The regular season is more than three quarters done and just under six weeks remain until the 162 game schedule is complete. A good rule of thumb says that it’s not unreasonable to think that a team can gain one game per week in the standings between now and season’s end.
Thus, teams within half a dozen games of a Division lead or a Wild Card still have a realistic chance at making the Playoffs.
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Of course, we’ve seen some amazing September runs in recent seasons that have taken teams from also-ran status into the postseason but we remember those teams because they are the exception rather than the rule.
Using that as a guideline there are only five teams within six games of a Division lead with two in the AL East trailing Boston (Tampa Bay and Baltimore) and two more in the NL Central trailing Pittsburgh (St. Louis and Cincinnati). The fifth such team, Oakland, is actually the closest of the five Division leader chasers, trailing Texas by just a half game through Sunday.
In fact, Baltimore is the only one of the five that has more than 2½ games to overcome, trailing Boston by 4½ and in third place behind Tampa Bay.
The current Division leaders are Boston, Detroit and Texas in the American League and Atlanta, Pittsburgh and the L A Dodgers in the National.
Looking at the Wild Card races in a similar manner, only three teams appear to have legitimate chances of securing the two available berths in the NL. St. Louis currently holds the first NL Wild Card, a game and a half ahead of Cincinnati. Only Arizona is within a half dozen games of the Reds for that second Wild Card, trailing Cincy by 5.
No other NL team has a winning record. Closest to Arizona in chasing the Reds for that second Wild Card is Washington. The Nationals are 4½ games behind the Diamondbacks – and are just 60-63!
It’s much more contentious in the AL where Tampa Bay and Oakland control the two Wild Cards. Four teams are within a half dozen games of the Athletics for that second Wild Card. Baltimore trails Oakland by 3 games, Cleveland by 4½, and both the Yankees and Kansas City by 6 with identical 64-59 records through Sunday.
It promises to be a great final six weeks. It might be worth a look to play on those contenders when made the underdog against teams with nothing to play for, a situation that could come up frequently when on the road.
Arizona, Baltimore and Kansas City might be the most attractive of this group but don’t be afraid to lay a price with this trio when playing at home and the line is -120 or less.
BRAVES/CARDS: This four game series begins Thursday. In their only prior series this season Atlanta swept a three game home series in late July. All 3 games stayed UNDER the Total as the Braves outscored the Cardinals 11 to 3. Both teams have benefited from strong starting pitching, above average bullpens and reliable closers.
St. Louis has had the more consistent offense but the once commanding lead in runs differential in the NL has been narrowed to just an 8 run edge (+140 vs. +132) over Atlanta. The Cards are actually averaging more runs on the road (5.1) than at home (4.5).
Recommended plays: Atlanta +135 or more against Adam Wainwright; Atlanta +115 or more in starts by Julio Teheran or Alex Wood against other St. Louis starters; Atlanta -120 or less against Jake Westbrook; UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup not involving Westbrook.
A’S/ORIOLES: These teams have met in just one prior series this season with Baltimore winning three of four games in Oakland in late April. Three of the games went OVER with just one UNDER as the Orioles outscored the Athletics 28-14, producing an average of 10.5 total runs per game. Oakland’s edge on the mound is offset by Baltimore’s lineup although the Orioles do have an excellent closer in Jim Johnson.
The A’s offense has been underrated and they actually average nearly and identical number of runs on the road (4.7) as Baltimore does at home (4.8). At the same time Baltimore has some solid, though not outstanding, starters in Miguel Gonzalez, WY Chen and the recently acquired Bud Norris. Oakland is without ace Bartolo Colon who was placed on the DL over the weekend.
Recommended plays: With no solid “play on” or “play against” starters the way to approach this series is based on the prices. Oakland +120 or more in any matchup; Baltimore -125 or less in any matchup; OVER 8 or lower in any matchup.
YANKS/RAYS: This has been a very competitive series all season with Tampa winning 7 of 13 games between these rivals. Six of the games have gone OVER with 6 staying UNDER and 1 game pushing. The teams have combined to average 8.5 runs per game. Tampa Bay is contending with Boston for the AL East title whereas the Yankees are realistically looking to make a run at the Wild Card.
New York’s offense has been bolstered by the return of Alfonso Soriano while Alex Rodriquez has performed well since joining the lineup pending the appeal of his suspension. Tampa Bay has the edge in overall pitching although that aspect of their game has not been as strong as in the past couple of seasons. The Yanks’ best starter has been Hiroki Kuroda with Ivan Nova performing second best.
Recommended plays: Yankees as underdogs of any price in starts by Kuroda or Nova not facing David Price, Chris Archer or Alex Cobb; Tampa Bay -140 or less in a start by Price not opposing Kuroda; Tampa Bay -125 or less in starts by Archer or Cobb not facing Kuroda; UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.
RED SOX/DODGERS: Two of baseball’s more storied franchises meet in what could realistically be a preview of the World Series. The Dodgers remain the hottest team in baseball, starting the week winners in 42 of their last 51 games dating back to June 22. Boston has been in or near the lead of the highly competitive AL East all season and start this week up by just one game over Tampa Bay but with both Baltimore and the Yankees within striking distance.
The Dodgers’ pitching is in better shape than Boston’s with the trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and HJ Ryu among the best in the game. With Clay Buchholz still sidelined John Lackey is Boston’s best starter, although lefty Felix Doubront is emerging. Both Jake Peavy and Jon Lester are capable of keeping the Sox in most games as well.
Recommended plays: Boston +150 or more against Kershaw, Ryu or Greinke. Boston -125 or less in a start by Lackey not facing Kershaw, Ryu or Greinke; UNDER 7½ or higher in almost any matchup; UNDER 6½ or higher if Greinke (13 UNDERs, 6 OVERs, 1 PUSH) opposes Lackey (18-3-1).
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]