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The same pennant-driven sentiments can be found in the National League too. Here’s a look at how those divisional and wild card races may pan out.
NL West: The Padres continue to dazzle as the surprise team of the National League. Although their hitting has been average at best, they are led by one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball, one that leads the MLB with a glistening 3.27 ERA.
Mat Latos is the best of the team’s young hurlers and has his squad leading the San Francisco Giants by three games. The Giants are another pitching-heavy team with a 3.37 ERA that is third in baseball. The Dodgers ran away with the division last year and have shown an ability to get hot. It’s not likely they’ll prevail but at six games out, it’s not over yet.
The biggest question mark is whether or not the Padres’ pitching will be able to hold up. Nobody saw this performance coming and they aren’t like the Giants, who have several pitchers who have proven themselves capable of remaining dominant for an entire season. In the end, I see the Giants winning this division. Not only do they have great pitching depth and proven commodities, their offense will only continue to reap the rewards of recently promoted catcher Buster Posey. The line at www.sportsbook.com has the NL West wide open, besides the Dbacks all the teams have a shot. The Dodgers at +1000 could be a great bet to win the division.
NL Central: The St. Louis Cardinals have dominated this division in recent years and find themselves in a two-team race with a surprising team, the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals have a half game lead behind an excellent combination of pitching and hitting. Their 3.29 ERA is second best in baseball and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday continue to form a formidable power duo at the plate. A surprising cast of characters leads the Reds. Joey Votto has come from practically nowhere to be near the league lead in batting average, home runs, and RBI; Scott Rolen, previously considered done by some, has resuscitated his career in Cincinnati. Although the Reds’ pitching has been average, it has been bolstered by rookie Mike Leake, who skipped the minor leagues altogether.
The overall skill of the Cardinals can’t be overstated. In addition to having one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in baseball, they have perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia. With the exception of Garcia, all of these players have won pennants and excelled in clutch situations. Cincinnati is a nice story but I don’t expect their inexperienced roster to be able to stay with the Cardinals for the course of an entire season.
NL East: After a couple of down seasons, the Atlanta Braves are trying to return to their perch atop the NL East. Behind a balanced offensive attack and outstanding team pitching, the Braves have built a four and a half game lead over Philadelphia, the preseason favorite to win the division. Although Roy Halladay has been absolutely brilliant, the Phillies have largely failed to live up to expectations as they’ve struggled with consistency, especially on offense. The Mets and Marlins are both within eight games but neither seems capable of mounting a charge strong enough to supplant the two front-runners.
To be fair, a main reason the Phillies have underachieved is injuries. Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have all been on the DL. There’s no reason to think this team won’t regain its continuity though. They’ve made the World Series the last two years and have kept largely the same lineup. They have the overall team power and experienced pitching that will enable them to get past the Braves and win the NL East.
Wild Card: This will ultimately be the most congested race in baseball and will be decided by the teams that narrowly miss winning their own divisions. If my divisional predictions hold up, that leaves Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and the LA Dodgers as the primary contenders. Depending on how they finish their seasons, Colorado, Florida, and the New York Mets may play themselves into contention as well.
At this point, a prediction may end up being no more useful than a coin flip. However, out of the seven teams mentioned, I see the Braves prevailing. Knowing this is Bobby Cox’s last year and likely Chipper Jones’s as well, they are playing with a definite purpose. They have a perfect combination of motivation, experience, and outstanding pitching; one that I believe will clinch a playoff spot for them.
MLB: Yankees start west trip in Arizona
Owners of baseball’s best record, the New York Yankees theoretically shouldn’t have much trouble beating the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, still whether or not bettors are willing to lay the -160 at Sportsbook.com with a Yankees’ team due for a potential letdown after a big series win over the Mets and having traveled cross-country is another question altogether. Let’s take a look at Monday’s contest. For more on this game, click over to the GAME MATCHUP.
With New York’s 4-0 win over the Mets on Sunday coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to Florida, the Yankees (43-26) moved into sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since April 21. The Yankees, who have 16 more victories than the Diamondbacks (27-43), wrapped up a nine-game interleague homestand with six wins, and play their next six games at NL parks.
The absence of a DH poses some problems for New York, as manager Joe Girardi has been using both Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada at that position as they work their way back from injuries. “We’ll go day by day just to see how each one of them goes,” Girardi told the Yankees’ official website.
