Wild card

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The baseball season is nearing the three quarters mark and five of the six Divisions continue to feature competitive races as do both Wild Card races.

Only Texas, in the AL West, has a lead of more than three and a half games as this week begins. The Rangers currently lead the L.A. Angels by eight and a half games and seem well positioned to be the first team to clinch a Playoff berth.

Though not receiving as much attention as the Divisional races, Tampa Bay has a five game lead over Boston for the American League Wild Card with the Chicago White Sox a game and a half further back.

The race for the National League Wild Card is as tight as it can be with San Francisco and Philadelphia tied for the lead, a half game ahead of St. Louis. And Colorado is within five games of the top two teams as well.

Kudos to St. Louis’ Albert Pujols who, in the Year of the Pitcher, swatted home run number 30 over the weekend, thus becoming the first player in MLB history to hit at least 30 homers in each of his first 10 seasons. It is hard to argue with anyone who would suggest that Pujols is the best player in the game today. At age 30 he has many productive years still ahead of him and with 396 career homers and a .332 lifetime batting average he may well be in the discussion of the top five players of all time when his career is over.

Just seven weeks remain until the Playoffs begin and with so many competitive races unfolding, baseball fans have much entertainment to look forward to as summer winds down.

Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.

San Francisco at St. Louis: These teams meet for just their second series of the season with San Francisco having won two of three at home back in late April. All 3 games stayed well UNDER the Total as the Giants won the first two games by scores of 4-1 and 2-0 before the Cards took the finale also by a 2-0 score. Both teams have solid pitching rotations with the Giants’ being among the best in baseball, going five deep in quality. The top two starters for St. Louis, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, are among the best in baseball. Both offenses have been inconsistent throughout the season although the Giants have fared better on the road than at home by nearly a half run per game. Still, the fundamentals suggest this will be another low scoring series with perhaps all three games featuring Totals of 7 or 7½.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: San Francisco as underdogs in any matchup except +125 or more against Carpenter and +140 or more against Wainwright; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher in starts by St Louis’ Carpenter or Wainwright against and Giants starter

Cincinnati at Los Angeles Dodgers: Time is running out on the Dodgers if they are to make a run at the Playoffs while Cincinnati continues to battle St. Louis for the NL Central lead. These teams have split 6 games this season, all played in Cincinnati, but the teams have not met since mid June. The Reds were swept at home by the Cardinals last week but rebounded nicely by sweeping Florida to reclaim their Division lead. The Dodgers start the week in fourth place in the NL West but within six and a half games of the Wild Card. They’ve gotten above average starting pitching but the bullpen has been a mess. Now it appears Jonathan Broxton is being replaced as closer by Hong-Chih Kuo with a couple of other options also being considered. The offense awaits the imminent return of Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal from the DL. The Reds have had a potent offense all season. These teams are fairly evenly matched and the games should be competitively priced. Los Angeles’ Ted Lilly and Clayton Kershaw are the two best starters in the series with Cincy’s Travis Wool has been impressive as a rookie and will be back in the rotation after being sent down for some added work due to scheduling.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Dodgers as underdogs of any price in starts by Lilly, Kershaw or Chad Billingsley; Cincinnati as favorites up to -140 against other Dodgers starters; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup except in a start by Lilly.

Texas at Baltimore: Baltimore has elevated their level of play since Buck Showalter took over as manager, winning 9 of 13 games heading into this week. Texas is in control of the AL West but they’ve had trouble with the Orioles this season, losing four of six – all at home – including being swept in a four game series by Baltimore just prior to the All Star break. This four game series starts on Thursday. A pair of Baltimore starting pitchers, Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Bergesen, have both pitched extremely well since Showalter took over. Colby Lewis, C J Wilson and Tommy Hunter each continue to have fine seasons. Despite their fine records, the Rangers are just 28-26 on the road.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Baltimore as underdogs of any price in starts by Guthrie or Bergesen except +at least 150 against Lee; Texas as favorites of -125 or less against other than Guthrie or Bergesen except -160 or lower in a start by Lee; OVER Totals of 8 or lower in any matchup not involving Guthrie, Lewis or Lee: UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Guthrie opposes Lewis or Lee.

Tampa Bay at Oakland: Tampa Bay has baseball’s best record as they head to Oakland for a four game series that starts Thursday. Oakland is running out of time to make a run in the AL West but they’ve been a very competitive team for much of the season as they hang around the .500 mark. These teams have played five games this season with the home team winning four times but they’ve not met since early May. Trevor Cahill has emerged as the ace of the staff but there’s not much dropoff to the other four. Two of Tampa’s starters, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, are currently on the DL but rookie Jeremy Hellickson has been outstanding since being promoted. Oakland’s offense rates well below average while Tampa’s offense has actually been more productive on the road than at home.

RECOMMENDED PLAYS: Tampa Bay as underdogs in any matchup except plus at least +125 against Cahill; Tampa Bay as favorites of -140 or less in a start by David Price or Hellickson except -125 or less against Cahill; Oakland as underdogs of any price against other than Price, Hellickson or Matt Garza; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any matchup; UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Price or Hellickson oppose Cahill or Dallas Braden.


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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