Francisco: This series likely settles the NL West with the loser perhaps not even making the playoffs as the wild card. This weekend has “intensity” written all over it. San Diego won 9 of the first 11 meetings this season before the Giants took 3 of 4 when the teams met in San Diego two weeks ago. In their 15 games in 2010, the teams are averaging a total of just 5.5 runs per game. Their first games each stayed UNDER the Total with the most recent 8 games evenly with 4 OVERs and 4 UNDERs. The Giants have made up 7 games over the past month or so, going 18-12 while San Diego slumped with an 11-19 mark. However the teams have been virtually even over the past two weeks.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Either team as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup; Giants as favorites of -125 or less in starts by Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 6 or higher if Cain or Lincecum faces San Diego’s Matt Latos, John Garland or Clayton Richard

New York Yankees at Boston: Most likely Boston will have been eliminated from the postseason during the week but this series could have meaning for the Yankees in their battle with Tampa Bay for the AL East Title and the top seed in the AL playoffs. Boston took 2 of 3 at Yankee Stadium this past weekend but the Yankees lead the season series by the slimmest of margins, 8 to 7. There have been 9 OVERs, 4 UNDERs and 2 PUSHes as the teams are averaging just over 11 total runs per games in their 15 meetings. Relegated to playing the role of spoiler, Boston will do what it can to force the Yankees to make the playoffs as a wild card, a notion Yankees management does not seem too concerned about, judging from recent decisions to rest players. The end of season schedule greatly favors Tampa Bay so the Yankees may have already been eliminated from winning the AL East before this series begins.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Boston as favorites of -125 or less in any matchup; Yankees as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup

Toronto at Minnesota: This four game series starting Thursday has relevance with Minnesota having a real chance to earn the top seed in the American League playoffs. They start the week with just one win less than New York and Tampa Bay. After playing in Kansas City earlier in the week (where Tampa Bay ends their season), the Twins host the Blue Jays after Toronto hosted the Yankees Monday through Wednesday. What gives the Twins an edge is their home record of 52-25, the best in the AL. Toronto is a dangerous team with their home run power and decent starting pitching. Minnesota, despite the shot at top seed, may be more interested in resting players and setting up their rotation for the playoffs, possibly using some starters in relief to keep them fresh. In the teams’ previous meetings this season: all in Toronto: the Blue Jays won 3 of 5 with all 5 games going OVER the Total. But the current situation suggests this series may not approach the combined 11.4 runs produced in those earlier meetings.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Minnesota as favorites of -140 or less in any matchup; Toronto as underdogs of +150 or more in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup.


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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