Wild Card Matchups

Four teams that played a grueling 162 game schedule now have just one game, one chance to continue their season in the wild card games today. It’s the first year with this structure and sure it gives two extra teams an opportunity at postseason glory, but unfortunately the two losing teams will go home empty handed and utterly heartbroken. But that’s the nature of the beast, so with so much at stake, who will prevail in these hugely significant contests today? Here’s a look at today’s matchup and my picks for who will advance to the divisional rounds.

Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers

The AL wild card will feature one team that has had a remarkably magical run to this point; while the other’s late season fade cost them the division and has put them in this undesirable position.

The Orioles certainly have more momentum, as their second half surge put them in serious contention for an AL East title and even though they came up short, they are a team that has shown an immeasurable amount of heart and determination, as they were able to set the Major League record for one-run wins in a season.

The Rangers didn’t have a bad second half by any means, but the fact is that they did let the AL West get away from them at the end. Part of that was due to the unexpected late-season surge of Oakland and part was due to Texas not playing as well as they should or could have down the stretch.

What tricks will Showalter have up his sleeve for today's wild card game?

Rookie phenom Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) will get the start for Texas and will go up against late-season acquisition, Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA). The choice of Saunders is an intriguing one from manager Buck Showalter, but as he is one of the game’s best strategists, there must be a good reason behind it. It’s possible he may be planning to use a multitude of relievers in case Saunders gets in trouble and he will be able to since it’s a do or die game.

Even though it seems that Texas has the advantage of power in the lineup and in this pitching matchup, I can’t go against the Orioles. Showalter and Co. are sure to come up with a specific game plan and since Baltimore is so good at pulling out close games, it’s hard to see them losing one with this much on the line. The Rangers are also reeling, having lost nine of their last 13 and are coming into this game without a lot of confidence. Look for Baltimore to take this one and advance.

St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves

Today's game between Atlanta and St. Louis could be an old fashioned pitcher's duel

While the AL wild card chase was much more dramatic and swingy, the NL was more steady and consistent. Both of these teams were in good stead from early on in the season and held their ground with consistently solid play and strong pitching. Teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Milwaukee made runs at times, but St. Louis and Atlanta never relented and never went through a significant dry spell.

Both of these teams have a wealth of playoff experience and this should be another very close matchup. The good news for Atlanta is that Kris Medlen will get the ball today. The Bravos have incredibly won 23 in a row behind Medlen, who has a 1.57 ERA on the season. Coming out of the other dugout will be Kyle Lohse, who has enjoyed a remarkable season in his own right, going 16-3 in 2012 with an ERA of 2.86. Obviously it’s hard to bet against Medlen’s amazing streak and the Braves, but the Cardinals are ranked in top ten in every major offensive category this season, so if any team can upstage Medlen, it’s St. Louis. Take the Cardinals to win this one on the road as well and advance to the divisional series.

Thursday Night Football: Cards vs. Rams

What better way to spend Thursday night than at home or at your favorite watering hole watching the NFL. We’ve witnessed some good Thursday nighters so far this season and we should have another doozy on our hands as the undefeated, that’s right undefeated, Arizona Cardinals take on the Rams in St. Louis. Not only is this a division game involving the surprise team of the season so far, but it features an interesting matchup and a spread of just 1-2 points (depending on where you bet). Odds makers certainly think this is going to be a tight one, so even if you don’t have money riding on the outcome, you won’t want to miss it if you’re an NFL fan.

Both teams are obviously improved since last year, as the Cardinals are off to their best start in nearly 40 years and the Rams have already matched last season’s win total. The 49ers are as good as advertised this year, but not many, check that, nobody thought the Cards would be in first place in what has turned out to be an ultra-competitive NFC West at any point this season. Likewise, the Rams at 2-2, although not as much of a shock, has caught NFL fans off-guard as well.

Can the Cards continue their improbable start to 2012?

Arizona is coming off another close win against Miami in overtime, 24-21. The defense has been solid for the Cards so far this year, as last week marked the first time they have allowed more than 20 points in a game, including wins over New England and Philadelphia. The offense has also been sharper since Kevin Kolb joined the lineup midway through the opener against Seattle.

