Baseball picture down to final weekend

Sep 27, 2005 6:13 AM

Just one week left in the regular season and much still remains to be decided.

St. Louis clinched the NL Central title eons ago and the Atlanta Braves may have finally clinched the NL East by the time you read this, needing a combination of Braves wins and Philadelphia losses that totals two.

Anaheim holds a four game lead over Oakland in the AL West. The A’s can wipe that out with a four game midweek sweep of the Angels in Oakland. Of course, at least one Angels win and certainly a series split would then render Oakland’s season ending series in Seattle and the Angels weekend in Texas meaningless.

The big series of the weekend will be the Yankees in Boston. The two AL East rivals begin the week with identical records and barring the Yanks being swept in Baltimore in midweek, the Sox sweeping Toronto at home or vice versa that series is guaranteed to have meaning. Certainly the opener Friday night at Fenway would have consequences.

The AL Central also likely comes down to the final weekend when Cleveland hosts Chicago’s White Sox. The Sox start the week with a 2½ game lead over the Tribe. Cleveland hosts Tampa Bay for three games during the week while the White Sox play a quartet of games in Detroit.

The NL West race may be decided in mid week as San Diego hosts second place San Francisco in a four game set, nursing a four game lead. A Giants sweep would make things very interesting, especially if Arizona can sweep its three game series in Los Angeles. The season ends with the Giants hosting Arizona while San Diego hosts the Dodgers.

Don’t for a minute think these events can’t happen. San Diego begins the week atop the division but with a losing record, 77-78.

Both Wild Card races also remain tight with Houston holding a one game lead over the Phillies in the National League and Cleveland a half game in front of the Red Sox and Yankees in the American, with each team having 64 losses.

In a season headlined by problems related to steroids, the races themselves will be the biggest story as the playoffs approach.

Here’s a look at four potentially key series this weekend.

PHILS at NATS: Washington has been eliminated from the playoffs picture following a very promising start. Philadelphia has played its best baseball of the season over the past two months and begins the week on the heels of Houston for the Wild Card, likely giving this series meaning for them.

Jimmy Rollins has a 30 game hitting streak entering the week. The Phils are playing with need and will be playable should they be an underdog at all during the series. More likely they will be favored if the games still have meaning. The Nationals have the edge in starting pitching but will be fielding a lineup with youngsters, looking to next season.

Preferred plays: UNDER 8 or higher. Of their last dozen meetings, the "under" has gone 8-2-2.

CUBS AT ASTROS: Chicago is playing for next season, while the Astros are battling for the Wild Card. Last weekend the Cubbies took two of three at home from Houston and in fact have gone 2-1 in their last three series. Only in their first meeting of the season did the Astros win a series from the Cubs.

Both teams have better starting pitching than they do bats in the lineup. The Astros are likely to be favored throughout and Chicago’s best chance as an underdog would be in Greg Maddux’s final start of the season, likely to occur on Sunday. The Cubs’ Jerome Williams is also worthy of play if getting at least +200 in his start.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher.

YANKS AT RED SOX: This is the way the season should end. Considering all that has occurred between these rivals, especially last season’s amazing Boston comeback in the ALCS after trailing 3-0, this series should be outstanding. And depending on what happens with the Indians and White Sox the loser of this series could miss the playoffs entirely. Earlier this month the Yankees took two of three at home from the Red Sox after winning three of four in their previous meeting in Boston just after the All Star break.

All told New York has won 7 of its 16 meetings this season and has made up four games on Boston in just over three weeks. The underdog throughout this series will present the greatest value, especially if at least +125. So will the "over." Both teams have much better offenses than they do pitching. The teams have averaged 10½ total runs per game in their meetings. Five of the seven meetings since the All Star break have gone "over" the total.

Preferred plays: OVER at 10 or lower.

WHITE SOX AT INDIANS: Once leading by 15 games in the AL Central, Chicago had seen their lead almost completely evaporate. Both teams won three of four games this past weekend after the Indians had closed to just 1½ games behind the Pale Hose by taking two of three last week in Chicago. Depending on how Chicago fares midweek at Detroit while Cleveland hosts Tampa Bay this series could determine both the division winner and the AL Wild Card.

The Sox have won 11-of-16 earlier meetings. Cleveland has a significant edge on offense while Chicago rates a much lesser edge on the mound. Cleveland’s pitching has been steady over the second half of the season. Cleveland will be attractive if made the underdog and in a ”˜must win’ situation. They may also be played if favored by no more than -130 in starts by Kevin Millwood, C C Sabathia or Cliff Lee.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher.

The Astros are likely to be favored throughout and Chicago’s best chance as an underdog would be in Greg Maddux’s final start of the season, likely to occur on Sunday. The Cubs’ Jerome Williams is also worthy of play if getting at least +200 in his start.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher.

 

YANKS AT RED SOX: This is the way the season should end. Considering all that has occurred between these rivals, especially last season’s amazing Boston comeback in the ALCS after trailing 3-0, this series should be outstanding. And depending on what happens with the Indians and White Sox the loser of this series could miss the playoffs entirely. Earlier this month the Yankees took two of three at home from the Red Sox after winning three of four in their previous meeting in Boston just after the All Star break.

All told New York has won 7 of its 16 meetings this season and has made up four games on Boston in just over three weeks. The underdog throughout this series will present the greatest value, especially if at least +125. So will the "over." Both teams have much better offenses than they do pitching. The teams have averaged 10½ total runs per game in their meetings. Five of the seven meetings since the All Star break have gone "over" the total.

Preferred plays: OVER at 10 or lower.

 

WHITE SOX AT INDIANS: Once leading by 15 games in the AL Central, Chicago had seen their lead almost completely evaporate. Both teams won three of four games this past weekend after the Indians had closed to just 1½ games behind the Pale Hose by taking two of three last week in Chicago. Depending on how Chicago fares midweek at Detroit while Cleveland hosts Tampa Bay this series could determine both the division winner and the AL Wild Card.

The Sox have won 11-of-16 earlier meetings. Cleveland has a significant edge on offense while Chicago rates a much lesser edge on the mound. Cleveland’s pitching has been steady over the second half of the season. Cleveland will be attractive if made the underdog and in a ”˜must win’ situation. They may also be played if favored by no more than -130 in starts by Kevin Millwood, C C Sabathia or Cliff Lee.

Preferred plays: UNDER 9 or higher.