We are heading into the last week of the baseball season. There is still quite a bit to determine for the postseason. In the National League, though, we know four teams — Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Atlanta — that are heading to the postseason no matter what. Once a team has clinched its playoff spot, bettors need to pay close attention to how it is approaching the rest of its games. Some teams will continue to play with full intensity after they have clinched, others will hardly even try, and still others will let up on the gas a little but still play with intensity.
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Getting a sense of what is likely for a team can help you find some decent value against MLB odds while awaiting the start of the playoffs. Here’s a look at what we know about each of those teams:
Washington has had a playoff spot wrapped up for quite a while — and it was inevitable long before that.
Their work isn’t quite done yet, though.
Though they have a four-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, they haven’t clinched the division crown just yet. That’s not far off now, though, and as soon as it happens manager Davey Johnson has been vocal in his opinion that rest will be the only thing he will worry about before the playoffs start.
While I understand the sentiment and would applaud it in some circumstances, I don’t necessarily believe it here. They are currently just a half game ahead of the Reds for best record in the league. The bragging rights don’t really matter, but having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs assured — the NL already has home field in the World Series because of their All-Star Game win — would be a big boost for a team heading into their first playoffs. It’s not crucial, but letting it slip away would seem pointless — especially since there are definitely older teams in the league.
Personally, I would rather that the team didn’t let up intensity in this case. Time off at this point just means the Nats have more time to get worried about the challenge ahead of them.
Atlanta is red-hot right now, and the Braves have a strong incentive to fight to catch the Nationals for as long as they can because of the new one-game wild card series they would have to play if they finish second in the division. Because of that you can expect them to be at full throttle until they have won the division or have been eliminated.
As soon as that happens, though, the focus has to shift to making sure they have the pitching matchup they want in the wild card game. There is no room for error there, so unless the race goes to the end you can be sure that the Braves will shuffle things around in their final games.
The Reds have a big issue to deal with — understanding what Dusty Baker will be capable of after coming back from his recent mini-stroke. That could have a big bearing on what happens in the playoffs.
While figuring that out the Reds will be working hard to pass the Nationals and claim the No. 1 seed. That could set up a very interesting situation — and one of the most interesting season-ending series.
St. Louis is on track to be the second wild card team. If the Cards win the wild card game then they would play the top seed in the NLDS. The Reds and Cards also play in the final three games of the season, so there is a chance that the Reds could play the Cards eight games in a row. That would lead to some interesting strategic games being played as the Reds wouldn’t want to give away any secrets or give the Cards more insight into how to play against them than they have to.
San Francisco Giants
One big potential distraction has been dealt with now that the decision has been made that Melky Cabrera won’t play in the playoffs. His bat will be missed, but having the decision made now means the team has time to iron out how to deal with his absence when the pressure heightens.
Beyond that, the big focus here is on the rotation. The Giants haven’t locked down the fourth starter or the orders the starters will be used. They have shown since clinching all that matters above all else as they have liberally tweaked the rotation to get things right.
They are very unlikely to catch the Reds or Nationals, so their position is secure and getting ready for the playoffs is all that matters.
They are the most experienced playoff team in the NL besides the Cardinals, so their ability to be ready when it matters isn’t much of a concern.