The Rams are coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Seahawks, holding them to 13 points in a 19-13 win. The offense has struggled at times, but seems to have a nice balance with Sam Bradford slowly improving as an NFL starter and with still one of the league’s better runners in the backfield in Stephen Jackson.

Look for Jackson to get plenty of touches today

The Rams certainly play better at home, which is where their two wins have come this season, and that may be why the spread is so close, but surprisingly the Cardinals play much better on the road. In fact, they’ve won seven straight road games in St. Louis and as we all know, are great in close games, so it would seem that the Cards have a distinct advantage, even in the Edward Jones Dome today.

I like the Rams this season and they could end up being a surprise team as well, but the tough part for them is the competitive division they are in. This game is just another example of them running into a better team. Since the spread is so small, it would seem crazy to bet against a team that is currently 4-0 and has won numerous close games including last week’s overtime victory of the Phins. The cool, edgy pick is to take the Rams, but the smart pick is to take the Cards. Be smart and pick Arizona to cover today as it improves to 5-0 on the season.

Football Betting Action and Wild Card Baseball Prep

 

It’s Thursday night. What are you doing? Are you watching football? Are you prepping for the beginning of the MLB postseason tomorrow? Or are you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the NHL to pull its finger out?

Okay, nobody’s doing the latter. However, if you are missing out on some hockey action, head over to Bovada for some playful props. Ask yourself: will the Oilers go to Seattle? Is Pat LaFontaine crazy enough to buy the Islanders? And what’s the good of being favorites to win a league that probably won’t play (again) this year? The Penguins would love to know the answer to that last one.

Anyway, back to business.

Football’s back tonight with NFL and NCAA matchups. We’ll look at both below. Then, after yesterday’s stunning season finales, we’ll take a look at the Wild Card matchups on tap for Friday.

 

NFL: Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams

Thursday, 8:20 PM ET

Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals look to make it 5-0 on the season with a visit to the St. Louis Rams. The St. Louis Cardinals meanwhile are down in Atlanta for postseason play.

Preseason, this particular edition of Thursday Night Football looked dead in the water. An AFC West matchup not involving San Francisco? Why bother? Hands together then for Arizona (4-0) making this one a little more interesting.

The Cardinals, who were frankly underrated prior to this season, will look to nudge to 5-0 with a win over St. Louis (2-2). History suggests that’s exactly what will happen, with the Cards having taken the last eight road games in this fixture.

St. Louis – far from off to a bad start – could play spoilers, although oddsmakers think otherwise. Arizona opened as 2 ½-point favorites, a number that has fallen to 1 ½. Nearly 64 percent of bettors have followed suit. The over/under is 39 ½.

Take: ARIZONA — The birds will win another close one (three games this season have been decided by four or fewer) and enjoy being amongst the ‘elite’ for another week.

 

NCAAF: #13 USC @ Utah

Thursday, 9 PM ET

Remember when you wrote USC off? It was three weeks ago after that loss to Stanford. Well, #13 USC is looking to make another run at those polls and a National Championship.

After beating Cal two weeks ago, the Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) have had an extra week to prepare for its first trip to Utah (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) in 95 years.

If we learnt nothing more than Washington’s Thursday night win over Stanford last week, it’s always to expect the unexpected. Except in this game.

Take: USC — The Trojans will make short work of Utah and begin to ascend the ranks again, beating the 14 ½ spread in the process. Whether it’s too late for a National Championship remains to be seen.

Also playing: Arkansas State @ Florida International (7:30 ET) | East Carolina @ UCF (8 PM ET)

 

MLB Wild Card (NL): St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, 5 PM ET

Kris Medlen will go for the Atlanta Braves as they host St. Louis in the inaugural NL Wild Card playoff game.

Whilst you’ve got the football on, remember to start making your picks for the MLB postseason. Oddsmakers are still working on the ins and outs of odds as I write this, but expect the Yankees to enter as favorites. Of the nine other teams involved in the postseason, only Cincinnati has a winning record against the Bombers this season, although San Francisco and St. Louis have yet to face the 27-time world champions.

