MLB wild cards take action

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At this time of year, with the football season looming, it’s usually a good time to check in on the baseball divisional races.

From this point on, many bettors will wager only on teams that still have a shot at the playoffs, and avoid teams that are likely to start calling up minor leaguers and preparing for the future. In addition to limiting plays to teams that are giving 100 percent, handicappers are likely to cut back on time they devote to baseball in order to focus on football.

The divisional playoff races are almost non-existent as three of the division winners are all but foregone conclusions – Cardinals in the NL Central, the surging Braves in the NL East, and the Yankees in the AL East – with the Dodgers holding a comfortable 5 1/2-game lead over the Giants through Tuesday night’s action in the NL West. The Twins were looking comfortable in the AL Central until the surprising Indians cut their lead to 3 1/2 games earlier this week. The only real race going into Wednesday was in the AL West, with the A’s only a half-game ahead of the Rangers and the Angels only two games out.

At least the wild-card races are keeping some teams’ playoff hopes alive, as the Red Sox were in a dead heat with the Rangers in the AL. The Angels and Indians are also in that mix, with the White Sox within striking distance. In the NL, the Giants lead the Padres by one game and the Cubs by 1 1/2 games.

It’s the teams battling for the wild card – with the exception of the Cubs – that have attracted the most action lately in the World Series future books around Las Vegas. Value has been long gone on the favorites, such as the Yankees (9-5 at most books, and as low as 6-5 at the Stardust). The Red Sox opened the season as one of the top contenders, and their odds are still low, at around 4-1 at most books. The Cardinals, who opened the season at 12-1, have been bet down to 3-1 since before the All-Star break. The Cubs, who perennially get bet by their die-hard fans no matter how good or bad they are, opened the season in the 6-1 range at most books and are down to 7-2 despite being way behind the Cardinals in the standings.

But sharp bettors have been searching around town for juicy odds on some of the surprise contenders who could offer value if they sneak into the playoffs. The best example right now is the Indians, who were available at several sports books the past few weeks in the 100-1 range (good luck finding those odds now). Bettors were also finding value on the Braves, who many people thought were going to give up their stranglehold on the NL East but have proven many people wrong, at 10-1 or better. The Rangers and The Twins were overlooked in many sports books at 15-1, but not any longer.

About the only value currently out there is the Marlins at 20-1 or 30-1, if you think they’ll make a run like they did last year. They were right at .500 through Tuesday night, but only 5 1/2 games out in the wild-card race. Of course, at 20-1, you could argue that those are closer to their odds to make the playoffs than winning the World Series.

A horseplayer’s World Series

The free Del Mar Pick 5 Contests at the Coast Casinos (the Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast) continue every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday through the end of the meet.

In addition to playing for the $1,000 first-place prize each day and the progressive jackpot for going 5 for 5 on the first five races on the card, contestants can also earn berths to the $1 Million Horseplayer World Series to be held Jan. 27-29 at the Orleans.

The person who accumulates the most points in all contests from July 21 through Sept. 8 earns a berth, plus each winner of three shorter time frames also earns a berth. The final session starts Friday and runs through the end of the meet.

In addition, the highest point-earner on any single day during each session will also earn a berth, which really helps the chances of those going for a home run instead of trying to string a lot of singles together.

Sports book notes

Jamie Shea, the race and poker online sports director at the Hard Rock, has been making a name for herself as one of the top females in the industry. With that comes job offers, and she’s moving to London to work for a British gaming company. Shea says that at age 32 and single, she is in the perfect position to explore new opportunities and travel the world. Her final day is next Thursday.

* In the next major boxing match in town, Bernard Hopkins is a consensus -240 favorite (risk $2.40 to win $1) to beat Oscar De La Hoya in their middleweight unification bout on Sept. 18 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

* The MGM Grand is hosting an Ultimate Fighting Championship card this Saturday night. Mandalay Bay has Randy Couture a -140 favorite over Vitor Belfort in a featured five-round light heavyweight bout.

* Mandalay Bay has Tony Stewart as the 4-1 favorite in the GFS Marketplace 400 on the NASCAR circuit on Sunday at the Michigan International Speedway. Jeff Gordon is the 9-2 second choice, with Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman at 5-1 and Jimmie Johnson at 7-1. Kasey Kahne, who Station Casinos auto racing guru Micah Roberts tabbed as his selection in the GamingToday newspaper, is 15-1.

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A well-oiled and greasy guide to Qq Poker EURO 2008

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While the smell of corporate jollies is far less obvious than at the World Cup, that still has not stopped ten brands from trying their best to muscle in on the Beautiful Game again.


A credit card company, villains of the 2006 World Cup, when they managed to persuade FIFA to deny bearers of any rival cards from using them to buy Qq Poker tickets, are one of the terrible ten at EURO 2008, as are an American fast food giant, purveyors of the sort of diet that will never make you a footballer.


The most visible around town have been a German tire manufacturer, decking out their female staff in black and gold livery from dawn to susk, while their all-black coaches with tinted windows cruise sinisterly around Vienna.


Castrol have been given an inordinate amount of publicity in FIFA literature around EURO 2008, allegedly because of their revolutionary ‘Index’, which is the latest electronically-generated performance analyst tool.


Personally, I can’t see much of interest in the CastrolIndex which is not already available in ProZone or similar existing programs.


Like an cyborg Wing Commander Reep (the progenitor of the English long-ball fixation), the Index furnishes the fan with such indispensable minutiae such as:


The Netherlands and Russia’s attacks ran at an exactly average speed of 28.72kmh in their quarter-final….Portugal hit the woodwork five times in the tournament, more than any other team, and were also first for being offside….Five nations have had more shots on goal than semi-finalists Turkey….Luca Toni has shot wide more times (12) than anyone else in EURO 2008


What do they know? Their stats rate the best goalkeeper in numbers of saves as Petr Cech, the same chap whose blunders let the Turks overturn a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 and eliminate his country.


Likewise, Castrol’s best midfielder is Spain’s Xavi, but the criteria are only completed passes. Why then did Aragones sub him for Cesc Fabregas yesterday? Because there is more to being a midfielder than horizontal passing.


To confuse matters further, another page is called ‘Top Midfielders’, where the prize goes to….Tranquillo Barnetta of Switzerland, who is streets ahead of his nearest challengers Michael Ballack and Wesley Sneijder, according to Castrol.


The closer to goal the higher a player scores with a pass, shot or tackle, while a long pass is worth more than a short one (Reep’s ghost lives).


No computer analysis seems that satisfying at the end of the day, as it views data cumulatively and not empirically. Or, in other words, it has no feel for the game, and leads to the drawing of erroneous conclusions.


For instance, Russia beat Holland 3-1 because they made 124 fewer completed passes, which could be interpreted as direct football beats possession football. But the stats also show the four semi-finalists rank in the top seven nations at the finals for keeping the ball – Spain (1st), Turkey (4th), Germany (5th) and Russia (7th).


The only smiles I drew wading through the figures were from learning that the tournament’s biggest fouler has been none other than Ballack and the most offside player was Poland’s Euzebiusz Smolarek, or ‘Offski’ to his mates.


Incidentally, who would you think Castrol deems the top striker so far? – David Villa with his four goals, Lukas Podolski with his three, or maybe Russian bear Andrey Arshavin? None of the above. Arshavin is a poor eighth in the Index, far behind shooting star Ivica Olic of Croatia. Podolski came 35th while Villa was 44th. Right….

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