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Credited with having coined the phrase “It ain’t over till it’s over” the Hall of Fame Yankee backstop could not have been any more prophetic – or profound – when it comes to telling the tale of the 2011 Wild Card races in both leagues.

Barely more than three weeks ago it appeared as though Atlanta was a shoe-in to earn the Wild Card in the National League. At about the same time it seemed that Boston, if not able to surpass long time nemesis, the New York Yankees, with whom they were locked in a tight battle for the AL East title, then surely would easily secure the Wild Card.

As another highly visible sports personality, Lee Corso, would utter:

“Not so fast my friends!.”

For as we go to press on Monday morning the only post season berths NOT decided are the two Wild Cards.

All six Division winners have been determined with Arizona, Milwaukee and Philadelphia taking honors in the NL and Detroit, the Yankees and Texas doing the same in the junior circuit.

The only suspense with the Division winners is the seeding. The Yankees have clinched the top seed in the AL while the Phillies have done the same in the NL.

Entering the final series of the season, played Monday through Wednesday, Texas has a one game lead over Detroit for the No. 2 seed in the AL. In the NL Milwaukee has a similar one game edge over Arizona.

The Wild Card races, however, are full of drama.

In the NL, Atlanta holds just a one game lead over St. Louis as the Braves host Philadelphia while the Cardinals travel to Houston. On the surface it can be argued that St. Louis has the advantage despite playing on the road as they face the much easier competition – Houston has the worst record (55-104) in all of baseball.

But the Phillies may be more interested in resting players and setting up their rotation for the Playoffs, either skipping starters or limiting their innings just to keep them fresh.

In the AL Boston, by virtue of winning the second game of their day/night doubleheader at the Yankees on Sunday, enters the final series of the season with a one game lead over Division rival Tampa Bay. The Angels are three games behind the Red Sox with three to play and need an unlikely combination of events to even force a playoff.

The Angels perhaps delivered their fatal blow to themselves when they failed to protect a 5-2 lead entering the ninth inning on Sunday against Oakland, allowing the Athletics to tally four runs and win 6-5.

The Angels’ task is made even more difficult as they face their Division rivals and winners, Texas, although the three game series is in Anaheim.

Boston is still favored to emerge with the Wild Card as they play their final three games in Baltimore while Tampa Bay hosts the Yankees. However, the Red Sox have struggled mightily in September, dropping 18 of 24 games entering their final series against the Orioles. The pitching has let the Sox down and may well be their undoing should they hold on and earn the Wild Card.

It promises to be an exciting final three days of baseball as the 2011 Playoff field and seedings are determined.

Without knowing any of the specific matchups for the best of five Divisional series it’s impossible to make specific recommendations on a game to game basis.

Rather, the following generalizations are offered with more concrete previews and predictions made next week when the only a game or two of the Divisional series have been played but at least the potential League Championship matchups are known.

Back in late March the predictions in this column called for Boston to defeat Philadelphia in the World Series. That prediction remains a bit shaky and based on current form it should be at the very least, reversed. Philadelphia will be the team to beat this postseason with their outstanding starting rotation and a solid lineup, bolstered by the midseason acquisition of Hunter Pence.

Of the six Division winners Arizona would seem to be the most vulnerable as they arguably have the least collective talent but have greatly overachieved this season under manager Kirk Gibson’s guidance. They may be the highest priced of the eight Playoff teams, even more so than either Wild Card.

Still, there will be opportunities to play on the Diamondbacks in their opening series which could see them face Atlanta, Milwaukee or St. Louis depending on the final standings.

In the AL Detroit might have the highest odds despite the presence of all-but-certain Cy Young Award winning pitcher Justin Verlander. But in a five game series Detroit’s chances are enhanced with Verlander likely being favored in both of his starts should the series go more than three games.

As a general guideline look to play the first two games of the Divisional Series UNDER the posted totals as both teams are likely to start their top two starting pitchers in those games. The totals might be as low as 7 but the UNDER still makes sense.

Also, look to play any underdog in the first two games of these series if you can get at least +150. The only exception would be in the case of the Phillies where starters Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are likely to be priced at -200 or more in their first starts. In such instances the underdog against Halladay or Lee would be playable at a price of +200 or more. If, for some unanticipated reason, Halladay and/or Lee are priced at -160 or less ,then the Phillies would be playable even as that high a favorite.

If you are unable to get the above prices then you might consider betting the following pitchers at +125 or more, even on the road, or, as an underdog of any price when hot facing another pitcher on the following list, except in the case of Philadelphia, as noted below:

• Arizona’s Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson

• Atlanta’s Tim Hudson

• Boston’s Josh Beckett

• Detroit’s Justin Verlander

• LA Angels’ Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver

• Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo

• New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia

• Philadelphia in any game when priced as an underdog of any price.

• St Louis’ Chris Carpenter

• Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields

• Texas’ C J Wilson and Matt Harrison.

• LA Angels’ Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver

• Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo

• New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia

• Philadelphia in any game when priced as an underdog of any price.

• St Louis’ Chris Carpenter

• Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields

• Texas’ C J Wilson and Matt Harrison



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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