ALDS best bets: Mariners-Astros and Guardians-Yankees

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

October 10, 2022 02:49 PM
USATSI_19177149

We go from best-of-three to best-of-five as the American League Division Series round gets going on Tuesday. Mariners vs. Astros will be the early game with a 3:37 p.m. ET start time and Guardians vs. Yankees will be in primetime with a 7:37 p.m. ET first pitch.

Seattle was one of three underdogs (all road teams) to advance from the newly-formed Wild Card Round and draw a familiar foe with a Houston team that had the best record in the AL. Cleveland was the lone home team to advance and gets a New York squad that started on an historic pace and then tailed off before finishing on a high note. Both Wild Card winners are sizable underdogs in their respective series.

No. 5 Seattle Mariners (+ 185) vs. No. 1 Houston Astros (-220)

The Mariners and Astros met 19 times during the final year of the imbalanced regular season schedule and Houston led the season series 12-7. Next year, teams will only play division rivals 12 times and will play every team in the league. That should be a positive development for the Mariners, who have not had a winning record against the Astros since going 10-9 in 2018.

One of the big benefits to being a top-two seed is the bye to the Division Series, which allows the Astros to send out a fully-rested Justin Verlander. The Mariners were fortunate to end their series against the Blue Jays in two games, so they’ll be able to send Logan Gilbert to the hill instead of possibly running out a Chris Flexen or Marco Gonzales. They’ll also now be able to send Luis Castillo back out on regular rest for Game 2.

Still, the Mariners are at a clear disadvantage for Game 1 against the presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner in Verlander, who finished the season with a 1.75 ERA and a 2.49 FIP. It won’t get much easier in Game 2 against Framber Valdez, who was 10th in fWAR with 4.4 and had a 2.82 ERA with a 3.06 FIP. The minimum for a “quality start” is three or fewer earned runs allowed over six or more innings. From April 25-September 18, every start for Valdez met that criteria. He had a 2.41 ERA over those 25 starts, including two against Seattle, but he did allow three earned runs in both.

Offensively, Houston had a 112 wRC +, which means that the Astros were 12% above league average. Seattle had a 107 wRC + and that metric is park-adjusted, but both of these are pretty good pitcher’s parks, at least when the roof is closed in Houston. The Astros struck out at the second-lowest rate in baseball and 3.3% less often than the Mariners, but Seattle did have the second-highest walk rate, while the Astros were eighth.

Houston’s pitchers were 13th in BB%, but second in K%, trailing only the Mets. That will be a huge key to this series. If the Astros carry a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate as a staff, they should be in great shape to advance. What is also unfortunate for Seattle is that the big bullpen advantage for the series against Toronto is gone, as the Astros were third in bullpen fWAR, first in K%, first in reliever ERA and first in reliever FIP.

In a small sample size, variance is certainly possible, but the Mariners are heavy underdogs in Game 1 and a loss to Verlander would mean having to win three out of the next four. The Astros were second in wRC + against lefties, so I’d have very low hopes for Robbie Ray if he were to get another postseason start. Personally, I’d use George Kirby as my Game 3 starter after Castillo in Game 2. We’ll see if Scott Servais does that. If he does, I’d have higher hopes for the Mariners.

I won’t have a series bet here. As far as what I’m looking for in this series, Houston only allowed 3.2 runs per game and just 3.12 runs per game at home. The head-to-head meetings between these teams averaged 7.26 runs per game, but keep in mind that some of those games were started by guys like Gonzales, Flexen and the like. What’s really scary, and possibly the determining factor, in a series like this is that the Astros can pick from any of their four other starters beyond Valdez and then put guys like Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia or Lance McCullers Jr. in the bullpen and get multiple innings from them.

Urquidy had the highest ERA of any pitcher with at least seven innings pitched at 3.94. Houston’s run-prevention skills are elite and should be the reason that they advance.

I’ll be looking for a Game 2 under with Castillo and Valdez. Otherwise, I’m honestly not sure I’ll have a ton of betting interest in this series. If the Mariners are intent on skipping Ray for Kirby and lose Game 1, I could potentially talk myself into taking them for the series at + 350 or higher, just as a dice roll on a scrappy team with a solid bullpen.

