Indians-Angels could be playoff preview

September 04, 2007 9:48 AM
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Baseball has hit the final month of the regular season.

With Sept. 1 came the minor league call ups and roster expansions. Teams will start to fall out of contention and be mathematically eliminated from the postseason on almost a daily basis. Many teams already are looking to 2008 and will give many of their young players extended looks over the next few weeks.

With about 25 games remaining four of the six Division races have become clearly defined with all three American League leaders (the Angels, Red Sox and Indians) up by 5½ or 6 games starting the week. The Mets have a 4-game lead in the NL East while the NL Central and West races remain tightly contested. The Cubs lead Milwaukee by 1½ games in the Central with St. Louis just two out. In the West, San Diego and Arizona are in a virtual tie with the Dodgers just four games back and Colorado just five behind.

The Wild Card races carry similar intrigue.

The Yankees start the week with a 2-game lead over Seattle, whom they host for a three game series that began Monday. Detroit is 3 back and can make up ground on both the Yankees and Mariners when hosting the struggling White Sox for three games beginning Tuesday.

Toronto still has some hopes of mounting a challenge, trailing the Yanks by just 5½ games. The Jays, however, are in Boston for a three game series that also started on Monday.

In the National League, Arizona is percentage points behind San Diego in the West. The D’backs do own a 3-game lead for the Wild Card over Philadelphia as they began a key three game series at home against San Diego on Monday. The Dodgers are 4 out of the Wild Card. In all, there are still seven teams within 6½ games of the Wild Card lead. That means 10 of the 16 NL teams remain in playoff contention with less than a month remaining, making for many meaningful games between now and season’s end.

Although football will steal the media spotlight as the college and pro seasons begin, there will be some exciting races that play out during September. Also, there are some great individual performances in store along the way. Enjoy.

Here’s a look at four series this weekend each of which involve a pair of teams in the race for the playoffs.

Padres at Rockies: Both teams remain in contention for the playoffs with San Diego leading the NL West and the Rockies just 5 back with this chance to make up ground. San Diego has won 7 of 12 meetings this season and has the pitching edge. Colorado’s advantage is at the plate, but its pitching has been better than expected with lefty Jeff Francis back in solid form. Colorado has not been as high scoring this season as in the past. The OVER / UNDER is 32-32 this season at Coors Field.

Preferred plays:

”¡ PADRES up to -140 favorites in starts by Jake Peavy or Chris Young except against Francis or Ubaldo Jimenez:

”¡ ROCKIES as underdogs in starts by Francis or Jimenez.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher if Peavy or Young oppose Francis or Jimenez.

”¡ OVER 10 or lower in starts by Colorado’s Elmer Dessens or Josh Fogg if not facing Peavy or Young.

Cards at D’backs: The Cardinals took 3-of-4 from the Diamondbacks when the teams met in St. Louis in early July. That was before St. Louis began to play its best baseball of the season, climbing back into contention in the NL Central. Arizona has been in the NL West race all season and starts the week tied with San Diego for first. Arizona has gotten outstanding pitching from ace Brandon Webb while veterans Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis have pitched well of late. The Cards have gotten steady pitching from young Adam Wainwright.

Preferred plays:

”¡ CARDS as an underdog in a start by Wainwright.

”¡ CARDS if +200 against Webb.

”¡ D’BACKS up to -130 in starts by Hernandez or Davis.

”¡ OVER 9 or less if Webb or Wainwright do not start.

M’s at Tigers: Detroit has won 4-of-7 meetings this season with six going OVER the total. Both teams are now more realistically competing for the AL Wild Card after each has fallen more than five games out of their Division leads. Both teams have been betrayed by their starting pitching in recent weeks after both staffs have performed well much of the season. Detroit is the more complete team with several pitchers now returning from injury but several of their young starters seem to have run out of gas

Preferred plays:

”¡ MARINERS as +125 underdogs in any matchup.

”¡ OVER 9 or less in any matchup in which either Seattle’s Felix Hernandez or Detroit’s Justin Verlander do not start.

Indians at Angels: This could be a playoffs preview as both Division leaders have widened their leads in the past two weeks. The teams have not met since early May but the home team has won 2-of-3 in their two previous series this season. Both teams have gotten excellent starting pitching in recent weeks with Cleveland’s CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona and Paul Byrd as solid as any quartet in the majors. The Angels counter with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, but both Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver have had solid outings over the past two weeks.

Preferred plays:

”¡ INDIANS as underdogs in starts by Sabathia, Carmona or Westbrook.

”¡ ANGELS as -130 favorites against any other Cleveland starter.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup except if either team’s fifth starter is involved.