The end of July unofficially signals the beginning of phase two of the Major League Baseball season. With the contenders definitively pulling away from the pretenders in each division, the playoff picture is starting to take shape, and baseball betting is watching.
The next few months will make or break each team’s chances, as history as proven that World Series winners are made in August and September—not born in April. (A perfect example would be the shocking 2007 World Series between the Red Sox and the Rockies, who amounted to virtually nothing for the first four months of the season, but got hot at the right time and rode their way to a World Series.)
Here’s a preview of what to expect come mid-October, with in terms of the four playoff teams from each league and a World Series winner.
AL West: Texas Rangers. Historically, the Rangers have had good starts to the season in recent years, but have tapered off and missed the playoffs altogether. This year is special for the Rangers, who have finally added some much-needed pitching in the form of Cliff Lee. With their batters hitting as well as they have, they should hold off an aging Angels team to secure a win in the AL West. The line at www.sportsbook.com agrees, as the Texas Rangers are heavy favorites right now at -10000.
AL Central: Chicago White Sox. With the possible addition of Edwin Jackson, who threw a no-hitter earlier this year, the ChiSox would have the most well-rounded team in a weaker-than-usual AL Central. This isn’t a team that is going to scare many people, but they will beat the Twins for a playoff spot.
AL East: New York Yankees. Defense wins championships, and the Yanks have the best starting pitching in the division and have been consistent all season long. They have enough weapons to beat out the Rays down the stretch, if they can manage a stretch without two of their best starters.
AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa’s lineup is just more intimidating than the Red Sox’s at this point, and they’ve proven they can win with this lineup, as seen in 2008.
NL West: San Francisco Giants. The Giants are playing like a World Series contender right now. Led by seemingly superhuman rookie Buster Posey and a downright filthy pitching staff, it’s only a matter of time before they catch up to the Padres, who have slowed their pace since getting out to a huge early season lead.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals. This is going to be a closer race than many people expect, but the Reds’ pitching staff just isn’t up to the task of fighting off Pujols and his experienced crew. I expect the Cards to gain control and not let go next time these two teams match up. The line at www.sportsbook.com has the Cardinals as the favorite at -150 currently.
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils are starting to hit, and that spells trouble for their division rivals, given the addition of Roy Oswalt to the city of brotherly love. Without question, this is the best rotation in baseball, and if Chase Utley is a shadow of his former self when he returns from injury, this is still the team to beat.
NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves. This is a really well-balanced lineup with a good mix of experience and youth playing under manager Bobby Cox for his final season. A brutal wild card race is in store for a number of teams, but I see Atlanta coming out on top.
ALDS: Yankees top the White Sox in a sweep. Beyond Mark Buehrle, there’s nothing that the White Sox can throw out there that the Yankees can’t handle. This should be an easy week for New York.
ALDS: Texas over Tampa in seven. I predict this will be the most interesting playoff series we’ll see, so play close attention if and when it comes up. These are two dynamic teams with clear strengths all over the field. In the end, I give it to the team that has been the most aggressive in going out and getting a top-level starter for the playoff push.
NLDS: Philadelphia over St. Louis in six. The Cardinals have a lot of depth at the plate, but it’s all about starting pitching and timely hitting in the playoffs, and that describes Philadelphia to a T.
NLDS: San Francisco over Atlanta in five. The young guns take on the old guard in this one, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this series will signal the beginning of a long run for the Giants as a top contender in the National League. There’s just enough experience there to make me believe that their superior starters will be able to focus and pull through.
ALCS: New York bests the Rangers in five. You have to hand it to the “evil empire,” they know what they’re doing. The addition of Lance Berkman gives them depth that they haven’t had in a while—and they won the World Series last year.
NLCS: Philadelphia over San Francisco in six. There’s nothing quite like the same championship twice in a row, and it hasn’t happened in baseball since 1977-78. The experience that the Phillies have is just too much to overlook, especially with the addition of another World Series pitcher is Oswalt.
World Series. Philadelphia over New York in six. Put simply, the Phillies are the team getting hot and getting better at the right time of year. Despite their early season struggles, this team has proven that they are worth discussing as a true dynasty in a league that hasn’t produced more than a handful in the past 50 years. If I’m placing a bet today, Philadelphia has my money to win their second championship in three seasons.