If you missed West Virginia’s win at home against Baylor yesterday, then you missed probably the most exciting game of the season so far. Offensive was on display and defense was nowhere to be found, as the Mountaineers pulled out a 70-63 win over the Bears. Both quarterbacks threw for over 550 yards, while WVU QB Geno Smith continued his amazing campaign towards the 2012 Heisman trophy, adding over almost 700 yards and eight touchdowns to his stat total this year.
Analysts and odds makers expected a high-scoring affair, as the over/under was set at 83 points, but nobody could believe their eyes looking at the final score or the final stat line for both offenses.
Baylor, who came into today’s game 3-0 and ranked 25th in the country, covered the spread, but amazingly lost after scoring 63 points and putting up 700 yards of total offense. Quarterback Tyler Florence had a career night with 581 yards and five touchdowns, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.
“We expect to score that many points a game,” Florence told ESPN. “But the goal is to score more than our opponent and we came up a little short today.”
Geno Smith was already regarded as a serious contender for college’s most prestigious individual trophy, but after completing 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns Saturday, Smith is the undeniable frontrunner for the award.
“Can you please tell me how you can improve on that?” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen asked ESPN.com.
The Mountaineers were obviously happy to improve to 4-0 on the season, winning their Big-12 debut, but they cannot be pleased with their defense, which got scorched this week. Numerous team records were shattered on both sides, including Baylor’s single game receiving mark, as Terrance Williams’ 314 yards was also good enough for the best Big-12 receiving game of all-time.
It’s still unclear whether West Virginia can contend for a Big-12 title this season, but what is clear is that Geno Smith cannot be stopped. After yesterday’s win, he brings his season totals to 1072 yards and 20 touchdowns with 0 interceptions. He has also completed over 80% of his passes after four games this year.
Matt Barkley started the season as the Heisman favorite with odds at 3/1, while Smith was at 8/1. That will certainly change after this week and although there are many tough games remaining on the schedule of WVU, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to jump on the Smith bandwagon after witnessing what happened yesterday.
Please, a round of applause for the returning refs.
The proper officials got a very healthy ovation in Baltimore Thursday night as Week 4 in the NFL kicked off. Finally, the powers that be have seen fit to reach an agreement that means those refs and umps from Division III college ball no longer get to grace the sidelines. Coaches, players, analysts and fans alike sit jubilant in the knowledge that they’ll be no more debacles like Monday night in Seattle. Fingers crossed.
But just because the officials are back, you shouldn’t expect the drama to die down and order restored. The upset-friendly 2012 NFL season continues with everybody wondering who’s going to get knocked off next.
New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills
First up on our list of potential upsets is the Patriots’ visit to upstate New York.
New England (1-2, 1-1 road) lost a controversial one to Baltimore last Sunday night, with the winning Ravens field goal seemingly passing above the post. An enraged Patriots side – and in particular the ref-grabbing Bill Belichick – will be looking to break out of a two-game skid this week.
Buffalo (2-1, 1-0 home) on the other hand enters the game on the back of two wins. The Bills troubles of Week 1 are forgotten for the time being at least.
As you’d expect, the Patriots enter this one as favorites (-4½) but this game might not pan out how it’s supposed to. Remember, the Bills handed the Patriots their first loss last season, at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots led that game 21-0 before losing by a field goal. Perhaps more notably was Tom Brady’s four interceptions. How often does that happen?
A repeat of last year would put a serious downer on an already down Pats side. Ultimately though, take New England to win this one on a dominant performance that beats the spread. Whilst their backs aren’t quite against the wall yet, this is a team with a message to send.
That being said, take the under on the 51 points being offered.
New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers
The Packers are seething. The controversial ‘call heard around the world’ that gave Seattle a last-second win has left a very bitter taste in the mouth. In a bid to move onwards, Green Bay (1-2, 1-1 home) hosts New Orleans (0-3, 0-1 road). Of course, the Saints are in quite the predicament themselves.
