Only two Division races remain effectively undecided: AL East and NL West

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September has arrived and with it the expansion of rosters from 25 to 40 active players. This gives managers, especially those of teams in contention for the Playoffs, additional resources to use in key situations, be they involve making pitching changes or deciding on pinch hitters (or even pinch runners in some circumstances).

This makes handicapping and betting the games a bit tougher in September as often we are confronted with overly high priced favorites when looking to back contenders or inadequately priced underdogs when looking to back teams out of contention.

Often it is best in September to be very cautious and selective, especially when looking at favorites. This will lead to looking for games involving two teams still in realistic contention in which managers will look to field their best lineups and manage as if the game would be the game to decide his teams Playoffs fate.

There may be occasions to back non-contending teams against fellow non-contenders when one of the teams is starting a promising young pitcher called up from the minors to be given a brief taste of “the big show.”

The only two Division races that remain effectively undecided are in the AL East and NL West. Those are the only races in which the leader is up by 5 or fewer games over the second place team. Toronto leads Boston by 1 and Baltimore by 3 in the AL East. The Dodgers lead the Giants by 3 games in the NL West. The Cubs are out of sight in the NL Central.

The Wild Card races will draw the most attention.

In the AL Boston has a 2 game grip on the top Wild Card with Baltimore and Detroit starting the week tied for the second. Four other teams are within 5 games of that second Wild Card – Houston (2), the Yankees (3.5), Kansas City (4) and Seattle (5). As the number of games dwindles teams will be all but eliminated on a day to day basis.

In the NL San Francisco has a 1.5 game lead over St. Louis for the first Wild Card with the Cardinals, up by just a single game over the Mets. Also in contention are Pittsburgh (3.5) and Miami (4) but both the Pirates and Marlins are not playing well as September begins. The Pirates have lost 8 of their last 8 through Sunday and the Marlins have not been much better at 4-6 over that same span.

Much will be decided over the next four weeks as the regular season concludes on Sunday, October 2. While much of the sporting world will be focused on the start of the college football and NFL seasons the best part of baseball season has started to unfold.

Here’s a preview of three weekend series.

Dodgers at Marlins

This is the only NL series of the weekend that involves a pair of teams with Playoff hopes although the Marlins have been fading over the past couple of weeks. This series is also big time revenge for the Dodgers who were swept – at home – by the Marlins and ex-manager Don Mattingly in late April. The Fish outscored the Dodgers 16 to 8 although the Totals were evenly split with 2 OVERs and 2 UNDERs.

Miami backers won nearly 6.5 units in that sweep. The Dodgers were a lackluster team through June but have played brilliantly ever since ace Clayton Kershaw was placed in the DL. The game’s best lefty is slated to make his return in this series and the Dodgers will be worth backing throughout the series. You should consider laying the run and a half when Kershaw starts but the Dodgers can be backed at -150 or less when their other starters take the bump.

The lone exception might be against Miami’s ace, Jose Fernandez. The Dodgers would be playable but only as underdogs of +125 or more against Fernandez. Miami would be playable behind their ace if laying no more than -130. If we get a matchup of Fernandez vs Kershaw the play would be UNDER 6 or higher (yes, there might be a 5.5 in such a matchup). Otherwise, look to play OVER 7 or lower.

Red Sox at Jays

This series should have a major impact on who takes control of the AL East, especially if either team sweep the three games. Toronto has won 7 of their 13 meetings this season. Despite the high powered offenses of both teams, only 5 games have gone OVER the Total with 8 staying UNDER. Given those offenses the Totals lines have been high as the Red Sox and Blue Jays have combined to average 9.5 runs per game in their 13 meetings.

Toronto’s starting rotation has faded somewhat down the stretch while Boston’s has been more effective. Red Sox woes have been in the bullpen. Fundamentally this handicaps as a high scoring series but so did their previous four. Fatigue often is a factor in September that results in fewer and less effective innings pitched by starters resulting in additional strains placed upon bullpens. Rick Porcello and David Price have been Boston’s best starters in recent weeks, though Porcello has pitched at a high level all season.

Aaron Sanchez remains steady as the Blue Jays top starter even with the “management” of his innings whereas both Jay Happ and Marco Estrada have tailed off from their performances in the season’s first half. Still, of Toronto’s five man rotation only knuckleballer RA Dickey ranks lower than 44 in my rankings of 168 starters.

Look to back either team as underdogs of +125 or more throughout this series regardless of the matchups except if Toronto is less than +150 in a start by Dickey against either Porcello or Price. Look to play OVER 8.5 or lower in any matchup not involving Sanchez whose 25 starts have produced 17 UNDERs, 7 OVERs and 1 PUSH.

Cubs at Astros

Prior to the start of the season this was a very realistic World Series matchup as both teams made the Playoffs last season with young, maturing talent and each was picked to be playing in October again this season. The Cubs have held up their end of the prediction with the best record in baseball through Sunday (87-48) and are the only team on pace to win at least 100 games (101).

Houston struggled for most of the first half of the season but made a rally during July and into August. But they’ve faded over the past few weeks and sit 10.5 games behind Texas in the AL West and in a pack with a host of teams chasing the second AL Wild Card. The Cubs are flat out the best team in baseball with any weaknesses minor at worst. Houston’s pitching has been the main cause of their struggles with no true “ace” in the rotation.

Lefty Dallas Keuchel has not come close to matching his pitching prowess of last season and no other start has been able to show improvement. Houston would be attractive in this series but only if priced at +150 or higher against any Chicago starter. Otherwise, look to back the Cubs when laying -130 or less throughout the series. Look to play OVER 7.5 or less as the Astros have home run power but not nearly as much offense to counteract what the Cubs should produce against Houston’s pitching.

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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