Marlins, Angels set to fall

Sep 19, 2006 6:05 AM

The list of teams with realistic chances at making the playoffs continues to dwindle, albeit at a very slow pace.

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season several races remain tightly contested, including the Wild Card race in the National League. Most teams have about 13 games remaining so these next few days become critical to staying in the hunt.

Both New York teams — the Yankees and Mets — may well have clinched division titles before the weekend. Oakland and St. Louis are also in position to clinch division crowns by the weekend.

The AL Central has tightened to a point where Detroit’s lead is down to a single game over Minnesota. The White Sox are hanging around, but are five games back. They play a midweek series, hosting the Tigers.

San Diego leads the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West by a half game with San Francisco just four out. The Dodgers and Giants close out the season in San Francisco, while San Diego finishes on the road at Arizona. More about that next week.

Minnesota and Detroit are in the best position to make the playoffs, joining the Yankees and Oakland. That would leave defending World Series champion Chicago out, barring a late run or a major slip from the Twins or Tigers.

In the senior circuit, the Mets and Cardinals are in. The Dodgers and Padres are in the best position to win the West. The loser of the West is contending with the Phillies for the Wild Card, with Florida, the Giants and Cincinnati having the best shot of making a late run to overtake the leaders.

It is quite possible that four teams missing the playoffs in the AL will have better records than all but the Mets in the NL. This punctuates the disparity between the two leagues. Still, in a best of seven World Series, the NL representative — by all rights it should be the Mets — will still have a real chance against the AL champion and could be a very attractive underdog.

We’ll just have to wait and see how the playoffs unfold. It should be a very entertaining and contentious final two weeks of the regular season.

Here’s a look at four intriguing series this weekend.

MARLINS / PHILS: Florida may have seen its chance for the Wild Card end when blowing Sunday’s game at Atlanta. Philadelphia remains hot and very much in contention after sweeping its weekend road series against fellow contender Houston. This series is much more critical to the Marlins who trail the Phillies by three in the Wild Card race. Philly begins the week in second place, a game behind the Dodgers.

Preferred plays: MARLINS +120 underdog in any matchup. MARLINS -130 favorite if Dontrelle Willis starts. OVER 8 in any matchup.

CARDS / ASTROS: St. Louis has all but wrapped up the NL Central despite its struggles over the past month. Houston is on the verge of being eliminated from Wild Card contention, but has the starting pitching to go on a lengthy winning streak. Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte are solid.

Preferred plays: ASTROS-140 in starts by Clemens, Oswalt or Pettitte. CARDS as underdogs against other starters. UNDER 8 in starts by Clemens, Oswalt or Pettitte. UNDER 7 if St Louis’ Chris Carpenter faces one of Houston’s Big Three.

TIGERS / ROYALS: Detroit has been struggling over the past month. Though long out of contention, Kansas City has played very well since the All Star Break. Over their last 50 games both teams are 23-27. The Royals are playing with no pressure whatsoever. The Tigers have shown they are starting to feel the heat.

Preferred plays: KC as a +170 dog or more in any matchup. OVER 9 or lower in any matchup.

ANGELS / A’s: Oakland could clinch the AL West title with a good showing in this series. The Angels are also all but out of the Wild Card chase. Oakland has again played its best baseball in the season’s second half, winning 28 of their last 40. The Angels have also played well (25-15) but the loss of ace Bartolo Colon to injury may be what ultimately denies them the postseason.

Preferred plays: ANGELS as an underdog in any matchup. UNDER 9 in any matchup.