Before that though, Atlanta (94-68, 48-33 home) hosts the Cardinals (88-74, 38-43 road) at Turner Field on Saturday. This one looks like a cakewalk for the Braves, particularly when you factor in Atlanta’s 5-1 advantage over the Red Birds this season and St. Louis’ less than stellar road record.

But then again, upsets were made for games like this. Still, Atlanta is favorite with 80 percent of bettors taking that action.

Take: ATLANTA — Because the Braves simply don’t lose when Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) is on the mound.

 

MLB Wild Card (AL): Baltimore Orioles @ Texas Rangers

Friday, 8:30 PM ET

Over in the American League, Baltimore (93-69, 46-35 road) travels to Texas (93-69, 50-31 home) for the one-game Wild Card playoff.

The O’s perhaps would have preferred hosting this one – something Wednesday night’s loss to Tampa Bay made impossible – but in fairness the Maryland club hasn’t had the best of seasons against the Rangers. Texas is 5-2 against Baltimore, including a 2-1 record in Arlington.

But emotions could play a huge part in this one. How are the Rangers going to feel after allowing the AL west crown to slip away? How is the team – favorites to take the World Series just a week ago – going to cope with the knowledge that it’s do or die? Will Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) cope with the pressure? Who will pitch for the O’s?

There’s just about as many questions to answer here as there was going into the last day of the season. One thing we do know is that the New York Yankees lay in wait.

Take: EITHER — This one’s as good as flipping a coin. Yes, you can imagine all of Texas’ hard work unraveling and the Orioles continuing their surprising season, but you can also imagine Texas using this as motivation in the same way St. Louis did last year, leaving the Orioles to wonder ‘what if?’ until spring rolls around. Need a pick? Okay. Go with…Texas. Postseason experience pays off in the end.

Final Day of the MLB Season

Today marks the final day of the season and although most of the drama is over with each race concluded, you still won’t want to miss out on betting the last regular season games of 2012. Here are the matchups and the runlines for today.

Atlanta Braves -1.5 at Pittsburgh Pirates +1.5

The Braves clinched a NL wild card spot weeks ago and will look to finish strong against the fading Pirates, but the pitching matchup favors the Pirates in this one with A.J. Burnett (16-9) going against Ben Sheets (4-4). Take Pittsburgh to cover +1.5.

Philadelphia Phillies +1.5 at Washington Nationals -1.5

The Phillies enjoyed a nice second half, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the postseason. However, the Nationals don’t have much to play for and will likely be resting many of their starters. Take the Phils at +1.5 with Cliff Lee getting the ball today.

Houston Astros +1.5 at Chicago Cubs -1.5

The two worst teams in baseball will finish out their three-game set today at Wrigley Field and that home-field advantage might be enough for the Cubs , but considering the Stros have blanked the Cubbies in each of the first two games, I’d take Houston again to cover +1.5.

Texas Rangers +1.5 at Oakland Athletics -1.5

The Oakland A's are back in the postseason, but how far can they go?

It all comes down to this. Although both teams have already clinched playoff spots, today’s game between Oakland and Texas will decide who takes home the AL West crown. After taking the first two games of the series, Oakland definitely has the momentum, but look for an inspired effort of out Texas with Ryan Dempster on the mound. I like the Rangers to cover +1.5 today.

New York Mets +1.5 at Miami Marlins -1.5
The Mets and the Marlins both had disappointing seasons, but both want nothing more to finish the season with a win. I like the Mets to cover +1.5 with a more the experienced starter in Jeremy Hefner against Tom Koehler.

Los Angeles Angels -1.5 at Seattle Mariners +1.5

The Angels fell short of the postseason this year, but should easily take care of the Mariners today and cover the -1.5 runline, especially win 20-game winner, Jared Weaver on the hill for LA.

Minnesota Twins +1.5 at Toronto Blue Jays -1.5

The Twins and Blue Jays game today will see a very competitive pitching matchup that will feature Scott Diamond (12-8) for the Twins and Brandon Morrow (9-7) for the Jays. Since Morrow’s last start was a shutout win over the Yankees, I like the Jays in this one to cover -1.5.

