Heading to baseball’s final week of the regular season, two divisional races and one wild card race remain unsettled and may come down to the final day on Sunday. That would be a great way to end a spectacularly competitive season.
With the playoffs beginning in a week, who is the favored team? Is it St. Louis with the best record in the majors but questionable starting and relief pitching and an injured key contributor in Scott Rolen?
How about the Atlanta Braves and all their post season experience for more than a decade? Most of that experience has been unpleasant or at the least underachieving. But maybe this is their year — when they were not expected to be contenders.
Of course, there is always the New York Yankees. But their starting pitching concerns have lasted basically all season. And maybe that has taxed the bullpen and closer Mariano Rivera to an extent that the Yanks could be surprisingly knocked out in the first round.
And how about Boston with that outstanding tandem on the mound of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez? Schilling and Randy Johnson carried Arizona to a World Series title a few seasons back.
Atlanta. St. Louis and Minnesota have clinched division titles, while the Yankees have secured at least a wild card. Boston is all but assured of the wild card and should clinch a playoff spot by midweek. However, the AL West, NL West and NL wild card are very much up for grabs.
The Los Angeles Dodgers lead San Francisco by 2Â½ games in the NL West with San Diego just 4Â½ back. Before you dismiss the Padres chances consider that San Diego closes the season at lowly Arizona after hosting the Giants for three in midweek.
Meanwhile the Dodgers and Giants close the season against one another. The Padres, by taking at least two of three against the Giants and sweeping Arizona, remain very much in the division race. However, a wild card berth is likely not available.
Oakland begins the week with just a one game lead over Anaheim, with Texas just two back in the AL West. The Athletics close the season hosting Anaheim after hosting Seattle for four midweek games. Texas hosts the Angels for four midweek games and then ends the season at Seattle, while the A’s and Angels square off.
The Cubs have a half game lead over San Francisco for the NL wild card with Houston 1Â½ back and San Diego 2Â½ behind. Chicago hosts Cincinnati for four games during the week and ends the season with three in Atlanta. Houston host St. Louis for three and finishes at home against Colorado. San Diego faces San Francisco and Arizona while the Giants are at Los Angeles over the weekend.
Let the intensity begin!
Here’s a look at four series to conclude the regular season, keeping in mind the dangers of teams being alive or eliminated from the playoffs either prior to or during these series.
Padres at D’backs: If the Padres are needing to win to stay in the race they are playable as favorites up to -150 in any game, including against Randy Johnson. The totals are best played "under" if the line is no lower than 9. Arizona lacks an offense and the Padres are likely to play for runs whenever they have the chance. This suggests moving runners over and making contact rather than looking for the big bang.
Giants at Dodgers: This is as it should be. In likelihood, for the NL West title. The Dodgers took two of three on the road this past weekend and are likely to be favored all weekend except against Jason Schmidt. The preference is for the Dodgers if favored by no more than -125 and certainly as underdogs against Schmidt. The "under" in the series is also preferred, provided the line is no lower than 8.
Rangers at Mariners: Texas could be in position to win the AL West if able to fare well in midweek against Anaheim. The Rangers, if alive, become the play as favorites of up to -140. If the Rangers have been eliminated before or during the series, the Mariners would be playable, especially Sunday as Edgar Martinez ends his illustrious career and Ichiro Suzuki chases or sets a new single season hits record. Play "over" the total throughout the series at 10 or lower.
Angels at A’s: Most likely Oakland will need a win or two to clinch the AL West title. The Athletics are likely to be favored in all games, although their starting pitching has not been at the level of recent seasons. Mark Mulder and Barry Zito have both struggled over the past several weeks. Anaheim’s pitching has been reasonable and we like the visitors as underdogs throughout. The "over" is also preferred at 9 or lower.