Astros blasting off
with 25 games left

Sep 7, 2004 6:38 AM

Barely 25 games remain for most major league teams and it is becoming more difficult to make up ground, barring a lengthy winning or losing streak.

Entering this week several contending teams are in the midst of nice winning streaks.

St. Louis has all but clinched the National League Central title but continues to play well, having won nine games in a row and maintaining baseball’s best record.

The Houston Astros are finally playing the kind of ball most experts expected. The Houston streak comes even while two of the top four starters (Wade Miller and Andy Pettitte) are sidelined. In the hot streak, Houston has scored at least six runs in each of the nine games and is averaging over nine per game.

Hurricane Frances came at a terrible time for the Florida Marlins. Their three game series this past weekend against the Chicago Cubs was postponed, which has delayed Florida’s attempt to extend a seven-game winning streak.

Three division races remain lopsided and three are contentious. In addition to St Louis, Atlanta has all but wrapped up the NL East and Minnesota is close to doing the same in the AL Central.

Los Angeles is 3½ games ahead of San Francisco in the NL West after dropping three in a row in St. Louis, while the Giants were sweeping Arizona. In the AL East, the New York Yankees lead Boston by only 2½ at the start of the week. Oakland is three up on Anaheim in the AL West. No other team is within five games of a division lead.

Recent fades by Texas and San Diego may have caused them to lose touch with their respective division leaders. Both remain realistic contenders in the wild card races. In the AL, Boston has a 3½ margin over Anaheim and seven over Texas.

The NL wild card race is incredibly tight. San Francisco and the Cubs are tied for the lead but Chicago has played six fewer games. Houston has surged to just 1½ out, with San Diego and Florida just 2½ behind the co-leaders. Philadelphia is 6½ back.

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

Marlins at Cubs: Last week’s postponements likely make this a four-game series with one of Florida’s home games moved to Wrigley. Both teams have solid starting pitching. The Marlins have the better bullpen while the Cubs have arguably the better-balanced offense. Play "under" provided the wind-impacted totals are no lower than 8. The Marlins are also attractive as an underdog in any matchup and should win at least two in the series.

Cards at Dodgers: Meeting for the first time this season, the Cardinals swept the Dodgers in St. Louis last weekend. The average Cardinals starting pitching held Los Angeles to just six total runs. Two of the three games stayed well "under" the total. The rematch should be similarly low scoring as Dodger Stadium has historically been a strong pitcher’s park. The Cardinals are the better team and would be playable as underdogs throughout this series. Play "under" at 8 or higher.

Yankees at Orioles: The Yankees had won 11 of 13 meetings before the Orioles took two of three in New York last weekend. Baltimore’s pitching was the story as New York scored just five runs in the three games after averaging nearly 7½ in those 13 earlier meetings. After playing seven "overs" in the first eight meetings, six of the last eight have gone "under." Play the "under" at 10 or higher. Considering how the Yanks have slumped of late, Baltimore is playable at +200 in any game.

Red Sox at Mariners: The big story in this series surrounds Ichiro Suzuki’s chase of the all time single season hit record, which has stood since 1920. Needing 33 hits the rest of the way, Ichiro has been red hot. If he does break George Sisler’s mark, he will threaten .400 although he needs to hit a bit over .500 the rest of the way. Seattle is playable as +200 underdogs. All five previous meetings this season have gone "over" the total. At 9 or lower, bet "over" again.