Wild Card races still worth watching

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The season’s final quarter is underway with teams having less than 40 games remaining to determine their postseason fates.   Most of the focus is on the divisional races but the Wild Card races in both leagues figure to remain hotly contested into the final week, or perhaps weekend, of the season. 

In the American League, the two Wild Cards are likely to go to the second-place finisher in the AL Central race between Cleveland and Minnesota and either Tampa Bay or Oakland (barring a strong run by Boston although ace Chris Sale is expected to be shut down for the balance of the season). 

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The situation in the National League is much more fluid and changes daily with 10 teams still having realistic chances of making the playoffs as either division champion or Wild Card.  Only San Diego, Cincinnati, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Miami are more than four games away from at least a Wild Card berth and each of those five teams are at least seven games back. 

Roster expansion to 40 players takes place on September 1. As a result, teams will have added depth in the chase to make the playoffs. As teams fall out of contention they may choose to give more playing time to young players who played most of this season in the minors.  

As a general rule I will be looking at playing underdogs that are still in realistic contention for much of September as the price of favorites when facing teams out of contention are likely to be prohibitive.  

Traditional handicapping methods should still be used in games that have meaning for both teams. This means fewer games will be attractive from a wagering perspective. Do not force any action as the bettors’ biggest edge vs. the bookmaker is that the bettor can choose which games, if any, to bet. 

Here are thoughts and selections for three key weekend series. 

Nationals at Cubs: The Cubs are involved in a three-team race for the NL Central title while Washington controlled the top Wild Card while narrowing its deficit behind Atlanta in the NL East to five games at the start of the week.  

Washington has the clear edge in starting pitching although the Cubs’ Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana have fared well over the past month after struggling for much of the season. 

When I see a strong pitching matchup, my first inclination is to play the Under. But with Wrigley Field presenting unusual conditions for Totals based largely on the winds my preference in this series will be to look to the underdog in such matchups.   In matchups involving Washington’s Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg or Patrick Corbin starting against the Cubs’ Darvish, Quintana, Cole Hamels or Kyle Hendricks look to play whichever team is made the underdog provided the price is +120 or higher. 

Braves at Mets: Atlanta is in position to win the NL East and likely ends up seeded second in the NL while the Mets are in the middle of the heated battle for the two Wild Cards.  

New York’s big edge is in starting pitching with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard better than any starter on the Braves.  Atlanta has the better offense, averaging a half run more per game than the Mets.  

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I will look to back the Mets with deGrom and Syndergaard up to a price of -150 or lower against any Atlanta starter. My preference to back Atlanta will be if the Braves are underdogs against other than deGrom and Syndergaard except that the Braves can be favored by up to -125 in a start by Mike Soroka against other than the Mets’ top duo. 

Yankees at Dodgers: With all due respect to the other 28 teams, Major League Baseball would love nothing better than a Dodgers-Yankees World Series and this three-game series could be such a preview.  

Both teams have potent offenses. The Yankees lead MLB in averaging 5.9 runs per game with the Dodgers fourth at 5.5. The Dodgers have an outstanding starting rotation but an average bullpen. The Yanks have an average rotation but an outstanding bullpen.  

I will look to back the Dodgers in starts by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw at prices of -150 or less against any New York starter, splitting my plays between the First Five Innings and the full game. 

 

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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