As each week of the baseball season falls off the calendar
the pennant and Wild Card races hold even more promise for exciting finishes
perhaps even up to the final series. Only
Seattle can coast to the finish line and the Mariners’ march to perhaps a
record setting performance for most wins in a season has us following their
But the other five divisional races and both Wild Card
berths remain up for grabs and the leaderboards are changing on a weekly basis. Over half of baseball’s 30 teams still have realistic
chances for making the post season although the hopes of a few of these teams
grow fainter with each loss. Still,
with most of baseball still in contention the final six weeks of the regular
season will provide us with many thrills.
While Seattle continues to lead the AL West by 17 games,
the second largest lead is held by the New York Yankees, who lead Boston in the
AL East by just 3 games. The three
time defending World Series champions have the second best record in all of
baseball and must still be considered a legitimate threat to repeat despite
their advancing age. Their huge
edge in postseason experience will present a formidable challenge to both
Seattle and Oakland. It appears
that nobody wants to win the AL Central as both Cleveland and Minnesota have
slumped of late.
Most surprising is Minnesota’s inability to capitalize on
a scheduling edge last weekend as the Twins dropped their first three games at
Tampa Bay to begin the week a game behind the Indians.
Oakland is the hottest team in the game right now and actually have
baseball’s third best record. Last
week’s home sweep of Boston enabled the Athletics to assume the Wild Card lead
and they begin the week with a two game lead over Boston and three and a half
ahead of Minnesota. Division rival
Anaheim has played well of late and is a manageable six games behind Oakland.
In the National League the largest Division lead beginning
the week is Philadelphia’s one game edge over Atlanta in the East.
The other races have leads of just a half game with the Cubs leading
Houston by that slimmest of margins in the Central and Arizona with that same
edge over San Francisco in the West. Each
Division also has a third team no further than six games behind the leader.
Florida trails Philadelphia by that margin in the East while St. Louis
trails the Cubs by five games in the Central and the Dodgers are just a game and
a half behind Arizona in the West. Clearly
all nine of these teams have a real chance at winning their Divisions but could
just as easily be out of the postseason picture as only four teams will advance.
Currently the Wild Card is controlled by Houston, a half game ahead of
San Francisco and a game and a half ahead of the Dodgers.
The ninth team in the NL pecking order, Florida, is seven games behind
Houston, meaning that they are closer to winning their Division than they are to
winning the Wild Card.
The unbalanced schedule will give these teams numerous
chances to make up ground within their Divisions over the final 40 or so games
of the season. Many of the
contending teams are just a series sweep away from assuming a controlling
position or from falling behind several other teams should they be swept in a
Here’s a look at some key ÂÃ‚Âseries this weekend.
Philadelphia at St Louis: These teams have met just
once this season with the Phils winning two of three at home back in mid May.
Philadelphia’s starting pitching was at its best early in the season
but has struggled lately. They did
get some strong efforts in last week’s sweep of Los Angeles, a series in which
third baseman Scott Rolen seemed to shake off a season long slump. St. Louis
struggled early with their rotation but they’ve gotten more consistency over
the past month as they’ve gotten back into playoff contention.
Darryl Kile is having a strong season as is Matt Morris while the
emergence of rookie Bud Smith has been a key to the Cards’ recent success.
St Louis is the more talented team overall and will be worth backing if
not favored by more than —125 throughout this series.
The guideline for Over/Under play is 9, looking to go OVER any total
below 9 or UNDER any total above 9. Back
in May the teams played a pair of UNDERs and a Push.
Atlanta at San Francisco: San Francisco has been the
hottest team in the National League over the past month.
They made some wise moves just before the trading deadline that
strengthened them both on the mound and at the plate.
Atlanta did not do much in the way of addressing their season long
problems on offense and have slid out of first place in the East after being
swept at home by Arizona. The
Braves have been very inconsistent on offense as evidence by a recent stretch
which has seen Atlanta score two runs or less in 8 of 12 games entering this
week while also scoring double digits in consecutive games during this same
stretch. Much of the Braves’ woes
at the plate can be attributed to the decline in ÂÃ‚ÂAndruw Jones’ productivity.
The Giants have started to get increased production from last season’s
MVP, Jeff Kent, and Barry Bonds appears to be out of a slump that plagued him
much of July. In this series look
to back the Giants in any game in which they are made the underdog.
Atlanta’s best value might come when youngster Jason Marquis gets the
start if he is an underdog. When
these teams met in May the games were high scoring with two Overs and a Push.
Scoring should be down in this series but caution should be exercised on
playing the Under for any total lower than 9Â½.
Seattle at New York Yankees: Seattle has won four of
six games between the teams this season including a three game sweep at Yankee
Stadium over Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina back in May.
The Mariners remain on pace to win 117 games with under 45 games
remaining. Over the past few weeks
we have seen the top teams in the AL East struggle while all four AL West teams
have surged. Despite the emphasis
that will be placed on the importance of this series to the Yankees in the New
York media, Seattle will be worth playing in any game in which they are the
underdog. Seattle begins the week
having won 45 of 60 road games and they’ve gotten solid starting pitching all
season. Recently, rookie Joel
Piniero has been added to the rotation and he has been sharp.
The first four games between the teams went Over the total while the last
two have gone Under. This series
shapes up as low scoring with the Under the preferred play in all three games.
Anaheim at Cleveland: Anaheim has played their best
baseball of the season over the past few weeks but it may be too late for their
post season chances with Oakland playing even better and leading the Angels by
six games in the Wild Card race. Cleveland
has struggled of late but so has Division rival Minnesota so the Indians remain
the leader in the AL Central but are just one of several Wild Card contenders. Anaheim
has the edge in pitching and their offense is often underrated.
Cleveland has the edge in power with Juan Gonzalez and Jim Thome putting
up strong numbers. Anaheim has
perhaps the best bullpen in all of baseball and that figures to be their edge in
this series. Quite likely the
Angels will be underdogs throughout this series and it won’t be a surprise to
see them win at least twice. Interestingly,
Anaheim is a .500 team on the road and Cleveland is just a game over .500 at
home. The teams have split six
prior meetings this season with four of the six going Under the total. The best chances for an Under in this series would be in
matchups involving Bartolo Colon or C C Sabathia of Cleveland and Jarrod
Washburn or Ismael Valdes of the Angels.