St. Louis Close in NL; Still Everything To Play For In AL

Eight days will decide it all.

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.

Thursday Has Betting Action Whatever Your Sporting Preference

 

The weekend’s getting closer and that means a triple dose of sporting action Thursday night. A full slate of baseball action is scheduled whilst Thursday Night Football kick starts the NFL’s Week 3. Then it’s a time for some Top 25 NCAA football as #24 Boise State hosts Brigham Young, a team on the fringe of the polls. That’s plenty of betting action making its way to you.

 

MLB: Oakland Athletics @ Detroit Tigers

(1:05 PM ET)

Tommy Millone and the Oakland A's are underdogs but look good to get out of Detroit with a win Thursday afternoon.

Baseball gets an early start – and a rare 13-game Thursday schedule – with no fewer than seven games starting before 4:05 PM ET. The pick of the early games is Oakland (64-64, 40-33 road) at Detroit (79-69, 45-28 home).

Detroit has taken the first two games of the series, leaving Oakland on a three-game losing streak, and having won only two of the past six. The mini-slump has seen the A’s overtaken by the Orioles for the first Wild Card place. Oakland remains 3.5 games up on Los Angeles.

Detroit lost a golden opportunity to put the pressure on Chicago (White Sox) when the two met in a game rescheduled earlier this week. Detroit’s wins over Oakland has the Tigers two games behind the South Siders in the race for the AL Central.

The Tigers are favorites. Detroit’s moneyline is -140, while Oakland is +120. The over/under is 8.5. With Tom Millone (OAK) and Anibal Sanchez (DET) on the mound, take the over. Take Oakland to avoid the sweep.

 

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Washington Nationals

(7:05 PM ET)

The pick of the evening games sees Los Angeles (77-72, 37-37 road) try to prize another win from the NL East-leading Washington Nationals (90-58, 45-28 home).

The two teams split a day/night doubleheader on Wednesday, making up for Tuesday’s rained off fixture. Washington is one game from securing a postseason berth, while Los Angeles is desperately looking to pass St. Louis – currently two games to the good – in the race for the final Wild Card position.

Washington is the bookie’s pick with the moneyline set at -140, and will rely on Ross Detwiler to see them into the postseason for the first time since the franchise exited Montreal. Chris Capuano goes for the Dodgers, and gives the team a good chance of winning. The over/under is set at 8.

Take Los Angeles to spoil the party tonight, before Washington secures postseason play against Milwaukee on Friday.

 

NFL: New York Giants @ Carolina Panthers

(8:20 PM ET)

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are favorites at home to the New York Giants.

Week 3 in the NFL kicks off with the New York Giants (1-1, 0-0 road) heading to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers (1-1, 1-0 home).

The Giants beat the Buccaneers in a shootout on Sunday, making up for an opening day loss to Dallas. Carolina upset New Orleans over the weekend after losing to Tampa Bay in Week 1.

This has the potential to be another high-scoring affair. Eli Manning has averaged 361.5 yards through the air in his two previous starts while Can Newton is a threat both through the air and on the ground. The second-year QB leads the Panthers in rushing. Expect this one to go over the 50 points set in the over/under.

New York has won three of the last four encounters, including a 31-18 win last time around (2010). The Giants have not played in Charlotte since 2006.

Oddsmakers have Carolina as three-point favorites. That’s a little surprising, although a win over New Orleans probably does grant some favoritism. Take New York though, both straight up and to beat the spread. Tom Coughlin is a wily vet and will have the answer for Cam Newton’s athleticism.

 

NCAAF: Brigham Young @ #24 Boise State

(9:00 PM ET)

To close out the night, we get our second helping of Week 4 NCAA action. Kent State took down Buffalo last night in a MAC showdown. Tonight, #24 Boise State (1-1, 1-0 home) looks to do the same to Brigham Young (2-1, 0-1 road).

Brigham Young’s loss to Utah last weekend say the IA independent drop out of the polls, while the Broncos’ win over Miami (OH) elevated them back into the rankings after dropping out after Week 1 for the first time in four years.

Boise State, playing at home, is one-touchdown favorites over the Cougars. The Broncos haven’t lost a home game in September since a 41-20 loss to Washington State in 2001. That’s 18 games ago!

