The playoff picture is gaining more of a defined profile as we enter the latter stages of August. Four of baseball’s six division leaders have leads of five games or more with just the AL Central and NL West having tighter races.
The Chicago White Sox lead Detroit by a game and a half in the AL Central while the Los Angeles Dodgers have a slim half-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West. Arizona is just 4½ games behind the Dodgers in third place.
Tampa Bay and Baltimore control the two AL wild cards but Oakland is just a half game back and Detroit 2 out. The Los Angeles Angels, 4½ games from the second wild card, is the only other AL team that starts the week less than 7½ back.
Atlanta has a three game lead over Pittsburgh for the first NL Wild Card with San Francisco just a game behind the Pirates for that second entry. St. Louis is a game further back with Arizona, five behind the Pirates, the only other NL team less 10 out of that second NL wild card berth.
Teams have roughly 40 games or less to make up ground over the final six weeks of the regular season. Going 5-2 over the course of a week or 2-5 can have dramatic impacts on the standings.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Cardinals at Reds: Cincinnati has won 5 of 9 meetings including a three game home sweep out of the All Star break. The UNDER is 6-2-1. The Reds have been unusually fortunate in that their five man rotation has started all but one game this season.
Johnny Cueto has been the staff ace, but the other four starters have also been consistent. The Cards have used only six different starters and have to be encouraged with the effort given by lefty Jaime Garcia this past Sunday upon his return from the DL.
• Either team +125 or more in any matchup.
• UNDER 8 or higher if St. Louis’ Kyle Lohse opposes Cueto or Bronson Arroyo.
• OVER 8 or lower if Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey does not face Kyle Lohse.
Braves at Giants: This four game series begins on Thursday. In their only prior meeting this season, the Giants took 2 of 3 in Atlanta in mid July. The OVER is 1-1-1.
The Giants have the better starting pitching overall but the Braves have an edge in the bullpen, especially with Craig Kimbrel as closer. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong have led the Giants rotation all season and each sport ERAs below 3.00 after nearly 25 starts each.
The Braves have had a patchwork rotation for much of the season but have been buoyed by the recent efforts of veteran Ben Sheets and young Kris Medlen in addition to the recently acquired Paul Maholm and the steady Tim Hudson.
• Braves +130 or more against Bumgarner, Cain or Vogelsong.
• Braves -115 or less against Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito.
• Giants +125 or more against any Atlanta starter.
• OVER 7 or lower in most any matchup.
• UNDER 7 or higher if Sheets or Medlen oppose Bumgarner or Cain.
Angels at Tigers: In their only prior series the Tigers took 3 of 4 games in Detroit in mid July. The OVER is 3-1. The Angels arguably have the better overall rotation but fatigue seems to have set in with only ace Jered Weaver putting up solid stats although he’s off of a pair of weak efforts himself.
The Tigers’ rotation is paced by Justin Verlander, but there is a noticeable dropoff beyond him. The Angels do average a run more per game on the road than at home which suggests this could be a high scoring series.
• OVER 9 or lower in games not involving Weaver, Verlander or Doug Fister.
• UNDER 8 or higher if Weaver opposes Verlander or Fister.
• Angels +125 or more not facing Verlander.
• Angels +150 or more against Verlander.
• Tigers -125 or less in any matchup.
A’s at Rays: This is an odd three game series that will be played Thursday through Saturday but with no game on Sunday. In their two prior series, the road team took 2 of 3 each time. The OVER is 4-2. David Price has been consistently strong all season for Tampa, but James Shields, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have all been pitching much better over the past month.
Oakland has gotten a solid season from veteran Bartolo Colon in addition to a host of youngsters who have continued to develop as the season has progressed. Neither offense is above average although Tampa does average nearly a run per game more on the road than at home (4.7 vs. 3.8). Oakland is somewhat similar in averaging 3.8 rpg at home while averaging 4.4 rpg on the road.
• UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.
• Rays -150 or lower in starts by Price, Moore, Hellickson or Shields against any Oakland starter.
• A’s as underdogs of any price against Tampa’s Alex Cobb.