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Playoff Push

We're getting to the point in the baseball season where if this were a horse race, they'd be hitting the final turn with the jockey's applying the whip and the announcer excitedly shouting, "and down the stretch they come!"

Six weeks remain in the season, and we have 16 of the 30 teams with winning records fighting for 10 playoff spots.

It's debatable whether or not the playoff format that added two more teams in a do-or-die Wild Card game is the way to go moving forward, but there is no denying that the mere addition of two teams has made this stretch run one of the more exciting regular seasons in some time, maybe ever.

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Almost every region is covered with a contending team and we've seen the low-budget teams that struggled initially with the big free agent craze of the late eighties and nineties finally cycle around to understand that building the best farm system possible is the only possible way to contend.

Teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates can thank the Tampa Bay Rays for laying down the blue print on how to contend in today's modern market. While not being able to contend for the big priced free agents, they can beat them to the punch by being better evaluators at scouting talent.

Even if Oakland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Arizona don't make the playoffs, it'll still be fun watching them try to down the stretch with those low budget rosters. If we add Tampa Bay and Washington to the list, we've just named six of the 12 lowest MLB salaries of 2012. The fact that they all have a chance heading into September while three of the top four payrolls in baseball -- Philadelphia, Boston and maybe Anaheim -- don't is quite a feat and a positive sign for baseball.

Go ahead Bud Selig, give yourself another pat on the back.

Giant Trouble

If we're going to give Selig credit for one area of the game, we have to give him credit for another -- his stance on performance enhancing drugs. Sure, he's against PED's, just like he was in the McGwire-Sosa years when he was patting himself on the back as if he saved the game after losing the World Series to a strike. But really, his stance has always been more about not wanting to know about the truth.

When Melky Cabrera got suspended last week for 50 games, essentially ending his season, it was interesting to hear Balco founder Victor Conte suggest that half the players in the game today are still using some kind of PED. Is it possible that the players' masking agents have become more advanced against what MLB is testing for?

Statistics alone have shown that the hitters are having a much tougher time of it than the previous two decades, which suggests that Conte's assertion may be off a bit. We should have known Cabrera just didn't become great overnight. Most of us felt we trusted the MLB testing, so why second guess a hitter whose batting average was .62 points than his career numbers or a slugging percentage that was .102 higher than his previous seven years.

The real loser in the entire ordeal is not Cabrera's 2013 free agent contract, nor is it baseball's image, but rather the San Francisco Giants. The Giants fell out of first place Sunday and without their regular No. 3 hitter in the lineup, their chances of making the playoffs are looking slim.

The 2010 Giants didn't exactly have a lot of pop in the lineup, either, but they could at least rely on solid starting pitching and an excellent bullpen. We haven't seen any hope that Tim Lincecum will contribute down the stretch and Ryan Vogelsong has gone into a complete meltdown over his last two starts.

Vogelsong was leading the league with a 2.27 ERA on Aug. 8. In his two starts since it's risen to 2.85 by allowing 11 runs combined, each of which he never made it past the third inning. And of course, both were Giants losses.

Because of the recent developments, the LVH SuperBook in Las Vegas has dropped the Giants odds to 12/1 in the last week.

More Ice Cold Pitchers

Chris Volstad: The Cubs have lost 12 of his 13 starts this season. Best of all for run-line players, the Cubs have lost 10 of those 12 games by two runs or more. Bettors can take their next crack at him on Sunday against the Rockies.

Zack Greinke: We can pick on Jered Weaver losing his past two starts or C.J. Wilson blowing an 8-0 lead Saturday, but Greinke has been worse. The Angels have lost four of his five starts since being traded for and hasn't really given his team a chance to win in any game. He's allowed 20 runs over his past four starts showing that he's not comfortable. He's been labeled as a pitcher who only pitches well in comfortable surroundings -- home games, but he apparently doesn't feel at home in Anaheim, either. Good luck Friday in Detroit.

Red Hot Pitchers

Chad Billingsley: The Dodgers seem to be at their best when Billingsley has it going strong and it's no coincidence that both are happening at the same time right now. He's won his last six starts with an ERA of 1.50 over that span. He'll face Mark Buehrle and the Marlins at Dodger Stadium this Saturday.

Johnny Cueto: He's definitely a candidate to win the Cy Young this year and would be a lock to get it if he played in day games only. He's 11-0 (1.61 ERA) in the day and 5-6 (3.36 ERA) at night this season. Overall he's won seven of his past eight starts. He'll be at Philadelphia on Thursday evening against Cole Hamels in the pitching matchup of the week.

Jeremy Guthrie: Once one of the most reliable bet-against pitchers in baseball, he has flourished over his past three starts in dominating fashion allowing only two runs over 22 1/3-innings, all Royals wins. He even took a no-hitter into the eighth inning Sunday against the White Sox. Before his recent streak, his teams had lost 13 of his 14 previous starts. He'll face Josh Beckett Saturday at Fenway.

Kyle Kendrick: If you're looking for some value this Friday night, take a look at Kendrick against Edwin Jackson and the Nationals. He has dominated his past two starts allowing no runs and has shown a tremendous amount of control.

Stay Away Joe?

Yes, the 35th anniversary of Elvis passing away just went by, and while 'Stay Away Joe' wasn't one of my favorite movies the King did, there was plenty of festivities to celebrate in Memphis and Las Vegas. But this movie title is reserved for the Reds reigning MVP first baseman, Joey Votto.

Since Votto went on the disabled list in mid-July with a knee injury, the Reds have been TCB -- an Elvis popularized saying "taking care of business' -- going 24-10 while taking control of the NL Central. Before Votto went out, he was leading the NL in six offensive categories. He's expected back later this month, but no time table has been set.

The Reds are currently 7/1 to win the World Series at the LVH.

  
HEADLINES
Braves, Grilli agree to 2-year deal
Peavy and Giants finalize 2-year contract
MLB average salary exceeds $3.8 million
Walden, Cardinals agree to $6.6M deal
Marlins claim righty Claiborne off waivers
Hughes, Twins agree to $58M contract
Pirates win rights to negotiate with SS
IRS to auction Strawberry's compensation
3B McGehee eager to play for Giants
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