NYY, Chicago in First Place Fights

Handicapping News: NYY, Chicago in First Place Fights

For the longest time, fans and analysts have just been penciling in the New York Yankees as the easy winner of the American League’s East division. The Yanks exploded in the middle of the summer, and built what at least looked like it was going to become an insurmountable lead. But, as the Yanks get ready for Tuesday Night’s tussle with the Chicago White Sox, they hold a shrinking four-game lead over resurgent Tampa Bay. For their part, the Chisox are sweating a slim two-game lead over Detroit for the automatic playoff berth from the AL Central.

Let’s take a look at the numbers…

TOP OF THE AL EAST

New York 72-50
Tampa Bay 68-54 (4 games back)

The Rays have gotten red hot in recent days, highlighted by a dramatic four-game sweep on the ROAD against a Los Angeles Angels team they were battling against for a Wildcard spot. Tampa Bay’s surge has now put them within striking distance of first place in the East if the Yankees falter. That’s certainly a possibility, given the Yankees evolving injury situation and the overall age of the team. Tampa Bay is peaking at the right time needless to say. Can they keep it up? The Yankees would rather take care of business and not worry about it.

Note that Tampa Bay is now over 80% to reach the playoffs according to ESPN’s standings page. The Yankees are at 98% to play in the postseason, but are far from assured from winning this division at the moment. There’s a big difference between winning your division (guaranteed to be in the best-of-seven brackets), and earning a Wildcard (one-game showdown vs. the other Wildcard to join the brackets). Fans an analysts have been right to pencil in New York as a qualifier. Giving them the division outright may have been premature.

TOP OF THE AL CENTRAL

Chicago 66-55
Detroit 64-57 (2 games back)

Though they’d be in third and fifth place in the AL East, Chicago and Detroit are virtually neck-and-neck for first place in the Central. The Tigers hit a surprising rough patch this past weekend at home against Baltimore. They could have picked up some ground on the Sox…but dropped two of three to a group of underdogs that just won’t go away. Obviously Detroit is rooting for the Yankees here, as they try to sweep slumping Toronto in a series that begins tonight.

Game one of the Yanks/White Sox series was a high scoring affair, with the hometown Sox surviving a 9-6 slobberknocker. Stats for tonight’s projected starting pitchers suggest a similar game might be in store for Tuesday.

IVAN NOVA
4.76 ERA
1.45 WHIP

Nova has slumped recently, posting an 8.49 ERA over his last four starts (Texas, Toronto, Detroit, Baltimore). He was the beneficiary of good run support in the first half of the season, which tricked many into thinking he as having a great year. He was having an “okay” year at the best of times, but has hit a wall in recent outings. New York is 3-7 in his last 10 starts (amazing considering how often this team wins), after a fortunate 12-2 performance in his first 14.

FRANCISCO LIRIANO

5.22 ERA
1.42 WHIP

Liriano come over to the Chisox from Minnesota a few weeks ago. In four outings with Chicago, he has an ERA of 4.79. The Sox did win three of those four starts though. Liriano’s numbers are better lately than they were with the Twins for the bulk of the season…but bringing a 4.79 “recent” ERA into a matchup against the Yankees in a hitter’s park is still a danger scenario.

CURRENT VEGAS LINE: Chicago -115, total of 9

The Over/Under hasn’t moved up to 9.5 as we go to press. That may suggest something about the weather forecast for tonight…or perhaps sharps think Liriano is on the verge of re-finding his career form now that he’s adjusted to his new environment and the excitement of a pennant chase.

Tonight’s game is an important one to monitor for handicappers. The Yanks really need Nova to start throwing quality innings if they’re going to hold off Tampa Bay in the East…and if they’re serious about winning a World Championship in October. And, the White Sox specifically acquired Liriano to help them in these vital games down the stretch. He’s arguably the linchpin player as to whether or not they’re going to reach the postseason as either a division winner or a Wildcard.

 

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