Entering Monday’s play just 6 weeks remain in the regular season with teams having roughly 40 games left in which to make a run at making the Playoffs.
The top three teams in the National League remain St Louis, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs. All three are in the Central Division and are all likely to make the Playoffs. The Cubs started this week with a 6 game lead over San Francisco for the second NL Wild Card.
The New York Mets start the week with a 5 game lead over Washington in the NL East as the Nationals are just 1 game over .500 after winning 2 of 3 against Milwaukee over the weekend.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and their huge $300 million payroll can be considered as big a disappointment, if not greater, than the Nats. Yes, the Dodgers are in first place in the NL West but their record is a rather mediocre 67-56. Their lead is just 1.5 games over San Francisco.
Very quietly both Arizona and San Diego are still in position to make a run at the Dodgers for the NL West title. Arizona starts the week just 5 games behind the Dodgers with the Padres just 1½ further back, making it four teams within 6½ of the lead.
With the Pirates and Cubs in firm control of the two Wild Cards the Diamondbacks and Pads only realistic chances are to win the Division. They only need to make up roughly one game a week to overtake the Giants and Dodgers and pull what would be considered a major upset considering the spring training expectations. Arizona’s season wins total was just 72.5.
A similar scenario is unfolding in the AL West where Houston started the week with a 5½ game lead over the LA Angels with whom they have been battling for the Division lead for the past month. In between the Astros and Angels are the Texas Rangers. Projected to win just 75.5 games, Texas started the week 64-59 and just 4 behind Houston.
Over their last 30 games the Rangers are 20-10 while the Angels are just 9-21 (Houston is a solid 17-13 over the same span). Mike Scioscia may be entering his final month of managing the Angels, especially if September turns in a Lone Star battle between the Astros and Rangers for the AL West title.
Kansas City can start thinking about its ‘magic number’ with its 12.5 game lead over Minnesota in the AL Central.
The AL East is looking like a two team race with Toronto starting the week with a half-game lead over the New York Yankees. Baltimore has fallen 6.5 games back, a half game better than Tampa Bay.
The AL Wild Card race is much more contentious than the NL. The Yankees control the first AL Wild Card by 4 games over Texas. But the Rangers have 7 teams within half a dozen games of their position, ranging from the Angels and Minnesota (each 1.5 games back) to Cleveland (6 games) with Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago in between.
It’s hard to make a case in the AL that any of the Wild Card contenders deserves to be other than a Wild Card and subject to a one game end to their season.
That is hardly the case in the NL where the Chicago Cubs, currently in control of the second Wild Card, at 71-51, are 4.5 games better than the East leading Mets and West leading Dodgers, both at 67-56. And that is despite the Cubs facing a much tougher schedule with half of their Division games against St Louis and Pittsburgh, the top two teams in the NL.
The Mets have feasted on Atlanta, Miami and Philadelphia – each of whom is at least 18 games below .500. The Dodgers’ competition has been slightly better although at 24 games below .500 Colorado’s record more than offsets the combined 7 games above .500 record established by San Francisco, Arizona and San Diego.
The time has come for MLB to seriously considering reverting back to just two leagues and seeding the teams 1 through 5 with no Divisions. It is easy to construct a fairly balanced schedule.
With 14 foes in a league, each team can play 11 games against each other team, playing 6 at home and 5 on the road in one season and reversing that for the next season. That would account for 154 games. The remaining 8 games would be interleague games that would still account for 5 percent of a team’s schedule.
While Divisional rivalries were nice they have long outlived their usefulness as the US population has become more mobile. Fans of every team can be found in large numbers in most major league cities. With the advent of cable TV and the internet someone who grew up following the Phillies as a resident of Philadelphia now has access to every game whether he or she still lives in Philly or resides in San Francisco.
It would be a shame if the Pirates or Cubs are eliminated in a one game Playoff while having records considerably better than the fourth or fifth best team in the National League. It is a situation that can be easily corrected if the powers that be choose to do so. There would still be excitement during September as teams in the middle of each league try to earn a Wild Card while the teams at the top try to earn a top three seed.
Here’s a look at three series to be played this weekend.
Chicago Cubs at LA Dodgers: In their only prior meetings this season the teams split a 4 game series in Chicago in late June. All 4 games stayed UNDER the Total as the Cubs and Dodgers scored a total of just 18 runs. The teams are virtually even in run production and the Dodgers very lightly better in runs allowed suggesting that, on balance, this is an even matchup.
PLAYS: Cubs as underdogs of any price in matchups of Lester or Arrieta vs Kershaw or Greinke; Cubs +120 or more with any other starter against any other Dodgers starter; Dodgers -140 or less with Kershaw or Greinke not facing Lester or Arrieta; UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup; UNDER 7 or higher in matchups of Arrieta or Lester vs Kershaw or Greinke or UNDER First 5 Inning Totals of 4 or higher if the full game total is less than 7.
Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers: Texas took 3 of 4 games in Baltimore as June turned into July in the only prior series between the Rangers and Orioles. That series averaged 7.9 runs per game. Baltimore has no true ace with only lefty W Y Chen putting up above average stats in his 24 starts. This series handicaps as producing many more runs than did their first series.
PLAYS: OVER 9 or lower in any matchup except in starts by Chen (15-6-2 to the UNDER) or Texas’ Yovani Gallardo (17-8-1 to the UNDER); Baltimore +125 or more with any starter against Hamels; Baltimore +110 or more against other Texas starter; Texas as underdogs of any price against any Baltimore starter other than Chen.
Boston Red Sox at New York Mets: The Mets have a huge edge in starting pitching that more than offsets Boston’s edge at the plate. And the Mets are getting back team captain David Wright who has missed all but two weeks of the season to aid an offense that has been much improved since the trade deadline.
PLAYS: Mets -140 or less with any starter other than Bartolo Colon against any Boston starter; Boston +150 or more not facing Jacob DeGrom or Matt Harvey; OVER 7 or lower in starts not involving DeGrom or Harvey.
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. Email: [email protected]