This contest at Lambeau Field is a tough one to predict. It has been for the past few years, with two of the league’s top quarterbacks colliding. This year is even tougher to pick a winner because of the circumstances surrounding the game.
It makes sense to take the Packers – who are eight point favorites – on the grounds that the team is pissed and looking to hurt somebody. But…
The Saints are already at that back-against-the-wall stage. Whilst an 0-3 start doesn’t eliminate New Orleans from contention, especially behind Drew Brees’ arm, losing four straight could break the backbone. That goes double when you consider the schedule the Saints face (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Denver, Philadelphia, and Atlanta make up the next five alone).
So we’re left with two teams that really want to win and probably both need to win.
The Saints haven’t lost by more than a touchdown this season – they may be 0-3 but it’s a close 0-3, if there is such a thing – so take them to beat the spread. Also go over on the 53½ over/under. Why wouldn’t this one be a shootout? So who wins outright? Go with the Packers. Just.
Elsewhere in the League
Week 4 features what should be considered a very strong card of bouts. There’s plenty of intriguing matchups, and you wouldn’t bet against a host of teams finishing the week 2-2, returning to the bizarre scenario we had after Week 2 when 20 teams had even records. Quickly, here are some of the games to keep an eye on.
Take the Giants (2-1, 1-0 road) to defeat Philadelphia (2-1, 1-0 home) in a narrow upset. Philadelphia has had some real skin-of-the-teeth moments. The Giants will be looking to step up.
Take San Francisco (2-1, 1-1 road) to beat the Jets (2-1, 1-0 home) at MetLife, making amends for last week’s loss to Minnesota while casting a few more Rockefeller-sized doubts over the Jets. The Niners’ should beat the spread (-3) also.
Take Arizona (3-0, 2-0 home) to advance to 4-0 after a win over Miami (1-2, 0-1 road). The Cards were grossly underrated ahead of the season and Miami is still struggling behind Ryan Tannehill.
Washington (1-2, 1-1 road) could upset Tampa Bay (1-2, 1-0 home) so that’s definitely worth a look.
And believe it or not, Cincinnati (2-1, 1-1 road) needs to be on upset watch as they visit Jacksonville (1-2, 0-1 home). The Bengals have yet to stop the run this season while Maurice Jones-Drew chalked up 177 yards alone against the Colts last week. Actually, Jacksonville is really worth the bet this week.
Elsewhere, expect Atlanta, Houston, Seattle and Denver to avoid upsets. Detroit could be on thin ice against Minnesota while San Diego and Kansas City will play a typically tight AFC West game.
Week 4 Schedule
Thursday: Baltimore 23-16 Cleveland
Sunday: (1 PM ET) Carolina @ Atlanta | New England @ Buffalo | Minnesota @ Detroit | San Diego @ Kansas City | Seattle @ St. Louis | San Francisco @ NY Jets | Tennessee @ Houston; (4:05 PM ET) Cincinnati @ Jacksonville | Miami @ Arizona | Oakland @ Denver; (4:25 PM ET) New Orleans @ Green Bay | Washington @ Tampa Bay; (8:20 PM ET) NY Giants @ Philadelphia
Thursday night’s 17-13 loss to Washington has cast a cloud over not only #8 Stanford and its chances of being selected to play in the BCS National Championship Game, but also the Pac-12’s chances as a conference.
For a conference that was considered the only viable competition to the dominant SEC ahead of the season, things are looking less than clear now.
Decoding the Pac-12
Just two weeks ago, the Cardinal upset USC, denting the Trojans’ own chances of going to the Championship Game. In the process, Stanford staked a claim to be the team that would head to Miami Gardens in January. Admittedly, it was a loose claim. Stanford after all struggled to beat San Jose State in Week 1.
Ahead of Week 4, UCLA looked to be putting their names forward for consideration, but a loss to Oregon State suggested that it’s a little too early to consider the Bruins as serious contenders.
