With the passing of the non-waiver trading deadline and the transition from July into August, the Divisional and Wild Card races now take on relevance. Teams have fewer than 60 games remaining over the next eight weeks.
A handful of notable trades were made at the deadline with the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies both strengthening their rosters as they attempt to repeat their pennant winning seasons of 2009. Ironically, both made trades with the Houston Astros to acquire key players.
The Phillies made the bigger acquisition in trading for pitching ace Roy Oswalt while the Yankees bolstered their offense with the addition of Lance Berkman.
Although neither player was impressive in their first outings with their new teams, expect both to have impact on their teams over the remainder of the season.
Despite having the best record in baseball, the Yankees start the week with just a one game lead in the AL East. That’s because second place Tampa Bay has baseball’s second best record and just won two of three from the Yanks over this past weekend. The Rays did little at the deadline to strengthen their roster but seem very well equipped to battle New York deep into September. And let’s not write off the Boston Red Sox. Though six and a half games out, the Sox will be adding several key players in coming weeks as Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury return from extended stints on the DL.
New York’s slim lead over Tampa is only the third tightest Divisional race starting the week as the leads in the AL and NL Central Divisions are just a half game. In the NL Central St. Louis is up by that slimmest of margins over Cincinnati just as the Chicago White Sox hold that same lead over Minnesota in the AL.
Two of the other three races are also quite tight as Atlanta leads Philadelphia by two and a half games in the NL East while San Diego has just a game and a half lead over San Francisco in the NL West.
The only one-sided race is in the AL West where Texas has a solid eight game lead over the Los Angeles Angels.
The Wild Card races show Tampa Bay up by five and a half games over Boston in the AL and San Francisco holding a two game lead over Cincinnati in the NL.
A reasonable rule of thumb holds that with eight weeks left in the regular season it is quite possible to make up a game a week. And it does not necessarily take a lengthy streak to do so. After all, a team that goes 4-3 over a week will make up that one game if the team ahead of them goes 3-4.
Teams still have realistic chances of making the Playoffs if they can stay within five games of the Division or Wild Card leader entering September. So there is plenty of baseball still to be played with much yet to be determined.
At the same time, the season is rapidly approaching an end for teams that just a few weeks ago seemed to have a realistic shot at the Playoffs.
In the American League the Angels, Oakland and Detroit are each flirting with .500 records but have too much ground to make up. National League teams in similar situations include Florida, the New York Mets and perhaps even both Colorado and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers are interesting in having made several moves at the deadline that appear to have addressed several areas of concern. They also expect to have slugger Manny Ramirez back shortly after a couple of trips to the DL this summer.
Of the seven teams just cited don’t be surprised if the Dodgers make a run in the coming weeks to challenge for both the NL West title and the NL Wild Card.
Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.
New York Mets at Philadelphia: The Mets have all but played themselves out of contention since the All Star break while the Phillies have done the reverse. Star Ryan Howard hurt an ankle over the weekend and his status for the Phils is day to day as we go to press. The Phillies should be especially motivated for this series as the most recent series between these rivals, in late May, resulted in the Mets winning all three games by shutouts, outscoring New York 16-0. Earlier in May the Phils took two of three at home so the home team has won 5 of 6 meetings this season. The Mets’ woes have been both on the mound and at the plate and their current plight can be best summarized by noting that veteran castoff knuckleballer R A Dickey has been their most effective player since the All Star break. Their collective psyche is fragile and their performance in this series could well hinge on how they fared in Atlanta earlier in the week.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Mets as underdogs in starts by Johan Santana and Jon Niese; Phillies as favorites of -160 or less against any other Mets starter; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in matchups of Dickey, Niese or Santana against Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels or Roy Oswalt; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if none of these starters is involved.
San Francisco at Atlanta: This four game series begins Thursday. The teams met once this season back in early April when the Giants took two of three at home. The Braves currently lead the NL East while the Giants currently hold the NL Wild Card lead, making this a key series and potential Playoffs preview. The Giants have one of baseball’s best starting rotations and their lineup has been bolstered with the call up of future all star catcher Buster Posey. Atlanta also has a rising star in rookie outfielder Jason Heyward but may well be without one of the league’s leading hitters, Martin Prado, who suffered a broken knuckle this past weekend. Overall the Braves have the better offense with a pitching staff that has been better than average. Tim Hudson has been the ace of the staff while Jair Jurrjens has pitched well since returning from injury. The current five man Giants’ rotation each have ERAs of 3.55 or better and WHIPs no higher than 1.31, both of which belong to fifth starter Jonathan Sanchez. This has the makings of a well played, low scoring series.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: UNDER Totals of 8 in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Hudson opposes Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum; Giants as underdogs of any price in any matchup except against Hudson; Braves as favorites of -130 or lower in a start by Hudson.
Boston at New York Yankees: Although it’s only early August this becomes a key four game series for both teams that concludes Monday. The Yankees are trying to hold off surging Tampa Bay while the Red Sox seek to narrow what was a six and a half deficit to their nemesis at the start of the week. New York has won 5 of 8 meetings this season but the teams have not met since mid May. Seven of the 8 games went OVER the Total as the teams have averaged over 13 total runs per game. The Yankees are baseball’s most potent home offense, averaging 6.2 runs per game at the new Stadium. Despite the injuries, Boston is averaging over 5 runs per game both at home and on the road. The Yanks are without their most effective pitcher, Andy Pettitte, who was involved in the only UNDER between these teams this season. John Lackey has started to pitch better for Boston after a shaky start while both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have been steady.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Boston as underdogs of +130 or more in any matchup or as underdogs of any price in starts by Buchholz, Lackey or Lester; Yankees as favorites of -125 or lower against other than those three Boston starters; OVER Totals of 9 or lower in any matchup; OVER Totals of 10 or lower in starts not involving Boston’s Buchholz, Lackey or Lester.
Texas at Oakland: If Oakland has any hopes of making a run in the AL West they have to start here as host to the Division leading Rangers for three games. Texas has won 5 of 9 meetings this season including 2 of 3 in Texas last week. The Athletics have actually fared three games better than the Rangers over their last 30 but this might be their last realistic chance to narrow the gap. Texas is just 2-3 in Cliff Lee’s starts since coming over from Seattle although Lee has generally pitched well, hurling four complete games. Texas has the much better offense but Oakland is historically a pitchers park. A major reason for Texas’ success this season has been their pitching, which had fared very well even before Lee arrived. The quartet of Lee, Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson could make them live underdogs in the Playoffs against the likes of the Yankees or Rays. Oakland’s best starter has been young Trevor Cahill although lefties Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez have had solid seasons. Texas is averaging a run less per game on the road than at home.
RECOMMENDED PLAYS: UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Lee opposes Cahill or Braden; Oakland as underdogs of +125 or more in any matchup or if underdogs of +160 or more against Lee; Oakland as favorites of -120 or lower against Scott Feldman or Rich Harden.