The Yankees start A.J. Burnett (6-5, 4.33 ERA), who allowed six runs, six hits and four walks in a season-low 3 1-3 innings of Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to Philadelphia. The right-hander has recorded a 9.00 ERA in losing his three June starts. He has also given up six homers over 16 innings during his losing skid after allowing four in his first 11 starts.
This could be trouble against an Arizona team that is fifth in the majors with 82 homers, and 15-3 when hitting at least two in one game. Also, with the DBack hitting just .253 for the season, StatFox cites a potential strong angle suggesting to fade Burnett:
· BURNETT is 13-27 (-19.8 Units) against the money line vs. an NL team with a team batting average of .255 or worse since 1997. (Team's Record) The average score was BURNETT 3.6, OPPONENT 4.5 - (Rating = 1*)
Burnett, who hasn’t faced the Diamondbacks since 2005, is 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA in five career starts against them.
Like Burnett, Arizona’s Rodrigo Lopez (2-6, 4.70) has also struggled of late, going 0-4 with a 5.14 ERA in his last five starts. However, the right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his last three starts against the Yankees, but hasn’t faced them since 2007. Of course, these teams haven’t met since the Yankees swept a three-game series in New York in 2007.
Arizona is returning home after going 1-5 on an interleague trip. Their bullpen continues to struggle and is the worst in baseball in several categories, including WHIP and ERA. That could prove to be the most important factor in handicapping tonight’s game, as it often is. Take a look at the powerful FoxSheets Super Situation being offered up:
· Play On - Road teams (NY YANKEES) - AL team with a high on-base percentage (>=.350) against a team with a bad bullpen (WHIP >=1.550), playing on Monday. (56-30 since 1997.) (65.1%, +27.4 units. Rating = 2*)
The StatFox Game Estimator calls for a relatively easy 6.5-4.2 win by the Yankees in this game and ARIZONA is 12-31 (-14.5 Units) against the money line as an underdog of +100 or higher this season. In that sense, perhaps the emotional letdown and travel issues just aren’t enough to overcome what figures to be a mismatch in talent in this series.
The first pitch for Monday’s game is set for 9:40 PM ET.
Oakland A’s vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Looking to stay on top a little while longer, the Oakland A’s take on the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. The A’s have their work cut out for them considering the Angels are playing the White Sox, likely adding to their win column. Finding the big game to bet on each weekend is easy at www.sportsbook.com where everybody bets.
The Jays, fresh off their disappointing series against Boston, are probably seeking a little redemption. Eveland, who was riding high, came crashing down giving up seven earned runs in a mere three innings. This dropped his ERA from 1.93 to 4.57 in just one night, I am sure he would like to see some recovery in that number. Early season stats are much easier to manipulate, not to mention the game is against his former team.
On the other side you have Gonzalez is looking to continue his current hot streak. Pitching a seven-inning shutout puts spark in his fastball. His last matchup against the Blue Jays was in 2008 and ended in a loss, so I am sure he would like to even out the stats there.
While no one seems to be sure who will be on for Sunday’s game from the A’s bullpen, Shaun Marcum is likely to take the field. Having not won a game since 2008 despite extremely strong starts all season, Marcum will be out for blood. No matter what he says, he would like to see a few more W’s under his name, but he is right, it takes the team showing up.
At the beginning of the season, strength in batting order is just being assessed, unless you have a tried and true lineup. The move of Jose Bautista from the lead off spot in favor of Fred Lewis might just up his RBI numbers, and he’s already second on the team.
Eric Chavez, having just broken his slump, is looking to make it a streak. With a batting order in seeming constant rotation, there has been no real consistency with Oakland. Chavez is looking to turn his two-run double into a regular occurrence. Now that Davis has been underperforming the season, Patterson is getting a chance to show his stuff. Denied regular play last season, Patterson is looking to leave an impression. He’s already clocked a homer, sure to be looking for more.
This early in the season standings are kind of mute. With tons of games to go, it is difficult to predict what slumps, injuries, or team shake-ups might cause huge shifts in the rankings. For now, this is a time for Oakland to enjoy beating out Los Angeles. Oakland has many hurdles to overcome given the weakness in their lineup and early season injuries, but at least their bullpen remains pretty intact.
