Playoff intrigue reaches fever pitch in AL

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The 162 game marathon that is the baseball regular season is nearing its end and several teams have already crossed the finish line.

Four of the five National League Playoff teams have officially been determined with only the winner of the NL West still to be determined although that could be a fate accompli by the time you are reading this. The Dodgers are in San Francisco for a four game series that started Monday night and needed just one win in that series to clinch the Division.

Should the Giants pull off an unlikely four game sweep of their bitter rivals the Division would be decided this weekend when the Dodgers host the Padres and the Giants host Colorado.

The Mets clinched the NL East this past Saturday and start the week with a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers for home field advantage in their best of five NLDS that starts next week. The Mets also hold the tie breaker edge as they won the season series against the Dodgers, 4 games to 3.

The Chicago Cubs are all but certain to play on the road in the one game Wild Card contest. The Cubs started this week 4.5 games behind the Pirates for the number one Wild Card and cannot catch St. Louis for the NL Central Title.

But the Cardinals’ grasp on the Division title will be tested in a three game series at Pittsburgh this Monday through Wednesday. Starting the week three games behind St. Louis, the Pirates could tie for the Division lead with a three game home sweep. It’s unlikely, but possible, considering that the Pirates had won 95 games through Sunday.

Should St. Louis win two of those three games the Cards would clinch the Division and would meet the winner of the Wild Card game in the NLDS.

If Pittsburgh wins two or three, closing the gap to two games behind St. Louis, the Division title would be decided over the weekend when the Pirates host Cincinnati while St. Louis plays in Atlanta.

Those are the easy scenarios.

The only things that have been decided in the AL are Kansas City winning the Central and Toronto clinching a Playoff berth but not yet the East title.

More than likely the Blue Jays will win the East as they start the week 4 games ahead of the Yankees with both teams having 7 games to play. Over their last 50 games Toronto has gone 37-13 while the Yankees are a more modest 26-24 over that same span.

The Yankees are well positioned to host next week’s Wild Card game with their 4.5 grip on the first AL Wild Card.

The races for the AL West title and the second AL Wild Card are the ones likely not to be decided until the weekend.

Texas starts the week with a 2.5 game lead over Houston in the AL West with the Angels just a half game further back. From Monday through Thursday each plays a team with a losing record. Houston ends the season at Arizona while the Rangers host the Angels.

Houston’s grip on the second AL Wild Card is just a half game over the Angels with Minnesota a game behind the Angels. Cleveland appears to be out of that race, starting the week 2.5 games behind the Twins and 4 games behind Houston. But the Indians host Minnesota in a four game series Monday through Thursday while the Astros are on the road in Seattle.

Cleveland ends the season hosting Boston while Minnesota will host Kansas City.

The Royals have already clinched the AL Central but may need to play their starters against the Twins since they are battling Toronto for the best record in the league.

After having the best mark in the AL for most of the season Toronto’s surge since late July caught the Royals. The teams started this week with identical 90-65 records. Toronto holds the tie breaker having won 4 of 7 games against the Royals.

While much of the sporting world will be focused on college and pro football this weekend, their likely will be some drama in major league baseball as Playoff picture is finalized on Sunday.

Note that all 15 games on Sunday are scheduled to start within minutes of each other at Noon Pacific, 3:00 p.m. Eastern time so that all games with Playoff implications will be decided at roughly the same time.

As such, any projections for the final weekend should be considered within the context of what may or may not be at stake based upon what happens during the week and in the first game or two of each series. And the previews that follow present some very generic recommendations, based more on situations than on specific matchups.

Barring some highly unlikely developments between Monday and Thursday there will be no NL series over the weekend that will determine which team or teams will make the Playoffs. The five NL Playoff teams are all but certain with only the seeding still to be determined.

However, three series in the AL may well determine which team wins the West and who earns the second Wild Card (the Yankees may have clinched the top AL Wild Card prior to the weekend).

Note: The St. Louis Cardinals are the only team to have played an astonishing 92 OVERS, to just 59 UNDERS and 5 pushes. They have played 15 more OVERs than UNDERs at home (average total runs of 8.3) and 18 more OVERs than UNDERs on the road (ave: 8.9).

San Diego has played 33 more OVERS than UNDERS through Sunday.

Here’s a look at three key weekend series.

LA Angels at Texas: The Rangers caught fire in August and start this week with the Division lead. Hamels provides leadership and experience although the Rangers have a nice blend of veterans who have been to the Playoffs recently. The Angels have played well over the past month – both teams are 16-9 in their last 25 games.

PLAYS: Texas -125 or less in any matchup as long as they remain alive for the Playoffs; The team that needs to clinch if laying no more than – 130; OVER 8 or lower in any matchup

KC at Minnesota: The Twins have gotten better than expected pitching which has been complemented by timely hitting. The Royals have been a more complete team but now have some bullpen issues with Greg Holland out for the duration.

PLAYS: Minnesota -120 or less, or as underdogs, as long as they remain alive for the Wild Card; Once the Twins are eliminated the Royals are playable if laying no more than -125 until their fate for the best AL record is decided; if neither team has anything at stake in Sunday’s regular season finale, the play would be on Minnesota -125 or less.

Houston at Arizona: The Astros have performed much better than anyone expected. Expected to win just 76 games Houston started the week with 82 wins. Yet their run differential of +93 runs suggests they should have won 7 games more.

PLAYS: Houston if favored by no more than -140 as long as they remain alive for the Playoffs; Arizona -125 or less if and when Houston has been eliminated.

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. Contact Andy at [email protected]

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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