The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | Just two weeks remain before eight teams advance to the post season and the other 22 organizations begin planning for 2009.
Tight Division races remain in the AL East, the AL Central and the NL East, suggesting that we shall be treated to some inspired and intense baseball down the stretch.
The Los Angeles Angels were the first team to clinch a playoff spot by winning the AL West. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has set a new record for saves with number 58 this past Saturday. He likely will establish the new mark at 61 or 62 by the end of the season.
Chicago’s Cubs continue their quest towards their first World Series title in exactly 100 seasons with the National League’s best record and a comfortable 7½-game lead in the Central Division. The Cubs could lock up the division title this weekend. Their fine season was highlighted by Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against Houston this past Sunday night.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have created some distance in the NL West with a 4½-game lead over second place Arizona. The Dodgers, at 77-72, are the only team in the West with a winning record and have been playing well over the past two weeks. The Dodgers will be a threat in the NL playoffs.
The New York Mets are trying their best to avoid a collapse similar to last season but they hold a narrow one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East. Their bullpen has been a source of trouble all season, and those woes are even more severe with closer Billy Wagner out for the season.
The Phillies have caught Milwaukee for the Wild Card lead as the Brewers have started to fade as they did last season in September. Milwaukee starts the week having lost 7 of their last 10 games, the reverse of the Phillies recent record.
With Brett Myers pitching to his potential and joining Cole Hamels as anchors of the Philly rotation, the Phils have the edge. The edge is even greater when considering the outstanding season Philly closer Brad Lidge is enjoying as compared to the woes of the Milwaukee bullpen.
The AL East will be a two-team race to the wire with Tampa Bay seeking to hold off Boston in what has been an amazing season for the Rays. Their record is good enough to at least capture the Wild Card should they be overtaken by the Sox.
The odd team out is likely to be the team that finishes second in the AL Central where the Chicago White Sox begin the week with a slim 1½-game advantage over the Minnesota Twins.
Here’s a look at four series to be played over the penultimate weekend of the regular season:
Cards at Cubs: The Cubs have won 7 of 12 games against the Cards this season with seven staying below the total. St Louis first baseman Albert Pujols is making a run for National League MVP, while the Cubs are focused on the playoffs.
• Cardinals +130 in starts by Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright or Todd Wellemeyer against Ryan Dempster or Carlos Zambrano.
• Cardinals as underdogs against other Cubs starter.
• Under 9 if Lohse, Wainwright or Wellemeyer oppose Dempster, Ted Lilly or Zambrano.
• Over 10 in games not involving any of these six starters.
Phils at Marlins: Philadelphia begins the week just one game behind the Mets for the Division lead and tied with Milwaukee for the Wild Card. Florida has won 9 of 16 games against the Phillies this season.
• Phillies -140 in starts by Cole Hamels or Brett Myers.
• Marlins as underdogs or at -125 in starts by Ricky Nolasco or Chris Volstad if not facing Hamels or Myers.
• Under 8 if Hamels or Myers face Nolasco or Volstad.
• Over 9 in any matchup not involving Hamels or Myers.
Orioles at Yanks: This series will mark the final games at the ‘old’ Yankee Stadium with their ‘new’ Stadium across the street set to open next April. New York has won 8 of 15 meetings with the Orioles this season. The Yankees have announced Andy Pettitte as the starting pitcher for Sunday night’s Yankee Stadium finale.
• Orioles +150 in any matchup.
• Over 9 in any matchup
Twins at Rays: This is the most attractive series of the weekend. The teams split their only other series this season with each winning once in Minnesota back in mid April. Both games exceeded the posted total. Given the importance of this series to both teams, a low- scoring series can be expected.
• Under 8
• Either team as +120 underdogs.