Pennant Races Ignite on First Weekend After Baseball's All-Star Break

PENNANT RACES IGNITE ON FIRST WEEKEND AFTER BASEBALL'S ALL-STAR BREAK

Normally we'd pick one series to showcase over a baseball weekend. But, the schedule-makers have blessed baseball fans and sports bettors with FOUR matchups that involve teams that are right in the heart of the playoff picture!

Let's briefly run through all four of those marquee matchups. But, first, we need to review the playoff picture as it stands on the precipice of the second "stage" of the season after the All-Star Break.

Current AL "Seeds"
1...Boston
2...Oakland
3...Detroit
4...Tampa Bay and Texas TIED for the 2 Wildcards
6...Baltimore (1.5 games behind Wildcards)
7...NY Yankees and Cleveland TIED, (3 games behind Wildcards)

The top seeds have almost no margin for error, because Detroit only leads the Central by 1.5 games, while Oakland and Boston are only enjoying leads of 2 and 2.5 games respectively. All three could be out of first place by early next week! And, the battle for the two Wildcard spots is going to be tight indeed. There will clearly be at least one "playoff caliber" team that doesn't reach the postseason once again this year in the loaded American League.

Current NL "Seeds"
1...St. Louis
2...Atlanta
3...Arizona
4...Pittsburgh and Cincinnati TIED for the 2 Wildcards
6...Washington (5 games behind Wildcards)
7...LA Dodgers and Philadelphia TIED (5.5 games behind Wildcards)

St. Louis and Atlanta are currently in great shape to make the playoffs. They're so far ahead of the teams who are just outside the Wildcard race that it would take an epic collapse to miss the postseason. ESPN's website currently lists St. Louis at better than 95% to make the playoffs, and Atlanta at better than 90%

Arizona will have quite a battle on its hands in the West with Los Angeles if the Dodgers continue their fantastic play of late. Probably only one team from that division will make it to October. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are neck and neck within the Wildcard picture...but have clear advantages over the rest of the field. They play each other this weekend...so the LOSER of that series may have to start sweating a little.

Here are the four showcase series...

NY YANKEES AT BOSTON
Friday: Pettitte vs. Doubront (MLB Network)
Saturday: Kuroda vs. Lackey (FOX regional)
Sunday: Sabathia vs. Lester (ESPN prime time)

Boston could really make a statement with a big weekend in Fenway. Hopefully they've recovered from the grueling Western swing that ended the first half of the season. The Yankees are trying to get healthy...but the old bodies of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't cooperating. New York is running out of margin for error in their killer division. JIM HURLEY is working with sources in both cities to find a monster release for you this weekend.

BALTIMORE AT TEXAS
Friday: Chen vs. Holland
Saturday: Gonzalez vs. Perez
Sunday: Tillman vs. Wolf

A great park for the home-run offense of Baltimore to start the second half in. Chen returned from the Disabled List to throw a gem last week...but will be tested here in this hitter's paradise. Does Baltimore have the pitching to make it all the way to October? We'll learn a lot about that issue in this series. A potential playoff preview.

PITTSBURGH AT CINCINNATI
Friday: Liriano vs. Leake
Saturday: Burnett vs. Latos (FOX regional)
Sunday: Locke vs. Bailey

Pittsburgh's been one of the hottest teams in baseball the past several weeks, while Cincinnati has been treading water after a great start. Sometimes the All-Star Break is the last thing a hot team wants to see! Will pressure start to set in on the young Pirates? Or, have they upgraded the starting rotation to such a degree that a collapse finally isn't imminent in the second half of this season. No better way to test a team's mettle than a road series against a strong divisional contender. How well Liriano and Locke maintain their recent form could be the key to Pittsburgh's season.

LA DODGERS AT WASHINGTON
Friday: Nolasco vs. Strasburg
Saturday: Greinke vs. Gonzalez
Sunday: Kershaw vs. Zimmerman (TBS)

While the Pirates were the hottest NL team of the past month, the Dodgers were the hottest team of the past couple of weeks until Yasiel Puig had to deal with a hip issue. That opening weekend pitching alignment tells you a lot about the Dodgers championship hopes. Kershaw is a Cy Young talent. Greinke started finding his form lately, which could give LAD two superstar pitchers. Nolasco was recently acquired from Miami, and is likely to be better than the #5 guy in the rotation that he replaced. Washington knows time is of the essence...so we'll get peak intensity from both teams this weekend.

JIM HURLEY knows that YOU want to start off the second half of the baseball season with peak intensity. He has great plays line up for you all weekend. You can purchase game day BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. Or, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about football/baseball combination packages when you call.

We'll return to college football here in the NOTEBOOK Saturday and Sunday with a look at the Atlantic Coast Conference. Monday will bring another baseball series preview (or set of previews). Among the matchups we're looking at are Tampa Bay at Boston, NY Yankees at Texas, and Pittsburgh at Washington.

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's really happening in the world of sports. And, build your football bankroll with JIM HURLEY'S BIG, JUICY BASEBALL WINNERS!

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