Only Pirates, Cubs can
pack up 2006 in NL

Aug 8, 2006 6:50 AM

Less than two months remain in baseball’s regular season and all but six teams have legitimate shots at reaching the postseason.

In the National League, only Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs are out of contention for the Wild Card. Ten teams are within eight games of Cincinnati. Nine are within six. Washington is eight back, but still has time to make up one game a week over the balance of the season.

Unrealistic? Perhaps, but the competitiveness that exists in the NL in 2006 figures to make for some very exciting baseball during the final weeks of the season. In the AL, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay are looking towards next year, but the other 10 have real shots at postseason play.

Several division races remain tightly contested with the Western Divisions of both leagues having all teams in contention. In the NL West, first place San Diego is just five games up on last place San Francisco. Oakland is up 6½ on last place Seattle in the AL West. In both cases, there is still plenty of play left within the division.

The New York Yankees begin the week with a two game lead over Boston in the AL East. The injury bug seems to have hit Boston at a time when the Yankees are getting set for the return of big hitters Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Boston is now without starting pitcher Tim Wakefield and starting catcher Jason Varitek, a pair of key losses. The offense was bolstered by the acquisition of catcher Javy Lopez, but defense and pitch calling shall likely suffer.

Realistically, the AL Wild Card chase will be a battle of three teams, Currently Boston, Chicago and Minnesota are separated by a mere half game.

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

REDS/PHILS: Philadelphia swept a home three game series in mid May in the only previous meeting. Despite trading pitcher Cory Lidle and outfielder Bobby Abreu for minor leaguers, the Phillies have yet to collapse. However, their prospects for the next few weeks are not good. Cincinnati continues to get good pitching and has strengthened the bullpen prior to the trade deadline.

Preferred plays: REDS -120 with Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo. PHILS as an underdog against any other Cincy starter. OVER 9 in any matchup.

GIANTS/DODGERS: These teams begin the week headed in different directions as the Giants have struggled over the past 10 days. Los Angeles struggled right after the All Star break, but has won nine straight as of last Sunday. The teams have split 10 meetings this season. Fundamentally this shapes up as a low scoring series with pitching in much better shape than the offenses.

Preferred plays: UNDERDOG +120 in any matchup. OVER 9 if Mark Hendrickson or Chad Billingsley starts for the Dodgers. UNDER 9 in any other matchup

ANGELS/YANKS: The Angels took two of three at home when the teams met in Anaheim in the season’s opening week. The Yankees are in position to make the playoffs by either winning their division or as a Wild Card. The Angels’ most realistic chance is by winning the West. Pitching is fairly equal, both in terms of starters and bullpens. The Yankees have the deeper lineup. The Angels’ best chance for a win will be when young Jered Weaver starts.

Preferred plays: ANGELS -130 with Weaver. YANKS as an underdog facing a pitcher besides Weaver or John Lackey. YANKS -125 with Chien Ming Wang against all but Weaver or Lackey. UNDER 9 if Mussina or Wang oppose Weaver, Lackey or Ervin Santana. OVER 9 if one or none start.

TIGERS/CHISOX: Chicago won the first five games between the teams this season, but Detroit has won three of the last four. Still, Detroit’s starting pitching has shown signs of getting tired in recent weeks. Chicago’s starting staff has generally shown stamina going back to last season.

Preferred plays: CHICAGO as an underdog in any matchup. TIGERS as a dog when Justin Verlander starts. OVER 9 or lower in any matchup.