Oregon State meanwhile has gone 2-0 with two wins over ranked opposition. Not a bad start. But can the Beavers keep that pace up? Probably not, although oddsmakers have slashed odds of a BCS championship from 500/1 in the preseason to 75/1 this week.
So that leaves Oregon. Having been considered second fiddle to USC during all of the preseason, the Ducks are now considered the Pac-12’s best chance for a national title. Preseason odds of 10/1 have steadily shortened to 13/2 heading into this week’s action.
The Ducks have looked solid so far this season, averaging close to 53 points per game. But critics could argue that Oregon has yet to play anybody of merit. Sure, they defeated Arizona 49-0 last week, but Arizona’s inclusion on the AP poll was less than solidified. Had the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska played better this season, it’s hard to imagine the Wildcats appearing on that list.
For Oregon, the big challenge comes on November 3, with a visit to USC. That is of course if the Ducks can get by Washington next week. A loss to the Cougars would effectively write off National Championship hopes this year.
Week 5 Pac-12 Schedule
After Washington’s upset win over Stanford, here’s what else is on tap this Saturday. Both USC and Utah are on a bye week.
Arizona State (3-1, 0-1 road, 1-0 Pac-12) @ California (1-3, 1-1 home, 0-1 Pac-12)
4:00 PM ET / 1:00 PM PT
The Sun Devils will be looking to continue their strong start to the season with a win over a struggling Golden Bears team. Arizona State currently leads the South division by way of USC’s loss to Stanford and Arizona’s loss to Oregon. Still, the team opened as underdogs in this one, before odds flipped in their favor. The Sun Devils are currently narrow favorites (-1) with the over/under set at 58. There’s certainly money to be made on this game.
A loss to Oregon State last week saw UCLA’s two week tenure in the AP Polls come to an end. A win against Colorado this week could, but probably won’t, see the Bruins return to the rankings. UCLA enters the game as favorites (-21) and are expected to make easy work of a Colorado team that has looked poor this season. Only a 35-34 win over Washington State last week prevented the Buffaloes from starting the season 0-4. The over/under is 60, with UCLA expecting to accumulate most of those points.
Arizona enjoyed two weeks in the AP Poll before losing big to Oregon last week. Oregon State may have only played two, but the Beavers have knocked off two ranked teams (Wisconsin, UCLA) and is sitting pretty heading into this game.
Oddsmakers have the Wildcats as favorites (-3) heading into this one, so they’ve yet to be bowled over by the Beavers’ performances. This games figures to be a close one. The over/under is 61. A win for Arizona will see the Wildcats flirting with the AP poll once again. A win for Oregon State will cement the team’s AP approved credentials.
#2 Oregon (4-0, 0-0 road, 1-0 Pac-12) @ Washington State (2-2, 1-1 home, 0-1 Pac-12)
10:30 PM ET / 7:30 PM PT
Whether Oregon remains the Pac-12’s last remaining hope against the dominance of the SEC remains to be seen. This week the Ducks head out on the road for the first time. Despite the travel north, Oregon are big favorites (-32) over the Cougars. The over/under is 74. Oddsmakers are expecting this to be a high-scoring one-sided affair, just like Oregon’s previous four.
As we enter week five of the NCAA football schedule, the action is only heating up. This week’s slate of games offers some interesting matchups and good scenarios for profitable wagers. Make sure to check out these games and more today.
#25 Baylor Bears (3-0) at #9 West Virginia Mountaineers (3-0)
I didn’t think I would even be addressing this game, let alone lead off the week discussing it, but that’s because there simply wasn’t much hype surrounding either of these teams before the season began.
The RG3less Bears were obviously expected to drop off and although they haven’t played any ranked opponents until this week, they have been undeniably impressive, scoring more than 50 points per game in three consecutive wins to start the year with new starter Nick Florence.
Likewise, the Mountaineers weren’t supposed to be scoring almost 50 points per game, but indeed they are as well. Quarterback Geno Smith catapulted himself into the Heisman race with some early outstanding performances and currently has an unfathomable 81.3% completion rate and a 12/0 TD to pick ratio.