BYU is no slouch though. Bar last week’s missed field goals at the end of the game, the Cougars would have been entering this game 3-0 and ranked.

Still, Boise State edges out BYU in this one. Take the Broncos to win outright and to beat the spread.

Then, get ready for football action all weekend.

MLB Postseason Odds Offer Up Some Surprises

A late season surge by Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies all of a sudden has the team making a push for the postseason.

With just two weeks left in the season, the race for Major League Baseball’s postseason is as hot as it could possibly be.

Not a single division has been decided, although you can put a marker beside Cincinnati (89-59) and San Francisco (85-63) who have all but insurmountable leads heading down the stretch. The NL East tandem of Washington (89-57) and Atlanta (85-64) both look postseason bound. The only question there remains whether the Braves can catch the Strasburg-less Nationals?

In the American League, Texas (87-60) looks good for a postseason berth but a resilient Oakland (84-63) side is still making a bid for the division title whilst leading all in the Wild Card race. New York (83-63) and Baltimore (84-63) are knotted up at the top of the AL East. Chicago (81-66) has regained a three-game lead on Detroit (78-69) and will hope to ride out the last season storm.

But odds released by Bovada have offered up an interesting look at Baseball Futures.

Unraveling the American League

Bovada currently ranks Texas as 9/4 favorites to win the American League outright and 9/2 favorites to win the World Series. From this point forward you should consider the Rangers in the postseason.

Of the remaining teams, the New York Yankees are favorite to make the postseason (-800 Yes, +500 No) alongside Oakland (-800 Yes, +500 No). No surprise there, except New York is currently embroiled in an all-out war with Baltimore for the division crown, and both are just three games ahead of the trailing Wild Card pack.

The Yankees are actually 7/2 to take the AL outright and 7/1 to take the World Series. This is the sort of respect a 27-time World Champion is bound to get.

Baltimore meanwhile is expected to make the postseason (-115 Yes, -115 No) for the first time since 1997 via the final Wild Card spot.

The White Sox are favored to make the postseason (-150 Yes, +120 No) from the AL Central over Detroit (+110 Yes, -150 No).

This leaves the Angels (81-67) and Tampa Bay (78-70). The Angels are a stretch (+250 Yes, -325 No) to make the postseason, whilst Tampa’s poor play of late has them out of the running in the eyes of the oddsmakers. At six games back in the Wild Card race it might be time to write off the Rays.

Despite all of this, Detroit (14/1) and the Angels (15/1) have shorter odds of winning the World Series than Oakland (16/1), Chicago (16/1) and Baltimore (18/1). Tampa Bay (18/1) even has the same odds of taking the trophy. These are anomalies that suggest a bet on the Orioles makes sense.

Deciphering the National League

Although the National League may be a little clearer at the top, the Wild Card picture is particularly murky.

Cincinnati (13/2) and Washington (7/1) are favorites to take the World Series. San Francisco (9/1) follows close behind. The three, alongside Atlanta, look to have done enough to secure four of the five postseason berths.

That leaves six teams (Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Milwaukee Pittsburgh and Arizona) battling for one vacant spot. Take a look at that list again. That is not an arbitrary order; it’s how the teams rank in terms of World Series odds, from shortest to longest.

That’s right; the Dodgers have the best World Series odds (20/1) of any of the teams in the hunt for that one last berth. Well, at least they share the best odds. Philadelphia (20/1) has pricked the attention of oddsmakers with a late season charge. The big difference is the Phillies (74-74) currently sit four games back of the St. Louis Cardinals (78-70) while the Dodgers (78-70) are 1.5 games back. It would take some charge to live up to those expectations.

But what of those Cardinals? This is where these odds take another unexpected twist. Despite being considered less of a World Series threat than the Dodgers and Phillies, the defending champions are actually considered more likely to make the postseason (-150 Yes, +120 No). To compare: Philadelphia (+350 Yes, -500 No), Los Angeles (+400 Yes, -600 No). If we use the same logic as we used for Baltimore in the AL, this makes St. Louis a worthy bet, doesn’t it?

