The regular season is winding down with just two weeks and roughly a dozen games remaining to determine the 10 teams that will make the Playoffs.
The race for the American League Wild Card continues to be fascinating. The recent slump by Texas, combined with that of Tampa Bay, now has six teams battling for both AL Wild Cards and separated by just 3½ games.
Texas and Tampa Bay start the week with identical records and holding both Wild Cards. But the Rangers and Rays are playing a four game series from Monday through Thursday in Tampa. That opens the way for one or more of the other four contenders to make up ground and perhaps overtake one of the teams heading into the weekend.
Cleveland is in the best position to bypass either the Rays or Rangers as they start the week just one half game behind that duo. Baltimore is 2½ games back with the New York Yankees and Kansas City just 3½ games behind.
Kansas City hosts Cleveland for three mid-week games while the Yankees play three in Toronto and Baltimore plays a trio in Boston.
The Red Sox are in position to earn the top seed in the AL, up by 4 games over West leading Oakland and by 5 over Central leading Detroit. The Red Sox are in position to clinch the AL East title perhaps by the weekend, leading second place Tampa Bay by 9½.
The situation is not all that much clearer in the NL although fewer teams are in contention for the Playoffs than in the AL. It’s the NL Central that has all the intrigue with Pittsburgh and St. Louis tied for the lead with 13 games remaining. Barring a late surge by Cincinnati, or a total collapse by the leaders, either the Pirates or Cardinals will win the Division. The other will play host to a one game playoff against the second NL Wild Card.
Right now that second Wild Card is held by the Reds but red hot Washington is just 4½ games behind Cincinnati and, although a longshot, still can make up that ground. Over the final two weeks Cincinnati still has 6 games to play against Pittsburgh.
Atlanta and the Los Angeles Dodgers are just days away from clinching the NL East and West respectively with the Braves up by three games over Los Angeles for the top NL seed. Note that Pittsburgh and St. Louis are just two games behind the Braves for that honor.
Looking at the full season results home teams have won 53.7 percent of all games (1201- 1034). UNDERS are outpacing OVERS 51.9 percent (1106) to 48.1 % (1025).
Here’s a look at four series this weekend.
REDS/PIRATES: This is a huge series for both teams as the Pirates lead the Reds by 3½ games in the NL Central, tied with St. Louis for the division lead. The Reds have a chance to make up ground on the Pirates whereas Pittsburgh can create further distance in its quest for both the division title and, at worst, the first Wild Card. Pittsburgh leads the season series 7-6. The UNDER is 7-5-1. The teams have combined to average exactly 7.0 runs per game in their 13 meetings. Both teams have gotten strong starting pitching up and down their rotations all season, with few exceptions.
Francisco Liriano has put up the best stats of the Pittsburgh starters while all six members of the Cincinnati rotation have stats within a relatively narrow range that would place each on a list of the top 75 starters in baseball. That’s balance! Cincinnati does have the edge at the plate but Pittsburgh’s offense is better than generally realized. This should be a well played, competitive series befit of contending teams in late September.
Recommended plays: UNDER 7.5 or higher in any matchup; Either team +125 or more in any matchup; Cincinnati -120 or less not facing Liriano; Pittsburgh -125 or less against any Cincinnati starter.
ORIOLES/RAYS: Both teams are battling for an AL Wild Card with Tampa starting the week 2½ games ahead of the Orioles but coming off of a tough 4 game home series against fellow Wild Card contender, Texas. Tampa has gone 9-6 vs. Baltimore this season. The OVER is 8-6-1. Baltimore does not have any solid starting pitchers although Chris Tillman, W Y Chen and midseason acquisition Scott Feldman have performed at a slightly better than average level.
Tampa’s edge is on the mound with David Price, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb arguably better than any Baltimore starter. But Baltimore’s edge is significant at the plate with a solid offense loaded with power.
Rrcommended plays: OVER 8 or lower in games not involving Baltimore’s Chen or Tillman (a combined 33-15-2 to the UNDER); UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup; Baltimore +150 or more in any matchup; Tampa Bay -125 or less in any matchup.
RANGERS/ROYALS: Both teams are contending for the Wild Card with Texas starting the week tied with Tampa Bay for the two Wild Cards and Kansas City 3½ games back but with a chance to gain ground midweek as the Rays and Rangers face off in Tampa while the Royals host Cleveland. In their only prior meeting this season, Texas won 2 of 3 at home just after Memorial Day. All 3 games stayed UNDER.
The Texas offense has missed the bat of the suspended Nelson Cruz but the pitching has held up better than expected. Kansas City has gotten the expected performances from its two main offseason pitching acquisitions, James Shields and Ervin Santana, although both Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie have pitched better than expected.
Recommended plays: Kansas City -130 or less in starts by Shields or Santana against any Texas starter other than Yu Darvish; Texas as underdogs of any price not facing Shields or Santana; Texas -125 or less if Darvish doesn’t face Shields or Santana; OVER 8½ or lower in games not involving Chen, Shields, Santana or Darvish; UNDER 7½ or higher if Darvish opposes Chen, Shields or Santana.
GIANTS/YANKS: This series has nostalgic value for those old enough to remember when the Giants played in New York before joining the Dodgers in departing for the west coast in 1958. The Giants are out of contention this season while New York has a realistic chance at earning a Wild Card, starting the week 3½ behind both Texas and Tampa Bay. The Yankees should be favored throughout the series but the recent pitching woes might keep the prices deflated.
Recommended plays: Giants +150 or more in any matchup; Yankees -140 or less in any matchup; UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup; OVER 7½ or lower in any matchup.
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]