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Just over five weeks remain in the regular season which for the first time in many years is scheduled not to end on a Sunday. Barring a playoff game to break a tie, the regular season ends Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Over the weekend Philadelphia became the first team to reach 81 wins in building a 6½ game lead over Atlanta in the NL East. But that’s not the biggest Division lead in the National League.

By winning 22 of their last 25 games the Milwaukee Brewers begin the week with an 8½ game margin in the NL Central over second place St. Louis. It was less than a month ago that the Cardinals had a half game lead in what was a four team race. Severe slumps by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have relegated them to also-ran status. The Cards are 13-12 during the Brewers’ incredible run.

Things are pointing to a Milwaukee vs. Philadelphia NLCS and it would make for a most interesting best of seven series. The Brewers are winning nearly 75 percent of their home games at 47-16. The Phillies have been none too shabby in their home digs, going 44-20 prior to this week’s series hosting the Mets.

The Phillies will still be solid if not overwhelming favorites to win the NL pennant – and the World Series – but Milwaukee continues to build momentum to perhaps make things very interesting.

At the same time the Atlanta Braves, second in the NL East behind Philly and with an 8 game lead for the Wild Card, are tied with Milwaukee for the second best NL record (76-52).

On the road, the Braves have performed better than Milwaukee and almost as well as the Phillies. They also feature a solid pitching rotation, a pair of “lights out” relievers for the eighth and ninth innings and a nicely balanced lineup.

The tightest race in the NL is in the West where struggling Arizona starts the week up by just 1½ on up and down San Francisco. The Giants have a solid rotation but an incredibly limited offense that continues to be beset by injuries.

The best race in baseball remains in the AL East where the Yankees start the week just a half game ahead of Boston. Both teams will make the playoffs, but this race will continue to be intensely fought especially with Alex Rodriguez back from injury for NY.

Texas holds a four game lead over the LA Angels in the AL West and these teams will meet in Texas this coming weekend.

Detroit has opened up a bit of a gap in the AL Central over Cleveland and Chicago with the Indians and White Sox struggling to maintain .500 records. The winner of this Division will likely be the longest shot on the board to win the pennant or the World Series of the eight teams to make the playoffs.

That could be the case even if Detroit holds off their challengers and has arguable the game’s best starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, on the roster. The only team that might be a larger long shot if in the playoffs would be Arizona.

Over the weekend, none of the eight NL series match a pair of teams with winning records. In the AL the only such series that does are Rangers-Angels and Blue Jays-Rays. Neither Toronto nor Tampa Bay figure to make the playoffs by virtue of playing in the AL East.

If Tampa Bay played in the AL Central and had their same record, they’d be first, ahead of Detroit by 1½ games. Toronto would be just 3½ behind the Tigers.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

Marlins at Phillies: The Phils have won 9 of 12 games against Florida with the OVER going 6-5-1. The teams have averaged 7.8 runs per game. The Phillies have baseball’s best rotation that has gotten even deeper with the emergence of Vance Worley to compliment Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Marlins hit hard by injuries. None of Philly’s active starters has an ERA below 3.60.

Preferred plays:

• Phils -150 or less in any matchup.

• Phils -1½ runs when favored by more than -150.

• OVER 8 or lower if Oswalt or Kyle Kendrick start or if Florida’s Javier Vazquez doesn’t face Halladay, Lee or Hamels;

Padres at D’backs: P Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have been the stalwarts for Arizona. Cory Luebke has been San Diego’s most effective starter although Mat Latos after early struggles has not allowed more than three runs in any of his last 10 starts.

Preferred plays:

• Padres +150 or more in a start by Latos or Luebke against Kennedy or Hudson.

• Padres as underdogs of any price against any other Arizona starter.

• D’backs as -150 favorites or less not facing Latos or Luebke.

• OVER 8½ or lower in any start not involving Latos, Luebke, Kennedy or Hudson.

• UNDER 7½ or higher in a matchup of Latos or Luebke against Kennedy or Hudson.

Angels at Rangers: Texas took 3 of 4 in Anaheim last week. UNDER is 8-5. Teams averaged 8.3 runs per game. The Angels pretty much need to win at least two of these three games to maintain a realistic shot at catching the Rangers. Texas pitching is pretty decent and rates a solid edge over Angels hitting.

Preferred plays:

• Angels as underdogs or no more than -125 favorites in starts by Jered Weaver or Dan Haren against any Texas starter.

• Angels +120 or more in a start by Ervin Santana against any Texas starter.

• Rangers -140 or less not facing Weaver, Haren or Santana.

• UNDER any total if Weaver or Santana opposes Matt Harrison.

• OVER any total if anyone other than Weaver, Haren or Santana face CJ Wilson or Derek Holland.

Tigers at Twins: Detroit has won 9 of 12 meetings. The Tigers and Twins have averaged 10.3 rpg. The OVER is 8-3-1. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander has been arguably the best starter in the AL, if not all of baseball. But there’s been a significant drop off. Only mid summer acquisition Doug Fister (3.49) has an ERA below 4.20. Minnesota’s best starter, Scott Baker, is currently injured. The others in the rotation have ERA’s of 4.50 or higher.

Preferred plays:

• Tigers -150 or less in a start by Verlander.

• Tigers -1½ runs if favored -150 or more with Verlander.

• Tigers +125 or more in games Verlander doesn’t start.

• Twins as underdogs of any price not facing Verlander.

• OVER 8½ or lower not involving Verlander.

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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