Oddsmakers still give Milwaukee (75-72) a slim chance of making the postseason (+600 Yes, -1,000 No) but any patience with Pittsburgh (74-73) and Arizona (73-74), who both remain on the fringe of the hunt, has long gone due to both trailing off in the last third of the season.

 

So, if we pay heed to the oddsmakers, the postseason will be made up of the following:

American League: Texas, NY Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Baltimore

National League: Cincinnati, Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, St. Louis

Accordingly, the World Series will be contested between Texas and Cincinnati.

The only thing with that is, there’re still two weeks to play and 18 teams will have something to say about it. And that’s not counting those eliminated teams looking to play spoiler.

Busy Day in Baseball Has Postseason Contenders On Show

 

If anybody had any lingering doubts about whether the additional Wild Card place this year was a good thing, they need only look at the standings as we head into the final two weeks of the regular season.

No fewer than 10 teams in the National League have a valid shot at making the postseason, while eight teams in the American League are in with a chance. Everything really is still to play for.

Here’s a look at some of the important games on tap Tuesday night. If you’re thinking of placing a wager or two, you’ve got plenty to contemplate first; no fewer than 14 of the 15 games feature teams still in the postseason hunt.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Washington Nationals

Jordan Zimmerman takes the mound for Washington against Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Los Angeles (76-71, 36-36 road) visits Washington (89-57, 44-27 home) on the back of a 4-game split with St. Louis. The Cardinals remain one game up in the race for the final Wild Card place – Atlanta has all but wrapped up the first Wild Card. Winning in Washington is essential, especially with a tough trip to Cincinnati following.

The Dodgers may have a chance on Tuesday night as Washington pitcher Jordan Zimmerman (10-8, 3.01 ERA) looked tired last time out. Aaron Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA) takes the mound for L.A. and has been consistent at keeping his team in the game if not winning.

Los Angeles swept Washington in a 3-game set at the end of April. The Nationals are sitting on three straight losses to the Braves, who are closing the gap in the NL East. Take Los Angeles to upset the Nationals in this one. Take the under on 8 runs.

Milwaukee Brewers @ Pittsburgh Pirates

After a late surge, Ryan Braun and the Milwaukee Brewers (74-72, 28-43 road) are somehow back in the mix for a postseason berth. They head into Tuesday’s game tied with Pittsburgh (74-72, 42-30 home) at 2.5 games out of the final Wild Card place.

Pittsburgh has gone into free fall over the last month and now looks unlikely to be play on in October. However, with their ace A.J. Burnett (15-7, 3.66) taking the mound on Tuesday they look a good bet to squeeze past the Brewers. Take the underdog Pirates at +105 in this one. Take the over on 7.5 runs.

National League Round Up: Atlanta (85-63, 42-31 road) is favored over Miami (65-83, 34-39 home) and looks a safe bet. Ian Kennedy pitches for Arizona (72-74, 36-36 home) giving the D’Backs a decided advantage over San Diego (71-76, 31-41 road). St. Louis (77-70, 43-29 home) hosts Houston (48-99, 16-56 road) and should win in what will be the Astros’ 100th loss of the year. Philadelphia (74-74, 37-37 road) will be underdog in New York but Monday night’s win will spur the Phillies on to victory.

 

Oakland Athletics @ Detroit Tigers

Detroit will look to Max Scherzer to lead the team to a much-needed victory over Oakland.

Detroit (77-69, 43-28 home) lost in Monday night’s rescheduled game in Chicago, dropping the Tigers to three games back of the AL Central-leading White Sox. It’s now looking increasingly unlikely Detroit will be playing come October.

Oakland (84-62, 40-31 road) on the other hand continues to hold tight to its postseason hopes. A series win over Baltimore, and an 8-2 record over the last 10 has the A’s headed for Detroit on a roll. Expect a slight bump in the road as Max Scherzer (16-6, 3.77 ERA) takes the mound on Tuesday night. Go with the favorite Tigers in this one.

Texas Rangers @ Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Texas (87-59, 40-32 road) has been quiet of late. That’s what happens when you consistently go about your business. The Rangers have led the AL West since April 9, and rarely looked like relinquishing that lead. Oakland currently sits three games back, and has seven still to play against the Texas side, so it’s not quite a done deal yet.

