Less than a month remains until the playoffs begin with teams having about 25 games to either make up ground or hold off gaining foes.
A look at the Labor Day standings shows two Divisional runaways, two marginally competitive races and a pair of tight ones that could go down to the final weekend of the season, which ends on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Despite starting the season 30-42, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been on fire since late June and have assumed control of the NL West, leading second place Arizona by 11½ games. But that lead is not baseball’s largest. In the NL East the Atlanta Braves have a 14 game cushion over last season’s Division champs, Washington.
The marginally competitive races are in the AL although the gaps in both divisions continue to widen. In the East, Boston starts the week 5½ games ahead of second place Tampa Bay while in the Central, Detroit’s lead is now 7½ games over Cleveland.
Each league does have one very competitive race, one of which involves three teams.
Texas starts the week just one game ahead of Oakland in the AL West as the Rangers are in the Bay for a three game series against the Athletics that ends Wednesday.
Pittsburgh and St Louis are tied atop the NL Central with identical 79-57 records with Cincinnati in third place just 3½ games behind the co-leaders.
At least one thing appears certain. The Pirates will enjoy their first winning season since 1992 with just 3 more wins. And they appear to be breaking that hex in a big way – by making the playoffs. The wild card races are also rather interesting but for different reasons.
Remember, under the change instituted last season, there are two wild cards in each league who will meet in a one-game elimination with the winner advancing to the League Divisional Series. This change dramatically has increased the importance of winning a division while lessening the value of qualifying as a wild card.
In the NL it’s highly likely Cincinnati will earn at least one of the wild cards as will one of the two leaders in the NL Central, Pittsburgh or St. Louis. The NL Central champion will have a huge edge in being better able to set its rotation for the forthcoming NLDS while the second and third place teams face that one game elimination. Barely in contention for that second wild card are Arizona and Washington, 6 and 6½ games behind the Reds, respectively.
An almost similar situation is developing in the AL although more teams have realistic chances at earning one of the wild cards. With Texas leading the AL West, second place Oakland controls the first wild card and has a 2½ game lead over Tampa Bay for the right to host the playoff.
Four other teams are each within a half dozen games of Tampa Bay for that second wild card. Closest behind the Rays are division rivals Baltimore and the New York Yankees. The Orioles are just 3 behind Tampa while the Bronx Bombers are 3½ back. Also 3½ back is Cleveland with Kansas City just 2 games further behind, or just 5½ out of the second AL wild card.
While the attention of much of the sporting and wagering public turns to both college and pro football, let’s not overlook baseball which is poised to provide us some thrilling finishes over the next four weeks.
Will we witness dramatic rallies and collapses such as the ones that marked the final month of the 2011 season? Perhaps, although unlikely. But, then again, that’s baseball.
Here’s a look at four series this weekend.
DODGERS/REDS: In their only prior series this season the Dodgers took 3 of 4 from the Reds in late July. The UNDER is 3-0-1. Both teams have excellent starting pitching although the Dodgers have the two best in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke. Lefty HJ Ryu has also had a very consistent first season and Ricky Nolasco has pitched as the Dodgers had hoped he would following a first few shaky outings following his acquisition from Miami.
All of Cincinnati’s starters have been very consistent. Although none has been outstanding, Mat Latos has been the best but only by a slight margin over the others. Both teams also have solid offenses which makes for a very compelling series.
Recommended plays: OVER 7 or less in any games not started by Kershaw or Greinke; OVER 8 or less in starts by the Dodgers’ Ryu or Chris Capuano; UNDER 7½ or less in games started by Kershaw or Greinke; Cincinnati +140 or more against Kershaw or Greinke; Dodgers +125 or more against any Cincinnati pitcher except if the Dodgers start Capuano
PIRATES/CARDS: For the season Pittsburgh has won 10 of 16 games against the Cardinals. The teams are 3-3 in St. Louis. Even with the solid pitching both teams have gotten, 10 of their 16 games have gone OVER with one push.
The Pirates have bolstered their offense with the recent addition of Justin Morneau from Minnesota but the Cardinals remain the better offensive team. Pitching should prevail over hitting in this series that figures to be managed as though this were the playoffs.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7 or higher in any matchup; Pittsburgh +150 or more against Adam Wainwright; Pittsburgh as underdogs of any price in a start by Francisco Liriano against any St Louis starter; Cardinals -125 or less against any starter other than Francisco Liriano or as favorites of -140 or less in starts by Shelby Miller or Joe Kelly against other than Liriano.
RED SOX/YANKS: The Yanks are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Boston holds a 7-5 lead in the season series that has seen the OVER go 6-5-1. The teams have averaged a combined 9.2 runs per game in their dozen meetings. New York’s starting pitching has been suspect with ace C C Sabathia having struggled more often than not this season and Hiroki Kuroda, who had been the Yanks’ most effective starter, has been hit hard in each of his last 3 starts.
Ivan Nova has now been New York’s most consistent starter over the past month. John Lackey and the recently acquired Jake Peavy have been Boston’s best starters while Clay Buchholz remains sidelined.
Recommended plays: Yankees as underdogs behind any starter against other than Peavy or Lackey; Yankees -125 or less not facing that that duo in starts by Nova or Kuroda; Boston -125 or less in starts by Peavy or Lackey not facing Nova or Kuroda; Boston as underdogs facing any starter against other than Nova or Kuroda; OVER 8 or lower in any matchup; OVER 9 or lower if Nova, Kuroda,Lackey or Peavy are not involved.
TIGERS/ROYALS: The Royals actually lead the season series against Detroit, winning 7 of 13 prior meetings. The UNDER is 8-5 in this matchup. Detroit’s defending AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera has been sitting out the last few games with abdominal issues.
Max Scherzer has been the de facto ace while Anibal Sanchez is also putting up considerably better stats than acknowledged ace Justin Verlander. The Royals have been led by a pair of off season acquisitions, Ervin Santana and James Shields, with lefty Bruce Chen being nicely effective since joining the rotation earlier this summer.
Recommended plays: Royals +140 or more against Scherzer, Sanchez or Verlander; Royals as underdogs of any price against other Detroit starters; Royals -120 or less in starts by Santana or Shields not facing Scherzer, Sanchez or Verlander; UNDER 7.5 or less if Scherzer, Sanchez or Verlander oppose Shields or Santana, OVER 8 or lower if none of those five pitchers are involved.
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]