Pennant, wild card races headed for the wire

Aug 28, 2001 3:54 AM

Just one month remains in one of major league baseball’s wildest seasons in memory and if you thought the first five months were exciting and entertaining, just wait and see what’s in store as five pennant races, two wild card races and the National League home run and MVP races are decided.

The three pennant races in the American League have widening gaps with the Yankees leading Boston by four games in the East and Cleveland ahead of Minnesota by four and a half games in the Central.  In the West Seattle has maintained their current 19 game lead for about three months and that despite the fine recent play of both Oakland and Anaheim.  Oakland’s play leveled off last week but with a month to go in the season they have control of the Wild Card, leading Boston by three games and both Anaheim and Minnesota by six games.  Chicago’s White Sox are the only other AL team with a winning record and they trail Division leader Cleveland by fewer games (seven and a half) than they do Oakland for the Wild Card (nine).  Seattle is still on pace to break the Yankees league record for wins just set back in 1998.  On their current pace the Mariners would win 116 games.

Things continue to be much tighter in the senior circuit with eight teams still in Playoff contention.  Small gaps have appeared in the Division races but none is larger than the three and a half games by which Arizona leads San Francisco in the National League West. The Dodgers are just another game behind the Giants,  Atlanta leads Philadelphia by two games in the East and have failed to capitalize on the Phillies recent woes which have seen them drop eight of ten games entering the week.  In the Central Division Houston has a three game lead over the Chicago Cubs with St. Louis just a pair behind the Cubbies.  The Wild Card race is even tighter than the Division races.  Beginning this week the Cubs and Giants are tied for the lead with Los Angeles a game back, St. Louis two behind and Philadelphia just two and a half back.  This race almost surely will go down to the final weekend of the season given the scheduling dynamics in place.

Whew!

And if that’s not enough to keep you interested consider that surging Sammy Sosa has pulled within four of Barry Bonds’ major league leading 55 home runs with Luis Gonzalez only three behind Sammy.  A case can be made for any of the three to be the National League MVP and it might well be determined by which team makes the Playoffs.  But other things being equal perhaps the best case can be made for Sosa.  Bonds does have support around him in the lineup and Gonzo has the outstanding pitching of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to take the pressure off of Arizona’s offense.  But when you consider what Sosa is accomplishing for the Cubs, given a lack of offense around him and at best an average but not outstanding pitching staff, he is carrying the Cubs.  Sosa may well set a record for the greatest gap between the number one and two players on a team in term of runs batted in.  Sosa leads the league with 133 RBI, 85 ahead of his nearest teammate, Ron Coomer.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting and significant series this weekend.

Chicago Cubs at Atlanta: It is important that neither team get swept in this series given the closeness of the National League races.  Both teams have had similar seasons that have featured above average pitching and below average offense.

Chicago’s Sammy Sosa is the best offensive player on the field while Atlanta/ most productive player has been Chipper Jones.  Neither has gotten much support and thus we’d expect both to be pitched around throughout the series.  The preferred play in the series will be to the UNDER although the Cubs have their best chance to win if Jon Lieber gets a start. 

St. Louis at Los Angeles: Both teams are in the thick of both Divisional and Wild Card races but have ground to make up and several teams to overtake.  At a total of below 8 the preferred play will be on the OVER but at a total of 9½ or higher we’d look to the UNDER.

New York Yankees at Boston: This series will greatly impact the race in the AL East in which the Yankees begin the week with a four game lead.  Our preferred play will again be on the UNDER with a look towards Boston only as a home underdog.

Anaheim at Minnesota: This is a crucial series for both team each of which has much ground to make up in the Wild Card race.  The Twins had been in more of a slump than had the Angels but Minnesota begins this week having scored five runs or more in six of nine games while the Angels have scored five or more in five of their last six games.  Anaheim’s bullpen, which has been outstanding most of the season, has also started to show fatigue.  This should be an entertaining series despite its importance.