Tuesday sees the Rangers enter a game as a rare underdog, something that can be attributed to Jered Weaver (17-4, 2.74 ERA) taking the mound for the Angels (80-67, 40-32 home). Without Weaver, the Angels would have been long-gone in the hunt for the postseason. As it stands, the Orange County side is just three games back of the final Wild Card berth. Despite the pitcher’s record, take Texas in this one. This is a team looking to close out.

American League Round Up: Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.22 ERA) returns from injury to start for the Yankees (83-63, 43-29 home). The Bombers are favored over Toronto (66-79, 30-41 road) and there’s very little to suggest going against the odds. Tampa Bay (78-69, 39-33 home) has fallen behind the pace and will need to beat Boston (67-81, 34-38 road) to stay in the hunt. Monday night’s loss was a reminder that the Red Sox can still play spoiler. Take the favored Rays in this one though. Meanwhile, expect Baltimore and the White Sox to win respectively.

Short slate of baseball before football kicks off

 

If the Dallas Cowboys upsetting the New York Giants on Wednesday night has put you in the mood for a spot of betting, there’s no need to wait until Sunday afternoon’s NFL kickoff games. Ahead of Sunday’s 13-game schedule there’s plenty of sporting action to be had.

First up is a short slate of Major League Baseball games on Thursday night. While most teams are currently prepping for three-game sets this weekend, 10 teams will be in action tonight. Four of the five games are series closers, with three involving teams looking good to make the postseason. The other is a biggie.

Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves are looking to close out their series against Colorado with a win Thursday night.

Kicking things off, Tim Hudson (13-5, 3.76 ERA) and the Atlanta Braves (77-60, 39-32 home) host the Colorado Rockies (56-79, 26-38 road). The Rockies have been nothing to write home about this season and the focus here will be on the Braves trying to maintain 4 ½ game lead in the race for a Wild Card spot. Jhoulys Chachin (2-4, 4.85 ERA) will go for the Rockies so Hudson is the favorite in this one. Despite Colorado having taken one of three from the Braves this week bet on the Braves at +110 to cover the spread.

Atlanta’s NL East rivals Washington will also be in action tonight. The Nationals (84-52, 42-25 home) host Chicago (51-85, 17-51 road). Leave it to the lowly Cubbies to help the Nationals out of a mini-slump. The Nats have taken three in a row against Chicago this week after struggling over the past two weeks, and with Jordan Zimmerman (9-8, 3.01 ERA) looking to make-up for a poor outing Saturday, it’s hard to see past Washington on Thursday. Oddsmakers agree. The Nationals enter the game as -1.5 favorites at -120 odds.

Elsewhere in the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers (67-69, 26-41 road) finish off a four-game series at Miami (60-77, 31-37). You’d have to be a diehard fan to watch this one, but some in-play action could be interesting for bettors. For the record, the Marlins are favored despite Milwaukee having taken two of three this week.

Over in the American League, AL West-leaders Texas (81-55, 38-30 road) has one game left in Kansas City (61-75, 31-37 home). Unsurprisingly, the Rangers enter the game as favorite (-1.5 at +115 odds) but Kansas snatched a victory on Tuesday and Rangers starter Scott Feldman (6-11, 5.01 ERA) is ripe for the pickings. Take the Royals for the upset here.

Rookie David Phelps will take the mound for the Yankees' opener in Baltimore on Thursday night.

The biggest game on tap Thursday night will be the New York Yankees (77-59, 36-31 road) travelling to Baltimore (76-60, 37-30 home) for the first of four. New York managed to edge one game ahead in the AL East after defeating Tampa Bay on Wednesday, while Baltimore fell to Toronto. This weekend’s series will be even bigger than last weekend’s showdown in the Bronx.

Thursday’s matchup see David Phelps (3-4, 3.13 ERA) go for the Yankees against Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54). Phelps is spelling the injured Andy Pettitte. The rookie has impressed this season, maintaining a respectable ERA under the big lights of New York. Hobbled by injuries, the Yanks welcomed back Alex Rodriguez this week and despite Mark Teixeira still being on the DL, on Wednesday night the Bombers looked like they might be ready to turn a corner. Baltimore head into this one as underdogs and could be worth a stake, but this one smells like a statement game for the Yankees. Expect Derek Jeter to lead by example.

