Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 8:48 PM
A lot of the showcase matchups we’ve been studying in recent weeks have involved playoff teams and potential postseason previews. We’re about to embark on one that could involve two teams who won’t even make the playoffs this year. Why is the four-game set matching the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals a showcase series?
Because it’s a HUGE series matching two teams who are currently BARELY on the wrong side of the Wildcard cutoff.
*Both teams are playing well, coming off series wins this past weekend.
*Both teams are still capable of winning their divisions even if they currently sit just outside the playoff picture.
*Both teams have been dealing with injuries all season, and look to be fairly solid playoff caliber teams when healthy.
*One team is the defending World Champion, while the other was the best team in the league out of the gate in 2012 before getting hurt. It’s a quality matchup!
And, most importantly for our purposes…it’s a heavyweight fight that could see one team knocked on their butt if they lose three or four in this series. The Wildcard race is tough enough already. Losing a few to another team fighting for survival is the last thing either of these teams can afford to do.
A short version of the Wildcard picture upon completion of the weekend…
*Pittsburgh and Cincinnati of the NL Central are fighting for the top spot in league wins with Washington. Either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati will be in great shape for a Wildcard because a relatively easy second half schedule awaits them. You can’t officially give them one of the spots yet…but the NL Central runner-up is in great shape.
*Atlanta of the NL East may also be looking at a relatively easy second half schedule now that Philadelphia, Miami, and the NY Mets have all fallen into tailspins. Atlanta currently leads both the LA Dodgers and St. Louis in the Wildcard standings.
*There are only two Wildcard spots…and we haven’t gotten to the Dodgers and Cards yet. It’s not quite “backs against the wall” time yet. But, losing this series makes the ladder just that tougher to climb. And, if we have a 2-2 split…well, BOTH teams may drop further behind the frontrunners!
There’s going to be a playoff feel to the four-game set because so much is at stake. And, recognizing that importance, the TV networks have stepped in for national coverage. The MLB Network will show Tuesday Night’s games (a potential pitcher’s duel), and ESPN will be in town Wednesday Night.
Here are the probable pitchers for the week…
L. Angeles: Billingsley (4-9, 4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
St. Louis: Kelly (1-2, 2.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
Kelly has seen limited action, so that ERA is probably misleading. The WHIP isn’t very good by starting standards…but creates a wash with Billingsley who has been a disappointment this season. Remember that LA gets to play home games in a good pitching environment, so those are particularly soft numbers. There’s a chance Fife gets the start here instead of Billingsley. Fife was originally listed but a change was announced on Friday. The Dodgers are certainly hoping the Billingsley of old shows up in time to help out in the pennant race. With the Dodgers flying in from New York without a day off, and St. Louis staying at home after the Cubs series…we’ll have to think a bit about the Cards if the price is right.
TUESDAY (on MLB network)
L. Angeles: Kershaw (7-5, 2.74 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)
St. Louis: Wainwright (7-10, 4.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)
Kershaw is having a Cy Young type season. But, a lack of consistent run support has kept that from showing up in his won-lost record. Wainwright hasn’t been able to come near the best of his prior seasons. Amazing how many veteran pitchers are in that same boat this season. The WHIP has been good though…which gives him a chance to compete with Kershaw. We’ll check on the weather before making any final decisions on the total. This is your best shot for a pitcher’s duel in the four-game set.
WEDNESDAY (on ESPN)
L. Angeles: Harang (7-5, 3.46 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
St. Louis: Lohse (10-2, 2.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)
Lohse doesn’t get the high number of strikeouts we prefer with starting pitchers. But, if you can manage a 2.71 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP while mostly pitching to contact…go for it! Harang is a fly ball pitcher who’s helped at home by friendly pitching conditions. We’ll see how the game time temperature and wind conditions might influence his success before making a final decision. If the conditions favor home runs, then Lohse is going to make sense at an affordable price. If the wind is blowing in, then Under may be the best way to deal with the possible options.
L. Angeles: Capuano (10-5, 2.81 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)
St. Louis: Westbrook (8-8, 3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)
The Dodgers are a contender this year because Capuano has stepped up and made such a big impact. Kershaw was a given. Others have either been fairly generic or disappointments. Capuano’s stellar numbers are what’s lifted LAD from a .500 type team. Westbrook has been solid if not spectacular. If he’s one of your best starters, then you’re not championship material. If he’s at the back of your rotation, then you probably are. St. Louis has lost aces to injuries, which has lifted Westbrook up higher than he should be in the rotation. Game Four of any series can be influenced by what just happened, or by what’s on deck. The Cards fly to Chicago after the game for a weekend series at Wrigley against the Cubs. The Dodgers fly to San Francisco for a HUGE series in the AL West against the Giants. Our situational handicapping experts may be encouraging a very big selection here depending on how the week unfolds.
It’s a great time to be a baseball fan because every night features important games and great handicapping opportunities. JIM HURLEY’S game day releases go up a few hours before first pitch right here at this website. We still have great rates for the rest of the season too.
Important series we’ll be focusing on the next few days:
Boston at Texas (tonight’s game on ESPN)
Washington at NY Mets
Oakland at Toronto (starts Tuesday with showcase coverage in the NOTEBOOK!)
Tampa Bay at Baltimore (starts Tuesday)
Detroit at Cleveland (starts Tuesday)
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Back with you tomorrow to preview the Oakland-Toronto series…which suddenly got VERY interesting after what happened last weekend when those teams played the New York Yankees and Boston. Can you believe Oakland has been the best Major League team in July, with only a week left in the month?! Baseball coverage continues through the week. Our college football conference previews resume this weekend as we finish off the mid-majors on the final Saturday and Sunday of July. We’ll do the Mountain West with Boise State on Saturday…then the Independents with Army, Navy, BYU, and Notre Dame on Sunday.
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