However, each team hasn’t faced truly tough opposition until today. This is West Virginia’s first ever game in the Big-12 after cruising through non-conference foes, while Baylor’s toughest game up until today was last week against ULM. We should expect a shootout for sure, with the over/under set at 83 points, but we should also expect a close game with the winning squad prevailing by just a few points. That’s why Baylor is the smart pick here as 11 point dogs in the spread. Since WVU is still unproven in some ways, don’t be surprised if the Bears pull off the upset win either.
Tennessee Volunteers (3-1) at #5 Georgia Bulldogs (4-0)
Tennessee will march into Athens Georgia to take on the Bulldogs today in what should be another high-powered offensive showdown. Unlike teams like Alabama and LSU, these two SEC squads win with a focus on scoring. Both the Vols and the Dogs are averaging more than 38 points per game and over 500 yards of total offense per contest. The over/under is set at 58 points, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see these teams combine for 70 or even 80 today.
We do have to consider that the Vols have done most of their damage against NC State, Georgia State and Akron. Their only game where they failed to score more than 20 was in their loss to Florida, which is the only ranked team and SEC team they have played thus far.
The Bulldogs have scored at least 40 in each of their first four games, which include two SEC wins against Missouri and Vanderbilt. Georgia has been a dynamic threat so far, ranking in the top 30 in rushing and passing yards per game, as well as in point allowed.
Georgia is certainly more of a multi-faceted, balanced squad that has faced and defeated tougher competition so far this season, but odds makers are spotting them 14 points against the Vols, which seems far too generous. I expect Tennessee to put up more of a fight, albeit a losing one, against the Bulldogs. Look for Tennessee to cover +14 points, but don’t expect an upset today in Athens.
It didn’t take long for the upsets to start. Washington (3-1) beat #8 Stanford (3-1) 17-13 on Thursday night in a match few thought the Huskies had a chance in. With the game at CenturyLink Field – the site of Monday’s NFL upset/debacle – people probably should have thought a little harder.
The remaining Week 5 college football slate doesn’t look like it has too many upsets on it, but then again, how many times has that been said this week. Here’s a look at some of the key matchups.
As Big Ten conference play kicks off, #14 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0 road) visits #20 Michigan State (3-1, 3-0 home) as 3-point underdogs. The Spartans have been touted for their defense this season, but a loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago suggest it might not be up to scratch. Against Ohio State and the elusive Braxton Miller, the defense will get tested. With the way the Big Ten’s going this year, take Ohio State to win this one.
In the only other ranked game this weekend, #25 Baylor (3-0, 1-0 road) travels to #9 West Virginia (3-0, 3-0 home) to see what all the Geno Smith fuss is about. The Bears have been on the cusp of the AP rankings this season, but expect them to fall off the list again as the 11-point favorite Mountaineers win this one comfortably.
Top of the Polls
Let’s cut to the chase. The AP Poll’s top three all have it easy this week. #1 Alabama and #3 Oregon are 30+ point favorites against Ole Miss and Washington State respectively. #2 LSU takes on Towson of the FCS. Everything there should go to order.
#4 Florida State meanwhile pays a visit to South Florida in what some are picking to be a potential upset, but in reality is going to go the same way as the Seminoles’ last four.
So that brings us to this SEC East beauty. Tennessee (3-1, 0-0 road) visits #5 Georgia (4-0, 3-0 home) in the first of four consecutive games against ranked opposition. The Vols looked ordinary against Florida two weeks ago and the Bulldogs have looked like beasts. Freshman RB Todd Gurley has already ran for 406 yards and six touchdowns. Take favorites Georgia to win outright and to beat the 14-point spread.
#12 Texas (3-0, 1-0 road) heads to Oklahoma State (2-1, 2-0 home) on the back of an extra week to prepare for the Cowboys. This is a close one to call as highlighted by the 3-point spread in favor of the visitors. If Texas is to improve on two poor seasons, they’ll need to run and run early against the Cowboys defense. Ultimately, take the home team to win a close one and get the experts asking even more questions about the Longhorns.
