MLB stretch

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Just six weeks remain until the regular season ends which translates to just under 40 games per team. Over the past week a couple of Divisional races became less competitive as San Diego extended to six games their lead over San Francisco in the NL West and Minnesota increased its lead over the Chicago White Sox to five games.

Yet baseball’s most contentious Divisional race remains the one between the teams with the two best records in baseball. In the AL East the New York Yankees, with 77-47 record, lead Tampa Bay (76-48) by just a single with each team having 38 games remaining. The Yanks and Rays will meet for a three game series in Tampa in mid September and again a week later at Yankee Stadium for a four game series.

And those San Diego Padres remain the most surprising team story of the 2010 season. They not only lead the NL West but their 74-49 record is tops in the National League and third in all of baseball, trailing only the Yankees and Rays.

Although Tampa Bay trails the Yankees in the Divisional standings the Rays can take some comfort in their five and a half game lead over Boston in the chase for the AL Wild Card. The White Sox trail Tampa by nine games for the Wild Card, the only team other than Boston within 11 games of that coveted fourth Playoff spot.

In the National League the Wild Card field of challengers is a bit more crowded with Philadelphia holding a two game edge over both San Francisco and St. Louis. But four other teams are also less than 9 games behind. Though a 9 game deficit seems large, with so many teams still in contention and still having a number of series to be played among those contenders the standings can show a dramatic change on a weekly basis.

A look at the global statistics shaping baseball this season show that home teams are winning just over 56 percent of all games. Ignoring PUSHes, UNDERs hold a slight 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent edge versus OVERs (a total of just 22 decisions in over 1,700 games). And PUSHes against the Total have occurred in just under 5 percent of all games (roughly 1 in 20).

To nobody’s surprise, scoring remains down with a total of 8.82 runs being scored per game, the lowest average since 1992, the year before Colorado and Florida began play.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Florida at Atlanta: Atlanta has won 5 of 9 games between these NL East rivals this season with all 6 games played in Florida going OVER the Total but 2 of the 3 games in Florida stayed UNDER with the third a PUSH. Florida has faint hopes of making a run at the Wild Card but a sweep here could give the Marlins even grander aspirations. But even winning 2 of 3 will be tough as Atlanta has by far the best home record in baseball, 44-17. Beyond the aces there is much mediocrity as both Atlanta’s Kris Medlen and the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco are both sidelined. Atlanta is likely to be favored in all three games although Sunday’s game might be a very competitively priced game between Josh Johnson and Tim Hudson.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Braves as favorites of -125 or less in any matchup except against Johnson; Marlins as underdogs of +150 or more against other than Hudson or if favored by -130 or less in a start by Johnson against anyone other than Hudson; UNDER a Total of 7 or higher if Hudson opposes Johnson; OVER Totals of 8 or lower if other than Hudson or Jair Jurrjens starts for Atlanta and other than Johnson or Anibal Sanchez starts for the Marlins.

Philadelphia at San Diego: In their only previous series this season the teams split four games in Philadelphia in early June with three of the four staying UNDER the Total. The teams combined to score just 28 runs. The Phillies are looking to maintain their hold on the NL Wild Card (or perhaps make up ground on Atlanta) while San Diego hopes to maintain their grasp on the lead in the NL West, making this a very interesting series and a potential Playoffs preview. But it might not be here as San Diego allows the fewest runs per game at home, 3.1, than any other team in baseball. And after tying with the Angels for the best road record in baseball in 2009 (48-33) the Phillies are actually playing losing baseball away from home (28-31) this season. Roy Halladay has been joined by Roy Oswalt as anchors of the Philly rotation with lefty Cole Hamels also enjoying a statistically solid season. San Diego bolstered their offense at the trade deadline and they are averaging more runs per game at home (4.5) than Philly is on the road (4.3) and the Padres have actually been involved in 4 more OVERs than UNDERs at Petco thus far this season.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: San Diego as underdogs of +120 or more against Oswalt, Halladay or Hamels or if favored by -125 or less against other than that trio; San Diego if favored by -125 or less in a start by Mat Latos against Oswalt, Halladay or Hamels or by -150 or less against any other Philly starter; Phillies as underdogs of +120 or more against other than Latos; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup not involving Kevin Correia for San Diego or Philly’s Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick; OVER 8 or lower if Correia faces Blanton or Kendrick; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Oswalt, Halladay or Hamels opposes Latos.

Boston at Tampa Bay: The road team won the first 7 games this season before the home team won 4 of the next 5, including their most recent series in which Tampa swept a three game home series in early July. The Red Sox have a chance to close ground on Tampa both for second place in the AL East and, more realistically, in the AL Wild Card chase. Boston continues to play well despite having as many key injuries as any team in recent years. 2B Dustin Pedroia is back on the DL after returning for just a couple of game this past week following a month of being sidelined. The Rays’ Jeff Niemann is also having a fine season but is currently on the DL along with another Tampa starter, Wade Davis. But youngster Jeremy Hellickson has filled in well with four fine starts to begin his major league career. Even with the injuries Boston’s remains a potent and balanced offense, averaging 5 runs per game both at home and on the road whereas Tampa’s offense averages a run per game more on the road than at home.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Boston as underdogs in any matchup except must be plus 120 or more against David Price or Matt Garza; Boston as favorites of minus 125 or less in starts by Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester against any Tampa starter; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Buchholz or Lester oppose Garza, Hellickson or Price; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if none of these pitchers is involved

New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox: The Yankees took two of three when these teams met in New York early in the season. It was a high scoring series as the teams combined for 38 runs, sending all three games OVER the Total. But that was a long time ago when Chicago’s pitching was struggling. Over the last few months the White Sox have gotten excellent starting pitching from Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks, who has been the most consistent of the trio. The Yanks’ staff is led by CC Sabathia who is in the running for the Cy Young Award. Phil Hughes has been much more good than bad but the opposite is true of both A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez. The Yankees have the more potent offense overall but are scoring 1.3 runs per game less on the road (4.7) than they are at home (6.0). Chicago’s less potent offense matches up well here as it averages 4.9 runs per game at home. The Yanks are without star Alex Rodriguez who is on the DL but their best offensive player this season has been 2B Robinson Cano who is very much in contention for AL MVP. Both teams need to keep winning as the Yanks seek to hold off Tampa Bay while the Sox look to make up ground on Minnesota. New York’s road record of 35-25 is nearly identical to Chicago’s home mark, 35-24. As an aside, although Ryne Sandberg is considered the 2011 managerial favorite (certainly among their fan base) the Cubs are said to also be interested in Yankee manager Joe Girardi whose contract expires at the end of the season. One can wonder if that might be a bit of a distraction for the New Yorkers this weekend.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: White Sox as underdogs of any price against any Yankees starter except plus at least 130 against Sabathia; White Sox as favorites of minus 120 or less in starts by Buehrle, Floyd or Danks against other than Sabathia; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Sabathia faces Buehrle, Floyd or Danks; OVER Totals of 8 or lower if none of this quartet is involved; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if Chicago’s Freddy Garcia opposes New York’s Hughes, Vazquez or Dustin Moseley.

 

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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