The senior circuit is pretty cut and dry for the playoff pictures, seven teams left to fill five spots. Yet when one goes to make MLB picks versus the betting odds, it is a little less clear.
What teams are poised for success, destined to fall back or remain where they are, time to figure this out as baseball handicappers.
NL East Wagering Outlook
Washington's unsightly collapse was at least temporarily staved off by a trip to the Rocky Mountains where they handled Colorado. The Nationals were thought to be the best team in baseball coming into the season, but have been anything but. Having just the seventh-best ERA in the league has not helped along with a lineup that is at a pedestrian 4.2 runs per game is not making the situation better.
If the Nationals are to catch and surpass the Mets, at least in theory, it could not be set up any better against the MLB odds the next 2 1/2 weeks. Washington only has three road games in this stretch (@ St. Louis) and has home series with Milwaukee, San Diego, Miami and Atlanta before taking on the Mets.
The first place Metropolitans will be on the road more than their division rivals, however, the schedule could hardly be described as foreboding taking on (@) Colorado, home and away with Philadelphia, Boston and (@) Miami, before battling the Nats. If New York continues to play great at home and can be .500 on the road, they can win this division.
NL Central Wagering Outlook
With the kind of pitching St. Louis has, hard to imagine anyone overtaking them unless they suffer injuries. The Cardinals' season-long dominance is measured by the fact their top-ranked run differential is better than 40 percent better than Pittsburgh's (+123 vs. +71), who has the second-best record in the league. This club is solid and should be able to handle a 10-game western trip and facing the Nats before a big homestand with the Pirates and Cubs.
Pittsburgh only has one mission the next couple of weeks, to hopefully close within a game or two of the Cardinals before doing battle with them starting Sept. 4th. Though playing the San Francisco Giants will be no cakewalk, the Bucs will draw a lot of attention for MLB picks at 5Dimes playing against Miami, Colorado and Milwaukee before the huge holiday weekend series under The Arch. Pittsburgh would love nothing more than avoiding the wild card game for a third straight year.
There is a definite buzz on the North Side of Chicago after 377 losses the past four years. The Cubs own the third-best record in the league thanks to good pitching, which has them ranked fourth in ERA. Joe Maddon has brought enthusiasm and tough-mindedness to a club that plays a lot of youngsters daily. After losing both games at home to Detroit, once again they were exposed by a more veteran squad. They will definitely be tested again since their next three road series are at the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals. This will tell us if Chicago is a playoff team.
NL West Wagering Outlook
San Francisco has been one of the streakiest teams in baseball all season, as on nine different occasions they have strung together five or more wins and losses this campaign (5 wins streaks and four losers). With crunch time starting, they hope to avoid the latter, with their safest path to defending their World Series title being to win the division. This Giants are more similar to the 2012 champs, with a better offense and while the starting pitching is not as good, the bullpen's depth and Bruce Bochy's handling of it the difference. San Fran is in the midst of by far the hardest point of their schedule and if they can reach Sept. 4th no worse than two or three games back, they will have a shot.
Despite being in first place most of the season, it has not been easy for Los Angeles. No team has made as many roster moves as the Dodgers and in their quest to shore up the back of the rotation, on the year, 15 different hurlers have made starts. The veteran-laden offense is much better at home compared to on the road (4.4 RPG vs. 3.9) and that is reflected in home (42-20) and away (25-33) splits. The next two weeks are critical for L.A., with a trip to Houston and Cincinnati, before being back in SoCal to take on the Cubs and Giants. This sets up to be quite a race!