Starting Nine (Week of Sept. 4)

With roughly three weeks to go in the regular season, there are still several playoff spots yet to be decided. The AL Wildcard picture will focus on the AL West as three teams battle for the top spot while the NL Wildcard race features five teams neck-and-neck. Here is this week’s Starting Nine:

#9. Texas Rangers 76-61 (+750/+1500) - The Rangers are gasping toward the finish line. They lead the Blue Jays by just a ½ game for the final wildcard spot and, if this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they have a subpar bullpen to blame. Last Week’s Rank: 8th

#8. Philadelphia Phillies 76-61 (+650/+1400) - The Phillies may be better equipped to navigate this year’s NL playoffs with a clear #1 closer and a deeper pitching staff. Last Week’s Rank: 9th

#7. Houston Astros 78-61 (+330/+700) - The Astros may yet win the AL West and earn a first-round bye. Either way, the World Series Champs are primed to defend their title. Last Week’s Rank: 6th

#6. Milwaukee Brewers 73-57 (+850/+1900) - The Brewers are pulling away from the pack in the NL Central. If their offense can produce, this will be a tough team to beat in the playoffs.Last Week’s Rank: 6th

#5. Seattle Mariners 77-60 (+600/+1300) - The Mariners hold a percentage points lead over the Astros in the AL West. They will be dangerous in the playoffs if JRod continues to play like the MVP he was projected to be this season. Last Week’s Rank: 5th

#4. Tampa Bay Rays 83-55 (+400/+850) - It is looking more and more like the Rays will be the #1 Wildcard team this year. They will be a tough out on Wildcard Weekend. Last Week’s Rank: 4th

#3. Los Angeles Dodgers 84-52 (+200/+400) - The Dodgers were humbled by the Braves over the weekend but more concerning are the domestic assault charges levied against starting pitcher Julio Urias. A patchwork Dodgers staff could get thinner. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

#2. Baltimore Orioles 86-51 (+320/+800) - The O’s put some more distance between themselves and the Rays this week. They also claimed last year’s all-star closer Jorge Lopez off waivers from Miami as insurance in case Bautista is unable to return. Last Week’s Rank: 3rd

#1. Atlanta Braves 90-46 (+155/+320) - The Braves sent a clear message to the Dodgers over the weekend after taking three of four in LA: the National League playoffs go through Atlanta. Last Week’s Rank: 1st

AL/NL MVP Candidates:

Ohtani can already begin writing his acceptance speech in the AL while Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuna Jr. will battle it out down the stretch for the NL award.

Top-three AL MVP Candidates

#1. Shohei Ohtani (-20,000) - Ohtani has sewn this award up. The only intrigue left for him is where he will call home next season. Last Week’s Rank: 1st

#2. Corey Seager (+7500) - Seager belted two home runs on Monday and now qualifies for the AL Batting title. In any other year, he’d have a great shot at MVP. Last Week’s Rank: 3rd

#3. Kyle Tucker (+6,500) - Tucker has certainly emerged as an elite player on the Astros and is having the best year in one of baseball’s best lineups. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

Top-three NL MVP Candidates

#1. Ronald Acuna Jr. (-110) - If you jumped in last week on Acuna, you’d have likely got in at the perfect time. Acuna’s dominant weekend in LA put distance between him and Betts for the NL MVP. He still has an outside shot at an unthinkable 40/70 HR/SB season. Last Week’s Rank: 1st

#2. Mookie Betts (+140) - Betts drops back in odds this week after Acuna’s heroics. He still can make noise down the stretch and make his case for the award although Acuna’s homer/stolen base combo will be tough to overcome. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

#3. Freddie Freeman (+3500) - Ho-hum, another excellent season from one of baseball’s best players. He will likely end up right in this spot with Acuna and Betts compiling career-year type numbers. Last Week’s Rank: 3rd

Top-three AL Cy Young Candidates

#1. Gerrit Cole (-245) - Cole is having a very good season. However, he may win this award more for what the other pitchers didn’t do than for what he did do. Last Week’s Rank: 1st

#2. Luis Castillo (+340) - Castillo’s candidacy took a hit with a mediocre performance against the Mets in his last outing. Solid top-10 numbers across the board but not an eye-popping season. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

#3. Kevin Gausman (+1200) - In a poor field, Gausman is having a good season but far from great. He’s ranked just 11th in ERA and 23rd in WHIP. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

Top-three NL Cy Young Candidates

#1. Blake Snell (-190) - Snell rose back to the top of the rankings as he continues to be the most consistent starting pitcher in the National League. With likely four starts left, if he maintains this pace, he should earn his second Cy Young Award. Last Week’s Rank: 3rd

#2. Justin Steele (+200) - Steele jumps back into the running with an outstanding start against the Giants yesterday. Steele has nearly flown under the radar this season but has pieced together a career year for the high-flying Cubs. Last Week’s Rank: Unranked

#3. Spencer Strider (+450) - Strider stays in the top three thanks to gaudy strikeout numbers and a solid win total. He could win 20 games this season but his 20th-ranked ERA keeps him below the top two here. Last Week’s Rank: 2nd

*All odds courtesy of

By Mark Ruelle

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Mark Ruelle

Mark has been a sports fanatic since childhood. He is also an avid follower of sports analytics and has used it in his own betting analysis for over two decades. Now we have Mark on our team here at Stat Salt. He holds degrees in marketing, broadcasting, and English and uses this vast array of assets to dissect and analyze game matchups. Mark will provide you with a wide variety of statistics to consider and a strong opinion in each matchup that he covers. Please follow him daily for an up-to-the-minute analysis of all the important games.