Brave Old World: Playoffs again

Sep 10, 2002 10:38 AM


   With just about 20 games remain in the major leagues, Atlanta is all set to clinch the NL East.

   The Braves begin the week with more than a 20-game lead and currently have the best record in baseball, a half game better than AL West leading Oakland.

   St Louis has stretched its lead over Houston in the NL Central to 5½ games with all other teams more than 12 games out. In the NL West three teams are still battling for the playoffs with Arizona leading Los Angeles by 4½ with the Giants just one game further back.

   The Dodgers control the wild card by a game over San Francisco with the Astros 6½ back. Houston can pick up some ground early this week at home against Colorado while the Giants host the Dodgers in a three-game series.

   In the American League, the Yankees will again win the AL East, beginning the week with a 9½ game cushion over Boston. Minnesota is on the verge of wrapping up the Central despite winning just three of their last 10 games.

   The Twins lead the White Sox by 13 games as the week dawns. The AL West has a great race heading into the final three weeks. Anaheim begins the week having won 10 straight to keep within two games of Oakland

   The Athletics finally had their lengthy winning streak halted in Minnesota last weekend, settling for an AL record 20 in a row. Oakland then began a new streak by shutting out the Twins twice.

   The A’s begin a four-game series in Anaheim that could enable the Angels to tie or claim the West lead. Seattle begins the week trailing Oakland by six in the division battle and just four games behind Anaheim for the wild card.

   Boston has fallen to 8½ behind Anaheim and may be without ace Pedro Martinez for another start or two.  The Sox may even shut him down for the season once they realize their playoff chances are gone.

   Here’s a brief look at four series this weekend.

   Brewers at D’backs: Milwaukee can do nothing other than play spoiler this weekend. Arizona has the advantage of playing at home while the Dodgers and Giants are both on the road at non-contending teams.

Arizona will be prohibitive favorites in all games of the series, even when Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson do not pitch. In starts by Schilling and Johnson the UNDER is a preferred play with Milwaukee capable of being shutout in those games.

Other games in the series can be played OVER totals of 9½ or less. The one possible time to play on Milwaukee would be when Ben Sheets starts for the Brewers provided the price is at least +200.

   Cardinals at Astros: This is likely Houston’s last and best chance to make a run at the Cardinals for the NL Central title. St Louis has been streaky over the past month and began the week having won five in a row.

Houston is worth backing in starts by Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller provided the price is no higher than -140. The UNDER is also worthy of consideration at totals of 8 or higher since this series may well be tightly managed with playoff possibilities on the line.

   Mariners at A’s: This series will enable Seattle to make up ground in the AL West or permit Oakland to perhaps deliver a knockout punch to the Mariners. The A’s have a solid rotation and can be backed as favorites when priced at no higher than -130. The UNDER is also worth playing at totals of 8 or higher.  Seattle is not nearly as productive on offense as in the past two seasons. Oakland also relies more on pitching than hitting.

   Rangers at Angels: The Angels will be solid favorites throughout this series as they contend for both the division title and the Wild Card. The Rangers will be playing loose. Alex Rodriguez is making a run at MVP with a strong season.

   This series will be a test of how well Anaheim fares under pressure when facing a team expected to lose. Look to the OVER in this series at totals of 10 or lower.