#18 Oregon State (2-0, 1-0 road) visits Arizona (3-1, 3-0 home) as underdogs. It appears oddsmakers aren’t bowled over by two solid performances. The Wildcats have played well this season, bar last week’s 49-0 drubbing at the hands of Oregon. Take Arizona to beat the 3-point spread in a rebound performance.
#22 Nebraska (3-1, 3-0 home) hosts Big Ten rivals Wisconsin (3-1, 0-1 road) in a battle of underachievers. Badgers’ RB Montee Ball is having a tough time of it trying to run the football this season, so if the away team is to get anything out of this visit that will have to change. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers have looked less than impressive this season, and suggestions that their place in the polls is down to last year’s performance may not be too far from the mark. In this one the Huskers will be 12-point favorites. Take Wisconsin to beat the spread but lose a close one in what will be a scrappy game.
Worth a Watch?
It’s a quieter week in college football than normal but here are a few games that might be worth a watch.
Louisiana Tech (3-0, 2-0 road) heads to Virginia (2-2, 2-0 home) and while most will switch channels this could be a doozy. The Bulldogs are running rampant in the WAC and have not scored less than 52 points in three games. With the spread at just three points, take the favored Bulldogs to win this one with the 60 point over/under being smashed in a shootout.
UTSA (4-0, 2-0 road) visits New Mexico State (1-3, 1-1 home) in the WAC’s first conference game. The Aggies opened as favorites but that line has quickly changed. The Roadrunners are now one-point favorites to beat a New Mexico team that has lost three straight. Take the Aggies to break the trend and beat the spread.
Finally, Rice (1-3, 1-1 road) and Houston (0-3, 0-1 road) meet in the Bayou Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Cougars could do with some of the Texans’ good play rubbing off on them. Take Houston as 7½-point underdogs to finally get off the mark.
With the Yankees playing the hapless Blue Jays, Baltimore probably thought its night off would result in losing another half game in the standings, but no. The Yankees failed to capitalize against their weaker opponent and instead gave up half a game, as they were shut out in Toronto, 6-0. Now the Orioles are only one game back in the AL East with six games remaining and still have a good shot to take down the division crown.
Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow was able to silence New York’s bats, allowing just four scattered hits over seven scoreless innings of work. Morrow was able to mix up his pitches, keeping the Yankees guessing in his ninth win of the season.
“We stayed with a good mix of everything all night, tried to keep them off balance and not fall into any patterns,” Morrow said in an ESPN.com article.
The Jays also got an offensive spark against Ivan Nova, hitting two homers in the game, one provided by Brett Lawrie in the third and one from J.P. Arencibia in the eighth. Toronto tallied ten hits on the night, handing Nova just his eighth loss of the year and first against the Jays.
Nova, who has benefited from strong run support this season, has struggled lately and has failed to win back-to-back outings since June. He has allowed 87 extra-base knocks, which leads the Majors.
As they are only up one game again, the Yankees will need Nova to pitch well in his last outing, which will likely come in the final series of the season against Boston. But for now, the Yankees need to focus on the final three games with the Blue Jays, as they have a good opportunity against a sub .500 team to lock up the division and a playoff berth.
After dropping game one last night, New York will send out Hiroki Kuroda in game two to face Chad Jenkins. Kuroda comes into today’s contest with a 14-11 record and an ERA of 3.34 while Jenkins is making just his second career big league start in his rookie season. Once again, the Yankees will be the favorites in this matchup and should be able to handle Jenkins while limiting the Blue Jays offense. Look for the Yankees to cover the -1.5 runline today, earning the victory.
After a much needed rest last night, the O’s will be back in action at home against the Red Sox tonight. Chris Tillman will get the ball for Baltimore against Aaron Cook and the Sox, who will be looking to play spoiler. Tillman is coming into tonight with a 3-0 record in his last six starts while Cook has struggled to say the least, with a 4-10 record in 2012 and an ERA over five. Look for the Orioles to keep pace in the East win a win and a -1.5 cover of the runline. This race should go all the way to the last game, so make sure to keep track of the AL East standings.
