The 3-2 Pitch: Wins against Astros in cards for St. Louis

September 17, 2002 10:59 AM
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   Just two weeks remain before the baseball playoffs get underway. Within the past week a pair of expected division title clinchings took place as Atlanta has won the National League East and Minnesota has been crowned champions of the American League Central.

   The Yankees are days away from wrapping up the AL East while St Louis may have to wait until the season’s final week before clinching the NL Central. Houston gets one final crack at the Cardinals this weekend, albeit on the road.

   Arizona is on the verge of clinching the NL West and still may have a chance to catch Atlanta for the league’s best record. The Braves begin the week leading the snakes by three games, four in the loss column.

   Three races remain tightly contested beginning the season’s final fortnight. San Francisco begins the week a game ahead of Los Angeles in the race for the NL wild card. The teams play each other four times this week in their final head to head meeting.

   Barring a sweep by either team this race likely goes down to the final weekend. And there’s a chance that the Giants may have to replay a game that was called earlier this summer in Atlanta that was tied when the rains came.

   The AL West and AL Wild Card are still up for grabs although it appears Anaheim and Oakland will make the playoffs while Seattle and Boston will be left out.

   Beginning this week Anaheim holds a one game lead over Oakland in the Division race with Seattle a surprising nine games back. Oakland controls the Wild Card with an eight game lead over Seattle and Boston a half game further back.

   What gives both Boston and Seattle a chance is the schedule. The four AL West teams play one another the rest of the way while Boston plays four series against sub-.500 teams. Anaheim has 10 of its final 13 games on the road with only three against Texas. Seattle plays nine of its final 12.

   Here’s a look at three key series this weekend.

   Astros at Cards: Houston was only able to salvage a split of its four game series at home last weekend and starts the week 6½ games behind the Cardinals. A sweep in this series is a must. Houston clearly has the pitching with both Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller pitching well over the past couple of months. Both are worth backing here provided neither is favored by more than minus 130.

   The teams played low scoring games last weekend with two games going UNDER and the other two “pushing the total. UNDER again is the way to look if the line is no lower than 8. St Louis manager Tony LaRussa might micro-manage the pitching staff and pull starters depending upon the importance of each game as the season winds down.

   Angels at M’s: This could well be Seattle’s last stand. Seattle had a chance to pick up ground on both Anaheim and Oakland by hosting Texas for four games earlier in the week. Barring a collapse against the Rangers, the Mariners could be as close as four games behind whichever team begins the weekend in second place. Seattle should be favored throughout this series.

   Considering that the games will still have great meaning for the Angels the price might not be as steep as would be expected. The Mariners are worth playing in each game at -150 or less as long as the game still has meaning. The UNDER is also worthy of consideration at a line of 9 or higher.

   Rangers at A’s: Oakland, as does Anaheim, controls its own postseason destiny by continuing to win. With Anaheim at Seattle for the weekend the Athletics can pick up ground on at least on of those teams, or both, by winning here. But the A’s will be too highly priced to back throughout the series.

   The spot play might be against the A’s should their fifth starter, most likely Ted Lilly, get the start. The OVER is also worth a look throughout the series at a line of 9 or less. The Rangers do have the bats with Alex Rodriguez shooting for 60 homers. Texas, with no pressure, has gone 18-12 over the past month.