The regular season ends Wednesday and it’s quite possible that the final playoff spots in the American League will not be decided that final day when all 162 games have been completed.
The playoff teams in the National League are all but set with Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Washington already assured of being in the post season. Cincinnati and San Francisco are Division winners and Washington needs just one more win, or one Atlanta loss, to wrap up the NL East.
Atlanta will likely be the top NL Wild Card and St. Louis is in position to claim the other Wild Card. The Cardinals are two games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers for that spot and will host Cincinnati while the Dodgers entertain their arch rivals, the Giants.
If the percentages hold true to form, the Braves will host the Cardinals for that one game Wild Card playoff with the winner advancing to face either Cincy or Washington, whichever team earns the top NL seed.
The Nationals and Reds enter the final few days tied at 96-63. Washington has the slight edge to earn that top seed, hosting Philadelphia while the Reds are on the road in St. Louis.
Things are much different in the AL where a series of improbable but possible events could create some chaos. Several teams could end up tied at 91-71 after Wednesday’s play is complete.
The competitiveness of the AL is best illustrated by the fact that no team had clinched even as much as a playoff spot prior to Sunday when teams played game 159.
The final contest completed on Sunday was Texas’ win over the Los Angels in the second of a double header. The Rangers’ win not only assured them of a spot in the playoffs but also clinched spots for both Baltimore and the New York Yankees.
The O’s and the Yanks enter the final series of the season tied for the AL East lead at 92-67. New York has the edge in winning the Division title as they host Boston while the Orioles end the season in Tampa Bay where the Rays remain in contention for the second Wild Card, at least entering Monday’s action.
Texas holds a two game edge over Oakland for the AL West title with a record of 93-66 through Sunday. Here’s where things get interesting.
Oakland is 91-68 and hosts Texas for the final series. If Oakland sweeps the Rangers then the A’s would win the AL West But, if Oakland is swept by Texas, and if Tampa Bay sweeps Baltimore, and if the Angels sweep their series in Seattle then all three would end the season with identical 91-71 records.
The AL Central race has not been decided although Detroit needs one more win or one Chicago loss to earn that title. Should the Tigers be swept in their series at Kansas City while the White Sox sweep their series in Cleveland the Sox and Tigers will be tied, creating yet another headache for the folks who really control Major League Baseball, the television networks!
Let’s take a broader look at teams that might present value for the post season at odds that should be attractive enough merit plays on winning the World Series.
The most attractive team is Atlanta. The Braves are likely to finish second in the NL East behind Washington although they will have a record that would be first in most Divisions in most seasons.
Because the Braves would be forced to play a one game elimination against, most likely, St. Louis, the odds on Atlanta should be between 10-to-1 and 20-1 prior to the Wild Card game.
Should Atlanta win that Wild Card clash they match up nicely against each of the three NL Division winners with a solid pitching staff, an offense that has both speed and power and a solid bullpen that is led by closer Craig Kimbrel.
Although his action has been limited to just 61 2/3 innings, Kimbrel has converted 42 of 45 save opportunities and has an ERA of 1.02, a WHIP of 0.65 and an opponents’ batting average of .123. Do not be surprised if he finishes in the top 10, if not the top five, of NL MVP voting.
Tampa Bay would be an attractively priced team in the AL if the Rays were to earn a Wild Card. So would the Angels should the unlikeliest of situations unfold and enable them to make the playoffs.
Most likely Oakland will be the second AL Wild Card team if they can win just one of their three games hosting Texas.
Texas has the experience edge, having lost the World Series in each of the past two seasons. Although the Rangers still possess a potent offense, the pitching staff is weaker with Colby Lewis out for the season and C J Wilson now with the Angels. Both hurlers played major roles in Texas’ success since 2010.
Despite the presence of defending Cy Young Award winner (and top 2012 contender) Justin Verlander, Detroit’s weak defense makes them a suspect contender to win the American League pennant.
Baltimore’s inexperience also works against them although it’s hard to argue with anything manager Buck Showalter has done this season in turning this team around from the squad that won just 69 games in 2011.
The same lack of experience works against Oakland.
That leaves the New York Yankees. Age and injuries have taken a toll. Still, the Yankees would be the less than fully enthusiastic choice to win the AL pennant and advance to the World Series.
The Giants and Cincinnati seem to be the best constructed teams to win the NL pennant but each will be held at very short odds. Washington’s odds have been low since the All Star break when it became apparent they were not a fluke.
Along with Atlanta the defending champion Cardinals would present excellent value. It would not be a surprise if the winner of Friday’s game advances and later wins the 2012 World Series.
Andy Iskoe and his Logical Approach is one of the most popular statistical breakdowns in sports betting. Andy is also a longtime baseball and football columnist at GT. Contact Andy at Andy[email protected]