It finally happened. After what seems like a season of sitting in the gloomy shadow of the Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers (83-72) finally leapfrogged their bitter rivals on Wednesday night, taking sole-possession of the lead for the AL Central.
A 5-4 win over Kansas City coupled with a Sox loss to Cleveland puts Detroit in the driving seat with just seven games to play. For Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and the entire Tigers team, the move will be something of a relief.
The Tigers find themselves in a division or bust situation. Too many games behind Wild Card leading Baltimore and Oakland, Detroit has to win the division or go home early. There’s not a single sole in Michigan that isn’t aware of that, and for one man such a failure would have an added bitter taste.
Miguel Cabrera finds himself with a legitimate shot at winning the AL Triple Crown for batters. But how would such an award feel if the third baseman was to sit and watch the postseason from home?
The last Triple Crown was awarded in 1967 when Boston leftfielder Carl Yastrzemski tallied 44 homeruns and 121 RBIs alongside a batting average of .326. The Red Sox went on to the World Series that season, losing to St. Louis in seven games.
Cabrera currently finds himself oh so close to replicating Yaz’s feat.
The Detroit power hitter currently leads all American League batters with a .327 average and 133 RBIs. That’s two-thirds of the Triple Crown achieved.
With 42 homeruns, Cabrera trails Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers by just one homer. He’s also tied with Edwin Encarnacion of the Toronto Blue Jays, but in terms of the Triple Crown, a tie is as good as a lead.
So, with seven games left, can Cabrera achieve the unthinkable and take home the first Triple Crown in 45 years?
Oddsmakers seem to think he can. Bovada has Cabrera at -135 (Yes) and -105 (No). That’s not much leeway between but that’s a definite vote of confidence.
The toughest part for Cabrera will be outscoring Hamilton in homeruns. The Texas big-hitter has been on fire this season, and started to heat up down the stretch. Still, one homer’s difference can be eclipsed in a game, unless Cabrera has another 0-4 game like on Wednesday night.
In terms of RBIs, Cabrera looks like he has enough daylight between him and Hamilton (124 RBIs), while his average, which has dipped slightly over the past two games is getting perilously close to both Joe Mauer (.323) and Mike Trout (.323).
With series at Minnesota and Kansas City still ahead, the Detroit third baseman will have the opportunities to pad those numbers a bit more.
An MVP Award To Boot?
Of course, if Cabrera does win the Triple Crown it will be unfathomable to imagine the third baseman not being awarded the MVP award for the American League.
As it stands, even without taking the crown, Cabrera is the oddsmakers’ favorite to take the MVP over Mike Trout of the Angels. Bovada has Cabrera at -150 to take the award and Trout at +120. Nobody else appears to even be in consideration, which is understandable given what the two have already achieved this year.
So, with just one week left on the calendar, all eyes will be on Cabrera as he attempts not just to take home that elusive Triple Crown award but also lead his team into the postseason. Anything less than postseason play will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, award or not.
Coming off a tough 24-14 loss to Buffalo, things don’t appear to be getting any easier for the Cleveland Brown this week, who will travel to Baltimore to face off against the Ravens.
While this game may seem like a pretty easy call as far as the winner is concerned, betting the spread is a bit trickier. Bovada has the line at 13 points in favor of Baltimore. We know that every NFL team is at least competitive and we’ve seen the incredible number of upsets that have occurred through week three, so should we really be comfortable taking Baltimore by two touchdowns against the Browns?
Well, the Browns, as we also know, are bad. They’re real bad. Cleveland (0-3) is one of only two remaining winless teams in the league and is led by a rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, who has a rating of 60.7. The Browns aren’t just playing poorly this season, but have established a losing tradition. They are coming into today’s game with an 11-game losing streak against division opponents and an eight-game losing streak against the Ravens.