Chicago White Sox -1.5 at Cleveland Indians +1.5

The Indians have had the worst second half of any team in baseball, but a late-season collapse by Chicago has left them out in the cold. I like the Indians and young starter David Huff to get the win here and cover +1.5.

Boston Red Sox +1.5 at New York Yankees -1.5

The Yankees are looking to clinch the AL East once again with a win today and I wouldn’t expect anything less. Pick the Yanks to close the door on Boston and on another great regular season by covering -1.5 today.

Colorado Rockies +1.5 at Arizona Diamondbacks -1.5

It’s been an up-and-down season for the D Backs, but one man has been consistently on and that’s Ian Kennedy (15-11), who also happens to be getting the ball today. Look for Arizona to take this one and cover -1.5.

Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

Chris Tillman (9-2) has been absolutely lights out this season for Baltimore. Look for the O’s to put the cap on their best season in years with a win today over the Rays.

San Francisco Giants at +1.5 Los Angeles Dodgers -1.5

LA may have fallen short of its postseason goals and certainly underachieved with the talent it acquired at the trade deadline, but I like them in this game, guided by Clayton Kershaw (13-9) to pick up the W and cover the -1.5 runline.

San Diego Padres +1.5 at Milwaukee Brewers -1.5

Both of these squads had surprisingly better second halves and showed some promise for next season. This game will feature two young unknowns on the mound, so take Milwaukee at home to cover -1.5.

Detroit Tigers -1.5 at Kansas City Royals +1.5

Miguel Cabrera will likely take home one of the most elusive prizes in baseball today

The Tigers came from behind to win the AL Central in the second half of the season and it appears that Miguel Cabrera will be the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown. However, Cabrera will likely sit this game out, and so might some other Tigers, so take the Royals to at least cover +1.5.

Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals

The Reds were the first team in baseball to clinch a playoff berth and the Cardinals were the last, as they locked things up last night with the Dodgers loss. This is a tough one, but I like the Reds with Homer Bailey getting the start and coming off his no-hitter this last weekend.

Final Day of MLB Regular Season?

The surprising Baltimore Orioles (above) and Oakland Athletics will both look to take division titles away from their heavily-favored opponents, New York and Texas.

 

In this rollercoaster ride of a season, is it any surprise that we arrive at the final day of the season with as many questions as answers?

After 161 games, we’ve seen Baltimore, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Washington surprise everybody. We’ve seen Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Arizona – all making the postseason last year – underachieve while Boston straight up bottomed out. We’ve seen Detroit falter, yet somehow manage to curb the White Sox and make the postseason.

With unsuspecting storylines aplenty, we really shouldn’t be surprised that only after Wednesday’s slate of games will many of our remaining questions be answered. And it could take even longer than that.

 

National League All But Sorted

San Francisco’s win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night eliminated the Los Angeles (85-76) side from postseason contention, handing St. Louis (87-74) – who fell to Cincinnati earlier in the evening – the second and final Wild Card berth.

Following Wednesday’s wrap-up with the Reds, the Cardinals will travel to Atlanta (93-68) for a Wild Card showdown with the Braves. It’s a matchup that’s been on the cards [no pun intended] for the better part of a month now, but it took until game 161 to confirm it.

Bettors looking for an edge should consider this: Atlanta is 5-1 against St. Louis this season, with a 2-1 record at Turner Field.

The only other question left in the National League is who will finish with the number one seed. Washington (97-64) and Cincinnati (97-64) remained tied for best record in the NL and the Majors with wins on Tuesday night. Washington holds the tiebreaker by way of a 5-2 head-to-head record.

A Washington win or a Cincinnati loss will give the Nationals homefield advantage throughout the postseason, as well as setting up a Divisional Series against the winner of the Wild Card game.

A Cincinnati win coupled with a Washington loss gives Cincinnati the homefield advantage, while sending Washington to San Francisco for the opening Divisional Series.

 

AL West Crown To Be Decided Wednesday Afternoon

Having essentially shocked the world, Oakland (93-68) took a 3-1 win over Texas (93-68) on Tuesday night to put the two sides neck and neck with one game to play.

