Barely a month remains in the regular season and the playoff races continue to be tightly contested for six of the eight playoff spots.
Only Atlanta in the National League East and San Francisco in the West are virtually assured of making the playoffs. Both have double-digit divisional leads, although neither has clinched anything. However, it’s just a matter of time.
All three American League divisional races remain tight. The Yankees have the largest lead in the junior circuit, five games over Boston. But Seattle’s lead over Oakland is shrinking in the West following a costly four-game losing streak in Boston. The only good news for Seattle is Oakland having to play the final month without injured lefty starter Mark Mulder.
Chicago’s White Sox have overtaken Kansas City in the AL Central but the Sox begin the week with a one game lead over the Royals. Minnesota just another half game back.
The one competitive race in the NL is a three-team race in the Central where St Louis and Houston are tied for the lead, just a half game ahead of the Chicago Cubs. The half game deficit is due to having played one less game than the Cards and Astros. All three teams are tied with 62 losses.
Both wild card races remain extremely tight although in the AL, one quality team will not make the playoffs. Boston, Oakland and Seattle will vie for the one spot, with either the A’s or M’s faced with the wild card option if they fail to win the West.
The NL wild card race should get tremendous attention in the media over the final month, as it remains incredibly congested. Philadelphia has a slim half game lead over Florida.
All three NL Central contenders plus Arizona and Los Angeles each have just three losses more than the Phillies. Even Montreal is just four out of the wild card lead. That’s seven teams (excluding the eventual NL Central winner) within four games of the wild card with just over 30 left.
Here’s a look at four key series to be played this weekend.
Expos at Marlins: This series could have significant wild card implications if it ends in anything other than a four game split over the Labor Day weekend. Both teams have played winning baseball over the past month. The home team has won 9-of-12 meetings this season, with Florida owning a 7-5 edge.
Both teams have solid starting pitching and the first preference for this series will be look towards the UNDER at 9 or higher. The "under" is 6-6 in the first dozen games of the series. Both teams have isolated power but holes in their lineups. The underdog will be an attractive play between a pair of evenly matched teams.
Giants at D’backs: The Giants have dominated Arizona this season, winning 10-of-12 games. Six of those contests have gone "over" the total. Curt Schilling has pitched in only three of the games and the Giants have yet to face Randy Johnson. Given the season series, the GIANTS will be worth a look as underdogs. Arizona is worth playing as an underdog if either Brandon Webb or Miguel Batista are on the mound.
Yanks at Red Sox: The Yankees have won 7-of-13 games this season. Six of the first eight games went "over" the total but each of the last five meetings have gone "under. This is a key three-game series for the Red Sox, who need to win at least two to stay within striking distance in the East and the wild card.
The best underdog plays in the series would occur when Derek Lowe starts for Boston or Jose Contreras pitches for New York. Expect the recent trend towards the UNDER to continue. The best situation is 9 or higher.
Twins at Rangers: Although Texas has long since been out of contention the Rangers have played well over the last several weeks. They can be a spoiler down the stretch. Minnesota is in need of some wins to remain in contention in the Central. Texas won the only other three games played between the teams, also here in Texas, in early July.
Minnesota’s most effective starter has been lefty Johann Santana, who could be backed even if favored up to —125. John Thomson may be played as a favorite for the Rangers up to —125. If we get a matchup of these two pitchers, play the UNDER. Otherwise, look to play both the OVER and UNDERDOG in the series.