They came. They saw. They conquered.
And while that phrase is the third person version of Julius Caesar’s report to the Roman Senate two millennia ago following his victory over Phanaces II the phrase can be applied to events much more recent.
Such as this past weekend when the Los Angeles Dodgers traveled up north to San Francisco, trailing the Giants by a game and a half for the lead in the NL West, and came away with a three-game sweep of their most bitter rival.
Perhaps that sweep will turn out to be the key series in that Division as both the Giants and Dodgers have designs on making the post season.
The results of the weekend now have the Dodgers in a virtual tie for the best record in the National League with both Milwaukee and Washington. The Dodgers start this week with just a 1½ game lead over the Giants who are tied with Atlanta for the two National League Wild Cards. That’s because Washington leads the Braves by a similar game and a half in the NL East.
For all practical purposes none of the other three teams in the NL East or West are contenders for the Division title.
Milwaukee’s lead in the NL Central is a bit more precarious even though the Brewers lead second place St. Louis by just 2 games. Lurking just behind the Cardinals is Pittsburgh. The Pirates are just a game behind St. Louis.
Those are the teams with winning records in the NL. An eighth team, Cincinnati, starts this week at .500 (52-52) but their play following the All Star break may have knocked them out of realistic contention.
The Reds have gone just 1-8 since the break, including 0-6 on the road and then dropping 2 of 3 this past weekend at home. The absence of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips is being felt in a big way. In their nine post All Star break games the Reds have scored a total of just 16 runs, not scoring more than 3 runs in any of those games.
That lack of production is just too little for even their very solid starting rotation and bullpen to overcome. The Reds still are close enough to consider making a trade or two for some bats over the next few days in an effort to bolster the lineup until Votto and/or Phillips returns.
But aside from the competitiveness of all three National League races a key story surrounding this season is the high degree of mediocrity in the league. At the current pace the three Division leaders would project to just 90 wins for the entire season.
Contrast that with the pace being set by the team with the best record in all of baseball, Oakland. At their current pace the Athletics would wind up with 101 wins. The Los Angeles Angels, with baseball’s second best record, are on a pace to win 98 games.
Other than Oakland and the Angels no other team is on pace to win more than 90 games with Detroit’s record putting them right at that number.
Thus, with the exception of the A’s and Angels, the American League has as much mediocrity as the senior circuit. Toronto currently controls the second AL Wild Card with its 56-50 record with 6 other teams within 5 games of the Blue Jays, including three teams with losing records!
But mediocrity does not mean lack of drama or excitement. Rather, the opposite may be true as more teams have a chance to turn a seven or eight game winning streak into a ticket to the Playoffs.
Just two months and less than 60 games remain for teams to make that late season charge. Stay tuned for what should be some very entertaining baseball as the field of 10 Playoff teams is determined.
Here’s a look at four weekend series.
Brewers at Cardinals: The Brewers and Cardinals are battling for the top spot in the NL Central as they meet for their fourth series this season. St. Louis has won 5 of the prior 9 games, but the road team has won 2 of 3 games in each their three prior series. After their first series in mid April produced three UNDERS, their last two series have seen all six games go OVER the Total.
The nine games have produced an average of 9.3 total runs. Milwaukee has the more productive offense and it has been slightly better on the road than at home. The Brewers also have the healthier pitching staff but the Cardinals have the most dominant starter with Adam Wainwright. This series will be a true test for Milwaukee as they seek to maintain their lead in the NL Central over their closest pursuer.
Plays: Milwaukee +125 or more not facing Wainwright; St. Louis -150 or less in a start by Wainwright against any Milwaukee starter; UNDER 7 or higher in a start by Wainwright; OVER 7.5 or less in games not started by Wainwright or Lance Lynn.
Mariners at Orioles: This is a quick rematch of their four game series in Seattle this past weekend that saw Baltimore take 3 of 4 on the road. All four games stayed UNDER the Total as the Orioles outscored the Mariners 12-7 for an average of just 4.8 total runs per game. Seattle continues to rely on its pitching and starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are significantly better than any Baltimore starter.
Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez have been the best starters for the Orioles. The Mariners’ edge on the mound is somewhat offset by Baltimore’s edge at the plate. Conversely, playing in a pitcher’s ballpark the Mariners average just 3.3 rpg at home but 4.5 rpg on the road. That contrast makes this the most intriguing of the weekend series.
Plays: Seattle as underdogs or favorites up to -125 in starts by Hernandez or Iwakuma against any Baltimore starter; Baltimore -125 with any starter not facing Hernandez or Iwakuma; UNDER 7.5 or higher in starts by Hernandez or Iwakuma; OVER 8 or less in games not started by Hernandez or Iwakuma.
Angels at Rays: In their only previous series this season the Angels won 3 of 4 at home against the Rays in mid May. Despite just 28 total runs, an average of 7.0 per game, the Totals results were 2 UNDERS, 1 OVER and 1 push. Since late June the Rays have one of the best records in baseball, having won 20 of their last 26 games.
The Angels are an almost identical 19-7 over their last 26 games. Both of these teams are currently “Play On” teams. As we go to press David Price is still the ace starter on the Rays and given their current form the rumors that he is about to be traded may turn out to have been incorrect. The Rays have also gotten solid seasons from Chris Archer and Alex Cobb and are one of the best managed teams in all of baseball. Garrett Richards continues to be the best starter for the Halos although veteran Jered Weaver is also pitching well and having a fine season.
Plays: Tampa Bay as underdogs with any starter against any Angels starter; Tampa Bay -140 or less in a start by Price against any Angels starter; Tampa Bay -125 or less in starts by Archer or Cobb against any Angels starter; Angels +115 or more against other than Archer, Cobb or Price; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup
Royals at A’s: First meeting this season. The Royals are playing with a greater sense of urgency. But with such a huge difference between making the Playoffs as a Division winner versus as a Wild Card, Oakland will not take any opponent lightly output. Combined with their outstanding pitching the A’s have baseball’s best run differential in all of baseball, +170, nearly double that of the second best team.
Kansas City’s differential is virtually even, reflective of a team that starts the week just two games above break even. Oakland’s starting rotation is led by Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and the recently acquired Jeff Samardzija. The Royals’ rotation is led by veteran James Shields although young Danny Duffy has put up better stats. Both teams have solid bullpens.
Plays: Oakland -150 or less in starts by Gray, Kazmir or Samardzija against any Kansas City starter; Kansas City as underdogs of any price in starts by Shields or Duffy not facing Gray, Kazmir or Samardzija; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup; UNDER 7.0 or higher in matchups of Gray, Kazmir or Samardzija against Duffy.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]