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August/September record key to MLB playoff chances

By Steve Makinen  () 

I am fascinated with the dynamic of MLB’s abbreviated 60-game schedule. I believe the length, timing, opponent breakdown, lack of fans and several other factors present massive opportunities for bettors. In recent issues of “Point Spread Weekly,” I have detailed the teams with the biggest advantages or disadvantages because of the regional schedules and broken down which pitcher-vs.-opponent matchups appear crucial. This week I’ll look at how all 30 teams have fared in late-season games in recent years.
 
Why will late-season performance be important in 2020? First, the bulk of the schedule will be played in August and September. So what normally represents about one-third of the typical season will compose the entire 2020 campaign. This is important because of weather and pressure. With every 2020 game equaling the importance of 2.7 games in a typical year, pennant races will intensify greatly. The level of baseball teams play in this year’s pennant chase will make or break their seasons. For the first time, what happened from the opening of the season through most of July has no bearing on the postseason outlook.
 
The angles I looked at on teams’ results in August and September were recent trends, consistency and home-road dichotomy. Remember, though we are just a few games into the schedule, the calendar turns to August on Saturday. Here are some of the highlights:
— Two teams have won 60%+  of their August/September games over the last five seasons, the Cubs (62%) and the Indians (60.4%). The Red Sox have been the league’s best team in terms of betting units won in that span at + 28.54.
— On the opposite end, three teams have failed to win even 40% of their August/September games since 2015: the Tigers (37%), Reds (39.6%) and Orioles (39.9%). However, the team that has failed bettors the most has been the Giants, losing 48.49 units.
— An amazingly high number of teams won 60%+  of their August/September games in 2019, led by Houston at 71.7% (38-15). MLB’s worst 2019 team in this regard was Detroit, which went 15-41 for 26.8%.
— Teams trending best over a multiyear period in August/September have been Houston, Oakland and Tampa Bay, all better than 65% over the last two years. Those teams are all in the AL. In the National League, the top three there are the next in line with Los Angeles, St. Louis and Milwaukee each better than 60%.
— Some teams that have stood out because of their late-season futility on the road include Arizona, which has lost 11 units while scoring fewer than 4.0 runs per game over the last four late seasons; Colorado, which has won just 36.7% of its August/September road games since 2015 as compared with 54.1% at home; and Miami, which has won just 31.2% of its late-season games while losing 33.41 units for bettors. Philadelphia owns the second-worst road winning percentage over the last five years in these games, and surprisingly, the Dodgers, who’ve won 52.8% of their road games, have lost in excess of 30 units for bettors.
— Other teams that have been far better at home in the late season of recent years include Texas (21 units better in the last five years), the Cubs (67.3%, + 21.3 units since ’15) and Oakland, which boasts an amazing 40-15 home record in August/September over the last two seasons.
— Some teams have played their best late-season baseball on the road. These include St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston, Boston and the Mets. Boston owns the best winning percentage and most betting units won over the last five seasons in August/September. The Mets have produced 25.97 units of profit on the road in that span while losing 17.15 units at home, the largest spread in the MLB.
— Detroit has essentially become an auto-fade team for bettors at home in August/September. Since 2015, the Tigers have won just 37.4% of these contests, losing by 1.6 runs per game and resulting in -38.55 betting units.
— Perhaps a sign of improving their potential to contend in 2020, the White Sox are the only team in MLB to have a losing record over the last five years in August/September yet still produce profits for their backers (+ 11.15 units). This is the trait of a team that has shown feistiness as an underdog and could be ready to take a step forward. 
— Houston (58.1%, -17.83 units), the Dodgers (58.1%, -31.8 units), the Yankees (56.8%, -6.95 units) and Washington (56.3%, -6.24 units) have won more August/September games than they’ve lost over the last five seasons, yet bettors have still lost money. These are teams that have commanded extra respect from bookmakers and have been overpriced in large part due to their top-line starting pitching.
 
Here is a look at the recent late-season performance by each team.
 
