With MLB season winding down, Cubs clearly the best

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With three weeks and roughly 20 games remaining the home stretch of the 2016 regular season is at hand. On almost a daily basis teams will be officially eliminated from the playoffs and others will see their “magic number” for making the postseason reduced.

The Chicago Cubs have the best record in baseball, 91-51 through Sunday, and the biggest lead of the six Division leaders, 16 games over second place St. Louis in the NL Central. The Cubs have a “magic number” of 4 to clinch a tie for the division title and 5 to win it outright, which is a foregone conclusion. It is highly likely that the Cubs will have clinched the NL Central this week and have their sights set on earning the top seed in the NL playoffs.

Both Washington in the NL East and Texas in the AL West are about two weeks away from clinching their respective divisions with leads of 9 and 9.5 games respectively.

Cleveland’s 7 game lead over Detroit in the AL Central is not insurmountable but the Indians appear to be in excellent position to not just win the division but also are just a game behind Texas for the top seed in the league. By virtue of having played two fewer games than the Rangers the teams enter the week tied with just 59 losses.

The two division races that appear likely to not be decided until the final week, or perhaps the final weekend, of the season are in the AL East and NL West.

Boston starts the week two games ahead of Baltimore and Toronto in the AL East with the New York Yankees just two behinds that duo. With several head to head series among that quartet the standings could change significantly over the final weeks of the season if one – or more – of those teams gets hot. The hottest team of late has been the Yankees whose 7 game winning streak was snapped Sunday by Tampa Bay, the lone AL East team long out of contention.

After leading the NL West for most of the season, and having the best record in baseball at the All Star break, the San Francisco Giants have played poorly ever since as the Los Angeles Dodgers overtook them a couple of weeks ago for the division lead. Entering this week the Dodgers had a 3 game edge over their longtime rivals.

The big intrigue down the stretch is the race for the two AL Wild Cards. With barely 20 games remaining 7 teams remain in viable contention. AL East rivals Baltimore and Toronto start the week in control but the Yankees, Detroit, Houston, Seattle and Kansas City are from 2 to 4 games behind.

Only 3 teams realistically are battling for the two NL Wild Cards with San Francisco starting the week a game and a half ahead of the Mets with St. Louis a half game behind New York.

The relative degree of mediocrity in the NL Wild Card race can be attested to by Miami. The Marlins are 71-72 yet just 5 games out. Both the Marlins and Pittsburgh have all but faded from WC contention with their poor play. Despite winning 3 of their last 4 games the Marlins are on a 4-11 run since Aug. 27 and Pittsburgh is 2-11 since Aug. 29.

We are at the point in the season at which wagers made last spring on season Win Totals are being decided. Even though winning tickets cannot be cashed until the final day of the season, several teams have already assured themselves of exceeding or falling short of pre season expectations.

Texas was the first team to have already exceeded its season Wins Total. Last Friday’s 2-1 win at the Angels was win number 84 for the Rangers, putting them OVER their Total of 83.5. The NL West leaders achieved that distinction with 20 games still to be played and Texas is on pace to win 96 games. And they are achieving this success despite a runs differential of just plus 21.

A dozen teams have a better differential but only the Cubs, with 91, have more than the Rangers’ 85 wins. Baltimore’s win on Sunday enabled the Orioles to equal their win total of 78.

Within the next week the Cubs, Colorado and Cleveland are all in reasonable position to reach their win totals with each less than 4 games from making their OVER backers winners.

UNDER bettors have already clinched wins with Arizona, Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Tthose who played UNDER on Oakland and Pittsburgh may be holding winning tickets by this time next week.

How bad has Minnesota been? After a successful season in 2015 expectation were raised for the Twins this season with a projection of 80 wins. After winning no more than 70 in any of the four previous season, Minnesota went 83-79 in 2015. The projection of 80 recognized that some regression was likely but at 53-90 through last Sunday the regression has been much greater than expected. Even if the Twins end the season with 19 straight wins, to finish 72-90, they’d still fall short of that win total by 8. UNDER bettors have been basking in their glory since losing game 83 on Aug. 31!

Here’s a look at three weekend series.

St. Louis at San Francisco: Both teams are in a three way battle for the two NL Wild Cards although the Giants are only three games behind the Dodgers for the lead in the NL West. In their only prior series this season the Cardinals won 2 of 3 at home in early June. Both wins went OVER the Total whereas the Giants’ win in the series opener stayed UNDER. The teams combined to average 8.7 runs per game. The Giants have the edge in starting pitching with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto but their bullpen has been a major weakness since the All Star break.

St. Louis’ best starter has been Carlos Martinez. Beyond that trio there is a huge dropoff for both staffs. That suggests a strategy of playing OVER the Total in games not involving Bumgarner, Cueto or Martinez provided the Total is 8.5 or lower. If Martinez faces either of the Giants’ aces look to UNDER 7 or higher. Also play any of the trio if made the underdog. In other matchups look to back the Giants as underdogs. Despite being a playoff contender the Cardinals are just 32-39 at home this season.

NY Yankees at Boston: These longtime rivals meet in their fifth series of the season. Boston leads the AL East with the Yankees currently fourth but just 4 games behind the BoSox. Boston has won 7 of the 12 games. Boston’s Rick Porcello has been solid all season but their high priced off season acquisition, David Price, has only recently displayed the form that has him rated as one of the top starters in the game. The Yankees do not have a true “ace” although Masahiro Tanaka comes closest. His 3.09 ERA and 1.07 WHIP are clearly the best of any starter on either staff.

The Yankees bullpen has continued to be a strength even following their trades of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. And the trade of Carlos Beltran and the release of Alex Rodriguez have allowed the Yankees to rest other aging veterans while giving the Baby Bombers, including Gary Sanchez, valuable and productive playing time. In this series the starters to be backed are Porcello, Price and Tanaka. In a matchup involving 2 of the 3 look to play UNDER Totals of 8 or higher and to back the underdog. If any of this trio oppose other starters the trio member can be backed at up to minus 140. In matchups not involving any of the three look to play the Underdog if getting at least +120 and also the OVER if priced at 9 or lower.

Minnesota at NY Mets: The lone interleague series pits the defending National League champion Mets against the team with the worst record in baseball. Minnesota had hopes of contending for the playoffs after an impressive 2015 that had the Twins in Wild Card contention well into last September. But Minny started this season poorly and never was able to turn things around. Their offense has been productive over the past month and could play spoiler to the Mets’ NL Wild Card hopes. The Mets will be heavy favorites throughout the series.

Minnesota is just 4-16 over its last 20 games and 7-23 over the last 30. As such, the strategy in this series will be to look towards playing the Mets on the Run Line laying a run and a half if laying no more than -130. The OVER is also worth playing at Totals of 8 or less in games other than in which Noah Syndergaard or Jacob DeGrom start for the Mets or Ervin Santana start for the Twins. A Total of 9 or higher may be played OVER in a start by Minnesota’s Jose Berrios who is considered to have promise but first 11 MLB starts have produced a 9.26 ERA and 1.99 WHIP.

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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