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Finding value in late September can be a tough task for baseball bettors. Some playoff races are all but over, while others are just heating up. And in the middle are a handful of teams that would love to play spoiler.
Here’s a look at some clubs, outside of the playoff picture, that could throw a wrench in the postseason plans of their opponents while also getting great value from oddsmakers:
Los Angeles Dodgers
With all of the issues brought on by owner Frank McCourt, the Dodger Blue have been in the red for most of this season. But behind MVP candidate Matt Kemp and Cy Young prospect Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles is playing great ball in September.
“Guys have really continued to get after it every day,” manager Don Mattingly recently told reporters. “We’ve played good defense and we’ve pitched well, which tells you where you’re at as a club.”
The Dodgers lost the past two nights heading into Tuesday, but prior to that, they were tearing it up during a 15-3 spree in which they won five straight series. They put a ding into playoff hopefuls St. Louis and San Francisco and they even won two of three at Atlanta, which is now trying to hang on for the NL Wildcard.
In a season that once was a train wreck, L.A. (72-74) now has a shot at finishing above .500. The Dodgers could be a solid sleeper bet when they play division-leading Arizona and take on Wildcard-chasing San Francisco in the final weeks of the schedule.
Toronto Blue Jays
This team has the misfortune of playing in the toughest division in baseball. The Yankees and Red Sox are perennial contenders, and the Rays have consistently been in the playoff hunt over the past few years. Put the Jays (74-73) in any other division and they might be a regular in postseason play.
Last week, Toronto took three of four in a home set against Boston. The Blue Jays followed that by winning two of three against the Orioles. Toronto is floating around .500 and it wants to make this a winning season.
The Blue Jays also had a strong finishing kick in 2010, going 12-4 in their final 16 games, including a 9-2 run to end the season. Toronto’s home stretch is littered with matchups against teams in the playoff hunt, including the Los Angeles Angels.
Generally speaking, the Marlins (67-79) are awful. And despite the fact they can’t draw fans, somehow they’ll start the 2012 season in a brand new stadium. But manager Jack McKeon doesn’t seem to be the type to let his team lie down.
Just take a look at this past weekend. Granted, the Fish were playing the Pirates, but in Games 2 and 3 of that series, Florida was minus its entire starting outfield due to injuries. McKeon made no excuses and his Marlins notched a three-game sweep. They also took two of three off the major league-leading Philadelphia Phillies earlier this month.
Florida beat another playoff contender Monday night, opening its road series in Atlanta with a 5-4, 12-inning victory over the Braves. The spoiler role suits the Marlins just fine.
“If you don’t get the opportunity to play in the playoffs, it’s fun to see how we can affect the outcome,” shortstop Donnie Murphy told the media.
The Fish close out the 2011 campaign with contests against Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.
This one’s a little iffy. The Nats are 67-77 overall, but manager Davey Johnson didn’t bring back stud pitcher Stephen Strasburg just to sell tickets in the final month.
OK, maybe Johnson did want to put some butts in the seats. But it also shows the intent of trying to win games in the final month. The Nationals have won three of their last four heading into Tuesday, and can play spoiler in upcoming series against the Braves and Phillies, who are attempting to lock up home field through the National League playoffs.
The Texas Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds may want to make nice with the guys calling balls and strikes Thursday.
Two of the umpires who have seen the best winning percentages from visiting teams are scheduled to be behind the plate in their games.
The Reds are set as -155 favorites at home to the Chicago Cubs with Gary Darling calling balls and strikes. Darling has seen visiting clubs go 19-11 in his games this season, dropping more than 13 units for home team bettors.
Randy Wells is the probable starter for the Cubs and should share the hill with Homer Bailey.
Meanwhile, Mike DiMuro is in charge of Texas’ home game against Cleveland. Home teams are just 11-18 (down 10.5 units) in DiMuro’s games this season and the Rangers are set as -225 favorites.
Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona is expected to start against Alexi Ogando
MLB: The over is 7-3-1 in Washington’s last 11 games.
MLB: The Detroit Tigers have won 12 straight games.
NCAAF: LSU has covered in 11 of its last 14 meetings with Mississippi State, although the Bulldogs have covered in two of the last three.
WNBA: Seattle has covered in six of its last seven games against Phoenix.
MLB: Florida is 8-23 in its last 31 games as an underdog.
