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Teams battling for baseball playoffs

Sep 23, 2003 7:53 AM

As baseball enters its final week of the regular season, there is plenty yet to be decided as far as the playoffs and eventually the World Series.

It’s going to be a weeklong shootout in the National League, both for the Central Division title between Houston and the Chicago Cubs and for the Wild Card.

Seven teams have mathematical shots at landing a playoff berth, and four of them have very realistic chances to make it.

Florida and Philadelphia are neck-and-neck in the Wild Card chase, and they go head-to-head three times this week.

The Cubs, who trail the Astros by a half game in the National League Central, are well positioned to make the playoffs, either as divisional champs or as the Wild Card. They host Pittsburgh over the weekend.

Atlanta and San Francisco battle this final week for the National League’s best record and home field advantage, should they meet in the National League Championship Series.

The Yankees will win the American League (A.L.) East, and Minnesota will win the Central, with both teams likely clinching by the time you read this.

Oakland has a four game lead over Seattle in the A.L. West with each team having a half dozen games to play.

If Seattle is to win the A.L. West, they most likely will have to sweep their series with the Athletics and then defeat them again in a one game playoff. Don’t hold your breath!

Here’s a look at four series that may have playoff implications as the regular season ends. Keep in mind that some playoff berths may have already been decided by the time these series begin or are completed.

The following recommendations are made with some hesitancy due to the uncertain nature of which teams may rest regulars and which teams might give their Triple A players a chance for some major league exposure with nothing at stake. Let the situation and common sense guide you this weekend. Next week we shall preview the playoffs.

Atlanta at Philadelphia: Both teams should need wins with Atlanta competing with San Francisco for best record in the NL and the Phillies fighting for the Wild Card. As such this should be a tightly managed series with both managers quick to pull any starting pitcher who struggles early.

Thus, the first play to look for in the series will be the UNDER, especially at lines of 8 or higher. If either team’s fate has been determined they can be expected to rest their regulars and may be played against if made the favorite regardless of the pitching matchup.

Los Angeles at San Francisco: This season ending series includes a Saturday double header and both teams should begin the weekend with much at stake. The Giants seek to overtake Atlanta for the best record in the NL while Los Angeles is challenging for the Wild Card.

Thus we should see a tightly contested series, making the UNDER the preferred play throughout, especially if both teams are still alive in their respective races. The Dodgers may be played as underdogs against all but Jason Schmidt, who is battling Dodger closer Eric Gagne for the NL Cy Young award.

Oakland at Seattle: This series could be meaningless on two counts for Seattle. Oakland could have clinched the AL West title by the time this series begins and Boston could have clinched the Wild Card as well. If Oakland has already clinched the Division the Mariners would be worth playing as underdogs or if favored by no more than minus 125 as Oakland figures to rest regulars and set up their starting rotation for the Playoffs. The most likely scenario is that Oakland will have clinched and Seattle will be playing for the Wild Card, at least on Friday. If Seattle has been eliminated then Oakland can be played in any game in which they are the Underdog.

Boston at Tampa Bay: Boston may have already clinched the Wild Card when this series begins but the play will be on the home underdogs. Tampa has played spirited baseball all season, mirroring their manager Lou Pinella. They are likely to be underdogs throughout the series even if Boston has already clinched. The preference for the Total is the OVER at lines of 9 or lower in any pitching matchup.