Then, there’s Baltimore (2-1), riding high off an albeit, controversial one-point win against the New England Patriots. What’s important to note is how well Baltimore’s offense is playing. Ray Rice is rushing for 5.8 yards per carry and has three scores in just three games, while Joe Flacco seems to get better every week. He has already thrown for over 900 yards and six touchdowns to just two interceptions this year.
However, amidst the problems, Cleveland has shown some strengths, one of which has been the play of its other notable rookie, running back Trent Richardson. Richardson already has a 100-yard game under his belt and has rushed for two TDs on the season. With each team fielded strong runners and a wiliness to keep the ball grounded, this game might be lower scoring and closer than many think.
There’s no question that Cleveland will most likely lose tonight on the road, continuing their horrendous streaks, but I like the Browns to cover +13 against Baltimore. Even at 0-3, Cleveland’s largest margin of defeat has only been 10 points. Baltimore has a tough defense, but if Cleveland can turn Thursday night into a grinding ground game, it may be able to wear down that defense and take pressure off the young and inexperienced Weeden. Look for Baltimore to notch its third win of 2012, but for Cleveland to make things interesting in a highly-contested bout tonight.
There are only eight days left in the Major League Baseball regular season calendar and there’s still a whole heap of questions to be answered. The National League is all but set, but the American League is still as competitive as it comes.
In eight days’ time, all will be decided. Well, it might take a ninth day; who’d bet against a playoff game to get into the Wild Card playoff game? Chicago; Detroit: we’re all looking at you.
National League Wrap Up Close
Wednesday has a schedule chock full of important games.
In the National League, Atlanta wrapped up a postseason berth with a win over Miami on Tuesday. The Braves can finally exorcise the demons of last September and prepare themselves for that one game playoff, unless they can make up four games on the Nationals that is.
Atlanta’s success – alongside Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco already qualifying – leaves just one NL postseason berth up for grabs. That spot looks every bit like it’s going to go to St. Louis (84-71, 38-42 road), who plays in Houston (50-105, 34-46 home) tonight. The Cardinals have gone about it quietly as well. The focus has been on the Dodgers and their megabucks spending, leaving St. Louis to get the job done. Expect the Red Birds to do likewise in tonight’s game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers (79-75, 39-40 road) meanwhile have made the trip south down Interstate 5 to San Diego (74-80, 41-35 home). The Padres – who are no slouches at home – took Tuesday’s series opener and enters the second as favorites. Los Angeles needs a win or else they can wave goodbye to any postseason hopes. Actually, at four games back of the Cardinals, they need a miracle. Take them to win this game though.
Milwaukee (79-75, 33-46 road) visits Cincinnati (93-61, 49-30 home). The Reds may have locked up their postseason berth last week, but the team is still looking to finish with the best record in the National League. Don’t expect them to roll over in this one. Like Los Angeles, the Brewers are four games back of the Cards so anything less than a win is postseason suicide. The Reds will take this one behind Bronson Arroyo (12-8, 3.63 ERA) though, effectively eliminating Milwaukee from contention.
AL Central Race Couldn’t Be Closer
Tuesday saw Detroit win and Chicago lose. The result? A tie at the top of the AL Central.
Detroit (82-72, 48-31 home) hosts Kansas City (70-84, 36-42) in the third of four meetings this week. The Tigers have taken the first two. With Rick Porcello (9-12, 4.57 ERA) going up against Jeremy Guthrie (7-12, 4.80 ERA) this will hardly be a pitching duel. Take the Tigers to win a high-scoring affair.
Chicago White Sox (82-72, 44-32 home) plays Cleveland (64-91, 30-50 road) in the rubber game of the set. The White Sox have managed to stave off Detroit’s surges over the past two months, but they may not do so tonight. Hector Santiago (3-1, 3.45 ERA) has barely pitched over the past two weeks. His rustiness could cost the White Sox in this one.
