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Pennant Fever!

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/13/2005

22 days left, 22 games left. That’s pretty much it for the baseball regular season. For some teams that are sitting pretty atop their divisions, like the Cardinals, this doesn’t mean much accept to rest players and get the pitching rotation set for the postseason. For other teams long out of the race, it doesn’t mean anything, either. But for a few clubs, the next 22 days means postseason life or death. The Wild Card was born ten years ago and has breathed life into several teams this time of year ever since. In the AL, the three that are most fighting for life are the Indians, A’s and Yankees. Here’s a look at some factors that will influence their chances over the next three weeks.

Indians: The slump of the Chicago White Sox is over, so the Indians are relegated to fighting for the Wild Card slot. However, their chances are very good, especially with the demise of the Twins and the NY Yankees inability to beat Tampa Bay! A pair of 6 game winning streaks in August and a 4-game one in September have vaulted them into the race. The pitching staff has been terrific all year, and the hitting has found its groove since the All Star break.

They have tough competition against the Twins, A’s and White Sox (12 games). On the plus side, Cleveland plays 15 of 22 games at home! They also have 7 games against the Royals and 3 with the Devil Rays. Since they are in a battle with the Yankees and A’s, Monday starts a key three-game homestand with Oakland. Keep this in mind: The Indians are just 3-10 this season against the White Sox! If they fall short, the pale hose will be the biggest reason.

A’s: Oakland is in a unique position. The A’s are in a battle for the Wild Card spot, but they are also very much alive to win a division title, neck and neck with the Angels. Oakland has quietly shot up the charts with its pitching staff, ranked second in ERA in the American League, just behind the White Sox. Pitching rules more so than hitting during late-season pennant races and the playoffs, so don’t expect the A’s to go away.

The A’s have a very tough two week stretch right now, a 10-game road trip. On this trip they will face the heavy-hitting Rangers, followed by the Indians and a four-game trip to Fenway Park. The A’s are only 36-32 on the road. They come home for a nice stand, but there are no cupcakes as they battle the Twins, Rangers and Angels. They need to play their best ball now against the best teams, too, so right now things appear more stacked against Oakland than with them.

Yankees: The inconsistent (and expensive) Yankees don’t have that difficult a schedule, though they play 10 home games and 13 road contests. New York is 33-35 on the road. The good news is they play teams that are out of it in the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Devil Rays. The bad news is they play the Devil Rays, the team that seems to have a hex on them!

The other concern is six-games with the AL East leading Red Sox, beginning this weekend. Naturally, a strong showing against Boston could get them a shot at a division title (4 games back of the Red Sox as of Friday). All eyes will be on the Red Sox/Yankees 3-game set this weekend. Fireworks could come the final weekend of the season, too, as NY travels to Fenway for three games. NY is 7-6 against the Red Sox this season. They should have little trouble with 17 games against pitching-thin teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore, but this group has underachieved much off the year. And since pitching is most important this time of year, the fact remains that NY is weak in the arms race.

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