Best bets for Braves-Dodgers NLCS

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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The Los Angeles Dodgers barely squeaked out a victory over the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, but don’t let the closeness of the outcome or the controversy over the “check swing” lead you to believe anything other than that they are the absolute best team in baseball by a huge margin.  And given that their next opponent was the lesser of the two possible teams, the Dodgers ought to be a big favorite here.  Are they worth a bet?

Here are our best NLCS value bets from Derek Carty and Adam Burke:

Atlanta Braves (+ 175) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (-210)

 

Carty:

Offense

The Dodgers have the best offense in baseball not just this year, but in quite a while.  It is certainly one of the best in the modern era.  They have literally no holes, and have half a lineup comprised of some of the absolute best hitters in the game.  They have two top-15 hitters in baseball in Mookie Betts and Corey Seager.  They have another in Max Muncy, and even though he’s likely to miss this series, it’s totally fine since they have another pair in the top 25: Trea Turner and Justin Turner. They have another top-40 hitter in Will Smith, who conveys a monster advantage because he’s a catcher.  The 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger is widely considered to be their “weak link.”

Outside of the super-elite Freddie Freeman, the Braves don’t have a single top-40 hitter to match up with L.A.’s five (six if you count Muncy).  This is certainly a good offense, but the Dodgers’ is otherworldly.  The loss of Ronald Acuna was huge, but the trade deadline acquisitions of Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario did go a long way to shoring up this lineup.

Starting Pitching

As I explained in my NLDS writeup for L.A., their pitching is also among the best in the league.  And that’s despite losing three top 25 starters (Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Dustin May), they make up for it with three more in Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias.  A seven-game series will be tougher than the five they just came out of because they don’t have a clear fourth option, but their bullpen is insanely good.  That makes a bullpen game (or two) a very viable option for them, perhaps fronted by Mitch White. 

The other advantage this would give them is one we saw in Game 5 of the San Francisco series, where they didn’t just use the “traditional” single opener, but they used a first inning opener and then another reliever in the second inning.  This allowed them to use a pinch hitter for the pitcher the first time through the order.  This ultimately resulted in an out regardless, but from a probability standpoint this was a very smart move and one it wouldn’t be surprising to see them repeat in this series, especially in a non-ace game.

The Braves’ pitching is similar to their offense: good but not great.  They boast two legitimate aces in Charlie Morton (No. 10) and Max Fried (No. 28).  They add a solid No. 2-caliber starter as their No. 3 in Ian Anderson (No. 50).  Huascar Ynoa (No. 115) would be the best they could muster up as a fourth, and they’d sooner start a guy on short rest than try to dig for a fifth.

Bullpen

As if the Dodgers’ embarrassment of riches in their offense and rotation wasn’t enough, they also have the second-best bullpen in baseball.  They have eight relievers who all project for a context-neutral ERA under 4.00.  Every single other bullpen in baseball has at least one below-average pitcher; Los Angeles don’t even have one with a 4 in his ERA, much less a below-average one.  There’s more than a half-run difference between the Dodgers’ worst reliever (Corey Knebel) and the worst reliever on the next best team.  The worst reliever on Los Angeles is better than everyone in the Atlanta bullpen except Will Smith.  It’s a wholly mediocre bullpen for Atlanta, further putting them at a disadvantage in this series, particularly if it goes long.  But, of course, a long series might be their only chance to win, because beating the Dodgers handily seems unlikely.  It is definitely a bit of a catch-22.

Speed, Defense, and Baserunning

Defense is the lone spot the Dodgers are not ridiculously awesome in.  They’re actually a bit below average.  Unfortunately, Atlanta is only average themselves, and they are a bit worse than LA on the basepaths.

Final Report Card

 

Dodgers

Braves

Offense

A

B

Rotation

A

B-

Bullpen

A

C

Defense

C-

C

Baserunning

B

C

 

Best bet

I dislike betting on favorites.  Everyone knows who the best team is, the odds reflect it and you usually aren’t getting the odds you need because the public likes to bet on favorites.  That hasn’t been the case with the Dodgers, though, who despite being the obvious best team at every step, have still been slightly undervalued by the odds.  The payouts won’t be big if they win, and you’ll feel bad if they lose, but the probability bet here is Los Angeles.  Their to-win-series odds are -195 right now, implying a roughly 66% chance to win, but their true odds are likely in the higher 60s.  It’s not a massive margin, but it’s enough to bet if you’re looking for something to root for.  I would advise against betting the Braves.

