Just three weeks remain in the regular season and much remains to be decided. Several of the division leaders, beginning with St. Louis in the National League Central, shall begin to clinch spots in the postseason within the week.
But several races remain hotly contested, most notably the NL wild card race. Six teams are within 4Â½ games of the lead with roughly 20 remaining. Should one of those teams get incredibly hot (say winning 15 of their final 20 games) that team is not only likely to grab the wild card but enter the postseason with a chance to advance.
Sure, St. Louis has played the best ball over the season and has been incredibly consistent. However, even the Cardinals have questions about their bullpen and a starting rotation lacking a true ace or a true stopper.
Atlanta has all but mathematically wrapped up the NL East and Minnesota is in a similar position in the AL Central. Of the three remaining divisional races, Los Angeles is in the best shape with a five game lead in the West. But races in the AL East and West should continue at least deep into next week.
The Yankees start this week with a 3Â½ game lead over Boston and will face the Red Sox for three-game series both this weekend and next. In the West, Oakland has a slim two game margin over Anaheim and is five ahead of Texas. As they did for much of April, the four West teams will face only each other over the final three weeks of the season.
The AL wild card race currently has Boston five games ahead of Anaheim and eight up on Texas. Of course all three teams have designs on division titles, although Texas is the longest of longshots to overtake both Anaheim and Oakland. Right now it does appear that Minnesota, the Yankees and Boston will make the postseason along with the winner of the AL West (either Oakland or Anaheim).
No such wild card forecast can be made in the NL. San Francisco starts the week with a one game lead over both the Chicago Cubs and Houston. Florida and San Diego are both just 2Â½ back with Philadelphia still in the mix just 4Â½ behind the Giants.
The Cubs are Marlins have the best chances to make up ground following several postponements of their recent games. The Cubs actually have the fewest losses (64) of any of the six teams, with the Giants and Marlins each with 65.
Things will sort themselves out over the final three weeks, but let’s enjoy all these races for as long as they continue to last.
Here’s a look at four key series this weekend.
Braves at Marlins: This is a critical series for the Marlins if they are going to make the playoffs. They are unlikely to make up the 8Â½ games by which they trail the Braves. A Florida sweep here and again next week in Atlanta would make things interesting. Still, the Marlins are playing for the wild card and will be attractive underdogs throughout this series.
Atlanta has won 9 of 13 games this season, but the teams have not met since the first of July. Florida is the play at +120 in any matchup. The "under" is also preferred at totals of 8 or higher.
Padres at Giants: San Francisco begins the week 2Â½ games ahead of the Padres and trailing the Dodgers by five in the NL West. This is a chance for San Diego to make up ground or for the Giants to all but eliminate a likely wild card contender. The Padres have the starting pitching and the better closer and have been superior on the road compared to home.
San Diego has won 10 of 13 between the teams this season and is playing with the greater urgency. As underdogs of at least +110, the Padres are playable, especially in starts by David Wells and Jake Peavy. The "over" is preferred in games not involving Wells or Peavy, provided the total is no higher than 9.
Red Sox at Yanks: The first of two series that looked as though they would have little meaning less than a month ago. Now there is great significance. Trailing by just three losses, the Red Sox can make up ground by taking two of three this weekend and another two of three next weekend in Boston. The Sox have played great baseball since trading away Nomar Garciaparra, which pretty much coincided with a memorable brawl between the teams in Fenway in late July.
The Red Sox are the play in this series as underdogs in any matchup and as -140 favorites in starts by Curt Schilling or Pedro Martinez. The "over" is also the play in start by a Boston hurler other than the dynamic duo if the total is no higher than 10. The Sox have won 8 of 13 this season.
Rangers at Angels: This series has similar ramifications as the Giants/Padres weekend series in the NL. Anaheim trails Oakland by two games in the AL West and leads the Rangers by three. The Angels now trail Boston by five in the wild card race which makes winning the division the more likely option. Texas pretty much needs to win two of three to remain in the playoff race and has the offense to hit Anaheim pitching.
The best play in the series should be the "over" at Totals of 10 or less. Texas has won 7 of 12 meetings and is playable as an underdog in starts by Ryan Drese or Kenny Rogers. Anaheim is playable as -140 favorites against other Texas starters.