Wild Card races keeping baseball interesting now

Aug 6, 2002 10:34 AM

Barring a work stoppage, the final third of the baseball season should produce several exciting races for division titles and wild card berths. Right now the wild card races appear to be more interesting.

Atlanta has all but clinched the NL East title with baseball’s best record and a commanding double-digit lead over three tightly bunched teams whose best chances will be to make a run at the wild card.

The Braves begin the week with an incredible 54-17 record over their last 71 games. St. Louis maintains a slim lead of just two games over Cincinnati in the NL Central with surging Houston just a game further behind. Arizona is distancing itself from Los Angeles and San Francisco in the NL West, The Wild Card race is extremely competitive. Los Angeles owned a one game lead over San Francisco with five other teams within seven games.

The Yankees continue in the lead in the AL East. Minnesota is making a joke of the AL Central. The AL West race has loosened over the past week with Seattle leading Anaheim by three games and Oakland by five.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting series to be played this weekend.

Braves at Astros: Atlanta has baseball’s best record while Houston has been playing its best ball of the season over the last month. Both teams have gotten solid starting pitching and this should be a low scoring series.

Houston will be worth backing as an underdog in starts by Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Kirk Saarloos, a rookie who has been brilliant in his recent starts. The weak link is Dave Mlicki. Should he start, his game can be played OVER a total of 8 or lower. Otherwise the UNDER can be played even at totals as low as 7.

Mets at Cards: The Mets have been a major disappointment all season. They blew a chance to become a significant factor in the wild card race with their poor effort at home last week against Arizona. St. Louis’ road struggles over the past week have enabled both Cincinnati and Houston to reduce the Cardinals lead.

This should be a high scoring series with perhaps only the Mets’ Pedro Astacio worth backing in an UNDER if no lower than 8½. Otherwise, the Mets are worth playing as underdogs of at least +120. The OVER should be considered at totals of 9 or less, except in a start by Astacio.

A’s at Yanks: This series will have a playoff atmosphere and the teams might well meet in the postseason for the third straight time. Oakland has the edge in starting pitching right now with several Yankees hurlers nursing nagging injuries. The Yanks have the edge in power but that could be negated by the A’s.

Oakland will be worth backing as underdogs throughout this series in starts by Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito or ex-Yankee Cory Lidle. The UNDER is also preferred in each game at a line of 8 or higher. This series might be played close to the vest.

Twins at BoSox: The Twins have quietly compiled the second best record in the AL, while running away with the Central. Their underrated offense with the likes of Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter plus a solid starting rotation make Minnesota a team that could pull an upset in the postseason. Boston is battling the Yankees for the AL East title and Anaheim and Oakland for the wild card.

In this series, the Twins will be worth playing when facing other than Boston’s Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. The UNDER will also be worth a look in potential matchups of Martinez and Lowe against Eric Milton or Johan Santana provided the total line is no lower than 8. In starts featuring any other starters, look OVER at 9 or less.