We don’t have an official pitcher announcement for Game 1 for L.A. yet, but it seems likely it’s Max Scherzer.  Once that’s officially announced, I’d expect their money line to shift considerably, as right now it’s only giving them a 57% chance to win against Atlanta’s second-best pitcher.  Get in on it now.

Picks: Dodgers to Win Series -195 and Dodgers Game 1 ML -135

 

Burke: Major League Baseball is broken in a lot of ways. We’ve all seen how Game 5 ended. It was a damn shame that the two best teams in baseball had to meet in a five-game series just because they’re in the same division and only one team could win it. There could also be a labor stoppage.

 

Maybe there is no better solution to the umpires (robot umps now!) or the whole wild-card thing (eliminate divisions, rank by league!) or the labor strife (above my pay grade!), but it is downright laughable that the Braves have home-field advantage over the Dodgers. The Braves won 88 games and will host Game 1 of the ALCS against the Dodgers, who won 106 games. Maybe there should be an incentive to winning your division, but when your division is the second-worst one in baseball, maybe you shouldn’t get one over the best wild-card team of all-time.

 

The Braves also get another advantage in that Los Angeles had to play that highly emotional Game 5 and barely got a chance to enjoy it before flying off to Atlanta to play in the Eastern Time Zone, something that the Dodgers have only done once since the middle of August.

 

Maybe none of those things matter, but if you break this series down statistically, it really doesn’t look good for Atlanta. The Braves did hit two more home runs than the Dodgers, but Truist Park ranks higher from a park factor standpoint than Dodger Stadium. As a result, Los Angeles had a park and league-adjusted wRC + of 106, while the Braves had a mark of 98 (a score of 100 is considered league average).

 

The Dodgers were five points higher in wOBA and 11 points higher in on-base percentage. Also remember that the Braves had Acuna up until July 9, though it is worth noting that a lot of guys came together and picked up the load so that the offense didn’t lose too much.

 

The pitching side is where Los Angeles has the big advantages. They had a 3.03 ERA compared to a 3.89 for Atlanta; the Dodgers had a 3.54 FIP and the Braves had a 4.08 FIP. Los Angeles had a higher strikeout rate, lower walk rate, better home run rate and a deeper pitching staff as a whole.

 

Los Angeles gave up the fewest home runs on the road and had the lowest wOBA against at .272, so this looks like a pitching staff that should be able to handle the offensive conditions in Georgia.

 

From a bullpen standpoint, the Dodgers had a 3.16 ERA with a 3.83 FIP, while the Braves had a 3.97 ERA with a 4.08 FIP. Los Angeles’ pen struck out a higher percentage of batters and gave up fewer home runs. I do think the Braves’ bullpen is better than the full-season numbers suggest and the stats were quite a bit stronger in the second half. Not Dodgers strong, but better than the first half of the season. Atlanta had a 3.44 ERA with a 3.97 FIP in the second half.

 

As bettors, what we need to figure out is if all of these advantages in the aggregate add up to the Dodgers being more than a -200 favorite to advance to the World Series. The MLB playoffs have long been known for a high level of variance, though that has changed a little bit in recent seasons, in that the clear-cut best teams have been able to advance with regularity.

 

Something else to keep in mind is whether or not backing the Dodgers at an inflated price is a good idea. Las Vegas lines for the Los Angeles to win the series are going to be higher than East Coast lines because of the California influence (LA, specifically) in the Vegas betting markets. You can shop around for this one and maybe set yourself up really nicely, both pre-flop and as the series goes along.

 

Atlanta is sending out Max Fried for Game 1, which is a smart move because he is their only left-handed starter. The Dodgers improved upon that split for this season, but performance against lefties has been the lone weakness for this team the last several seasons. If the Dodgers do lose Game 1, we’ll get a cheaper price on them for the rest of the series.

 

Therefore, I’ll start with a small piece on the Braves, hoping that they win Game 1 and can freeroll the rest of the series if the Dodgers fall into the -140 range or something like that. The Braves were a better team than their record and they do have a lot of talent. They were -6 in Pythagorean Win-Loss (should have been 94-67 by run differential) and -3 in BaseRuns (91-70).

 

They’re not as live of an underdog as the Giants were, but they’re not the easy out they’re being priced as either.

 

Pick: Atlanta Braves (+ 175); look for Dodgers series price if Atlanta wins Game 1

 

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