AL EAST
 
BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Last five years: 111-167 (39.9%) -40.51 units, RF/RA: 4.4/5.3
Recent trend — last three years overall: 57-109 (34.3%) -36.06 units, RF/RA: 4.4/5.7
Better at home or on road? Both poor
Analysis: To little surprise, the Orioles have been nothing shy of awful in the late stages of the last three seasons. They have won just over 34% of their August/September games and are -36.06 units for bettors. That amounts to a negative 21.7% ROI. Of course, fading Baltimore in these times has been a sound strategy. However, the O’s have been much better against divisional and NL East foes than the rest of the league and could benefit from the 2020 schedule. Tread cautiously if you choose to back Baltimore, despite the unexpectedly strong start at Boston last weekend.
                                   
BOSTON RED SOX
Last five years: 160-111 (59.0%) + 28.54 units, RF/RA: 5.4/4.4
Recent trend — last five years on road: 84-56 (60.0%) + 32.49 units, RF/RA: 5.1/4.1
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: Boston’s 2019 August/September fade was certainly a break from the norm. In the previous four years, the franchise had earned a reputation for thriving when it mattered most. The Red Sox still managed to maintain a winning late-season record on the road in 2019, bringing their five-year road record in such games to 84-56, a 60% winning percentage. They’ve outscored opponents by a full run per game in those contests. Typically, bettors will get a far more favorable price with Boston away from home. Take advantage.
 
NEW YORK YANKEES
Last five years: 158-120 (56.8%) -6.95 units, RF/RA: 5.1/4.3
Recent trend — last year at home: 18-6 (75.0%) + 7.35 units, RF/RA: 5.8/4.3
Better at home or on road? Road slightly
Analysis: The Yankees are arguably the most public team in baseball, as most fans either love or hate them. Fortunately for bookmakers, this hasn’t caused a lot of fluctuation to the bottom line over the last five years of late-season games. While successful overall, New York has actually presented a loss of -6.95 units for backers. But last year the Bronx Bombers enjoyed a tremendous late-season home surge, going 18-6, and they will carry that momentum into this weekend’s first series against the Red Sox. With Boston having achieved great success in late-season games on the road, something will have to give.
 
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Last five years: 144-125 (53.5%) + 2.47 units, RF/RA: 4.5/4.2
Recent trend — last two years: 70-37 (65.4%) + 19.17 units, RF/RA: 4.8/3.9
Better at home or on road? Both decent
Analysis: Tampa Bay is one of the trendy World Series picks, despite the disadvantage of the 2020 divisional schedule, which I detailed a couple of weeks ago. But any disadvantage could be offset by the Rays’ late-season success in the last two years. Their August/September record of 70-37 (65.4%) trails just Houston and Oakland in that stretch, and they have to deal with neither this year. With this team’s pitching, young talent and knack for playing well in the late season, the 2020 schedule could be just what it needs to take the next playoff step.
 
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Last five years: 142-130 (52.2%) + 8.97 units, RF/RA: 4.7/4.6
Recent trend — last five years at home: 79-57 (58.1%) + 15.35 units, RF/RA: 4.8/4.4
Better at home or on road? Home
Analysis: Lost in the analysis of Toronto’s move to Buffalo, N.Y., for its home games in 2020 is that the Blue Jays have been widely successful at home in late seasons of recent years. They have won about 12% more August/September games at home in that span when compared with the road. Playing 30 games on the road and 30 in a neutral environment is a challenge the Blue Jays will have to overcome to contend for a playoff spot.
 
AL CENTRAL
 
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Last five years: 129-153 (45.7%) + 11.15 units, RF/RA: 4.5/4.8
Recent trend — last three years: 77-93 (45.3%) + 18.15 units, RF/RA: 4.4/5.0
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: Recognizing that the White Sox haven’t finished over .500 since 2012, the fact that they haven’t had a winning August/September record in the last five seasons doesn’t ring nearly as loudly as the profit they have produced for bettors in that span (10.7% ROI in the last three years). With four straight late-season profit-producing campaigns under their belt, the White Sox, a trendy pick in 2020, will look to finish the job this year by turning more of those losses into wins. That could make the difference in grabbing one of the eight AL playoff spots.
 
