Kansas City had an opportunity over the past two weekends to make up ground in the AL Central in hopes of catching Division leading Cleveland. The Royals, who won the World Series in 2015 after losing to the Giants in the Fall Classic a season earlier, hosted the Indians in a three game weekend series two weeks ago, then were in Cleveland for another three game series this past weekend.
In the home series the Royals lost a game in the standings, dropping the first two games to the Tribe before salvaging a win in the Sunday finale.
But the death knell for them may have been sounded this past weekend in Cleveland as not only did Kansas City lose all three games but the Royals did not have a single runner cross home plate!
That’s right. Cleveland shut out the Royals in all three games, winning Friday and Saturday by identical 4-0 scores before capping the series with a 12-0 win on Sunday.
As a result Kansas City starts this week sitting third in the AL Central, 9 games behind Cleveland and 2.5 games behind second place Minnesota.
But all is not lost for the Royals, who remain in the mix for an AL Wild Card as that race remains extremely contentious with five weeks left.
The New York Yankees, who trail Boston by 2.5 games in the AL East, have a similar 2.5 game lead over Minnesota for the top AL Wild Card. The Twins, at 67-63, have a 1.5 game lead over both the LA Angels and Seattle for the second Wild Card. Baltimore is just a half game behind that duo and a half game ahead of the Royals.
A half game further back, three games out of the second Wild Card, are Tampa Bay and Texas. Toronto is next in line, six games out of that second Wild Card. Their three-game gap behind the Rays and Rangers may be too much to overcome and the Blue Jays may be the next team to fall out of contention, joining Oakland, Detroit and the Chicago White Sox as the only American League teams with unrealistic chances to make the Playoffs.
The NL Wild Card race has become interesting over the past few weeks after Arizona and Colorado had huge leads for much of the last several months. Milwaukee is 3.5 games behind Colorado for the second Wild Card with Miami 4.5 games out..
Milwaukee has been contending for the Playoffs all season, leading the NL Central for most of the first half, but Miami’s contention is due to their recent form. The Marlins have won 20 of their last 30 games, getting huge contributions from slugger Giancarlo Stanton who hit home run number 50 on Sunday. Only St. Louis, 6 games behind, is within 8.5 games of that second NL Wild Card.
Perhaps the major shock of the weekend was the Dodgers losing two of three to Milwaukee. Still, the Dodgers start the week 53 games above .500 at 91-38 and should exceed their Season Wins Total of 93.5 prior to their weekend series in San Diego.
Only three teams were projected to win fewer than the 71 games projected for Milwaukee yet the Brewers, currently 68-63, are also in excellent position to cash the OVER ticket before Labor Day.
Here’s a preview of three weekend series
Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies
The most interested parties in this series will be Milwaukee and Miami who start the week 3.5 and 4.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card respectively. Arizona starts the week a game ahead of Colorado for the top Wild Card, which means a sweep of this three-game series by either the Rockies or the Diamondbacks would allow the Marlins and/or Brewers to close ground on a Wild Card if either or both are successful in their series hosting Philadelphia and Washington.
In four previous series this season prior to July 4, the teams have split a dozen games with each going 3-3 both at home and on the road.
The Rockies have been slightly more productive at the plate than Arizona but the Diamondbacks have allowed 88 fewer runs than Colorado. Arizona has a clear edge in starting pitching with Zack Greinke, Zack Godley and Robbie Ray all having strong seasons. Even fourth and fifth starters Taijuan Walker and Patrick Corbin have ERAs below 4.00 and modest WHIPs.
The Rockies have no true ace and aside from Chad Bettis, who has made only three starts after overcoming cancer, no Colorado starter is averaging more than 5.7 innings per start. Only rookie Kyle Freeland has an ERA below 4.18 (3.83). Overall, Arizona has a huge edge in this category, suggesting there should be value on the Snakes with this road series although they may be favorites in two of the three games.
Both teams are seeking the top Wild Card berth while also looking to maintain their positions in control of both. If either team is in danger of being swept in the Sunday finale the best play might be to back the team that lost the first two games. Otherwise, look to back Arizona as underdogs or favorites of -140 or less in a start by Greinke, or as favorites of -125 in starts by other Arizona starters. Also look to play UNDER Totals of 11 or higher.
Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins
With Cleveland starting to distance itself in the AL Central this series will have more implications in the AL Wild Card race than the Division race. Minnesota starts the week holding the second Wild Card with Kansas City 2.5 games behind the Twins but with three teams in between. Neither team has strong starting pitching with Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas the best the Royals have to offer, and Minnesota countering with Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios providing their best starting pitching. There is little to be excited about on the mound.
The 45 combined starts by Santana and Berrios have resulted in 28 UNDERs, 14 OVERs and 3 pushes. The 46 combined starts by Kansas City’s Duffy and Varags have produced 27 UNDERs, 17 OVERs and 2 pushes. In a matchup involving Duffy or Vargas against Santana or Berrios look UNDER Totals of 8 or higher; also look to play the underdog.
If only one of that quartet starts, look to play UNDER Totals of 9.5 or higher and to back that starter if priced at -130 or less. If none of those four makes the start look to back the Twins if no more than -140; also look at OVER Totals of 9 or lower.
NY Mets at Houston Astros
Houston starts this week with a 5.5 game lead over Cleveland and a 6 game lead over Boston for the top AL seed and the right to face the Wild Card winner in the AL Divisional series. Houston will be huge favorites throughout the series and might best be backed by laying the run and a half.
At plus 166 the Astros are second only to the Dodgers in runs differential. The Mets are minus 64 but have lost the bats and power of no fewer than five over the past month due to trade or injury (Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Yoenes Cespedes).
Eighty-one percent of Houston’s wins (64 of 79) have been by two runs or more. Only Texas (53 of 64) has a higher percentage (83 percent). Fifty-three of the Mets’ 73 losses have been by two runs or more with 31 of 39 home losses and 22 of 34 road losses falling into this category. That could be important should this series move from Houston to New York.
The only Mets starter worth backing is Jacob deGrom but he would have to be +180 on the road or +150 in New York to back. Given the Mets’ lack of punch, look UNDER before looking OVER, although the Mets’ lack of offense is more than offset by Houston’s bats. Houston leads the majors in scoring 727 runs (5.6 per game). Washington is next at 678 runs.