The third major milestone of baseball’s regular season has arrived as Labor Day is often compared to thoroughbred racing’s entering the top of the stretch and heading for home. Less than a month remains before we know the 10 Playoff teams and several races are tightening up as just four weeks remain for things to be sorted out.
Although much attention is turning toward the start of the college and pro football season the best of the baseball season is still ahead of us.
As play starts on Labor Day two Division leaders have solid leads that all but assure them of making the Playoffs. Kansas City has a 12 game lead over Minnesota in the AL Central and the LA Dodgers lead San Francisco by 7.5 games in the NL West. As both teams get closer to clinching their Divisions be wary of backing them, especially at inflated prices, as both may be inclined to rest starters, especially in the final week of the regular season.
St. Louis has a comfortable 5.5 game lead over Pittsburgh in the NL Central but the Pirates are playing .600 baseball with the Cubs just 3 games further back. The Cardinals should be safe and are huge favorites to win the Division although they still have series remaining against both pursuers, including three games against the Cubs that started on Labor Day.
A similar situation that is more contentious is developing in the AL West where Houston has led the Division for most of the season. The Astros started this week with a 3 game lead but there are two teams that can pose threats.
In addition to second place Texas, one of the hottest teams since the All Star break, the LA Angels are just 5.5 games out of first. It will be a test of likely AL Manager of the Year AJ Hinch to keep his young team together but the signs are encouraging as the Astros have already fought off several challenges this season, much as Kansas City did last season in earning a Wild Card.
The two Eastern Division races also figure to be extremely contentious down the stretch, especially in the American League. Toronto started Labor Day 1.5 games ahead of the New York Yankees. Toronto had a losing record as recently as July 28 (50-51) but have gone 28-7 since. Both teams are well positioned to make the Playoffs as the Yankees have a 5 game lead for the first Wild Card and are 6.5 games ahead of Minnesota, the first team on the outside.
The Mets start the week with a 4 game lead over Washington in the NL West and are at the Nationals for three games through Wednesday. This series affords the Nats a chance to close the gap to just a single game with a three game sweep of the Mets. A Mets sweep could give them a 7 game lead, which would be almost too much to overcome.
The Nats have started to play well over the past couple of weeks. After struggling at the plate for much of the season they have scored at least 5 runs in 12 of their last 15 games and have not been held to fewer than 3 runs in their last 16 games.
The problem confronting both the Nats and Mets is only the Division winner will make the Playoffs. Second place Washington started this week 7.5 games behind the Cubs for the second Wild Card, just a half game better than San Francisco.
Here’s a preview of three series this weekend.
Pittsburgh at Milwaukee: This is a key series even though Milwaukee is not close to contending. The Pirates started this week with losing records against all four NL Central rivals, including 6-9 against the Brewers with Milwaukee sweeping each of their last two series. Both of those series were played in Milwaukee, in mid-July and last week. Pittsburgh is 4-2 vs. the Brewers at home. Eight of their meetings have gone OVER the Total with six staying UNDER and 1 push.
The Pirates and Brewers have averaged a combined 7.7 runs per game. This is a four game series that starts Thursday. Pittsburgh has the much better pitching, both starting and relief, and is allowing just 3.3 runs per game at home. Rookie Taylor Jungmann has been Milwaukee’s best starter and the Brewers starters, as a group, do not have strong strikeout to walk ratios. Pittsburgh is led by Gerrit Cole although mid-season acquisition, lefty J.A. Happ, has posted very good stats in his first six starts as a Pirate.
PLAYS: Milwaukee +125 or more in a start by Jungmann against any Pittsburgh starter, Pittsburgh -150 or less with any starter other than Jeff Locke against any Milwaukee starter other than Jungmann: UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup.
Toronto at NY Yankees: This is a key showdown between the top two teams in the AL East. Toronto has been the hottest team in baseball since late July. After sweeping a key three game series in New York in early August the Blue Jays lost 2 of 3 at home to the Yanks a week later. For the season Toronto has won 8 of 12 meetings.
Despite a pair of potent offenses the Yanks and Blue Jays have averaged a combined 5.75 total runs per game with just two games going OVER, nine staying UNDER and one game pushing. Each of their last seven games have stayed UNDER, which includes all six of their games within the last month! It’s hard to see this trend continuing but it will be interesting to see if it is priced in the line. The Totals from their prior 12 games have ranged from a low of 7.0 (twice) to a high of 9.0 (twice).
PLAYS: Toronto +120 or more in any matchup; Yankees +140 with any starter against Toronto’s David Price; Yanks -120 or less with any starter not facing Price, Mark Buehrle or RA Dickey; OVER 7.5 or lower in any matchup; UNDER 9.0 or higher in any matchup.
Colorado at Seattle: The lone interleague series this weekend pits a pair of non-contenders playing out the string. Seattle was a fashionable pick by many to not just win the AL West but to make it to the World Series following some key moves last winter. But the Mariners started this week at 66-71 and in fourth place in the AL West.
Little was expected of Colorado and the Rockies have not disappointed, standing 56-80 at the start of the week and are one of five teams playing less than .420 baseball in the National League. These teams met in Colorado in early August. Seattle won 2 of 3 with all three games going OVER the Total as the teams averaged 13.7 total runs per game.
PLAYS: Seattle -150 or less in starts by Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma against any Colorado starter; Seattle -125 or less in any other matchup; Colorado +200 or more with any starter against Hernandez or Iwakuma; Colorado +150 or more against any other Seattle starter; UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup; OVER 6.5 or lower in any matchup.
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]