No. 3 Cleveland Guardians (+ 175) vs. No. 2 New York Yankees (-210)

The Guardians only scored three runs in two games, but those two home runs were enough to propel Cleveland to the ALDS. Cleveland’s pitching in the series against the Rays was simply absurd. Shane Bieber, Tristan McKenzie and a cast of relievers allowed one run on nine hits over 24 innings with 29 strikeouts against just six walks. It was one of the most dominant pitching performances we’ve ever seen in the postseason.

However, it was also one of the worst offensive performances we’ve seen in the postseason from Cleveland’s hitters. The Rays allowed three runs on 13 hits over 22 innings with 26 strikeouts against three walks. Now the Guardians draw a Yankees pitching staff that was third in ERA, sixth in FIP and seventh in fWAR.

This series ultimately comes down to the supporting casts on offense. Will the Guardians pitch around Aaron Judge as much as they can and will the Yankees pitch around Jose Ramirez when the opportunity presents itself. Look at how much of the offense Judge and Ramirez accounted for with their respective teams:

% of Team Stat

Judge

Ramirez

Runs

16.5% (133/807)

12.9% (90/698)

Hits

13.5% (177/1308)

11.9% (168/1410)

Doubles

12.4% (28/225)

16.1% (44/273)

Home Runs

24.4% (62/254)

22.8% (29/127)

RBI

17.1% (131/764)

19.0% (126/662)

Walks

17.9% (111/620)

15.3% (69/450)

The Guardians obviously can’t keep pace in a high-scoring environment, even if they neutralize Judge. The Yankees hit twice as many home runs and scored over 100 more runs, even though Cleveland had the lowest K% in baseball and actually had over 100 more hits than the Yankees as a result.

The other concerning thing for Cleveland in this series is that the huge defensive advantage that they have against most teams does not exist against the Yankees. New York was tops in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved by 45 runs over the Dodgers and 52 runs over the Guardians. By FanGraphs’ all-encompassing Def metric, the Yankees were first and the Guardians were fifth with a difference of 23.4 fielding runs between the two. The Statcast Outs Above Average metric has the Yankees at + 21 and the Guardians at + 20, so that is a little more encouraging for the underdog.

What creates the big gap per the FanGraphs’ metrics is that the Yankees are the top team in catcher framing runs. For a Guardians bunch that is patient at the plate and doesn’t strike out a lot, the skills of Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka could be a separator.

There is a pretty sizable drop-off between Cleveland’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters and the rest of the rotation arms. Cal Quantrill gets the Game 1 start and has to go up against Gerrit Cole. Cole’s one issue this season has been the long ball at inopportune times, but Cleveland doesn’t really have much in the way of power. Quantrill, meanwhile, had a 3.38 ERA, but a 4.12 FIP and a 4.31 xERA (expected ERA). He’s a low-strikeout, pitch-to-contact guy that does induce a lot of weak contact, but now faces one of the best lineups in baseball at hitting the ball hard.

While Quantrill did pitch to a spectacular 2.94 ERA over 85.2 innings in the second half and cut down on his walk rate, he still has much smaller margin for error without swing-and-miss upside. It wouldn’t shock me if we see a quick hook here and that would throw the Guardians bullpen out of whack for the entire series. Quantrill has only allowed more than three runs once in his last 12 starts, but he’ll need batted ball fortune on his side.

It will benefit McKenzie to pitch at home with his fly ball stylings on what I presume will be a cool night in Cleveland, but the way-early forecast does sow the wind possibly blowing out to right center. If the Guardians can get a huge effort from Bieber in Game 2 against Nestor Cortes, that swing game on Saturday could be enormous. That being said, Cleveland is a bottom-five offense against lefties and Cortes will be projected for a really good outing.

Cleveland has a puncher’s chance in this series, but I don’t think you can bet on them to win the series with a daunting task in Game 1. They’re still likely to be a small dog for the series if they do win that game (or a very small favorite at a minimum), which might be the time to try. Instead, I think it makes sense to look for low-scoring games or some live unders because these are two strong pitching staffs with two excellent bullpens.

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