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The trading deadline is a week away and the first wave of trades has taken place. The major development during All-Star week was Baltimore’s trade of soon-to-be free agent shortstop Manny Machado to the LA Dodgers that, for the moment at least, established the Dodgers as the favorites to win the National League pennant and return to the World Series.

There were also a couple of less hyped transactions that could have a major impact in the American League as a pair of National League closers were traded to the American League. San Diego traded Brad Hand to Cleveland and the New York Mets traded Jeurys Familia to Oakland.

The days leading up to the trade deadline of next Tuesday, July 31 at 1 p.m. Pacific time will be filled with rumors, denials, revised rumors and surprises. For the baseball fan – and the bettor – these days are often filled with anguish and anticipation.

In most seasons a record of 63-34 would suggest a 10-game Divisional lead for such a team. Yet in what has been an unusual 2018 season thus far the New York Yankees have that exact record, yet start this week trailing Boston by five games in the AL East. The Red Sox are an amazing 70-31, which is on a pace to 112 regular season wins.

Surprisingly, the Yankees do not even own the second-best record in the AL as Houston is 66-36 and trails Boston by just 4.5 games for the number one seed. That is not that large a gap to overcome with 60 games remaining on the schedule. And with the Yankees and Boston still to face each other 10 more times (beginning with a four-game series in Boston a week from this Thursday) the Astros have a real shot to catch and overtake the Red Sox just as the Yankees have to catch and overtake the Sox, although the Yankees’ task is a bit more challenging.

Entering this week the hottest team in baseball has been the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of nine in a row through Sunday. Projected to win between 73 and 74 games, the Pirates stood 51-49 as we went to press, and although they sat third in the NL Central, trailing the Division-leading Cubs by eight games, the Buccos were just four games out of the second NL Wild Card with over 60 games still to play and just Arizona and Colorado separating the Pirates from the current holder of the second Wild Card, Atlanta.

In many ways, Pittsburgh is the National League’s version of Oakland. Both teams have rather nondescript rosters with several quality players but few household names.

Yet both remain under-the-radar teams that have legitimate chances to make the Playoffs as Wild Card teams and anything can happen once a team is in the postseason.

Pittsburgh’s chances might be a bit better than Oakland’s considering there are three dominant teams in the AL (Boston, Houston, Yankees) and none in the National League.

Entering this week no team is playing .600 baseball in the NL with Chicago’s Cubs having the League’s best record, 58-40. Admittedly the Pirates have a huge challenge ahead of them and their current streak could be the high point of their season. After all, before their current nine-game winning streak the Pirates were seven games below .500.

It will be interesting to see how the Pirates approach the trade deadline. Past history suggests they are more likely to be sellers rather than buyers but it would also not be a surprise if they stay on the sidelines and keep their current roster intact, preferring to let their young talent develop.

Pennant and World Series odds will see some tweaks as trades are completed so if there are teams you have your eyes on pay close attention over the next week. Be prepared to act quickly if an acquisition increases your interest as the books will similarly be quick to make adjustments but perhaps by not as much to offset your appraisal of the perceived improved chances.

Here are thoughts on three weekend-series. Bear in mind that trades over the next few days could significantly change the composition of rosters for several of baseball’s 30 teams.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves

Both teams are battling for Division titles. Atlanta started this week a game behind Philadelphia in the NL East while the Dodgers led Arizona by 1.5 games in the NL West. In their lone prior series this season the Dodgers won two of three when the teams met in LA in mid-June. All three games went OVER the Total as the teams combined to average 9.0 runs per game.

Both franchises have long traditions of excellent starting pitching but in this era of shortened outings by starters no Dodgers or Braves starter is averaging more than 5.8 innings per start. That places even greater emphasis and reliance on the bullpens. Surprisingly, using some secondary measures upon which I rely, both teams’ bullpens have been average at best. Much of that can be explained by the excess usage necessitated by shortened starts.

