Two thirds of the regular season is complete and, with less than two months left, much of the focus on major league baseball shifts from the impending PED suspensions to the developing Divisional and Wild Card races.
With barely 50 games remaining, each close win or narrow defeat takes on added importance as with each passing week the ability to make up ground lessens.
And while much of the attention will be paid to the teams vying for division titles, the wild card races will be worth watching as they will present some great wagering opportunities.
Baseball’s decision to add a second wild card team to each league beginning last season drew both praise and criticism. Much of the praise was due to the added drama that could unfold in the season’s final week with yet two more postseason berths to be determined.
The criticism arose from what would be a single one-game playoff between the two wild cards to determine which would advance to the League Divisional Series. Many commentators and observers believe at the least a best-of-3 mini-series would be a better way to have a team advance.
However, by doing so the six division winners would have too much idle time between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, even though that added time would enable them to set up their starting pitching rotations. There are solid points to be made either way but the reality is that two teams in each league will have to survive a one-game elimination to make it to the “real” playoffs.
Starting the week, the six division leaders were (NL) Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Dodgers; (AL) Boston, Detroit and Oakland. Only Atlanta was running away with its division, holding a commanding 12½-game lead over Washington in the NL East. The Dodgers had a solid 5½-game edge over Arizona in the NL West – a lead that seems poised to continue to grow in coming weeks based on the Dodgers’ outstanding play going back nearly two months.
The NL wild card race currently finds St. Louis controlling the first slot, five games up on Cincinnati. The Reds’ grip on that second berth is 4½ games ahead of Arizona.
The situation is much different in the AL where Tama Bay has a four-game edge over Cleveland for the first wild card. The Indians start the week just a half-game ahead of Texas for the second. Baltimore is just one game behind Texas with both Kansas City and the New York Yankees not far behind. The AL has 9 of 15 teams with winning records compared to just six in the NL.
Just two seasons ago both Tampa Bay and St. Louis had remarkable Septembers, each making up nearly double digit deficits to make the playoffs as wild cards. St. Louis went on to win the World Series. Such surges are the rarity rather than the rule, but it gives hope even to those teams floundering around .500 with a third of a season remaining.
Several wild card contenders are well within striking distance of division leaders. St. Louis starts the week just 1½ games behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central. The Cardinals continue to lead all of baseball with their plus-150 run differential. Detroit (+137) is second, but ahead just three games over Cleveland in the AL Central. Texas trails Oakland by just 2½ in the AL West and the tightest race is in the AL East where Boston leads Tampa Bay by just one game starting the week.
Of the contending teams, the ones that might make for attractive wagers over the final two months, especially as underdogs, would be Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. None receive a great deal of media coverage and thus remain “under the radar.”
As the regular season draws to a close there will be an increase in public money in the wagering markets. More people want to get involved in the playoff chase, notwithstanding the start of the football season. Baseball wagering often enjoys a lull during July and August only to pick up in September as coverage of the playoff races intensifies. And that provides opportunities for those astute enough to have followed the season day in and day out since April.
Here’s a look at four series of interest this weekend.
MARLINS/BRAVES: The Marlins are actually a .500 club (30-30) going back more than two months. Much of that success has been due to the efforts of a pair of young starting pitchers, Jose Fernandez and Jacob Turner.
Atlanta’s most effective starters have been Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. The Braves are 29-14 when that duo has started. With veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm sidelined, the Braves have relied on Alex Wood, Kris Medlen and the recently activated Brandon Beachy to fill out the rotation with generally favorable results.
Recommended plays: Miami as underdogs in a start by Fernandez; Miami +130 or more in a start by Turner; Atlanta -150 or less not facing Fernandez or Turner; UNDER 7 or higher if Fernandez or Turner oppose Minor or Teheran; UNDER 8.5 or higher if Fernandez, Turner, Minor and Teheran are not involved.
ANGELS/INDIANS: The Angels are all but relegated to spoiler, but have a pair of outstanding starters in Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. Cleveland’s starting pitching has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations. Justin Masterson has been “below the radar” as the Tribe is 15-8 in his starts. Ubaldo Jimenez and Cory Kluber have also been strong the past month.
The Indians have shown great improvement under the leadership of ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Recommended plays: Cleveland -125 or less in any matchup; Cleveland +120 or more against Weaver or Wilson; Angels +125 or more not facing Masterson, Kluber or Jimenez; OVER 8 or lower in any matchup; OVER 9 or lower in starts by the Angels’ Tommy Hanson or Jerome Williams not opposing Masterson.
TIGERS/YANKS: These teams have met just once this season with the Tigers taking 2 of 3 home games the first week of April. The OVER was 2-0-1 with the teams averaging 10 total runs. The Tigers start the week at 64-45 and riding an eight-game winning streak.
Recommended plays: OVER 8.5 or less in any matchup not involving Hiroki Kuroda or Max Scherzer; Detroit +120 or more in any matchup; Detroit -125 or less in a start by Scherzer not facing Kuroda; Yankees +140 or more against Verlander or Scherzer.
RAYS/DODGERS: The most intriguing series of the weekend, matching the hottest teams in baseball dating back more than two months. This series should be dominated by pitching amid a playoff atmosphere.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7 or higher in any matchup not involving the Dodgers‘ Chris Capuano or Ricky Nolasco or the Rays‘ Roberto Hernandez. Either team +140 or more; Tampa Bay +120 or more in starts by David Price, Chris Archer or Matt Moore not facing Clayton Kershaw.
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]