AL East To Go Down to the Wire
The race between the Yankees and Orioles has swung in New York’s favor over the past week or so, but the Birds are hanging in there.
The New York Yankees (89-65, 41-35 road) play Minnesota (65-90, 30-47 home) this afternoon (1:10 PM ET) in the third of four, with the set having been split at one-apiece already. This one looks like a no-brainer betting-wise. C.C. Sabathia (13-6, 3.47 ERA) will take the mound and the Yankees will ultimate come out with a win that will equate to a two-game lead by the time Baltimore takes the field.
Baltimore (88-67, 43-34 home) hosts Toronto (68-86, 32-48 road) in the final game of a series that has seen the Jays take two out of three from the O’s. Expect a bounce-back performance after two straight losses and that gap closing to 1.5 games again. This race could go down to early next week.
AL Wild Card Looking Clearer
It’s looking less likely that the loser of the Detroit/Chicago race will make the playoffs. It’s also looking more and more like the loser of the Yankees/Orioles race will. That leaves one spot to play for.
That spot currently belongs to Oakland (87-67, 43-36 road) who looks to beat Texas (91-63, 48-28 home) tonight. The hometown Rangers are favorites despite losing Tuesday night’s encounter. With four head-to-head games left between the two after tonight, an Oakland loss effectively hands the AL West title to Texas, and leaves Oakland trying to hang on to the Wild Card place. Take a Texas win tonight.
Los Angeles Angels (85-69, 45-34) will need to beat Seattle (72-82, 34-42 road) to stay in the race, although it’s looking more and more unlikely we’ll be seeing the Halos after next Wednesday. Felix Hernandez (13-8, 2.85 ERA) goes for the Mariners, and could be a thorn in the L.A. side. He won for the first time in September last time out. Take the Mariners for the upset win.
Tampa Bay (84-70, 40-36 road) has compiled a six-game winning streak and will need to beat Boston (69-86, 34-46 home) if their very slim chances of making the postseason are to remain intact. The Red Sox have managed to put dents in both New York and Baltimore’s run to the postseason so expect them to do the same to the Rays tonight. The fate of Joe Maddon and Co. lies in Texas beating up on Oakland this week and next.
The Atlanta Braves put last September’s late-season fade in the past on Tuesday night as Freddie Freeman launched a walk-off homerun into the stands to beat the Marlins, but more importantly, to clinch a NL playoff berth. The Braves have a lock on at least a Wild Card spot and still have a mathematical shot at the NL East crown, as they are four games back of the Washington Nationals. Atlanta also notably won behind a Kris Medlen start for the 22nd consecutive time this season.
Chipper Jones has been to many postseasons with the Braves, but with this being his last season with the team in which he has spent a career, this one may be the most special yet.
“They took the attitude last year to try and hang on,” Jones said in an ESPN.com article. “This year we took the bull by the horns. We’re shooting for the stars. We’re shooting for the division until they close us out.”
Atlanta entered the ninth inning trailing 3-2, but Jones immediately got the home crowd amped with a leadoff double. He then scored on Freeman’s game-winning homer that easily sailed over the centerfield fence.
Although starting pitcher Kris Medlen didn’t record the win, he may be the Braves good luck charm, as the Bravos extended their win streak in games started by Medlen to 22. It’s the longest such streak since the Yankees won 22 in a row in starts by Whitey Ford in 1950 and 1953.
Atlanta is the fourth NL team to secure a playoff spot, with the other three being San Francisco, Washington and Cincinnati. The only spot remaining is for the second Wild Card and St. Louis is currently in control at four and a half games over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals picked up another game in the race today with a win against Houston.
Now that we know Atlanta is in and we see who they will be up against in the NL playoffs, what are their chances to go all the way? The Braves World Series future odds were 14/1 on September 14th according to Bovada, but after winning eight of their last ten, the Braves have most likely increased those odds slightly. The obvious favorites in the NL are still the Reds and the Nats, but don’t count out an experienced team like Atlanta with veterans that know how to perform in big games and on the big stage.