Wake me up for MLB Baseball playoffs

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Just over three weeks remain in the regular season and it appears there will be very little drama as the race for the playoffs winds down.

The potential for such remained a real possibility entering this past weekend as a pair of series that involved divisional contenders afforded the trailing teams to make up some ground with a successful weekend.

But such was not the case.

Division leads were extended by both Arizona and Detroit. Arizona won two of three in San Francisco and starts this week a full seven games in front of the second place Giants in the NL West.

The Tigers swept a three game home series against Chicago that dropped the White Sox into third place in the AL Central, 8½ games behind. Second place Cleveland is 6½ back.

Philadelphia leads Atlanta by 7½ in the NL East and Milwaukee is up by 9½ over St Louis in the Central.

Only the AL East and AL West have races that figure to go into the season’s final week. In the East the New York Yankees have a slim 1½ game edge over Boston while Texas leads the LA Angels by 3½ in the West. But both New York and Boston are virtually assured of making the playoffs either as Division winner or Wild Card.

In the Wild Card races Boston has an eight game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL and Atlanta leads St. Louis by 8½ in the NL.

So barring an epic collapse by one of seven teams the only playoff team still to be decided is in the AL West where the Angels will host Texas for the final three games of the season in three weeks.

Ho Hum. Can’t wait until the playoffs start!

Handicapping can be dangerous in the final few weeks of the season as the major league rosters expand and teams — especially those out of contention — give many of their youngsters a good look with an eye towards next season. That means we could see a number of unknown pitchers making starts and it’s not advisable to rely too heavily, if at all, on their minor league stats.

If you are considering backing some of these pitchers you might do well to do some research on the internet, looking for scouting reports and thoughts on the progress some of these prospects have made over the course of the season.

Still, there will plenty of betting opportunities with known quantities over the final few weeks as contending teams look to remain sharp and perhaps improve their playoff seedings where such is possible.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

Phillies at Brewers: This four game series starts Thursday and may well be a preview of the NLCS. In their only prior meeting this season, Milwaukee took two of three in Philadelphia back in mid April. What makes that somewhat noteworthy is for the first half of the season Milwaukee was one of the worst road teams in all of baseball. But the Brewers have started to win in recent weeks.

Although they are still below .500 their 34-38 mark away from home gives backers some hope that they might be able to win in Philly come playoff time. Of course their home record, 50-19, is the best in baseball. Philly has the edge on the mound although Milwaukee’s pitching is certainly capable. Milwaukee has a slight edge on offense with Prince Fielder a clear NL MVP candidate.

Preferred plays:

• Brewers as underdogs of any price in starts by Yovani Gallardo, Zach Greinke, Shaun Marcum or Randy Wolf against any Philly starter.

• Brewers -125 or less in a start by a member of that quartet against Kyle Kendrick or Roy Oswalt.

• UNDER 8 or higher if Marcum or Wolf face Hamels or Lee.

• OVER 9 or lower if Milwaukee’s Chris Narveson does not face Hamels or Lee.

 

Braves at Cards: The Braves and Cardinals meet for just the second time this season. At the end of April the Cardinals took two of three in Atlanta. The Braves have a chance in midweek to make up ground on Philadelphia in the NL East but realistically are going to make the playoffs as the wild card. St. Louis is all but eliminated from the playoffs although a sweep here would narrow the gap between themselves and Atlanta in the Wild Card race.

The Cardinals have the better middle of the order on offense whereas the Atlanta offense may be better balanced from top to bottom. Atlanta has the better overall pitching especially at the back end of the bullpen, which has been a problem for St. Louis all season.

Preferred plays:

• Braves +120 or more in any matchup.

• Braves -125 or less in starts by Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy or Jair Jurrjens against any St Louis starter.

• Cards +125 or more in any matchup.

• OVER 8 or lower in any matchup

 

Red Sox at Rays: Tampa Bay’s faint Wild Card hopes will either be extinguished this weekend or extended a bit further. Starting the week Boston lead the Rays by eight with 23 games to play so the chances are slim. Tthe Rays have fared well against the Red Sox in recent seasons, largely due to their solid pitching. Tampa has won six of 11 meetings this season with eight staying UNDER the total.

Boston continues to have a very potent offense whereas Tampa has consistently hit better on the road than at home this season, averaging just 3.6 runs per game at home compared to 4.9 on the road. Tampa’s edge is in pitching with as solid a starting rotation as any in the AL. Beyond Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Boston’s starters have been shaky.

Preferred plays:

• Rays +150 or more against Beckett or Lester.

• Rays as underdogs of any price against other Boston starters.

• Rays as underdogs of any price against Beckett or Lester in starts by David Price, James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson.

• Rays -125 in a start by a member of that trio not facing Beckett or Lester.

• UNDER 7 or higher if Beckett or Lester faces Shields, Price or Hellickson.

• OVER 9 or lower if Boston’s John Lackey does not face Price, Shields or Hellickson.

 

Yankees at Angels: The Yanks have won four of six games against the Angels. All three games in Anaheim stayed UNDER when these teams met earlier in Anaheim. When the teams met in New York, all three games went OVER. It’s been a very competitive series in 2011 with three games decided by one run and two more decided by just two runs. This should be a well played series as both teams have reason to play hard.

The Yankees have the edge on offense although the Angels have hit better of late. The Angels also have a deeper rotation with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana better than anyone the Yankees have beyond CC Sabathia, although Yankees rookie Ivan Nova has impressed over the second half of the season. The Yankees also have to be given the bullpen edge, especially at closer with Mariano Rivera.

Preferred plays:

• Angels +140 or more against Sabathia.

• Angels +120 or more against any other Yankees starter.

• Angels -130 or less in starts by Weaver, Haren or Santana not facing Sabathia.

• Yankees -150 favorites or less not facing Weaver, Haren or Santana.

• UNDER 8 or higher if New York’s Bartolo Colon or Freddie Garcia oppose Weaver or Santana.

• OVER 9 or lower if the Angels’ Tyler Chatwood or Joel Pineiro don’t face Sabathia, Colon or Garcia.

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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