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As in magic number to make playoff

While most of the nation’s viewing and betting public’s attention turns to football, the best part of the baseball season is here.

Just four weeks remain to settle the six division and two wild card races to set the field for the playoffs. Newspapers, websites and the rest of the media will start bringing “magic numbers” to our attention on a daily basis as the field of contending teams is trimmed almost as frequently.

Texas is the team most likely to clinch a playoff spot first as they lead the AL West by 8 games. The next greatest lead is that of Cincinnati, up by 7 games over St. Louis in the NL Central. But the Cards may have a run remaining in them, especially with as strong a starting rotation as they have and the Reds’ inexperience and inability to beat winning teams will be tested down the stretch.

The other four division races each have leaders up by less than four games with Colorado sitting in third place in the NL West just four and a half games behind laboring San Diego, now just a game up on San Francisco.

The AL wild card race is almost over with Tampa Bay, second behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, up by 7 games over the Chicago White Sox for the wild card and Boston a half game further back.

The National League wild card is currently a two team race with Philadelphia up by two games over San Francisco. The next closest pursuers are Colorado and St. Louis, each five and a half games behind the Phillies. Florida and the Los Angeles Dodgers are each less than 10 games back but with four to five teams to catch the task for both the Marlins and Dodgers appears too great.

Many teams out of contention start playing younger players, including those called up when the rosters expanded Sept. 1. As a consequence we will see some hugely inflated lines on some favorites, especially those still playing for a spot in the playoffs. In such situations the underdog may look attractive from a “perceived value” standpoint but will often be greatly overmatched in terms of lineup talent. In such cases you might want to look at playing the favorite at -the run and a half for which the price is generally both much more reasonable and palatable.

Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.

St. Louis at Atlanta: St. Louis is running out of time if they are to catch Cincinnati in the NL Central, trailing the Reds by 7 games with 28 to play. They are five and a half games out of the wild card lead, held by Philadelphia. Atlanta clings to a one game lead over the Phillies in the NL East. Both teams have excellent pitching staffs with several starters enjoying strong seasons. Both offenses are average to slightly above average with each scoring more than half a run more at home than on the road. St. Louis is playing with a greater sense of urgency but the games mean just as much to Atlanta.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: St. Louis as underdogs of +125 in any matchup or if favored by no more than -125 in starts by Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright; Atlanta as underdogs of +140 or more against Carpenter or Wainwright; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Tim Hudson or Jair Jurrjens faces Jaime Garcia; UNDER 7 or higher if Hudson or Jurrjens faces Carpenter or Wainwright.

San Francisco at San Diego: It’s quite possible that the Giants will have caught or overtaken the Padres for the NL West lead by the time these teams square off this weekend. After leading the division for most of the season, much of the time with the best record in the National League, San Diego had lost 10 straight games through Sunday which enabled the Giants to close within one game of the Division lead. San Diego’s offense had been putting up average numbers for most of the season but has struggled mightily during the losing streak, scoring a total of just 23 runs. The pitching has been a strength all season, especially the bullpen, but have shown signs of tired arms of late. Only Mat Latos has been able to maintain his high level of performance. San Francisco’s strength has also been pitching but the offense has been more productive of late as well, making them in many minds the eventual division winner. Tim Lincecum has not been sharp since the All Star break and Barry Zito has tailed off as well. But Matt Cain has generally been steady while lefty Jonathan Sanchez has shown steady improvement.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: San Francisco as underdogs of any price against any San Diego starter except must be +150 or more against Latos; San Diego as favorites of -150 or less in a start by Latos against any Giants starter; San Diego as underdogs of +125 or more against Zito or +140 or more against Lincecum; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Lincecum, Sanchez or Cain oppose the Padres’ Latos, Jon Garland or Clayton Richard.

Tampa Bay at Toronto: Tampa Bay has won 8 of 15 meetings this season with the Totals evenly split 7 to 7 with a push. The Rays are battling the Yankees in the AL East while Toronto sits in fourth place but with a winning record and the chance to only play the role of spoiler. Toronto leads the majors in homers and has some young pitching talent that bodes well for the future, although in the tough AFC East that future might still not be bright enough to make the Playoffs in the near future. Tampa Bay has a fine pitching staff but recently Jeff Niemann and James Shields have been struggling while both David Price and Matt Garza have been at the top of their games. As the results show, this has been a very competitive series this season and Toronto plays host with no pressure to win.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Toronto as underdogs of any price against Niemann or Shields or as underdogs of at least +125 against Price or Garza; Tampa Bay as underdogs or if favored by no more than -130 in starts by Price or Garza; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Price or Garza

New York Yankees at Texas: This could well be a preview of the ALCS as the Yankees and Rangers are on target to easily make the Playoffs. Texas has led the AL West for much of the season by a healthy margin, currently 8 games The Yankees have been battling Tampa Bay for the AL East lead and the best record in baseball which means the team finishing second in the division will earn the wild card. Texas has been slumping lately, losing 7 of 10 entering the week while New York just had their 8 game winning streak end on Sunday. Texas is more likely to rest regulars with their division wrapped up but the Yankees will be looking to maintain or extend their Divisional lead over Tampa Bay. Texas ace Cliff Lee appears to be ailing as we go to press and there is the possibility he may miss this series. The rest of the rotation has also been showing signs of fatigue which could play to the strength of the Yankees’ offense. The Yankees have won 4 of 5 games this season with three of the wins coming in a series sweep at home back in mid April. C. C. Sabathia continues to anchor the New York rotation but A. J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Javier Vazquez have all been shaky of late. Andy Pettitte’s return seems imminent but it’s not clear if he’ll be back for this series. For Texas MVP contender Josh Hamilton starts the week banged up. The Yankees have their own MVP contender, Robinson Cano, and a lineup that is deeper than that of the Rangers.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Yankees as underdogs in any matchup or if favored by -140 or less in a start by Sabathia; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any matchup not involving Sabathia for the Yankees or C. J. Wilson or Colby Lewis for the Rangers; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Sabathia faces Wilson or Lewis.


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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