Having been a season-high 13 games behind on June 30, Oakland has rallied and astonishingly caught up with the Rangers, who have led the division since game 3 of the season.

Wednesday’s game (3:35 PM ET) will decide the division winner, with the loser heading to the Wild Card game on Friday.

Of course, trying to separate these two is tough enough, but determining who ends up going where later this week is all but impossible. Here’s what we can deduce at this time.

If Oakland loses on Wednesday, the team will be hitting the road for the Wild Card round. The A’s will take on the AL East division runner up (either the Orioles or Yankees).

If Texas loses, their destination will depend on how the AL East plays out. Texas currently holds the tiebreaker over Baltimore, but an Orioles win on Wednesday erases that advantage. New York holds the tiebreaker over Texas regardless. So, Texas could be headed to Baltimore or The Bronx, or could host the Orioles at Rangers Ballpark.

 

AL East Could Go Beyond 162

Despite expectations, having started hot, Baltimore (93-68) has never fallen away and now the Orioles are heading to the postseason for the first time since 1997. Keeping with the theme of hanging in there, the Maryland side could still win the AL East outright.

For the New York Yankees (94-67) it’s simple: win on Wednesday and take the division title. But things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Bronx Bombers this season, and with a seething Boston side visiting Yankee Stadium one last time this season, you wouldn’t be laughed at for putting your money on the Red Sox being spoilers on Wednesday night.

It’s fairly simple for Baltimore too. While the O’s no longer have their fate in their own hands, a win in Tampa Bay is a necessity on Wednesday. Why?

A win coupled with a Yankees loss forces game 163. The AL East decider would be played at Camden Yards – the two sides have split 18 games evenly, but Baltimore has a better record against the AL East, which is the second tiebreaker.

Even if the Yankees win and take the title on Wednesday, a win for Baltimore over the Rays guarantees homefield advantage in the Wild Card round. As it stands, Baltimore owns the tiebreaker against Oakland but not Texas, both of whom currently hold an identical record to the Orioles. With the two deciding the AL West title on Wednesday, Baltimore would do well to ensure that whoever loses has to make the long trip east.

 

But what does all this mean to the betting odds?

Well, with the way the season’s played out so far, would you bet against Oakland shocking Texas and taking the title? Would you bet against game 163 being won by Baltimore, leaving the Yankees to face Texas – the two teams with shortest odds of winning the World Series – in a one-game playoff? That would certainly cost a lot of people a lot of money.

Whichever way you look at it, with one day left of the regular season it would be tough for Major League Baseball to be any more exciting.

Bears Crush Cowboys on Monday Night

For the past few seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have been on a roller coaster ride that they can’t seem to get off of. Some weeks, they are flawless, and others, like last night’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears, they are abysmal. Struggling to find any kind of offensive rhythm, Dallas dropped to 2-2 on the season with five of Tony Romo’s 43 passes going to the wrong team. And two of those were returned for Chicago scores.

“Just outstanding play by our defense,” said Bear’s coach Lovie Smith in an ESPN.com article. “It seemed like everybody had a say in it.”

While Romo struggled, Jay Cutler thrived; completing 18 of 24 throws for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Cutler did not throw an interception and at halftime, was a near-perfect 11 for 12.

After some solid games earlier this year, Romo's five INTS last night tied a career high

After an early Robbie Gould field-goal, the Bears struck pay-dirt on a 25-yard interception return by Charles Tillman just three minutes before the break. Dallas failed to make the necessary adjustments as Romo was picked again in the third quarter, this time by linebacker Lance Briggs, who took it 74 yards for another score. After a Cutler TD pass to Brandon Marshall in the fourth, it was all but over with the score at 34-10. Dallas added a meaningless touchdown with under a minute to go and converted the two-pointer to reach the 34-18 final.

The loss is obviously a tough one to swallow for Dallas, who has high expectations put on them every season, but who also sets the bar high for itself.

“This has to be a wake-up call for us. I don’t say that nonchalantly. It has to be,” said Dallas tight end Jason Witten. “You can’t bounce back and forth like this, and try to compete come December-time. You can’t do it. We have been in that situation before. You cannot do it. And we know that, and we’ll get better.”

