by DS Williamson

The 2018 MLB Regular Season closes in September with a few preseason World Series favorites working hard to just make the playoffs. Check out the tightest playoff races in Major League Baseball.

AL East – Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees
On August 30th, the Red Sox pushed their lead over the rival Yankees to 8.5 games after they beat the White Sox 9-4 and Detroit beat the Yankees 8-7. The best team in throughout the MLB regular season, Boston averages 5.46 runs per game, ranking first in baseball.

The starting rotation has a 3.59 ERA while the bullpen ERA ranks the Red Sox sixth at 3.42. Bettors that backed Boston on the moneyline made out big time. Boston is 93-42 SU with a full month left in the season.

Boston started the season a third choice to win the World Series. Oddsmakers assigned the Yankees status as favorites, largely due to the attention making acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, but the team hasn’t performed as well as Boston so far.

The Yankees and Red Sox battle 6 times in September. The first 3-game series takes place from Sep. 18 through Sep. 20. The second 3-game series will end the MLB regular season for both teams. That series, from Sep. 28 through Sep. 30, could determine not only who wins the AL East but if the series loser even makes the playoffs.

Boston Next Series vs Chicago White Sox (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

New York Next Series vs Detroit Tigers (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

AL West – Houston Astros vs Oakland Athletics
The Houston Astros took a huge, backward step after the All-Star Break. As of August 30th, Houston has gone 17-17 SU since their first post-All-Star Break game on July 20th. The .500 play opened the door for the Oakland Athletics, who are only 2.5 games behind the defending world champions.

If the A’s were to win the AL West by the end of what’s shaping up to be a wild end to the MLB regular season, consider purchasing stock in Kleenex because future bettors will need the tissue. Houston fell from a +800 second choice behind the Yankees before the season started to +400 favorites right before the All-Star Break.

While Houston’s played .500 ball since July 20th, Oakland’s 25-13 SU since their first game in the second half of the season. The A’s have been a moneyline bettor’s dream. Like most MLB teams, Oakland offers better odds on the road than they do at home. The A’s are 41-28 SU on the road this season, bumping profits for bettors that have backed them in away games.

If either Oakland or Houston hopes to win the AL West, they’ll need help from other teams. The A’s and Astros don’t play each other from now until Sep. 30th, the final day of the MLB Regular Season.

Houston Next Series vs L.A. Angels (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

Oakland Next Series vs Seattle Mariners (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

NL East – Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies
Nobody predicted that heading into September the Braves and Phillies would stand atop the NL East Division when the MLB regular season began. Atlanta leads Philadelphia by 3 games. Both teams made significant acquisitions for playoff runs amidst the standard implosion in Washington that the Nationals usually reserve for the playoffs.

Atlanta acquired pitcher Kevin Gausman from the Baltimore Orioles. Since joining the Orioles, Gausman is 4-1 with a 3.87 ERA. In his last start on August 26 against Miami, Gausman allowed 1 hit in 5 innings for a 1.69 ERA. Gausman has shored up Atlanta’s starting rotation.

Philadelphia shored up their starting rotation before the season started. The Phillies signed Jake Arrieta this past march. Arrieta’s a master at setting up his slider and curve with his fastball. The Phillies won all 6 of Arrieta’s starts in July.

Also in July, the Phillies helped their batting lineup by trading for Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos. Cabrera bats .264. He has 20 home runs with a month left in the season. Because he’s a catcher, Ramos won’t play every day. When he does play, he hits .310. He’s also hit 15 home runs this season.

The Phillies and Braves should fight for the NL East until the end of September. The teams battle in a 4-game series in Atlanta from Sep. 20 to Sep. 23. Philadelphia hosts Atlanta to close out the regular season in a 3-game series from Sep. 28 through Sep. 30.

Atlanta Next Series vs Pittsburgh Pirates (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

Philadelphia Next Series vs Chicago Cubs (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

NL Central – Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers
Heading into September, the second tightest division in baseball is the NL Central.  Chicago leads the St. Louis Cardinals by 4.5 games. Milwaukee is only 5 games behind the Cubs.

Chicago followed the how to win a World Seriesscript by trading for starting pitcher Cole Hamels. In 2015, the Kansas City Royals acquired Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds. Cueto led the Royals to a World Series win. Last season, the Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander late in the season from the Detroit Tigers. Verlander led the Astros to a World Series victory.

Hamels is the 2008 World Series MVP. Since he arrived in Chicago, the Cubs have won all 6 of Hamel’s starts. He pairs with Chicago’s other ace, Jon Lester. Should the Cubs make the playoffs, they might only start Lester, Hamels, and Kyle Hendricks while Jose Quintana will pitch in relief.

St. Louis started winning after they fired manager Mike Matheny. It took current manager Mike Shildt about a week to get the Cardinals to play their best. Shildt’s done it because with a game left in August, the Cardinals are 21-5 this month.

While the Cubs acquired a post-season pitching star, and while the Cardinals changed managers, Milwaukee took a different approach to remain in contention for the NL Central through the MLB regular season. The Brewers acquired great hitters: third baseman Mike Moustakas and shortstop Jonathan Schoop.

Milwaukee could win the NL Central, but they don’t have an ace in the starting rotation. If the Cardinals stay hot, they’ll catch the Cubs. It’s rare for an MLB team to continue winning games after a 21-5  SU month.

The NL Central Division looks like the Cubs’ to win or lose.

Chicago Next Series vs Philadelphia Phillies (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

St. Louis Next Series vs Cincinnati Reds (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

Milwaukee Next Series vs Washington Nationals (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

NL West – Arizona Diamondbacks vs Colorado Rockies vs L.A. Dodgers
Right before the All-Star Break, the Dodgers’ World Series odds dropped from +800 down to +600. Baseball future bettors believed that L.A. would take over the NL West Division. So far, the Dodgers have struggled to wrestle control from the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have the edge heading into September. Arizona’s starting rotation has a 3.52 ERA, ranking it third in MLB. The Dodgers’ starting rotation ERA is better, 3.46, but Arizona’s bullpen has a 3.09 ERA, ranking it second behind the Astros.

Last season, the Dodgers won the NL because their bullpen dominated. But the bullpen hasn’t been as effective throughout this particular MLB regular season.The pen has a rough 3.89 ERA, and it’s allowed 64 home runs compared to Arizona’s relievers, who have allowed only 48 home runs.

Somehow, the Rockies have remained in the hunt. Colorado doesn’t rank in the Top 10 in pitching or bullpen, but they do rank ninth in hitting. In MLB, offense isn’t nearly as important as defense, which is why Colorado should finish behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the division.

Los Angeles and Arizona battle this weekend before a late month 3-games series. Both head-to-head series in September should determine the NL West Division winner.

Arizona Next Series vs Los Angeles Dodgers (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)

Colorado Next Series vs San Diego Padres (Friday, August 31 through Sunday, September 2)