After all of that, if you still fancy an NFL warm up, College Football is back Thursday night with Pittsburgh (0-1) traveling to Cincinnati (0-0) in a Big East showdown. The Bearcats are narrow favorites (-4 ½ at -115) in what will be the team’s season opener.

Utah (1-0) travels to Utah State (1-0) on Friday night before a full slate of college games takes center stage on Saturday while the race for the MLB postseason continues across the weekend, including what could be Stephen Strasburg’s last outing of the year (Vs. Miami, Friday 7:05 PM ET).

Then, of course, NFL Week 1 kicks off proper on Sunday, with the pick of the bunch looking to be San Francisco at Green Bay and Pittsburgh at Denver. Oddsmakers like both home teams here, but Pittsburgh could well get after Peyton Manning and the Broncos for the [narrow] upset.

Washington Nationals On The Cusp Of…What?

On Wednesday night, the New York Giants host the Dallas Cowboys in the 2012 NFL curtain-raiser. While both team’s division rival Washington Redskins doesn’t begin play until Sunday – at New Orleans (1:00 PM ET) – plenty will be switching the channel from baseball to football come kickoff time.

This could spell bad news for the Washington Nationals, who for the entire season have thrilled spectators with a true Cinderella story. If D.C. audiences do in fact shy away from baseball in favor of the Redskins, part of the problem will lay squarely at the feet of the Nationals front office and their impending decision to sit pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Take your pick: the Redskins kickoff (in New Orleans) at 1:00 (ET) on Sunday whilst first pitch at Nationals park is 1:35.

Washington has historically been a football city. The Redskins have won three Super Bowls and two NFL championships since relocating from Boston in 1936, the last of which came in 1991. Since ’91 things haven’t been all that rosy for the Skins. The team’s last division championship came in 1991 and its last playoff appearance was 2007. Still, FedEx Field sells out each and every game.

In fairness for Washington sports fan, it’s not hard to see why the Redskins are the city’s biggest draw – despite being outside of the city, in Landover, Md.

In the NHL, the Capitals have won nothing. The team’s only Stanley Cup appearance came back in 1998 when the Detroit Redwings made short work of a 4-0 finals series. Even the appeal of Alex Ovechkin hasn’t translated to success.

In the NBA, the Wizards have been a doormat for the past decade. The team – then known as the Bullets – won the NBA championship in 1978, and since it’s been all downhill. A brief flirtation with Michael Jordan saw interest pique, but today’s Wizards team is hardly a draw.

That leaves the city with the Nationals.

The impending Stephen Strasburg shutdown could alienate fans.

Arriving in 2005 from Montreal, the Nationals sparked a mild interest in Capitol baseball finishing the inaugural season with a respectable 81-81, good enough for last place in the NL East. Last? Things got a lot worse. The six seasons that followed all ended with a losing record, with last season’s 80 wins being the high mark. 2009’s 103 losses was the low water mark.

But this season, the Nationals have surprised everyone. Behind a solid starting rotation which includes Stephen Strasburg (15-6, 2.94 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (17-7, 3.10) and Jordan Zimmerman (9-8, 3.01 ERA), the Nationals have already secured 83 wins, the most since arriving in D.C.

It’s not just about great starting pitching either. Tuesday’s 11-5 victory over the pitiful Cubs saw Washington bats light-up. A team-record six homers in one game were recorded as the Nationals tallied 19 hits and first baseman Adam LaRoche went 4-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a walk. Sure it was the Cubs, but this was the sort of performance that fans want to see, and in many ways have become accustomed to.

Currently 7 ½ games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the NL East, the Nationals are looking good for the city’s first postseason baseball berth since 1933 and something for D.C. fans to cheer about. For all intents and purposes, the Nationals should be a threat to keep Washington sports fans watching baseball instead of their beloved Redskins.

But, things could take a horrible turn by the end of this week. Stephen Strasburg is currently penciled in to pitch on against the Marlins on Friday. Having pitched 156.1 innings heading in to play, any kind of decent start will have him exceed the 160 innings limit that has been earmarked for his shutdown – a precautionary move following Tommy John surgery last offseason.

