The regular season is coming down to the final week and a half as the season shall end for 20 of MLB’s 30 teams next Sunday, Sept. 30.
By the time this issue hits the sportsbooks on Wednesday Boston may have clinched the AL East title if they defeated the Yankees Tuesday night in the first of their midweek three-game series in New York. Cleveland has already clinched the AL Central and Houston is on the verge of clinching at least a Playoff spot with their four-game lead in the AL West.
The only remaining drama in the junior circuit is whether the Yankees or Oakland will host the Wild Card game. Entering their three-game series with the Red Sox the Yanks led Oakland by a game and a half. The A’s were hosting the Angels while the Red Sox and Yankees were meeting.
The real dramas are playing out in the National League. Although Atlanta has taken command of the East with a 6.5 game lead over Philadelphia, the other two Divisions and both Wild Cards remain hotly contested.
Following Monday’s results the Chicago Cubs led Milwaukee by 2.5 games in the Central with St. Louis three games further back. The Cardinals bear watching as they close the season hosting Milwaukee for three games and follow that with three games at the Cubs. The Brewers and Cubs do not face each other.
The LA Dodgers’ home win over Colorado Monday night gave them a half-game lead over the Rockies with two games remaining in this series. Arizona has fallen five games behind the Dodgers but will host Colorado for a three-game weekend series and will host the Dodgers for three games starting next Monday. Following their weekend series in Arizona the Rockies end the season with home series against Philadelphia and Washington.
Milwaukee started play Tuesday with a three-game lead over St. Louis for the top NL Wild Card with Colorado a half-game behind the Cardinals. There is a drop of 4.5 games to Arizona with Philadelphia, Washington and Pittsburgh still mathematically alive.
Late season momentum is not always an indicator of what to expect in the Playoffs but a strong finish should still be viewed as encouraging. Over the long 162 game regular season, teams will have extended stretches of good and bad play but health combined with the strength and depth of a pitching staff (starters and relievers) more often than not determine a team’s fate once the Playoffs begin.
Here are thoughts on three key weekend series.
Colorado at Arizona: Colorado has gotten surprisingly strong pitching, especially from starters Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke and Clay Buchholz have been Arizona’s best starters. Given its importance, this series should be managed as if it were a Playoff series, which means avoiding the allowance of big innings with both managers having quick hooks. Look UNDER the Total of 8.5 or higher in matchups involving two of the five starters just mentioned. In such matchups take the underdog if priced at +120 or higher.
Boston at Cleveland: This could be a preview of the ALCS should Boston get by the Wild Card winner in their ALDS series and Cleveland get by Houston in theirs. Boston has been taking things cautiously with ace Chris Sale by limiting his innings down the stretch. It will be interesting to see how this series is managed with the potential of that aforementioned meeting in the ALCS.
A lot of young players not on the post season roster might not see action since this series is basically meaningless. As such we could see a low scoring series with many pitchers being used in situations that may pop up in the Playoffs. Cleveland’s pitching is better than Boston’s, overall, but the Red Sox have the better balanced offense.
In starts by Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco or Mike Clevinger look to back the Indians if favored by no more than -125. Against other starters look to back Boston either as favorites of -125 or less or as underdogs of any price behind any starter. Boston’s David Price has pitched extremely well since the All Star break and if he starts look to play UNDER 7.5 or higher. Also look UNDER the Total for the First 5 Innings if Kluber, Carrasco or Clevinger face Sale, Price or Eduardo Rodriguez
Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox: Although the White Sox have long been out of contention the Cubs are playing to wrap up the NL Central Division title, which likely would also earn the top NL seed and an opening round series against the Wild Card winner. The White Sox are reduced to playing spoiler and ending this disappointing season on a high note.
Despite their 59-90 record, the White Sox have been a .500 team over the last quarter of a season, going 20-20 over their last 40 games. Starters Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez have fashioned fine seasons and give the Pale Hose reasons for optimism in 2019. Either may be played in this series at +140 or more against any Cubs starter.
Otherwise, look to back the Cubs minus a run and a half behind either Jon Lester or Cole Hamels. Hamels has also been 6-2 to the UNDER in his eight starts since coming over from Texas in a deadline trade while teammate Kyle Hendricks has gone 19-9-2 to the under and the White Sox’ Rodon is 11-6 to the under. Should two of those three matchup look to play UNDER 7.5 or higher.