Labor Day starts
chase to postseason

Sep 5, 2006 5:38 AM

Labor Day starts the home stretch for the baseball season and we have started to see separation in several races, while others have tightened in securing postseason berths.

The Mets, Yankees and Oakland A’s appear well in command of their respective divisions. St. Louis, after being tied a couple of weeks ago, has extended to a six game lead over Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Detroit still has a 4½-game edge in the AL Central, but that lead is very much in jeopardy. The Tigers have continued to struggle, while Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox are playing better ball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are three games clear of San Diego in the NL West, but the Dodgers have been a very streaky team all season. So a week from now, the Dodgers could just as easily be three games behind as they could five or six up.

The Wild Card races remain intriguing, especially in the NL. The week begins with San Diego 1½ games up on Philadelphia, but four additional teams are within 3½ of the leader. With just over 25 games left per team, even Colorado being seven games out and in ninth place in the Wild Card standings can make a run with a hot streak

This race likely comes down to the final weekend, creating the strong possibility of a tie for the Wild Card quite possibly with records at or below .500. Current leader San Diego is just four games above break even.

While much of the sports world shifts its attention to college and pro football there will be many meaningful baseball series played over the next few weeks.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend.

DODGERS/METS: This is a possible preview of the NLCS. Both teams have solid offenses. The Dodgers rate the edge in starting pitching. The Mets have the better bullpen and closer. New York took 2-of-3 when these teams met in LA in early June, with currently sidelined Mets ace Pedro Martinez starting the lone loss. The teams averaged over 11 total runs per game. It would not be surprising if four-game series were high scoring.

Preferred plays: DODGERS as underdogs except facing Tom Glavine. OVER 8 in any matchup. This is a four game series beginning Thursday.

PHILS/MARLINS: Joe Girardi should be Manager of the Year for what he has accomplished in leading the rookie laden Marlins to the brink of the Wild Card. After starting 11-31, Florida has been one of the best teams in baseball despite all their youth. Philadelphia has also been a surprise over the past month after seemingly conceding the season by trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees. Ryan Howard is making a strong case for league MVP. His hot second half featured homers 50, 51 and 52 this past Sunday. Philly has won 6-of-9 in the series with the last four going ”˜over’ the total.

Preferred plays: UNDERDOG +125 or more. OVER 9. If either is down 0-2 or 0-3 in the series.

TIGERS/TWINS: The Tigers have won 10-of-15 previous games in the series. Minnesota has remained competitive even while star pitcher Francisco Liriano has been sidelined. The offense has sputtered of late, but the Twins have been getting timely hits. Detroit has also struggled the past month and its one time double digit division lead has been more than cut in half. It is important for both teams not to get swept in this four game series.

Preferred plays: TIGERS as an underdog in starts by Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman or Kenny Rogers — even against Johan Santana. TWINS -140 or less against other Detroit starters. OVER 8 in any matchup.

INDIANS/CHISOX: Although out of the playoffs in what has been a disappointing season, Cleveland is playing its best baseball right now. Things just gelled too late and manager Eric Wedge might not be back in 2007. The White Sox are looking to pick up ground on the Twins and Tigers, hoping for them to split their four game series. Cleveland has won 7-of-12 meetings this season.

Preferred plays: WHITE SOX as underdogs against CC Sabathia; INDIANS as underdogs against Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia or Jose Contreras. OVER 9 in most matchups. UNDER 8 if Sabathia is matched up against Chicago’s Jon Garland.