Luckily for Dallas, it gets a rest this weekend and will to look to regroup after the bye, but the Cowboys will have to step up their game as they take on the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens on October 14th, the always dangerous Carolina Panthers a week after that and the defending champion New York Giants a week later.

The Bears, now 3-1, will look to keep their positive momentum rolling this weekend against Jacksonville and then the following week against an underachieving Detroit team. Look for Chicago to take it to the Jags even on the road and cover up to 10 points.

Going forward, Dallas is a team you may want to avoid betting in favor of due to its unpredictability, while the Bears may be a bandwagon you should jump on, as they are certainly finding a groove.

Penultimate Day of MLB Regular Season

For the Baltimore Orioles to win the AL East, Jon Lester and the Red Sox will need to pick off the Yankees today and tomorrow. That's a tough ask.

Just four days ago no American League team had booked its place in the postseason. Now we know all five competitors. We just don’t know who enters as division winners and who enters as Wild Cards.

Meanwhile, with much of the National League postseason having been booked for nearly two weeks, there’s still one place to play for with just two games left to play. It’s down to the Cardinals to hold off the Dodgers in this one.

When you wake tomorrow (Wednesday), all of this could be sorted. That means tonight could be your last chance for meaningful MLB betting. Well, until the postseason begins on Friday with the inaugural second Wild Card round.

 

Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees

(7:05 PM ET)

Pitching matchup: Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94 ERA) Vs. David Phelps (4-4, 3.34 ERA)

Following Monday night’s win, New York (93-67, 49-30 home) needs just one win to secure the AL East title. The Yankees have two tries against the Red Sox to record that win.

Whilst Boston (69-91, 34-47 road) has little to play for – finishing above Toronto?­ ­– spoiling the Yankees’ division hopes would be just fine by the Bean Town faithful.

Lester will be grateful for the end of the season, along with a lot of Red Sox players, although a win tonight would at least give him a winning record (2-1) against the Yankees this season.

Phelps will also be looking for a 2-1 record over the Sox as he replaces the struggling Ivan Nova – not what the Yankees need heading into play this weekend.

Over the next two games, Curtis Granderson (40) needs one homerun to tie last season’s output and two for a career best.

Take: NEW YORK — everybody wants the race with Baltimore to go down to game 162 but the Yankees will spoil with a win tonight, before reorganizing the rotation.

 

Baltimore Orioles @ Tampa Bay Rays

(7:10 PM ET)

Pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (8-4, 3.45 ERA) Vs. James Shields (15-9, 3.62 ERA)

With Tampa Bay (89-71, 45-34 home) eliminated from the postseason race on Sunday, last night’s 5-3 win over Baltimore (92-68, 45-34 road) did nothing but hand the Yankees a lead in the AL East.

Baltimore now needs to win to avoid playing the one-game playoff against Oakland/Texas on Friday. With ‘Big Game James’ on the mound it doesn’t look good for the Orioles, who counter with Miguel Gonzalez.

That being said, Baltimore has made a habit of winning in the unlikeliest of circumstances this season and Tuesday looks like another chance for fans to ‘Buck-le Up’.

Take: BALTIMORE — the Yankees may well take the AL East but a win is important if the Orioles are to host the Wild Card game on Friday. A loss would mean a long trip out west.

 

Texas Rangers @ Oakland Athletics

(10:05 PM ET)

Pitching matchup: Matt Harrison (18-10, 3.26 ERA) Vs. Travis Blackley (5-4, 4.25 ERA)

They’ve threatened it for months but it now looks like Oakland (92-68, 48-31 home) could actually snatch the AL West crown from Texas (93-67, 43-36 road).

Last night’s 4-3 win over the Rangers put the A’s just one game back with two to play. Texas didn’t expect to be playing back-against-the-wall baseball this late in the season but it’s been a funny old year.

Matt Harrison’s uneven season has still spawned an impressive 18 wins, but the A’s will know that they can get at him. Blackley got beat up last time out against the Yankees so he has the potential to either lockdown and take charge, or mentally slip a step and blow this one. Trying to pick between these two is an absolute crap shoot.

