Four of the six division races in baseball are all but over. The Reds already have clinched the National League Central and the Giants have done the same in the NL West. I expect the Nationals and Rangers to clinch the NL East and AL West, respectively, this week.
That leaves the AL East and AL Central, and those races seem likely to go down to the final day of the season – a week from Wednesday – or possibly even into a 163rd game to decide things. Any tiebreaker games would be played a week from Thursday, with the wild-card one-game playoffs set for a week from Friday.
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The Chicago White Sox lead the Detroit Tigers by a game for the AL Central lead and it’s now clear the loser of that race is going to miss out on the playoffs entirely. The Sox limp home on a five-game losing streak. In their past six games, they have not scored more than three runs in any game and are 3-for-42 with runners in scoring position. No. 2-4 hitters Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are a combined nine for their last 72.
The good news is that the Sox start a seven-game homestand Monday vs. the Indians, the first meeting between the teams since the all-star break. The Sox lead the season series 8-4 and swept the Tribe the last time they visited Chicago. The Sox are an excellent 24-10 at home since July 3. And the last time they lost five straight, July 18-22, the Pale Hose turned around and won five in a row. Tampa Bay follows Cleveland into U.S. Cellular for a four-game set this weekend. The Rays could be essentially eliminated from the wild-card chase by then. Chicago closes the season with three at Cleveland. The Sox are -130 on Sportsbook.ag to win the division and -310 on BetOnline to win this Indians series.
Detroit totally blew a chance to tie for the Central lead by dropping a doubleheader at home to the Twins on Sunday. The Tigers (even money at Sportsbook.ag to win the Central) blew early leads in both games. Many believed the Tigers were ready to seize control of the Central after they finished a sweep of the White Sox to move into a first-place tie on Sept. 2. But Detroit hasn’t been able to beat bad teams when necessary. After a four-game home set vs. Kansas City that started Monday (Tigers are -300 series favorites at BetOnline), Detroit finishes with three at Minnesota and three at Kansas City. The Royals have been a major thorn in the side of both Detroit and Chicago this season. The last time K.C. hosted Detroit, the Royals swept three games. Kansas City is 12-6 this season vs. the White Sox.
In the AL East, the Yankees take a one-game lead over the Orioles into this week. It still makes no sense that Baltimore is that close considering New York’s run differential is +104 while Baltimore’s is minus-6. The O’s actually lost a one-run game Sunday to Boston, which is notable because Baltimore is an incredible 27-9 in one-run games this season, by far the best in baseball (Yanks are 21-23 by comparison). The Orioles also won three extra-inning games last week and have won 16 straight in extras after starting the season 0-2 in those games. Their winning streak in extra-inning games is the best in the majors since the Indians won 17 straight in 1949.
The schedule from here on out favors New York, in my opinion, which is a big -350 favorite on Sportsbook to win the division. The Yankees play seven on the road this week, but three at the Twins and four at Toronto, which New York recently swept and has lost six straight. New York then finishes the season with three vs. Boston.
Baltimore (+250 to win division) is home for seven this week, with four vs. the Blue Jays and then three vs. Boston. The Orioles close with three at Tampa Bay, which may or may not matter for the Rays. If the Rays have nothing to play for, you would have to say the remaining schedule then favors Baltimore. The second-place finisher in the East is in good shape for the second wild-card spot -- at worst -- as Baltimore currently holds a 3.5-game lead over the third-place wild-card team.
Should Baltimore and New York have to play a one-game playoff for the AL East title, it would be played at Camden Yards as things stand now. The O’s and Yanks finished 9-9 vs. each other this season and the second tiebreaker is intradivision records. New York is 36-29 vs. the East, while Baltimore is 37-25. Also, as things stand, the wild-card winner would face the Rangers in the division series, while the AL East champion would face the AL Central winner. Texas is the Sportsbook.ag World Series favorite at +450.
Also this week, look for the books to start unveiling MLB awards props with the races for each league’s MVP and Cy Young very much up in the air. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera could take the AL MVP now that the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton is dealing with a sinus problem that has sidelined him since he left a Sept. 18 game. The Rangers aren’t sure if they will have Hamilton at all for a four-game series with Oakland that started Monday night. He and Cabrera are tied for the MLB home-run lead and Cabrera has a comfortable lead in the AL batting and RBI races as he attempts to become the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown.
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