MLB: Kansas City is 8-21 in Jeff Francis’ last 29 starts.
NCAAF: The under is 1-7 in the last eight meetings between LSU and Mississippi State.
WNBA: New York is 9-19 in its last 28 meetings with Indiana.
3 – During the Detroit Tigers’ 12-game winning streak, the club has failed to score at least five runs only three times. With two outs in the ninth inning, they hit two homers and tied the Chicago White Sox 5-5 before winning the game 6-5 in extra innings. It’s the longest win streak the club has had in 43 years.
Injury that shouldn’t be overlooked
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox – As the Sox continue to slide down the stretch, the last thing they need is Gonzalez to hit the shelf. He pulled himself out of Wednesday’s loss to the Blue Jays with calf tightness and is considered day-to-day. The first baseman is hitting .340 with 26 homers and 110 RBIs.
Game of the day
LSU at Mississippi State (+3.5, 50)
"I let myself down and I let my players down, I did. You know why I say that? Because I had a lot of confidence, and I expect a lot better things from myself than I (got). A lot of things. I expected my ballclub to play better, and it hurts." – White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen in another rant about his future with the club. Chicago is set around -120 Thursday in Kansas City.
Notes and tips
After being traded from the New York Mets in mid-July, Francisco Rodriguez has served as Milwaukee’s setup man for John Axford and it sounds like he’s had about enough of it. "I’m not happy. That’s the bottom line for me,” Rodriguez told CBSSports.com. “They told me one thing; they haven’t done it, and I stand by what I said." Rodriguez has posted a 3-0 mark with a 2.31 ERA in 25 appearances with National League Central-leading Milwaukee.
Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher left the team after his mother passed away. It is unclear how long Urlacher will remain away from the team and whether he will play in Sunday's game against New Orleans. “My first priority right now is to be with my family as we mourn her loss and make the arrangements to lay her to rest," Urlacher said in a statement. "This is a very difficult and emotional time for us and I sincerely ask that you respect our privacy. Thank you.” Urlacher had a huge game in Chicago's season-opening win over Atlanta. He returned a punt for a fumble, intercepted a pass and recorded 10 tackles. Chicago is a 7-point underdog Sunday at New Orleans.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday will be shut down for four to five games with inflammation of the middle finger on his right hand. Holliday will miss this weekend's key series against the Philadelphia Phillies and will not return to the lineup until Tuesday at the earliest. The Cardinals and Braves both won Wednesday, leaving St. Louis 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the race for the wild card with just 13 games remaining. Holliday is batting .298 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs.
Phoenix and Seattle open the WNBA Western Conference best-of-three semifinal Thursday with the hometown Storm set as 5.5-point favorites. As mentioned earlier, the Storm have dominated against the number against Phoenix, but these teams know each other well. ''Most of these games come down to the last two or three minutes,'' WNBA leading scorer Diana Taurasi said after the Mercury lost to Seattle last week, losing homecourt advantage for the first round. ''We have to find a way to get stops and good offensive possessions.''
Randy Wells, Chicago Cubs (7-4, 4.73 ERA)
Wells is 5-0 with a 3.02 ERA since Aug. 1 and has allowed just four earned runs over his last four starts. The veteran gave up just two runs over seven innings in his last outing against the New York Mets, but took a no-decision in a 5-4 Cubs victory. That was the sixth straight time the Cubs won a Wells start.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (16-7, 2.44 ERA)
Lee’s scoreless streak ended at 30 2/3 innings last weekend during a 3-2 win over Milwaukee, but he’s still in the middle of the NL Cy Young race. He gave up just one run over seven innings in that start and has struck out at least six batters in each of his last eight trips to the hill while serving up just two homers over that stretch.
Carmona hasn’t picked up a win since mid-August and is working on a fat 2.13 WHIP and 9.24 ERA over his last three trips to the hill. After getting drilled for seven runs in just 1 1/3 innings of work against Detroit earlier this month, the good news is that he rebounded to hold the White Sox to three runs over 5 1/3 innings in a 7-3 loss in his last start.
Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox (11-8, 3.58 ERA)
Buehrle allowed four runs in a start just once from the end of April until the calendar turned to September, but now it seems like the wheels have fallen off. He has given up seven runs in each of his two outings this month which spanned just nine innings. The Indian roughed him up in an 8-4 win over the BoSox that saw them take Buehrle deep twice.