Take: OAKLAND –This one deserves to go down to the last day of the season, not least because seeing two competitors face each other on the final day is about as perfect as it gets. Texas, by the skin of their teeth, will get out with the division though.

 

Cincinnati Reds @ St. Louis Cardinals

(8:15 PM ET)

Pitching matchup: Mat Latos (13-4, 3.52 ERA) Vs. Chris Carpenter (0-1, 3.27 ERA)

St. Louis (87-73, 49-30 home) has had command of the second Wild Card spot since mid-August. Just one win puts the Cardinals back in the postseason with a chance to repeat.

You’d forgive Cincinnati (96-64, 46-33 road) for resting up and getting ready for Sunday’s NLDS opener with San Francisco. That’s not going to happen though. The Reds want homefield advantage throughout and to do so they must better Washington’s record over two games.

Chris Carpenter will take the mound in his third start, having been injured most of the season. It’s a bold move putting a ‘cold’ pitcher out there, and it will be a decision that could decide the Cards’ fate.

Take: CINCINNATI — Mat Latos and Co. will want to finish strong and will be too much for St. Louis tonight. St. Louis needn’t worry though…

 

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers

(10:10 PM ET)

Pitching matchup: Barry Zito (14-8, 4.19 ERA) Vs. Chris Capuano (12-11, 3.69 ERA)

By hook or by crook, the Dodgers (85-75, 44-35 home) have somehow managed to stay in the postseason hunt until the very end. Granted, there was a time where it looked like this series would decide the division, but L.A. will take an in any way they can get it.

San Francisco (93-67 45-34 road) meanwhile has nothing to play for. The Giants know they’ll be visiting Washington or Cincinnati on Saturday, and that’s all they need to know. However…

You don’t think the Giants would revel in eliminating the Dodgers from contention? Of course they would. That’s what rivalries are all about. And with Barry Zito on the mound, that’s what’s likely to happen.

Take:  SAN FRANCISCO — Los Angeles’ six-game win streak comes to an end with bitter consequences, made worse that the Giants are postseason bound.

MLB teams Begin Final Series Today

The Major League Baseball regular season is coming to a close this week and although most of the playoff races have already been decided, there are a still a few teams vying for the finals spots. Each team begins its final series of the season today and here are the matchups.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

The Sox's playoff hopes are slipping away

After leading the AL Central for much of the season, the White Sox endured a slow fade in August and September, which has lead them to be currently three games back of Detroit with only three games left. So, Chicago needs a miracle to get in, which would involve a sweep of Cleveland and Detroit getting swept by Kansas City. The first part of the equation is not too far-fetched, as Chicago is definitely capable of taking care of business against the worst team in the AL, but it’s hard to imagine the Tigers losing three in a row to the Royals, since they are playing so well.

We will see if the Sox can stay alive today. Hector Santiago is making just his fourth start of the season for the White Sox and will take on Corey Kluber, who is 2-4 on the year. Look for Chicago to do its part and cover the -1.5 runline.

Detroit’s magic number to win the Central is just one and will look to clinch today. The Tigers will give Rick Porcello the ball in game one against KC. Porcello is just 9-12, but has started all season, as has Bruce Chen for the Royals, who is 11-13. I actually like the Royals at home today with Chen to cover +1.5 and keep the Sox hanging around for one more day. However, tomorrow the race could definitely end with Doug Fister getting the start for the Tigers.

NL Wild Card

Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers

A few weeks ago, several teams jumped into the NL Wild Card mix, including Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but in the last week they have faded away only to leave St. Louie and LA vying for the final playoff spot in the NL. The Dodgers have had an up and down season overall, but even a more up and down second half. However, recently, they are on the upswing and have given themselves a chance at two games back with three remaining. St. Louis could close things out today with a win and an LA loss.

