Just six weeks remain in baseball’s long six month season and games are taking on added importance, especially when playoff contenders collide.
Half of baseball’s six Division leaders have opened up leads of more than a half dozen games as this week dawns.
Baseball’s closest Divisional race is in the AL Central where Detroit carries a two and a half game edge into the week over the Chicago White Sox with Minnesota just two more games back. Which brings into focus the developing Wild Card races in each league.
Three teams are within three games of the lead for the American League Wild Card and four teams are within four games of the lead for the National League Wild Card.
Boston begins the week with a one game lead over Texas and a three game edge over Tampa Bay.
Colorado starts the week with a three game lead over Division rival San Francisco whom they played Monday night and meet again for a three game series in "The City" this weekend. On the realistic edge of elimination are the Chicago Cubs who trail Colorado by seven games, although they are just six games back in the all important loss column.
Here’s a look at four series this weekend involving a pair of teams very much in the thick of playoff contention.
Atlanta at Philadelphia: This could be Atlanta’s last realistic shot at making a run for the NL East title. They start the week trailing the Phillies by six and a half games but have won 8 of 12 meetings this season, taking 4 of 6 games both at home and here in Philly. Shaky but the Phillies have an offense that can overcome many shortcomings on the mound. Atlanta has a very solid starting rotation capable of keeping the Braves in virtually every game.
PREFERRED PLAYS: UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in matchups of Philadelphia’s Happ, Lee and Joe Blanton against Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez; OVER Totals of 9 or lower if none of these pitchers is involved; Phillies as underdogs in starts by Blanton or Happ or if favored by minus 150 or less in Lee’s start; Atlanta as an underdog in starts by Hanson, Jurrjens or Vazquez against anyone other than Lee.
Colorado at San Francisco: Colorado took two of three from the Giants at home this past weekend but still had one game to play Monday night. The Rockies have the better lineup and are scoring as much on the road as the Giants are at home. PREFERRED PLAYS:Colorado as underdogs in starts by Jason Marquis or Ubaldo Jimenez against any Giants starter except price must be at least plus 150 against Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain; Giants if favored by minus 150 or less against other than Marquis or Jimenez: UNDER Totals of 7 or higher if Cain or Lincecum opposes Jimenez; UNDER Totals of 8 or higher in any other matchup.
Tampa Bay at Detroit: These teams meet for the first time this season. Tampa Bay has a slightly better record but by playing in the AL East the Rays are contending for the AL Wild Card. Detroit has led the AL Central for much of the season but has not been able to break away from Chicago or Minnesota.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Detroit in starts by ex-Tampa starter Edwin Jackson or ace Justin Verlander if favored by no more than minus 140; Tampa as underdogs of any price against other than Jackson or Verlander or if getting at least plus 150 against either; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup.
Texas at Minnesota: Minnesota has beaten Texas in 4 of 7 meetings this season, all of which have been played in Texas and all of which have been played since the All Star break. The Rangers’ pitching staff has been vastly improved and remains underrated while the offense has struggled more than in recent seasons.
PREFERRED PLAYS: Texas as underdogs of any price in starts by Scott Feldman, Derek Holland or Tommy Hunter against any Minnesota starter; UNDER Totals of 9 or higher in any matchup.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe