With the playoff chases in full swing, the good teams will have the chance to play against a lot of familiar foes, while the bad teams will have a chance to play spoiler within their own division. The imbalanced Major League Baseball schedule that requires teams to play 19 games against each of their division rivals tends to be backloaded and this season is no different.
Unfortunately, the races for division titles may not be as exciting as they have been in past seasons. The Baltimore Orioles lead the AL East by 7.5 games, the Washington Nationals lead the NL East by six games, the Los Angeles Dodgers are up by 3.5 games in the NL West, and the other division races are close, but the teams in second place are also in control of their own destiny for the Wild Card spots in each league. There’s clearly incentive to winning the division because anything can happen in the one-game Wild Card format, but those teams aren’t at risk of missing the playoffs entirely by failing to win the division.
Certain teams in the Wild Card chase will have a much more difficult road than others. The Seattle Mariners, for example, have seven games left with the Angels and six games left with the Athletics. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers have 11 games with the Twins and six games left with the White Sox. The same can be said in the National League where the San Francisco Giants have 29 games left with divisional foes as one of two teams above .500, while the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have to spend time beating up each other, playing the Milwaukee Brewers, and also playing the Cincinnati Reds, who just recently fell under .500 after being at or above for most of the season.
This happened last season when the Cleveland Indians had a 21-6 month of September because the back end of their schedule was filled with games against the White Sox and Twins. They ended the season on a 10-game win streak and were shutout at home by the Tampa Bay Rays, who also beat the Texas Rangers, in the Wild Card round. Some team may get hot because of the schedule and find themselves in a one-game playoff with a chance to knock off a 90-plus win team in the Angels or Athletics.
The injury situations are particularly interesting this time of year. The teams with no playoff aspirations may lose some key contributors as they tend to nagging injuries or deal with surgery in order to be ready for the following season. On the flip side, some players on contending teams are sure to be trying to play through injuries. Here’s this week’s injury update:
Manny Machado avoided a serious injury, but not a trip to the disabled list after he twisted his knee during an at bat last week. The Reds lost starter Homer Bailey to a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow and the smart money is that the Reds will shut him down with their playoff hopes essentially gone. Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will undergo a pretty major knee surgery procedure and it’s safe to wonder what his status will be for Spring Training next season. The Royals are waiting with bated breath as Salvador Perez’s surgically-repaired knee is acting up. He means a ton to that team and that’s a situation to monitor. The Dodgers are without Hyun-Jin Ryu in their quest for home-field advantage as he has a strained gluteus muscle. Juan Uribe is also out with a strained hamstring. The Oakland A’s, who are no longer in first place, will be without Jed Lowrie until mid-September with a fractured finger. Yonder Alonso’s season is over for the Padres as the oft-injured first baseman sustained tendon damage in his right forearm.
Certain teams are just trying to hold on until rosters expand and they can get some reinforcements. It’s no coincidence that one of the seven teams with the most relief innings pitched has a record over .500, and it’s the Indians, who are just 62-61. On the other hand, three of the top five teams in terms of starting pitching innings pitched are firmly in the playoff picture and seven of the top 10.
Those are important things to be looking at during this point of the season. It’s a very long season and managers need to get wins when they can, so they will max out a starting pitcher or use a reliever too frequently. Managers are in all sorts of different positions at this stage of the season. Some are trying to get wins to keep their jobs or improve their resumes for after they get fired. Others are trying desperately to get their team into the playoffs.
Being aware of recent bullpen usage is something that bettors will want to do. The state of a bullpen can not only alter the likelihood of that team winning the game, whether they use their best relievers or not, but can also have an affect on the total. Late in the season, pitchers start to lose velocity or their pitches flatten out. The pressure is on and that can often lead to mistakes.
It’s difficult to pay close attention to baseball with all of the hype surrounding the start of the football season and it’s even more difficult to bet baseball when the really bad teams are constantly huge underdogs and good teams have inflated lines, but there’s nothing wrong with taking an hour or so per day and trying to find ways to build up that bankroll for football season.