The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Less than three weeks and 20 games per team remain before the 2007 regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
Eight teams will make the post season field and only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are virtually assured of spot in the playoffs. The Angels should clinch the AL West title by the end of this week.
The other five divisions have real races as none of the other leaders have more than a four-game lead over the second-place team.
With five divisional races far from being decided there should be some very exciting baseball over the next three weeks, even as college and pro football take over the nation’s consciousness as their seasons are underway.
The National League Wild Card race still has several contenders. Milwaukee begins the week four games ahead of Philadelphia with St. Louis five back. Houston has rallied to within 6.
The American League Wild Card race is a bit more one sided as Boston holds a 6½-game lead over Minnesota.
Tampa Bay continues to lead the AL East but their game and a half lead over second place Boston will be tested early this week as the Rays visit the Red Sox for a three-game series. Then it’s on to New York for a weekend series against the Bronx Bombers. They then return home to host Boston for another three games.
It appears that the AL East has come down to that two-team race between the Rays and Red Sox.The Yankees are now in fourth place in the AL East, a half game behind Toronto.
The Chicago Cubs still have the best record in the National League but are just 3-7 in their last ten games. Fortunately for them second place Milwaukee has not been able to take much advantage of the Cubbies’ slump, going just 5-5 in their last 10 games but are four games behind in the NL Central.
The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the week as winners of eight in a row, including a weekend sweep of rival Arizona that has enabled Joe Torre’s charges to overtake the Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West, starting the week with a 1½-game lead.
The AL Central features both contenders backing up but not far enough to allow Cleveland or Detroit to contend. Chicago leads Minnesota by 2½ games but the Sox have lost 6 of their last 10 while the Twins have gone 3-7.
The most interesting race is the NL East. Despite dropping two of three games to Philadelphia over the weekend, the Mets maintain a two game lead over the Phillies with 19 games still to play.
Here’s a look at four interesting series this weekend.
Brewers at Phillies: In their only other meeting this season the Brewers and Phillies split a two- game series in Milwaukee back in April. Milwaukee has a slight edge in pitching while the Phils have a slight edge on offense.
• Underdog in a matchup of Sheets or Sabathia against Hamels or Myers.
• Phillies -125 or less against any other Milwaukee starter.
• Under 8 or higher if any one of these four named pitchers start.
• Under 7 or less if two of the four start.
• Over 9 or lower if none of the four are involved.
Dodgers at Rockies: The Dodgers have won 8 of 15 meetings this season but have lost 2 of 3 games in each of their last three series with the Rockies. The Dodgers have the much better pitching and their offense has been bolstered in recent weeks while Colorado is suffering from key injuries.
• Dodgers as underdogs in any matchup.
• Dodgers -125 or less in starts by Derek Lowe or Chad Billingsley.
• Rockies +150 in any matchup.
• Over 9½ or lower in any matchup not involving Lowe or Billingsley.
• Under 10 or higher if Lowe or Billingsley oppose Aaron Cook or Jeff Francis.
Blue Jays at Red Sox: Toronto has won 7 of 11 meetings and is more in the role of a spoiler. The Red Sox are not as powerful as they have been in recent seasons and have been bothered by numerous injuries that have cost key starters significant playing time.
• Blue Jays as underdogs of any price in starts by Roy Halladay or AJ Burnett.
• Blue Jays +150 in starts by Jesse Litsch, David Purcey or Sean Marcum.
• Red Sox +125 against Halladay.
• Under 9 or higher in most any matchup.
• Under 8 or higher if Josh Beckett opposes Halladay or Burnett.
Rays at Yanks: The Yankees have won 9 of 15 meetings this season against the Rays but they have had long stretches of weakness at the plate. The pitching has been better than expected although the bullpen has had problems just when it seemed the improvement was for real. Tampa was 1-6 in its last 7.
• Rays as +120 underdogs in any matchup.
• Rays -120 or less in starts by Scott Kazmir or Matt Garza.
• Yanks +125 or higher in any matchup.
• Under 9 or higher in any series matchup.