The Daily Sweat: Astros, Mariners continue pivotal series with AL wild-card race coming down to the wire

Both MLB wild-card races are coming down to the wire, and the final playoff spot in the American League could come down to this week’s series between the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

The Astros, Mariners and Texas Rangers have been in a back-and-forth battle for the AL West crown. The Rangers have opened up a 2.5-game lead in the division with only six days remaining in the regular season, leaving the Astros and Mariners to duke it out for a wild-card berth.

The Tampa Bay Rays have already clinched a playoff spot and are nine games up for the top wild-card spot, while the Toronto Blue Jays are currently a game and a half up in the standings for the second wild card. Entering Tuesday night’s action, the Astros are 86-71, 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners (84-72) in the standings.

The Astros and Mariners began a critical three-game set Monday night in Seattle, and the Astros won 5-1 behind a stellar eight-inning outing from Justin Verlander. Can the Mariners, who have now lost four straight, bounce back Tuesday night?

With George Kirby on the mound against Houston’s Cristian Javier, the Mariners are -140 home favorites at BetMGM. The Astros are +115 with the total listed at 7.5.

Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, left, and second baseman Jose Altuve celebrate after a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Seattle. The Astros won 5-1. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Seattle needs a good outing from Kirby, who has a 3.58 ERA on the year. However, he has allowed at least three earned runs in his last six starts. In his only start vs. the Astros this season, Kirby allowed only one run in 6.2 innings. Javier was a key part of the Astros’ World Series run last season, but he’s had an up-and-down 2023 campaign with a 4.64 ERA.

And while the wild card is the far more likely scenario for these teams, the AL West race isn’t totally decided. The Rangers, winners of six straight, are -175 road favorites over the Angels (+145) on Tuesday. With a four-game series in Seattle later this week to close out the regular season, the Rangers need to keep winning.

The same can be said for the Blue Jays, who have won seven of their last nine and are -160 favorites at home over the New York Yankees (+135). The Blue Jays took two of three on the road from the Rays over the weekend and will close out the regular season with six home games — three against the Yankees and three more against the Rays.

What else is going on in MLB?

We can’t forget about the NL wild-card race.

While the magic number for the Philadelphia Phillies is down to just one, there are four other teams within 2.5 games of each other battling it out for the final two wild-card spots.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs are tied at 82-74 and would take the final two playoff spots if the season ended today. The Miami Marlins are just a game back while the Cincinnati Reds are hanging on at 2.5 back.

The Phillies (-165) can clinch a postseason berth with a home win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (+140) Tuesday night. Elsewhere, the D-Backs are -145 favorites on the road over the Chicago White Sox (+120), and the Cubs are +115 underdogs on the road against the Atlanta Braves (-140), the team with the best record in baseball at 100-56.

The Marlins are -130 favorites on the road against the New York Mets (+105), while the Reds (-110) are in Cleveland to face the Guardians (-110).

Additionally, the Baltimore Orioles are inching closer to closing out the AL East title. The Orioles, who haven’t reached the postseason since 2016 or won the division since 2014, are 2.5 games up on the Rays with six to play. On Tuesday night, the O’s are -250 favorites at home over the Washington Nationals (+200).

Chicago Cubs' Patrick Wisdom (16) waves to the crowd while rounding the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Chicago. Chicago won 4-3. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

WNBA semifinals continue

The WNBA playoffs continue Tuesday night with both semifinal series on the schedule.

In the East, the Connecticut Sun have a 1-0 series lead over the New York Liberty. After dropping Game 1 at home, the Liberty are favored by 9.5 points for Game 2 at BetMGM.

And in the West, the Las Vegas Aces are looking to take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Dallas Wings. The Aces are 10.5-point favorites at home.

What’s the best bet?

I’m going to take over 7.5 runs in the Phillies vs. Pirates game.

The Phillies can clinch a postseason berth and have Aaron Nola on the mound. Nola has been a stalwart in the Phillies’ rotation for years, but he’s had an inconsistent season and has struggled to go deep in games.

The Phillies have won six of seven and have a very deep lineup, but the young Pirates have been playing well to close out the season. Pittsburgh took two of three from both the Cubs and Reds last week. This feels like a higher-scoring game to me.