MLB playoff race the hottest in the National League

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The final month of the regular season has arrived and with it the expansion of rosters from 25 to 40 players. That means many young players who had spent all or most of the season in the minor leagues will be getting added playing time, especially for teams out of contention for the Playoffs.

After the completion of play on Monday, Labor Day, there were two teams within eight games of the second Wild Card in addition to the five teams either leading their Division or currently holding one of the two Wild Cards.

In the National League there were four such teams so slightly more than half of the 30 teams in MLB are within eight games of making the Playoffs either as a Division winner or a Wild Card.

But with just 20 to 25 games remaining a more realistic measure might be to narrow that list of teams to those within five games or less. Using this measure, in addition to AL Division leaders Boston, Cleveland and Houston and the two current Wild Card holders, Oakland and the New York Yankees, no other teams are in realistic contention.

Seattle is 5.5 games behind Oakland for the second Wild Card and Tampa Bay, hot as they have been, is 8 games behind the A’s.

The only realistic Divisional race remaining in the AL is in the West where Houston started play on Tuesday with a 2.5 game lead over Oakland.

The Yankees failed to capitalize on a very favorable schedule of the past couple of weeks and are now 8.5 games behind Boston in the AL East.

Things are much different in the National League as all three Divisions have contested races although two of them are starting to witness a gap.

Starting play Tuesday Atlanta held a four-game lead over Philadelphia in the East and the Chicago Cubs led second place Milwaukee by a similar four games in the Central with St. Louis a game and a half further back.

The race in the West is almost as tight as a race has been at this late stage of the season. Through Monday Colorado had a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers with Arizona just two games behind the Rockies.

Milwaukee leads St. Louis by a game and a half for the first NL Wild Card with the Cardinals just a half game ahead of the Dodgers, a game and a half ahead of Arizona and four games ahead of Philadelphia for the second Wild Card.

For betting purposes prices will get extremely high for matchups between teams in contention and those that have been, or soon will be, eliminated.

Matchups between contenders will largely be competitively priced but as holds true in all sports, “must wins” do not equate to “will win” and although that characteristic may indeed apply to one team in a matchup it should not be the basis for a wager if the fundamentals suggest otherwise, especially strongly so.

Here are brief previews of three weekend series.

LA Dodgers at Colorado: Colorado has gotten surprisingly strong starting pitching with Kyle Freeland very much an “under the radar” pitcher whose 2.96 ERA, 1.25 and 6.1 IPS might have him in the Cy Young conversation were it not for the three leading candidates each having outstanding seasons. Both he and German Marquez can be played as underdogs of any price in this series except they would have to be priced as underdogs of +140 or more against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw or +120 or more against Walker Buehler who is quietly having a very solid season.

The Dodgers can be played as underdogs of any price with any starter not facing Freeland who, if priced at -125 or less against other than Kershaw or Buehler, can support a play on the Rockies. Totals are always tricky at Coors Field but look to play OVER 10.5 or less in games not involving Kershaw, Buehler, Freeland, or Marquez. Note that of Freeland’s 28 starts 20 have stayed UNDER. If Freeland matches up against Kershaw or Buehler UNDER a Total of 9 or higher can be considered.

Houston at Boston: These teams met for just one prior series this season just after Memorial Day in Houston. The Astros won the first two games and the Red Sox won the final two. Three of the four games went OVER the Total with one UNDER as the teams averaged 9.3 total runs per game. Houston has the edge in starting pitching although both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have shown signs of fatigue in several of the recent starts after being consistently dominant prior to the All Star break.

Boston is virtually assured of having the best record in the American League and Houston is virtually assured of being seeded second even though the likely Wild Card Yankees have a very slightly better record. Boston ace Chris Sale remains on the DL but is considered likely to return for this series. With the exception of a start by Sale, the best way to approach this series is to look OVER the Total .

Look to play OVER 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Sale. As to playing a side, if either team is an underdog of +125 or more that team can be played with one exception. If Sale starts for the Sox then Houston would be playable only if priced at +150 or more. His start can be played UNDER 7.5 or higher if he is opposed by Verlander or Cole.

St. Louis at Detroit: Miles Mikolas is the only Cardinals starter averaging more than 5.6 Innings Per Start (6.2) which suggests their bullpen will play a major role in this series. This would also call for a consideration of playing the Cardinals for the First 5 Innings when the St. Louis starters will enjoy a significant edge over the Detroit counterparts.

No Detroit starter has an ERA below 4.24. In playing this series look to back the Cardinals in the First 5 Innings behind any starter when laying no more than -140. Detroit’s best situation would be in a start by lefty Matt Boyd who, if getting +150 or more, would be playable for the full game. Look to play OVER 8.5 or less.

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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