Teams have just passed the 108 game mark for the season, meaning that a full two thirds of the regular season is complete. Barely 50 or so games remain in the chase to the postseason and we’ve had some very interesting developments over the past week.
Divisional races continue to shape up with 10 teams within six games of a Divisional leader. Only the New York Yankees lead their Division by more than six games and their lead is six and a half over Boston in the AL East with rising Tampa Bay just a game and a half further back.
The Wild Card races are also taking shape with five teams within five games of the lead in the American League. In fact, the week begins with both Wild Card races in a tie. Texas and Boston have identical records atop the AL Wild Card standings. Colorado and San Francisco are tied similarly for the NL Wild Card lead
Baseball has always been a streaky sport which means a three or four game winning or losing streak is very common. At almost any point in the season we will have teams on streaks of three games or more. Thus ground in the standings can be made up or lost rather quickly and with a third of the season still remaining a deficit of six games is certainly able to be overcome just as a six game lead is hardly insurmountable.
As teams fall further and further out of contention we can expect to see more huge prices required to back favorites against also-rans. We’ve had several instances already this season of favorites of 3 to 1 and higher. Thus far favorites laying minus 300 or more are 10-5 but have shown a loss of 5.6 units.
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend.
Colorado at Florida: Both teams are realistically vying for the NL Wild Card than Division titles although both are dangerous enough to maintain pressure on the current leaders. In their only previous series this season Florida won 2 of 3 in Colorado in early May. Florida has gotten outstanding pitching all season from staff ace Josh Johnson while Ricky Nolsaco has been solid over the past two months. Colorado’s pitching has been better than expected although there have been no truly outstanding starters. Veteran Jason Marquis and young Ubaldo Jimenez have put up the best stats but their edge over the other starters has not been that pronounced. Neither team is explosive offensively on a consistent basis with Florida about average at home and Colorado below average on the road.
PREFERRED PLAYS: UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup; Florida as favorites of minus 140 or less in starts by Johnson or Nolasco against any Colorado starter; Colorado as underdogs of plus 125 or more against anyone other than Johnson or Nolasco
Philadelphia at Atlanta: Atlanta has won 7 of 9 games this season against the Phils including a 3-game sweep here six weeks ago. The Phillies have been in a slump of late. The Braves have made some trades this season that have altered the composition of their offense and their pitching has been only decent. Javier Vazquez has been the defacto "ace’ of the staff although both Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe have been solid more often than not. The Phillies’ staff has been bolstered by the acquisition of Cliff Lee as staff ace Cole Hamels has struggled all season. Rookie J A Happ has been a pleasant find while it may be getting close to the end of the line for veteran lefty Jamie Moyer. The Philly offense has run hot and cold all season but when hot it is perhaps the best lineup in the NL.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Philadelphia as favorites of minus 125 or less in starts by Lee or Happ or as Underdogs of plus 125 or more against Vazquez, Lowe or Jurrjens if other than Moyer starts for the Phillies; Braves as underdogs of plus 130 or more against Hamels; OVER Totals of 9 or less in any matchup not involving Lee, Happ, Vazquez or Jurrjens; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher if Lee or Happ oppose Vazquez or Jurrjens.
Boston at Texas: This is the only American League series this weekend involving a pair of legitimate contending teams. All six games this season have gone UNDER the Total as the teams have combined to total just 43 runs. This series should feature more scoring. Although Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have been stalwarts on the Red Sox staff, John Smoltz did not work out and young Clay Buchholz has regressed rather than improved. Texas has gotten better pitching than expected but the offense has slumped over the past few weeks. Youngsters Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter have joined veteran Kevin Millwood to give the Rangers as solid a trio of starters as is in the AL (each with ERAs below 3.60 and WHIPs under 1.30). Texas starts the week with greater momentum after taking 2 of 3 at the Angels while the Sox were just swept in 4 games at the Yankees, extending their losing streak to 6.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Boston as underdogs in any matchup or if favored by minus 130 or less in starts by Beckett or Lester against any Texas pitcher; Texas as underdogs of plus 140 or more against Beckett or Lester or as underdogs of plus 110 or more against other Boston starters; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher if Beckett or Lester oppose Feldman, Hunter or Millwood; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if only one of those pitchers starts; OVER Totals of 10 or lower in matchups involving none of these five named starters.
N Y Yankees at Seattle: New York won 2 of 3 in the only previous series this season. The Yankees currently have the best record in all of baseball and lead the AL East by six and a half games over Boston following their four game sweep of the Sox this past weekend in the Bronx. Seattle is in third place in the AL West, trailing the first place Angels by 8 games. They are still in position to challenge for the AL Wild Card, just four and a half games behind co-leaders Boston and Texas as the week dawns, with just Tampa Bay also in front of them. The Yankees’ pitching has really come around over the past couple of months with Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte pitching extremely well as the second fiddle duo behind C C Sabathia and A J Burnett. The fifth slot remains a concern but the bullpen has been outstanding of late, especially Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera. Seattle may have hurt their realistic Playoff chances when the traded Jarrod Washburn’s experience to Detroit in exchange for promising rookie Luke French, especially with Erik Bedard on the DL. Staff ace Felix Hernandez continues to impress but he may be the only reliable Mariner starter down the stretch.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Yankees as favorites of minus 150 or less in any matchup except against Hernandez; Seattle as underdogs of plus 200 or more in any matchup or as underdogs of plus 120 or more in a start by Hernandez; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup not started by New York’s fifth starter; UNDER 8 or higher if Hernandez starts against other than the Yanks’ fifth starter.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe