Nothing is settled
with 30 games left

Aug 29, 2006 7:40 AM

Just one month remains in the regular season and much remains unsettled.

The National League Wild Card race is the most intriguing with 10 teams within 5½ of the lead and at least 30 games remaining per team. Only Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington are out of the picture and the standings will change virtually daily.

In addition, the NL Central and West Divisions remain up for grabs. After being tied by Cincinnati late last week, St. Louis is now up by three games in the Central. The Cardinals swept the Cubs, while the Reds were being swept in San Francisco. Houston and Milwaukee are eight games back, but each is still very much in the Wild Card chase.

In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers hold just a two game lead over San Diego with last place Colorado only seven back. A series sweep by any team greatly improves its chances. However, being swept can virtually end that team’s hopes.

Only the New York Mets can feel secure about making the playoffs with their double digit lead in the NL East. Their post season chances have been damaged with starting pitchers Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez both sidelined at present.

All the division leaders in the American League have at least five game leads, but none can feel totally comfortable with a full month still to play. The New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics lead their divisions with Minnesota currently a half game in front of Chicago for the Wild Card lead.

Boston’s chances are fading for both winning the division and Wild Card. The Red Sox are 5½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East and the same amount behind the Twins for the Wild Card.

Labor Day marks the third major milepost of the season. Teams in the lead often go on to make the playoffs. While this might hold true this season for the division leaders, it is more likely than not to be true for the Wild Card leaders, especially in the NL.

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

BRAVES/PHILS: Both teams are in the NL Wild Card hunt although Atlanta’s position is precarious, trailing eight teams. Philly is in much better shape, sitting third and just a game behind the Reds. This series is critical to both. The Phillies have rebuilt themselves following the trade deadline with the acquisition of Jeff Conine and Jamie Moyer to ostensibly replace the traded Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. Atlanta has suffered from poor pitching all season, especially in the bullpen. The Phillies have won 7 of 11 meetings. The ”˜over’ is 7-3-1.

Preferred plays: ATLANTA as an underdog with John Smoltz pitching. PHILLY as a dog in any matchup. OVER 9 in any matchup.

REDS/PADRES: Both teams begin the week within three games of their Division leads. Each has played losing baseball over the past 75 games. Cincinnati has fashioned its success largely on offense, though getting strong starting pitching from Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. San Diego has relied more on pitching than hitting. They have gotten strong offensive contributions from veterans Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron. This is their first meeting of the season.

Preferred plays: CINCY as underdogs with Arroyo and Harang or if facing Woody Williams and Jake Peavy. UNDER 9 in any matchup. UNDER 8 if Arroyo/Harang oppose Peavy/Williams.

ANGELS/TIGERS: This series is important for both teams. Detroit seeks to hold onto first place in the AL Central, while the Angels are hoping to make up ground on Oakland in the AL West. The Angels have won 3 of 5 previous meetings, but the teams have not met since early May. The ”˜under" is 4-0-1 in the series. Both teams have solid starting pitching, strong relief pitching and offenses that of late are essentially average,

Preferred plays: UNDERDOG +125 or more. OVER 9 in starts by either the Angels’ Joe Saunders or Detroit’s Zach Miner. UNDER 9 in all other matchups.


TWINS/YANKS: The teams have not met since mid April when the Twins took two of three at home. That was one of the few bright spots for the Twins, who struggled in April and May before taking off in June. The Yankees made their statement when they swept a five game series in Boston although they did struggle a bit on their subsequent West Coast trip.

Preferred plays: MINNY as an underdog in starts by Brad Radke and Johan Santana. YANKS-140 against other than Radke or Santana. UNDER 9 or higher if Santana faces Mike Mussina or Chien Ming Wang: OVER 9 in all other matchups.