It seems that Mother Nature sometimes has a sense of humor. She made it rain in New York on Thursday so that we could all be locked in on Commanders vs. Bears. As a result, we only had one game yesterday, but have three today, as the Guardians and Yankees will now play the rest of their series without an off day.
The two NLDS series are back in the spotlight with splits in the first two games, as the Phillies and Padres took home-field advantage away from the Braves and Dodgers, respectively. Before I get to today’s trio of games, a few quick thoughts on Mariners/Astros.
I’m really, really excited for the Mariners to play at home in Game 3. It won’t make me bet on them or anything like that, but at least they navigated the Wild Card Round to play a postseason home game for the first time in 21 years. It should be an incredible atmosphere at T-Mobile Park with rookie George Kirby for the M’s and Lance McCullers Jr. for the Astros.
T-Mobile Park does suppress offense and I’ll be interested to see what happens with the betting action on this total. Kirby finished with a 3.39 ERA and a 2.99 FIP after an incredible second half. McCullers only made eight starts, but had a 2.27 ERA with a 3.49 FIP. The market opener was a virtual pick ‘em on the game and a total of 7 with under vig.
The Mariners have had leads after five in both games, but the bullpen had an epic meltdown in Game 1 and Luis Castillo got Yordan’d in the sixth inning of Game 2. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming seasons and provide a true challenge to the Astros.
Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees (-155, 6.5)
Most of this will be a re-post of what I wrote yesterday, just with edits based on the new forecast and some of the other developments. From a macro standpoint, the rainout is really bad for Cleveland. If they had entertained the idea of using Shane Bieber on short rest in Game 5, they no longer can. If they win one of the next two games, I’d throw a full-fledged bullpen game in Game 4, but I’m not sure that’s what their plan is. We’ll see.
As far as Game 2 goes, the Guardians can’t score. They’ve scored four runs in three playoff games, all on home runs. They had early chances to really put the pressure on New York, but failed. They had a runner on second in the first and left him there. They had a runner on second with one out in the second and struck out twice. They had second and third with one out in the third and got nothing.
A lot has been made of Cleveland’s low strikeout rate in the regular season, but they’ve struck out 35 times in three games in the playoffs. Sure, one of those games went 15 innings, but they’re running a 29.9% K% in the postseason. It’s almost like facing better pitching makes a huge difference. This is also not a very good lineup. The Guardians have been late a lot on above average velocity and have taken some hideous swings on offspeed stuff and breaking balls.
At least Steven Kwan hit a homer and singled and Andres Gimenez had a couple of knocks. Those two guys have to be going for Cleveland to have any chance and they were 1-for-17 against the Rays. The problem is that it never really gets any easier and now they face Nestor Cortes. I’m not surprised to see the Yankees such a big favorite against Shane Bieber here because Cleveland was a bottom-five offense against lefties during the regular season and far and away the worst offense against LHP in the second half.
Cortes had a 2.44 ERA with a 3.13 FIP in the regular season over 158.1 innings. He struck out 26.5% of batters and induced a lot of weak aerial contact. His Hard Hit% was 34.5% and his Barrel% was 5.3%, despite being an extreme fly ball guy. This isn’t ideal for Cleveland as a lineup that doesn’t hit the ball hard and doesn’t hit for any measure of power.
Bieber is a really good pitcher, but one issue he’s had against better lineups is that the right-handed batters are able to hit the ball to the opposite field against him. More speficially, able to drive the fastball to the opposite field. Aaron Judge has a lot to do with this stat, but the right-handed Yankees batters had a .689 SLG when going oppo against fastballs from right-handed pitchers.
Judge had a 1.143 SLG, but Giancarlo Stanton had a 1.138 SLG, Gleyber Torres had a .875 SLG and Josh Donaldson also had some success. The plan of attack from Bieber is going to have to be about 75% non-fastballs here. If it’s not, I have real concerns about his ability to hold the Yankees down enough to give his offense a chance.
It’s more than the years of misery that I have as a Cleveland sports fan that give me a sinking feeling about this game. The Guardians’ offensive projection is just so low again that it’s hard to have any faith in their ability to win. They’re basically restricted to winning 2-1 or 3-2 or something like that. It’s certainly possible and I personally hope that’s the outcome.
Yankees money hit the board this morning, driving this price up into the -155 range. The total is still bobbing between 6 and 6.5. The Yankees are too rich of a price to take now. I’ve got a lean towards Under 6.5 here, though I have this weird, sneaking suspicion that the Guardians bloop their way to a couple of runs somehow or maybe take advantage of a bad defensive play. Cleveland has also had major problems with elevated velocity in the postseason and Cortes, while deceptive and quirky, doesn't throw hard.
Just a gut feeling. Might be wrong, but there’s something that seems less obvious about today’s unders than the others.
Lean Under 6.5
Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies (-115, 6.5)
Spencer Strider hasn’t pitched since September 18 with an oblique injury. He was always going to pitch in Game 3, but the question was how he was going to be used. The Braves are making what I believe is a smart decision to start him and see what they get. If Strider can give them anywhere from 3-5 solid innings and keep the Phillies at bay, the Braves are able to deploy a well-rested bullpen coming out of Thursday’s off day. If they were to use Charlie Morton, who, as Peter Moylan correctly pointed out after Game 2, is very similar to Kyle Wright in pitch shape, pitch design and arsenal, they may not have the luxury of a rested bullpen in support of Strider.