The Cardinals challenge is obviously that they are playing the Reds, a team that still has postseason home field to play for. Bronson Arroyo gets the ball for Cincy today and has had a good year up until now, going 12-9 with a 3.70 ERA. St. Louis will need a strong outing from Jamie Garcia, who comes into the contest with a record of 6-7 and a 3.99 ERA. I like the Reds to win this one and cover the +1.5 runline on the road.

LA is getting hot, but is it too little, too late?

If the Cards do lose, the Dodgers have to take advantage. Aaron Harang will take the mound for LA with a 10-10 record and a 3.68 ERA against Matt Cain of the Giants, who comes in with a 16-5 record and a 2.77 ERA. Although Cain has the edge in the matchup, I like the Dodgers here at home. It’s a must-win game and the boys in blue are hot right now, winning five in a row. Take LA to make it six by covering the +1.5 runline.

Monday Night Football Sees Dallas Host Chicago

Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys host Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears in an important matchup for both sides.

The Week 4 edition of Monday Night Football comes live from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as the Dallas Cowboys (2-1, 1-0 home) host the Chicago Bears (2-1, 0-1 road).

Both teams have had somewhat tepid starts to the season and will be looking for a victory to really kick start the season. For bettors, the matchup presents an intriguing clash of two teams difficult to separate.

Mirror Images

For Dallas and Chicago, the 2012 season has brought much comparison. In terms of record, the two are even whilst both feature quarterbacks under the microscope and teams that have yet to really set out a stall.

In Week 1, Dallas upset the New York Giants, earning a 24-17 victory on the opening Wednesday of the season. Chicago opened its season with a win over the Indianapolis Colts and the debuting Andrew Luck.

In Week 2, Dallas was upset by Seattle. Not only were the Cowboys upset, they were embarrassed, succumbing to a 27-7 loss. Meanwhile, Chicago lost its Thursday Night Football showdown with the Green Bay Packers, effectively being played off the field.

In Week 3, Dallas manufactured a tough 16-10 win over Tampa Bay on what was essentially an impressive defensive outing. Chicago defeated St. Louis 23-6 but didn’t look as dominant as the scoreline would suggest.

Now the two teams meet on Monday night, both considered underachievers despite winning records.

Statistically Speaking

The game figures to be a defensive battle with both teams ranking inside the NFL’s top five defenses. Dallas leads the league only giving up 250 yards per game, while Chicago has limited opponents to 279 yards (5th).

The Cowboys have been particularly effective against the pass, conceding just 137 yards per game. Chicago is more effective against the run, conceding just 76 yards on the ground compared to the Cowboys’ 113.

That’s bad news for DeMarco Murray (DAL), who has been stifled the past two games after beating the 100-yard mark against New York in Week 1. It could be good news for Michael Bush (CHI) who has had an impressive start to the season. Matt Forte (CHI) is listed as questionable with an ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game against St. Louis.

Offensively, both teams have been somewhat limited. Dallas is averaging 342 yards (19th) while Chicago is averaging 290 (26th). Neither team will be particularly happy with those numbers. Alarmingly, the Cowboys are only averaging 15.7 points per game, an anemic number that would suggest the team should be worse off than 2-1. That’s another reason to expect a defensive affair on Monday night.

Looking for an Edge

Dallas leads Chicago 13-9 in all-time in head-to-head contests, including two playoff victories. Dallas has won five of the last eight meetings, but the Bears took a 27-20 win in the last meeting (September 2010) between the pair.

The spread for this game opened at three (in favor of the Cowboys) and has extended to 3½. Bettors looking for an edge might want to consider the following: Dallas is 1-2 ATS this season including 0-1 at home and 0-2 as favorites. Advantage Bears? Maybe not. Chicago is 2-1 ATS this season but is 0-1 away and 0-1 as underdog. Something has to give.

The total has gone under in the Cowboys’ last five games, so the smart money is on taking the under on 42½ points. Bettors in the know have already seen that figure drop from 45 at opening.

As to who is likely to come out on top of this one, it’s really anybody’s pick. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine either side coming out with the win. Even if Chicago were to pull off an upset win, would it be all that much of an upset? Not really.

Ultimately, for players, coaches, fans and bettors alike, the one outcome everybody’s looking to avoid is another controversial finish like last Monday night.