Baseball suffered a loss this weekend with the tragic death of Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident early Sunday morning.
The 24 year old was on a path towards greatness and was establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the game in the game, talked about as a right handed version of Clayton Kershaw.
His story of growing up in Cuba, making several failed attempts to defect before finally succeeding as a teenager who ultimately finished high school in Tampa has been well documented. Watching him pitch you could see his awesome talent early on.
Yet watching him in the dugout and his interaction with his teammates showed his infectious enthusiasm for the game. It’s no wonder so many fellow players – teammates and competitors – spoke so glowingly of him upon learning of his death.
Baseball is about to mark the end of an era when Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully calls his final game next Sunday in San Francisco. Scully, whose 67 year career dates back to Brooklyn, will not be part of the Dodgers playoff run. In true Scully style he decided to end his career when the Dodgers end their regular season and not be the focus of attention during the playoffs. He has always preferred telling the story rather than being the story.
Those of a certain generation fondly recall nights of slipping a transistor radio under their pillow at night, falling asleep to the grand, soothing voice of that great story teller or listening to him on the radio while at the ballpark watching the very game he was broadcasting. Thank you, Vin Scully, for nearly seven decades of great calls and great memories.
The final week of the regular season will decide the fate of all teams remaining in contention. Magic numbers and tragic ones will decline each day as teams clinch Playoff spots or are eliminated from contention.
Starting the week, four Division titles have been clinched including all three in the NL. Washington, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers have won their respective Divisions with the Cubs having also clinched the best record in the league and the attendant home field advantage throughout the NL Playoffs.
Texas has clinched the AL West while Boston has clinched at least a Wild Card although the AL East title should be theirs by the middle of the week, needing just two wins to eliminate Toronto. The Red Sox entered this week having won 11 straight games.
Cleveland is just one win away from winning the AL Central title as they play at second place Detroit in a four game series that started Monday. The champagne corks may have already been popped in Detroit if the Indians defeated the Tigers for the 14th time in 16 meetings this season.
The Mets have a one game lead over San Francisco for the top Wild Card in the NL with St Louis a half game behind the Giants for the other berth. The Mets have 73 losses with the Giants and Cardinals each having lost 74 games.
The Mets close the season with 3 at Miami and 3 more at Philadelphia. The Giants host Colorado for 3 and end the season at home with 3 against the Dodgers. Even though they’ve wrapped up the West the Dodgers are still battling Washington for the second NL seed although that could be determined by the time we reach the weekend.
St Louis hosts Cincinnati for 4 and Pittsburgh for 3 to wrap up its season. Normally that would be a huge advantage to be playing a pair of losing teams at home (the Pirates started the week 77-78). But St. Louis is a mind boggling 8 games under .500 at home (33-41) while finishing their road schedule 15 games over .500 (48-33).
The Mets are 39-36 away from home this season but may need to do better than 3-3 to secure a Wild Card. The Giants are 40-35 at home but with their struggles since the All Star break may be hard pressed to go 4-2 or better to earn a Wild Card.
St Louis will be favored in each of those 7 home games and it may take winning at least 5 and possibly 6 to earn that Wild Card.
It’s a much more muddled situation in the AL where Toronto started the week with a one and a half game lead over Baltimore for the top Wild Card and the Orioles a game and a half up on Detroit for the second. Seattle is a game behind Detroit with Houston a half game behind the Mariners. The New York Yankees and Kansas City should be eliminated before the weekend.
Baltimore ends the season with a series at Toronto and at the Yankees while Toronto ends its season at Boston which should have the AL East clinched before that series starts. Detroit hosts Cleveland for 4 and has gone just 2-13 against the Tribe thus far. The Tigers end the season with an interleague series at Atlanta.
Seattle and the Astros play 3 in Houston during the week with the M’s hosting Oakland and Houston at the Angels to end the season over the weekend.
The Wild Cards in both leagues may not be decided until the weekend and there exists a real possibility that either or both leagues could need an extra game or two to decide the combatants.
If you are a baseball fan you have to love this final week of regular season play. Let’s hope the excitement and drama live up to expectations.
Handicapping and betting the final weekend of play is often quite a challenging exercise with the stakes often changing game by game depending on the prior day’s results. But here are some thoughts on ways to approach several key series.
LA Dodgers at San Francisco: The Giants are likely to be favored in each game if they are still in the hunt for a Wild Card, even against Clayton Kershaw. If needing to win the Giants can be played at up to -150 in any matchup. Such games will be managed like an elimination game by the Giants’ Bruce Bochy. Once, or if, the Giants are eliminate the Dodgers might be worth a play as underdogs. Look for games to stay UNDER 7 or higher with the most attractive UNDERS at 7.5 or higher.
Toronto at Boston: The Blue Jays would be playable as underdogs if all Boston is playing for is the top AL seed. If or once the Sox have wrapped up the top AL seed Toronto can lay up to -125 if still in contention. If or once Toronto has been eliminated from the Wild Card, Boston can be played as favorites of up -140 if they’ve already clinched the top AL seed or if the second seed. Look OVER 9 or lower except if David Price or Rick Porcello start for Boston and the Red Sox have a reason to win.
Detroit at Atlanta: The Tigers may still be in contention for a Wild Card as the lone interleague series gets underway on Friday. If so, Detroit will be playable as -150 favorites or less until they either clinch a Wild Card or are eliminated. Otherwise, Atlanta is playable but only as underdogs. The Braves have played well over the past two months as several of their young players and pitchers have been given the chance to gain some big league experience. There are holes to fill but the future appears bright for the Braves as they get set to open their new ballpark. Look UNDER 8.5 or higher if the Tigers are playing with need. If their fate has been sealed look to play OVER 8 or lower.