Toronto needs to take an opportunity to put themselves back on track if they want to keep pace with Boston. Tampa Bay seems to still be ruling the roost, so keeping ahead of the Sox should be of paramount importance to the Jays. They did not make the best of their series against them, so they need to log a few more wins where they can.
MLB Series Betting- N.Y. Yankees at Boston
With two World Series championship rings in the past five years, the Boston Red Sox don’t play baseball games hoping to make the postseason; they play for division titles and settle for the wild card if that is last option. With roughly a quarter of the season to be played, Boston knows this is their best chance to close the six game differential in the loss column with New York, with just three games remaining between these two rivals. "There's [42 games] of our season left," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "We have too many good characters on this team. We won't quit." (Don’t neglect to review the latest info for all MLB contests by visiting the LIVE ODDS, BETTING TRENDS, and TEAM STATISTICS pages.)
Boston (69-51, +3.3 units) feels they are gathering momentum, having won seven of last 10, including sweeping Toronto on the road. The Red Sox return home where they are 38-18 and could tie the Yankees for the best home record in baseball with a sweep. Terry Francona’s club is third in baseball in runs scored on home turf at 5.7 per contest and hopes to improve on that figure tonight. Besides all the obvious aspects that are in front of the BoSox, being bludgeoned 25-8 at Yankees Stadium two weeks ago in a four-game sweep adds incentive.
How good have the Yankees (76-45, +6.9 units) been since the All-Star break? The Bronx Bombers are 25-8 and have won nine of 10 series, including the last five in a row. "The one thing that I've been really proud about [with] this club is that there's a sense of urgency every night," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This club knows how to continue to push, and that's a good feeling.”
In the opener, Brad Penny (7-7, 5.22 ERA) will take the ball and he been awful of late with 0-3 record and a 7.54 ERA over his last four starts. New York will counter with Andy Pettitte (9-6, 4.09), whose been particularly sharp in allowing two or fewer runs in his last four starts. Only a lack of run support has kept him at 1-0 mark in these assignments. Sportsbook.com has New York as -110 money road favorites, with total Ov10.5. The Yankees are 4-15 on the road when the total is 10 to 10.5, while Boston is 37-10 at home when the total is 10 or higher over the last two seasons.
Game 1 Edge: Boston
As expected, Saturday’s contest will be a Fox Sports afternoon affair and New York will be a decided favorite. The pitching mismatch is the top reason; with A. J. Burnett (10-6, 3.69) facing Junichi Tazawa (1-2, 5.40). The Japanese right-hander came to this country noted for low-90’s fastball, splitter and change, but right-hand hitters are batting .542 in his 11.2 innings of work. The Yanks entered this series without a win in Bean-Town in 2009, nevertheless are 16-2 after six or more consecutive road games this year. Conversely, the Red Sox have really floundered against the better teams and are 4-12 playing against a club with a winning record in the second half of this season.
Game 2 Edge: Yankees
The final contest is night-time conflict on ESPN and should be a beauty. Two big time pitchers will be paired in C.C. Sabathia (14-7, 3.58) versus Josh Beckett (14-4, 3.58). The Yankees came into the weekend with a stellar 50-27 record in night games. The New York front office paid Sabathia a Hudson River barge of money and with crunch time now here, the big lefty is 4-0 this month, with 2.35 ERA and opposing batters hitting a feeble .185 against him. Boston also plays a decent brand of baseball under the lights at 50-34. Beckett has allowed three or fewer runs in 15 of his last 18 starts, with the Red Sox 14-4. He’s been especially effective at Fenway Park with 8-0 mark and the team winning 10 of 11 starts. Beckett and the BoSox are 17-5 as favorites.
Game 3 Edge: Boston
The Yankees are the better team and have the more favorable pitching matchups in two of the three games with the last contest arguably a push. Nonetheless, the Red Sox will want to flush the unsavory taste of being swept in the Bronx and have the confidence of winning seven straight at Fenway over New York. Thus, I’ll make a slightly wavering choice of Boston for this weekend.
Sportsbook.com series odds: N.Y. Yankees -135, Boston +105
StatFox Edge Pick: Boston
2009 Record – 7-9 (4 straight wins)