CLEVELAND INDIANS
Last five years: 169-111 (60.4%) + 7.65 units, RF/RA: 4.9/3.7
Recent trend — last two years: 63-48 (56.8%) -17.05 units, RF/RA: 4.9/3.8
Better at home or on road? Home
Analysis: Many can recall the Indians’ fantastic finish of 2017, when they were 44-13 in their final 57 games, allowing a minuscule 2.7 runs per game. The last two late seasons have produced winning records, but bettors have suffered from high pricing, losing 17.05 units despite the Indians going 15 games over .500. That wouldn’t stop me from backing them this year, particularly at home, as expectations aren’t as high for 2020 as they have been recently. Cleveland has won 65.7% of its late-season games as host since 2015.
 
DETROIT TIGERS
Last five years: 102-174 (37.0%) -45.41 units, RF/RA: 4.0/5.5
Recent trend — last five years at home: 55-92 (37.4%) -38.55 units, RF/RA: 4.0/5.6
Better at home or on road? Road
Analysis: The Tigers have had virtually no home-field advantage in the late season of recent campaigns, winning just 37.4% of their August/September games at Comerica Park since 2015 as compared with 36.4% on the road. Neither situation is favorable for bettors to back Detroit, but when you consider that bookmakers do assign a legitimate home-field edge to the Tigers, they have become a nearly automatic fade. Coming off an impressive series win at Cincinnati on opening weekend, could we see a change in 2020?
 
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Last five years: 102-174 (37.0%) -45.41 units, RF/RA: 4.0/5.5
Recent trend — last three years on road: 31-55 (36.0%) -12.93 units, RF/RA: 4.4/5.4
Better at home or on road? Home slightly
Analysis: The Royals won the World Series in 2015. The four years since have produced two seasons right about .500 followed by two seasons of fewer than 60 victories. The Royals hope last year’s August/September slide was rock bottom, as they went just 19-33 in their last 52 games, including 8-15 at home. Still, the Royals have typically been a little better late in the season at home than on the road.
 
MINNESOTA TWINS
Last five years: 144-137 (51.2%) + 9.5 units, RF/RA: 5.1/5.0
Recent trend — last year on road: 20-6 (76.9%) + 14.95 units, RF/RA: 6.3/4.0
Better at home or on road? Road
Analysis: The Twins lit up the scoreboards of AL opponents down the stretch in 2019, winning 20 of their final 26 August/September games on the road while scoring 6.3 runs per game. They also set the record for most home runs in a season. Overall, Minnesota has been a slightly better late-season team at home in winning percentage but has been far more profitable for bettors on the road, amassing a record of 73-75 (49.3%) for + 14.45 units of profit since 2015, almost all of which came a season ago.
 
AL WEST
 
HOUSTON ASTROS
Last five years: 157-113 (58.1%) -17.83 units, RF/RA: 5.0/4.0
Recent trend — last two years on road: 37-16 (69.8%) + 7.1 units, RF/RA: 5.1/3.2
Better at home or on road? Road slightly
Analysis: Most baseball bettors know the best teams get drastically overpriced in August/September. Obviously, the Astros have been one of MLB’s best teams in recent years, so their steady 60.9% winning percentage in the last four late seasons combined with -5.73 units for bettors is easily explained. Most of the best teams perform as well on the road as at home, with a much cheaper price tag attached. Houston entered the 2020 season on a 37-16 run in August/September road games while outscoring teams 5.1-3.2 and has actually produced profits.
 
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Last five years: 124-148 (45.6%) -16.3 units, RF/RA: 4.2/4.8
Recent trend — last year: 16-36 (30.8%) -15.65 units, RF/RA: 4.0/5.9
Better at home or on road? Home
Analysis: Last year’s ugly 16-36 finish wasn’t really typical of the Angels despite their underachieving ways of recent years. In other words, 2019 was the first year they really tanked down the stretch after being a consistent .500-level team in previous August/September games. A real sense of optimism surrounds this team, but to achieve success and a playoff berth, the Angels will have to fare much better than a year ago in these two months.
 
OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Last five years: 137-133 (50.7%) + 12.49 units, RF/RA: 4.9/4.6
Recent trend — last three years at home: 55-26 (67.9%) + 25.8 units, RF/RA: 5.7/4.0
Better at home or on road? Home
Analysis: The A’s have quietly been among the league’s best late-season home teams in recent years, going 55-26 (67.9%) for + 25.8 units in August/September over the last three seasons. This has played a big role in helping them win 97 games each of the last two years and gives great hope for another playoff spot in 2020. In fact, if Oakland were to maintain its 2018-19 pace of 40-15 at home this summer, that would result in almost 22 home wins, making the A’s virtual locks for the postseason. One interesting thing to consider is that despite playing in what is deemed a pitchers’ park. Oakland has scored 5.7 RPG at home over the last three years in August/September.
 
SEATTLE MARINERS
Last five years: 133-139 (48.9%) -10.26 units, RF/RA: 4.5/4.7
Recent trend — last three years at home: 27-44 (38.0%) -25 units, RF/RA: 3.6/4.8
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: At the end of July in 2018, Seattle was sitting at 63-44 while producing about 15 units of profit for bettors. After a 26-29 finish, the Mariners missed out on the postseason. They inexplicably lost 16 of 26 games at home down the stretch, which was just the continuation of what has become a disturbing trend regarding their late-season home performance. Over the last three seasons, Seattle is just 27-44 in August/September at home, resulting in -25 betting units and a ROI of -35.2%. That is easily the worst three-year return of any trend I’ve uncovered so far. Don’t count on it changing in 2020, as this franchise appears mired in rebuild mode.
 
TEXAS RANGERS
Last five years: 140-130 (51.9%) + 15.29 units, RF/RA: 4.7/5.0
Recent trend — last two years on road: 18-35 (34.0%) -10.48 units, RF/RA: 3.2/4.8
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: The Rangers have an 18-35 road record in August/September games over the last two seasons. A team has to be unbelievably good at home to overcome that and contend in a pennant race, particularly in 2020, when about 90% of the games will be played in those months. While the Rangers boast an overall + 15.29 units of profit for bettors in late-season games over the last five years and a home mark of 82-58 for + 18.5 units in that span, they are still looking for their first playoff appearance since 2016.
 
NL EAST
 
ATLANTA BRAVES
Last five years: 136-141 (49.1%) -1.68 units, RF/RA: 4.5/4.7
Recent trend — last two years overall: 66-45 (59.5%) + 11.05 units, RF/RA: 4.7/3.9
Better at home or on road? Both good
Analysis: A major contributing factor to Atlanta’s back-to-back division titles has been its late-season success, winning 33 games in August/September each of the last two years. The Braves have produced over 11 units of betting profit for backers in that span, just shy of 10% ROI. By allowing fewer than four runs per game, they are getting good late-season pitching. In 2019 Atlanta was 20-8 at home in August/September as compared with 13-12 on the road, while in 2018 it was the opposite at 18-10 on the road and 15-15 at home.
                                   
MIAMI MARLINS
Last five years: 110-164 (40.1%) -27.91 units, RF/RA: 4.1/5.0
Recent trend — last three years on road: 22-67 (24.7%) -32.33 units, RF/RA: 3.9/6.1
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: Listen carefully: Despite the franchise’s overall futility and assuming everything passes with their COVID-19 issues, the Marlins are a team worthy of your betting dollar, although only when playing at home. They have actually been a profitable wager over the last five seasons in August/September at home, going 66-67 for + 5.5 units. But fade them on the road. Their 44-91 away record for -33.41 units of loss in that span makes for one of the largest home/road spreads in MLB.
 
NEW YORK METS
Last five years: 157-125 (55.7%) + 8.82 units, RF/RA: 5.0/4.3
Recent trend — last five years on road: 81-61 (57.0%) + 25.97 units, RF/RA: 5.6/4.7
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: The single largest spread for late-season success at home and on the road has belonged to the Mets, with the overwhelming majority of that success on the road. In fact, the Mets’ bats have virtually exploded away from home in August/September the last five seasons. They have scored 5.6 runs per game while racking up a record of 81-61 (57%) for + 25.97 units of profit. Compare that with the home marks of 4.2 RPG, 76-64 (54.3%) and -17.15 units, and there is no other choice than to back the Mets on the road and fade them at home.
 
