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Barely three weeks remain in the regular season and the race to the playoffs remains very intense.

The National League division front runners – Cincinnati, San Francisco and Washington – each have leads of more than five games, focusing much of the attention over the final three weeks on the wild card race.

Atlanta has a comfortable 5½ game lead over St. Louis for the first NL Wild Card but the Cardinals’ grip on the second Wild Card is tenuous. The Los Angeles Dodgers are just 1½ behind St. Louis and, although they’ve been fading, Pittsburgh is just another game back.

Still lurking in the background is Philadelphia. Preseason favorites in many corners to win the NL pennant, the Phillies have struggled all season but have managed to creep to within two games of .500 as the week begins. That has the Phils just six games out of the second Wild Card (tied with Milwaukee and a half game ahead of Arizona).

The odds are long but the Phillies can take encouragement from the September runs made by both St. Louis and Tampa Bay last season.

Will the Phillies be this season’s miracle team? The next three weeks will tell the tale.

Texas has the largest Division lead in the American League, up by 3½ games over Oakland in the West. Chicago has a two game edge over Detroit in the Central and the New York Yankees start the week up by just one game over Baltimore in the East, with Tampa Bay just two games out.

The wild card race is similarly contentious with Oakland 1½ ahead of Baltimore for the first AL spot. Both Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels are just a game out of the second slot with Detroit lurking just 4½ back.

Overall, half of baseball’s 30 teams are within five games of being in position of making the playoffs with about 20 or so game remaining.

Here’s a look at four interesting series that will be played this weekend.

Nationals at Braves: With pitcher Stephen Strasburg shut down for the season the NL East leading Nationals are not as strong as they’ve been as they travel to Atlanta in what could be the Braves’ last real threat to make a run at the division title. Washington has won 10 of their 15 meetings this season. The OVER is 8-6-1.

Kris Medlen has been Atlanta’s ace over the past month. Capable veteran John Lannan will fill the rotation spot of Strasburg for the Nats. With the division title perhaps on the line this figures to be a tightly managed series which suggests runs may be at a premium.

Potential plays:

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Atlanta’s Medlen or Tim Hudson face Gio Gonzalez.

• Either team +125 or more.

• Atlanta -125 or less not facing Gonzalez.

Cards at Dodgers: This is a four game series that begins Thursday and finds both teams contending for the second of the two NL Wild Cards. The home team has won 6 of the 7 meetings. The OVER is 4-2-1. Despite bolstering their lineup the Dodgers have not been as potent offensively as they’d hoped while St. Louis continues to be effective at the plate and are second in the NL in runs differential. 

Both teams have above average starting pitching with the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw the best on either staff. Although a check of the stats shows St. Louis’ Kyle Lohse not far behind. This should be a low scoring series with so much at stake in the final few weeks. 

Potential plays:

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Kershaw opposes Lohse.

• Dodgers +130 or more in any matchup.

• Cardinals -125 or less not facing Kershaw.

Rays at Yankees: The home team has won 11 of 15 meetings as this key series gets underway. The AL East has come down to a three way battle involving these two teams and Baltimore. The Yankees continue to be hurt by injuries with Mark Teixeira the latest Bomber expected to miss an extended amount of time. The Yankees still have the edge at the plate but that advantage is more than negated by Tampa’s in starting pitching. 

Hiroki Kuroda has been New York’s most consistent and reliable starter. Tampa’s rotation has been solid with lefty David Price the staff ace and veteran James Shields in his best form of the season. Worth noting – 20 of Kuroda’s 27 starts have resulted in UNDERS as have 19 of Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson’s 26 starts.

Potential plays:

• UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup.

• Rays +150 or more in any matchup.

• Yankees -125 not facing Price or Shields.

Orioles at A’s: The teams have split their 6 prior meetings, all in Baltimore. The UNDER is 4-2. This could be a low scoring series as Oakland has long been a pitchers’ park. Yet the A’s have been more productive at the plate over the past couple of months than is generally perceived. Their runs differential of plus 80 is fourth best in the AL. Still, their strength is their pitching. 

Baltimore is -29 in runs differential which makes the 78-62 record nothing short of remarkable. The Orioles have excelled in one run games and their power at the plate has been able to mask their shortcomings on the mound. 

Potential plays:

A’s -125 in any matchup.

Orioles +150 in any matchup.

• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

• OVER 7 or lower in any matchup.

Andy Iskoe and his Logical Approach is one of the most popular statistical breakdowns in sports betting. Andy is also a longtime baseball and football columnist at GT. Contact Andy at Andy­[email protected]

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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