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Less than 50 games remain until the Playoffs begin and the field of legitimate contenders is starting to be trimmed.

In the National League, Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco remain Division leaders with Atlanta and Pittsburgh in control of the two Wild Cards.

St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers both start the week 2½ games behind Pittsburgh for that second Wild Card spot with Arizona, at 6½ back, the only other NL team within 9 of that second berth.

The Diamondbacks are, however, just five games behind the NL West leading Giants, and that is not a huge gap to overcome in seven weeks.

The American League remains even more contentious. The New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Texas are the Division leaders with Baltimore and Tampa Bay tied for the two Wild Cards.

There are five teams within 7½ games of the Wild Card with Oakland just a half game back and Detroit one out. The Los Angeles Angels start the week two games back with Boston 5½ behind and Toronto 7½ out.

Both Boston and Toronto have losing records but either is capable of a winning streak that closes their gaps rather quickly.

Although it may be lost in the midst of the start of football season, the finish to baseball figures to be every bit as exciting as 2011, although we are unlikely to see a pair of collapses of the magnitude suffered by Atlanta and Boston.

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

Dodgers at Braves: In their only prior meeting this season Atlanta won two of three games in LA in late April. The UNDER was 2-1 as the teams averaged a combined 7.1 runs per game. The Dodgers have not gotten the expected results since acquiring Hanley Ramirez, scoring three or fewer runs in seven of their last dozen games.

Atlanta has been consistent all season, averaging 4.7 rpg both home and on the road. The Braves have also overcome injuries to their starting pitching. Young Kris Medlen is the latest starter to rise up and pitch well. Veteran Ben Sheets has been solid as has Paul Maholm, acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline. The Dodgers are still led by Clayton Kershaw with both Chad Billingsley and Chris Capuano pitching well. 

Potential plays:

• Braves as underdogs of any price against Kershaw.

• Braves -140 or less against any other LA starters.

• Dodgers +150 or more against any Atlanta starter.

• UNDER 8 or higher in most any matchup.

• OVER 7½ or lower in a start by Billingsley.

Pirates at Cards: St. Louis has won five of nine in the series. Interestingly, all three games in Pittsburgh stayed UNDER. The OVER was 5-0-1 in games at St. Louis. The Cards hold a slight 47-45 scoring edge in the nine games. A J Burnett has been Pittsburgh’s best pitcher this season and the Pirates have won 17 of his 21 starts. Their other starters have started to fade in recent starts, most notably and dramatically James McDonald.

 St. Louis has gotten solid pitching as well with Adam Wainwright seemingly back in pre-injury form. Young Lance Lynn has struggled over the past month while veterans Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook have been steady all season. St. Louis leads the majors in run differential at +101 and is playing its best baseball as the season reaches its critical point.

Potential plays:

• Pirates +150 or more in any matchup.

• Pirates +130 or more in a start by Burnett.

• Cardinals -140 or less not facing Burnett.

• Cardinals -125 or less against Burnett. 

• OVER 7 or lower in any matchup not involving Lohse or Wainwright.

• UNDER 7½ or higher if Lohse or Wainwright oppose Burnett.

Orioles at Tigers: In their one meeting, Detroit took 2 of 3 in Baltimore. The lone ace is Justin Verlander, but the Tigers are just 14-10 in his 24 starts. Doug Fister (3.48) is the only other Detroit starter with an ERA below 4.40. 

Potential plays:

• Orioles +160 or more against Verlander.

• Orioles +140 or more against other Detroit starters.

• Tigers -125 or less in any matchup.

• OVER 9 or lower in almost any matchup.

• UNDER 8 or higher in a start by Verlander.

Rays at Angels: A four game series starting Thursday. Tampa swept three at home. The Angels took 2 of 3 in Anaheim. The UNDER was a perfect 6-0.  Except for ace Jered Weaver, the Angels’ starting pitching has been shaky of late.  David Price has been excellent, but only recently has James Shields and Matt Moore displayed consistency .

Potential plays: 

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Weaver or CJ Wilson faces Price, Shields or Moore.

• Rays +125 or more not facing Weaver.

• Angels -150 or less in a start by Weaver not facing Price or as favorites of -130 or less if Weaver opposes Price.

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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