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Last five years: 115-160 (41.8%) -22.65 units, RF/RA: 4.3/5.2
Recent trend — last two years on road: 18-38 (32.1%) -20.53 units, RF/RA: 3.9/5.3
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: The Phillies have not enjoyed a winning August/September record in any of the last five seasons, accumulating a brutal mark of 115-160 (41.8%) for -22.65 units. To put that in perspective, a 41.8% winning percentage in 2020 would result in a 25-35 record, far from playoff caliber. If anything needs to change, it is the Phillies’ inability to win on the road late in the season, as they are just 18-38 away over the last two seasons, being outscored by 1.4 runs per game.
 
WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Last five years: 157-122 (56.3%) -8.24 units, RF/RA: 5.0/4.2
Recent trend — last year at home: 19-6 (76.0%) + 10.4 units, RF/RA: 6.8/4.7
Better at home or on road? Both decent
Analysis: The Nationals proved last year how much late-season success can mean in accomplishing playoff goals as they rode a 36-18 August/September record to their first World Series title. That surge was highlighted by a 19-6 home record, which produced 10.4 units of profit for bettors despite the overpricing typically associated with their star pitchers. Most impressive was the 6.8 runs per game they scored in those home contests. Considering the last five seasons, Washington has been good at home (60.1%) and on the road (51.9%) but has been in slight negative-unit land for bettors in both.
 
NL CENTRAL
 
CHICAGO CUBS
Last five years: 173-106 (62.0%) + 24.45 units, RF/RA: 5.0/4.0
Recent trend — last year on road: 11-16 (40.7%) -5.6 units, RF/RA: 4.3/5.3
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: The Cubs made the postseason in four straight years from 2015-18. The reason they didn’t in 2019 was their late-season fade, certainly atypical based on franchise trends. Chicago was just 26-28 for -7.9 units in August/September last season and wound up seven games back in the NL Central. In the four previous seasons, the Cubs had gone 147-78 (65.3%) in such games. And if they had won 65% of their 2019 late-season games, it would have meant nine more wins and another playoff trip. They were 15-12 in their last 27 games at Wrigley Field and now boast a 99-48 mark over the last five years of late-season action, good for + 21.3 units and a 14.4% ROI.
                                   
CINCINNATI REDS
Last five years: 111-169 (39.6%) -41.57 units, RF/RA: 4.2/4.9
Recent trend —last five years overall: 111-169 (39.6%) -41.57 units, RF/RA: 4.2/4.9
Better at home or on road? Both poor
Analysis: The last time the Reds were better than .500 was in 2013. Unsurprisingly, that was the last time they had a winning record in August/September. In fact, they have been one of the worst late-season teams in baseball since, going 111-169 (39.6%) for -41.57 units over the last five years. Records of 25-31 in ’16, ’17 and ’19 are the best they have to show in that span. The home/road dichotomy does little for the Reds’ chances, either, as they’ve won 42.6% of their games at home, 36.8% on the road.
                                   
MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Last five years: 142-128 (52.6%) + 19.57 units, RF/RA: 4.6/4.4
Recent trend — last three years at home: 49-28 (63.6%) + 11 units, RF/RA: 4.6/3.8
Better at home or on road? Both pretty good
Analysis: The Brewers are one of six teams that have produced profits for bettors in August/September games both at home and on the road over the last five seasons. In 2019 Milwaukee enjoyed an incredible late surge minus MVP Christian Yelich to reach the postseason. It culminated a solid three-year run that has produced a 94-65 (59.1%) late-season record. The Brewers have been best at home during that stretch, but they’ve been a solid wager regardless of where they’ve played. 
 
PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Last five years: 132-143 (48.0%) -14.2 units, RF/RA: 4.3/4.6
Recent trend — last five years at home: 65-72 (47.4%) -18.35 units, RF/RA: 4.1/4.5
Better at home or on road? Road
Analysis: The Pirates are one of the rare teams that have won a greater percentage of their August/September games on the road than at home. Over the last five seasons, their road record is 67-71 for 48.6%, while at home they’ve gone 65-72 for 47.4%. While this isn’t a major difference, it becomes one when you add betting lines, as Pittsburgh has proven profitable on the road but a major risk to back at home.
 