The reality is that Strider is very unlikely to work deep into the game. You’re better off using his bullets now, hoping to get a lead and then possibly having him for an inning or two in Game 5 since he’ll be on a restricted pitch count on Friday. His numbers were elite in the regular season with a 2.67 ERA, 2.39 xERA and a 1.83 FIP. He struck out over 38% of batters faced and only allowed seven homers in 131.2 innings.
Like I’ve talked about, over 43% of the runs scored this postseason have been via the home run. Strider is very stingy about them and has incredible stuff. Let him go all out for as long as he can and then set up the pen accordingly.
Another thing I mentioned already is that the Phillies were a top-five offense against lefties and a little better than league average against righties when adjusting for their park factor. The ball won’t carry in Philly now like it does in the summer. I think their offensive projection is pretty low in this game.
There are no questions for the Phillies. They’re sending out ace Aaron Nola. The biggest separator for Nola this season was cutting down his HR/FB%. His home run to fly ball ratio was 9.8%, well below his career mark of 13.2% and the first time in single digits for his career. He cut down the homers, while also allowing fewer baserunners via hit or walk. That led to a 3.25 ERA and a career-best 2.58 FIP.
Where Nola also excelled was in limiting hard contact with a Hard Hit% of 31.6%. That is particularly relevant against a Braves team that was second in the league in Hard Hit%. They’re looking to elevate the baseball with authority. Nola is not a good matchup in that regard, though the Braves did have some success against him this season.
In my estimation, there is no preflop bet to make in this game. However, there is something to watch for. Nola’s biggest weakness throughout his career has been the third time through the order. The first time through the order this season, opposing batters posted a .197 wOBA and Nola ran a 32.4% K% with a 3.5% BB% with one home run allowed. The second time through, batters had a .313 wOBA and a 27.3% K% with a 3.6% BB% and eight homers allowed.
The third time through, Nola only allowed a .289 wOBA, but allowed 10 homers in just 55 innings. It is a bugaboo for a lot of pitchers, but Nola’s command drops off each time he turns the lineup over. It will leave manager Rob Thomson in a really interesting spot. The Phillies bullpen is better now than it was early in the season, but he may have to have the stones to pull Nola earlier than he would have liked. Nola’s third time through performance was better this season than in some of his other seasons, but that 15.6% HR/FB% is scary given the matchup.
That’s one spot where I’ll be looking to get involved in this game. Let’s see where things stand in the fifth and sixth innings. Is Nola starting to lose it and being pushed too far? Have the Braves been able to set up the bullpen the way that they want? I can’t do anything pregame not knowing how Strider will look off of the extended layoff, so I’ll be patient and look for an in-game opportunity.
Watch for a live betting spot in the 5th/6th inning on Atlanta
Los Angeles Dodgers (-120, 7.5) at San Diego Padres
Tony Gonsolin spent a good portion of the season as one of the favorites for the NL Cy Young Award. When all was said and done, he posted a 2.14 ERA with a 3.12 xERA and a 3.28 FIP over 130.1 innings of work. He was only the losing pitcher once in his 24 starts. However, we really have no idea what we are going to get from him in Game 3.
That’s because Gonsolin hit the IL after his August 23 start and only made one Major League start after that. He pitched two innings against the Rockies on October 3 and allowed a run on three hits. Manager Dave Roberts told reporters that he feels good about Gonsolin going up to 75 pitches. Personally, I think that would be a bit of a stretch, as he only made one rehab start and faced just six batters on September 27.
This is the type of game that will test the depth of the Dodgers pitching staff. Los Angeles allowed 513 runs, the fewest in a 162-game season since the Dead Ball year of 1968. The Dodgers bullpen had some hiccups in Game 2, but this was a unit that was second in ERA, second in FIP, first in fWAR, fourth in K% and second in BB% during the season. It takes all hands on deck to have run-prevention numbers like the Dodgers did and that’s what they’ll have here.
Los Angeles has not yet named a Game 4 starter, so everybody is available, including Dustin May and Andrew Heaney. The one guy least likely to pitch is Tyler Anderson. A Gonsolin/Heaney piggyback might be really interesting given the different handedness of the pitchers.
Blake Snell gets the call for the Padres after walking six in 3.1 innings in his Game 2 start against the Mets. He only allowed two runs on four hits, but he was extremely erratic and needed 90 pitches to get 10 outs. While the Dodgers have historically been better against righties (and led the league in most categories this season), they still posted a 113 wRC + against lefties, so they were 13% above league average in that split and had the eighth-best slugging percentage.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Dodgers had a Hard Hit% of nearly 64% in Game 2, but went 0-for-8 with RISP. After starting his career with excellent numbers in the Hard Hit% department, Snell’s two worst seasons have come with the Padres in that regard.
Most books have the Dodgers -115 or -120, but DraftKings has the highest favorite price, which has been an ongoing theme in the playoffs so far. If you like the Dodgers, absolutely shop around.
It’s hard for me to erase the RISP chances that both teams, especially the Dodgers, had in Game 2 from my mind. First and third with nobody out in the sixth and got nothing. Second and third with one out in the seventh and got nothing. The Padres also went 2-for-11 with RISP.
Even though Petco Park suppresses offense, I could see some chances in this game, specifically as the starters get into the middle innings. Snell has big times through the order splits and Gonsolin is likely to tire with high-stress pitches after not pitching down the stretch. I’m hoping for a low-scoring start in the first couple frames to come in with a live over around the third inning or so.
Look to live bet the over