Even so, both staffs are allowing slightly less than the MLB average number of runs and are essentially .500 in Totals play. Several starters in this series do have extreme Totals results with the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda 12-3-1 to the UNDER but Rich Hill 9-3 to the OVER. For Atlanta, Brandon McCarthy is 11-4 to the OVER while Anibal Sanchez is 8-4 to the UNDER. Sanchez and Mike Foltynewicz have put up the best stats for the Braves. For the Dodgers, ace Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Ross Stripling and Maeda have each put up above average but not dominating stats. That fact suggests the Braves make for a nice play if getting at least +150 against Kershaw.

With many similarities between these teams getting +125 or more would make the underdog the preferred play regardless of the matchup, with the exception of requiring that higher price in a Kershaw start. Look to play the OVER in a start by McCarthy not facing Maeda and the UNDER in a start by Maeda not opposing McCarthy. Otherwise, look to play OVER 7.5 or lower or UNDER 9 or higher.

Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels

In an odd bit of scheduling, the first three series between these AL West rivals were played in Seattle where the Mariners won six of nine games. The lone series thus far played in Anaheim saw the Angels win two of three just prior to the All-Star break. Seven of the dozen games went OVER the Total with four staying UNDER and one pushing. The teams have averaged 9.3 total runs per game.

Interestingly, 11 of the 12 games were decided by two runs or more even though the Mariners are an incredible 26-12 in one-run games. Seattle is likely to be a buyer at the trade deadline as the Mariners seek to hold off Oakland for the second AL Wildcard and lead the A’s by just three games through Sunday. Robinson Cano is eligible to return from his suspension on Aug. 14. The Angels are likely to be sellers with their disappointing 50-50 record. The Angels’ Mike Trout is having another MVP-type season but the supporting lineup has been rather ordinary.

The best starters have been Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs, both of whom have been the subject of trade rumors although the Angels have denied interest in trading either. Seattle’s staff is anchored by James Paxton with both Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc having surprisingly solid seasons. The Mariners can be played as favorites of up to -140 in a start by Paxton not facing Skaggs or Heaney in which case Paxton should lay no more than -125.

Gonzales can be played as a favorite of -125 or less not facing Skaggs or Heaney or up to -110 or less (or as an underdog) against that duo. Otherwise, look to back the Angels in starts by Skaggs or Heaney up to -140 against other than Paxton or Gonzales or up to -150 against other starters. Should Paxton or Gonzales face Heaney or Skaggs consider UNDER 7.5 or higher. If none of those pitchers are involved look OVER 8.5 or lower.

Oakland Athletics at Colorado Rockies

The lone interleague series this weekend might be the most entertaining and high scoring. Oakland is battling for the second Wild Card in the AL while Colorado is in contention for both the NL West title and an NL Wild Card. Both teams have been slightly better than average offensively on a season-to-date basis but have been nicely above average over the past month.

Neither pitching staff has a true “ace” which suggests this should be a high scoring series, especially given the venue. Of the starters on both teams the clear best has been Oakland’s Sean Manaea, who comes closest to being a legitimate potential ace. He’s the only Oakland starter averaging more than six innings per start (6.2) although veteran Edwin Jackson has fared surprisingly well in his five starts. For Colorado both Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson have performed best.

Oakland has the better bullpen which was just strengthened with their trade for Jeurys Familia. But the strength of both teams remains the offense. In approaching this series look to play OVER 10.5 or lower except in starts by Manaea or Freeland. Whereas Manaea’s 21 starts have produced slightly more UNDERs than OVERs, Freeland’s results have been more extreme. Of his 20 starts 15 have stayed UNDER with just five going OVER. Consider playing either team at +125 or more or a play on Colorado if -125 or less in a start by Freeland.

NOTE: In many ways Pittsburgh is the National League’s version of Oakland. Both teams have rather nondescript rosters with several quality players but few household names.

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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