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Last five years: 161-115 (58.3%) + 18.55 units, RF/RA: 4.8/4.1
Recent trend — last three years on road: 50-36 (58.1%) + 14.3 units, RF/RA: 5.2/4.0
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: The defending NL Central champs got there by going 34-21 in August/September for the second straight season. The only difference about 2019 was that the Cardinals played their best baseball at home. Typically they’ve done that on the road, as evidenced by their 50-36 mark over the last three seasons. With a 5.2-4.0 average scoring margin in those road games, the Cardinals have demonstrated great offense as well as defense and pitching, a foolproof recipe for playing well down the stretch. Expect a continuance in 2020.
 
NL WEST
 
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Last five years: 136-138 (49.6%) -10.9 units, RF/RA: 4.6/4.7
Recent trend — last year at home: 21-11 (65.6%) + 9.05 units, RF/RA: 5.6/4.8
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: Arizona made a nice charge in 2019, going 31-22 in August/September, its best late-season mark in the last five years. That includes the 2017 wild-card campaign in which the Diamondbacks won 93 games. The 21-11 home mark a year ago magnified a recent trend showing significantly more offensive production at home as compared with the road in late-season games. In fact, over the last two years, Arizona has averaged 4.8 runs per game in late-season home games and just 3.7 on the road.
                                   
COLORADO ROCKIES
Last five years: 127-149 (46.0%) -6.46 units, RF/RA: 4.8/5.2
Recent trend — last year on road: 5-20 (20.0%) -10.5 units, RF/RA: 4.0/6.8
Better at home or on road? Road significantly
Analysis: The Rockies endured an ugly end to the 2019 season away from home, going 5-20 in their last 25 road games. They allowed an astronomical 6.8 runs per game in those contests. It continued a trend. In fact, the spread between the Rockies’ home and road success is as substantial as nearly any other team. Since 2015, in winning percentage, that margin is 17.4% (54.1 % to 36.7%). In terms of units, the margin is 23.56 units (+ 8.55 to -15.01).
                                   
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Last five years: 158-114 (58.1%) -31.8 units, RF/RA: 4.8/3.9
Recent trend — last five years on road: 76-68 (52.8%) -30.1 units, RF/RA: 4.9/4.3
Better at home or on road? Home significantly
Analysis: The best teams tend to get drastically overpriced in the latter parts of the campaign. The Dodgers certainly fit that description, and bookmakers have reaped the benefits — despite a 58.1% winning record in the last five August/Septembers, the Dodgers have actually lost their backers 31.8 units. Most of that, 30.1 units, has come on the road. That has amounted to a negative 20.9% ROI. If that trend holds, avoid backing the Dodgers in road games starting Saturday.
                                   
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Last five years: 114-159 (41.8%) -23.13 units, RF/RA: 4.0/4.8
Recent trend — last five years on road: 48-86 (35.8%) -16.98 units, RF/RA: 3.9/5.6
Better at home or on road? Home slightly
Analysis: Over the last five seasons, the Padres have gone 349-410, a winning percentage of 43.1%. But they’ve been slightly worse in August/September in that span, having gone 114-159 for a 41.8% winning rate. That doesn’t bode well for a strong outlook the rest of the way in 2020, especially since they’ve produced negative units in both home and road games, and their road record is better than only the Marlins and Phillies in that span. Making matters worse, their 3.9 runs per game on the road is less than they’ve scored at Petco Park.
                                   
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Last five years: 114-158 (41.9%) -48.49 units, RF/RA: 3.9/4.2
Recent trend — last four years at home: 46-64 (41.8%) -31.8 units, RF/RA: 3.8/4.0
Better at home or on road? Both brutal
Analysis: The team that has caused the most consternation for its backers over the last five years of late-season games has been San Francisco. The Giants have been an automatic fade, having cost over 48 units of loss in August/September contests since 2015. If you think last weekend’s highly profitable series against the Dodgers could signal a change coming, perhaps reconsider, as those games were in July.
                                   
 
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