Playoffs focusing on crowded NL races

Sep 16, 2003 10:26 AM

With most major league teams having just 14 games remaining in the regular season, four divisional races and both wild cards are still in doubt.

Atlanta long ago took control of the NL East while San Francisco did the same in the West. In fact, both teams are vying for the best record in the senior circuit, each beginning the week with 57 losses. Atlanta has won three more games.

St Louis is in danger of dropping out of the NL Central race, trailing Houston by 5½ games. The Cubs are in between the Astros and Cardinals, who trail Houston by just a pair of games.

The New York Yankees have extended to a 5½ lead over Boston in the AL East while Oakland is now 3½ ahead of Seattle in the West. Chicago and Minnesota are atop the Central with Kansas City 3½ back. Ten of Chicago’s final 13 games are against the Twins and Royals -- and the remaining three are against the Yanks.

The AL wild card is down to a two-team race between Boston and Seattle. Boston starts the week a half game ahead of the Mariners. That edge is in the form of one less loss.

The NL wild card race remains crowded although Arizona, St Louis and Montreal seem to have dropped too far back to remain realistic contenders. Florida currently controls the wild card with a 1½ lead over Philadelphia with the two teams playing a three-game series during this week. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 2½ out and the Cubs four.

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

Astros at Cardinals: This will be the last gasp for the reeling Cardinals who were swept in Houston last weekend. The St Louis offense was held in check but that has to change in the rematch if the Cards are to remain alive. Houston has gotten the better overall pitching down the stretch and held the Cards to just eight total runs last weekend.

Look for this to be a high scoring series with a play on the OVER at lines of 9 or less. St Louis can be backed as an underdog or if favored by no more than -125, which should be the case when Roy Oswalt or Wade Miller starts for Houston.

Giants at Dodgers: San Francisco is challenging Atlanta for the best record in the league while the Dodgers are contending for the wild card. This bitter rivalry between long time foes should be every bit as intense as ever. The Dodgers have the better starting pitching and a huge edge at closer with likely Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne setting records.

The Dodgers have been a tremendous UNDER play all season, especially at home where more than two games in three have gone below the posted total. That should be the theme here with the UNDER the preferred play at lines of 7 or higher. The Dodgers are also worth playing as an underdog in any matchup or when favored by no more than -130.

Royals at White Sox: This series will have a major impact on who wins the AL Central. While these two square off against one another, Minnesota will be heavily favored to sweep three games at home against Detroit. Chicago has a huge edge in starting pitching and will likely be favored throughout the series.

Kansas City has gotten decent efforts from several of its starters over the past couple of weeks and can be considered for play if an underdog of at least +150. Use 9½ as your guide for playing the total, going OVER 9 or lower and UNDER 10 or higher.

Mariners at A’s: These teams will end the regular season in Seattle next weekend but barring a strong showing here by the Mariners that series could be rendered meaningless. Seattle trails Oakland by 3½ and are a half game behind Boston in the wild card race as the week begins.

Oakland has played the better baseball over the past two months but Seattle has picked up their play once again. The underdog will be worth playing throughout what should be a tightly managed series. This would also favor the UNDER as well, especially at a line of 9 or higher.