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Baseball comes down to 2 week sprint

Sep 18, 2007 9:24 AM

The finish line is in sight for the regular season with just two weeks remaining before the Playoffs.

Division titles will begin to be clinched perhaps as early as this weekend. The so-called "magic numbers" for all three American League leaders (Boston, Cleveland, the Angels) are each in single digits. Any combination, for example, of six Angels wins and/or Seattle losses will result in LA officially clinching the AL West Title.

In the AL Central any combination of nine Cleveland wins and/or Detroit losses will propel the Indians to the Division title. These teams play a three game series that began Monday.

Even though the Yankees have pulled within 4½ games of Boston in the AL East by taking 2-of-3 in Fenway over the weekend, Boston’s magic number of 9 could mean the Red Sox also wrap up a Division title by the end of this coming weekend. The Yankees do, however, lead Detroit in the AL Wild Card chase by 2½ and are up 3 in the loss column. The Yanks have an early edge over the Tigers as New York will host Baltimore while the Tigers are in Cleveland this week.

The three NL Division leaders have magic numbers all in the low double digits. The trailing teams have more of a chance to make up ground. The Central has come down to Milwaukee and Chicago after the Cubs took 3-of-4 in St. Louis to all but mathematically knock the defending World Series champions out of the playoff picture. The Cubs have a one game edge over Milwaukee.

Almost as contentious is the race in the NL West where Arizona holds a two game lead over San Diego. But the LA Dodgers are just 4½ back with Colorado clinging to hope, 6½ out. The Rockies have hope because they have two series remaining with the Dodgers and one each with San Diego and Arizona.

Philadelphia’s mastery of the New York Mets continued over the weekend as the Phillies swept their three game series in New York. Philly has now won eight straight over New York and has closed within 3½ of the NL East lead. Philly does have the more difficult remaining schedule so the Mets should be able to win the Division. But the Phillies are just 1½ behind San Diego in the Wild Card race.

Philly does end the season with its final six games at home. The Padres play their last seven on the road, including their final four games in Milwaukee. All told, six teams are within 5½ in the NL Wild Card with the Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers and Atlanta Braves still with realistic chances of making the Playoffs.

A fantastic finish to the regular season is in front of us.

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

Dodgers at D’backs: The road team has won 10 of 15 meetings this season with the Dodgers leading, 9-6. The UNDER holds a slight 8-7 edge. In the 15 games neither team has scored double digit runs in any game and 14 times at least one of the teams has scored 2 or less.

Preferred plays:

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher in any matchup.

”¡ DODGERS as underdogs in starts by Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley or veteran David Wells.

”¡ DODGERS +150 if facing Brandon Webb.

”¡ D’BACKS as underdogs in starts by Doug Davis or Livan Hernandez.

Rockies at Padres: San Diego has won 8 of the 15 meetings and the UNDER holds an 8-6 edge with two pushes. San Diego has the better starting pitching, especially with Chris Young back into shape to join Jake Peavy and Greg Maddux as a solid trio. Colorado has gotten better than expected pitching all season with Jeff Francis arguably the staff ace. However, the Padres have roughed up Francis this season (7.77 ERA in 24+ innings in 4 starts). Francis was very effective in his most recent start a week ago.

Preferred plays:

ROCKIES as +150 underdogs or more against Peavy or Maddux.

ROCKIES at +130 against Young.

PADRES -140 against any Colorado starter.

UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup.

Blue Jays at Yanks: Toronto has lost some key players to injury but has gotten solid starting pitching most of the season. Still some of their younger starters have started to tire. NY has won 8-of-14 meetings with 10 UNDER the total.

Preferred plays:

”¡ BLUE JAYS as +150 underdogs in starts by Roy Halladay or AJ Burnett.

”¡ YANKS as -150 favorites against other Toronto starters.

”¡ UNDER 10 or higher in any matchup.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher if the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte or Chien Ming Wang faces Halladay or Burnett.

M’s at Angels: Whatever chance Seattle has remaining to catch the Angels will play out this weekend in a four game series beginning Thursday. The Angels are 11-4 against Seattle this season.

Preferred plays:

”¡ MARINERS as +150 underdogs against any Angels starter if pitching Felix Hernandez.

”¡ ANGELS if -130 favorites in starts by John Lackey, Ervin Santana or Kelvim Escobar.

”¡ UNDER 9 or higher if Hernandez or Miguel Batista opposes Santana, Lackey, Escobar or Jered Weaver.