The Nationals front office is adamant that this shutdown is happening, even if the Nationals are not only in the thick of things but looking good to make some serious noise throughout October. That same front office shut Zimmerman down last season, and isn’t looking like baulking just yet.

If Strasburg is removed from the lineup, they have a solid set of players to rely on, but the loss of one big arm can make the difference between getting dumped early in October and making it to the later postseason rounds. It might also be considered a kick in the teeth to Nationals fans that are so close to enjoying the team’s success, yet so very skeptical.

One thing’s for sure, if Strasburg is shutdown, there’s a good chance that a lot of fans may well be watching the Redskins on Sunday afternoon and not the Nationals.

Division and Wild Card Races Heat Up This Sunday

Whilst the arrival of the new College football season this weekend has seen a flurry of sports betting, it’s worth remembering that Major League Baseball is starting to really heat up and there’s plenty of action to be had this Sunday.

Of the six MLB divisions, only Cincinnati in the NL Central looks to have a secure grip on the top spot. At 8 ½ games ahead of St. Louis, the surging Reds look a fairly safe bet to take the division. Washington remains 6 ½ ahead of the Braves with both teams trying their best to lose at all costs. San Francisco’s 4 ½ game lead over Los Angeles could take a hit when the two teams meet next weekend and again in October.

In the American League New York and Texas hold a three game lead in their respective divisions, while Chicago’s lead has dwindled to one game after Detroit was victorious on Saturday. Nothing is set yet, and with the introduction of a second Wild Card slot things look like they’ll go down to the wire.

Here then is a pair of match-ups and lines to keep an eye on this Sunday.

Baltimore Orioles @ New York Yankees

The hot-and-cold Phil Hughes takes to the mound for the Yankees on Sunday afternoon.

The rubber match of this three game series will see Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) take the mound for the Orioles, with Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) going for the Yankees.

Tillman has been a pleasant surprise for the O’s in his 10 starts and has already registered a victory against the Yankees on July 31. Hughes has been a bit of an anomaly, looking like a world-beater one moment and a Triple-A pitcher the next. Still, over the past three games he’s only given up a combined three earned runs.

New York (76-56, 41-27 home) is currently three games ahead of Baltimore (73-59, 41-27 road) having taken a win on Saturday. Baltimore hasn’t been this close to a division leader this late in the season since 1997 – the year the Birds won the division outright – and hasn’t beaten the Yankees in a series since that same season.

Baltimore is the underdog at +130 but the combination of Tillman’s strong pitching, Baltimore’s impressive record since the All Star break and the Yankees’ injuries and slump could make this a bet worth placing. Take the over on nine runs for -120; Hughes is liable to give up a slew and Tillman has had some good run support to get him through some tough games.

St. Louis Cardinals @ Washington Nationals

Sunday afternoon's game against the Cardinals could be Steven Strasburg's penultimate appearance of the season.

Washington (80-52, 38-25 home) is looking to hold on to the NL East. A recent string of poor results has seen Cincinnati pass them as the team with the best record in baseball. Meanwhile, St. Louis (72-61, 32-35 road) is looking to lockup one of the two Wild Card spots.

Jake Westbrook (13-10, 3.94 ERA) will pitch for the Cardinals. He’s 6-2 over his last eight starts but was roughed-up by Pittsburgh on Tuesday, giving up seven runs on 11 hits. He’ll be up against Steven Strasburg (15-6, 3.05 ERA) who has enjoyed an impressive season, despite the constant media circus focusing on his impending shutdown. For the record, Strasburg has pitched 150.1 innings so far this season, leaving him 9.2 to play with. That’s Sunday’s start and one against Miami next weekend.

Washington is favored (-1 ½ at +130 odds) and it’s probably best to go with the favorite here. Strasburg will be looking to go out with a bang with potentially just two games left on the slate while St. Louis will be tired in the final game of a nine-game road trip that has passed through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as well as Washington.

Take the over on eight runs at -125; Washington has scored eight or more runs in five straight games and Saturday night’s 10-9 victory shows St. Louis is no slouch when it comes to offense.