Three teams in the National League won at least 101 games. None of the three will be playing for a chance to make the World Series. The beautiful (and flawed) Tournament of Variance claimed the best team in baseball and the reigning World Series champs on Saturday, as the Dodgers and the Braves went down to the upstart Padres and Phillies. The Astros did move on with an ALDS sweep, but it took 18 innings to dispose of a pesky Mariners club that will be around for many years to come.
That leaves us with just one Division Series left standing, as the Guardians have the chance to knock off the team with the second-best record in the American League on Sunday night after walking off the Yankees on Saturday. The unexpected sequence of events in the ninth inning may have the Bronx Bombers on the brink, but they’re also sending out Gerrit Cole in tonight’s must-have matchup.
New York Yankees (-165, 7) at Cleveland Guardians
It is admittedly hard to un-blur the lines between fandom and objective observer. That is especially true when your team is in the playoffs doing some really special things. The SB Nation Pinstripe Alley blog called the Guardians a “bunch of slap-hitting shit goblins”. A buddy (Yankees fan) texted me as the ninth was unfolding that it was the “cheapest f*cking inning he’s ever seen”. That was before Oscar Gonzalez’s fine piece of hitting shot a single to center that easily plated the tying and go-ahead runs.
Sometimes baseball just can’t really be explained. Sometimes the duck snort falls in and the 100 mph rocket finds a glove. It is the beauty and the frustration, the unbelievable and the spectacular of the game that so many of us love. It doesn’t make it fun for betting and really doesn’t make it fun if you end up on the wrong side of a bet. But, it almost always tends to be front and center come playoff time. It’s why no dog is a dead one and why no favorite is a sure thing.
One sure thing tonight is that the Guardians would rather be facing any Yankee other than Cole. Cole allowed one run on just four hits over 6.1 innings of work with eight strikeouts, a walk and a hit by pitch in Game 1 against Cleveland. The lone run was a rare shooting star from Steven Kwan, who only hit six homers while playing every day during the regular season.
Cole was unfairly maligned during the season by Yankees fans. Sure, his 3.50 ERA was the highest he’s had since 2017, but he still struck out 257 batters and posted a 3.47 FIP. Among qualified starters, his ERA was 30th out of 45 pitchers and his FIP ranked 21st, but that’s more about how good pitching was this season during the dead ball days than anything else. Cole’s 33 home runs did stand out, and some did come at inopportune times (I’ll gladly take a few tonight), but he’s facing a Cleveland lineup that hits for very little power. I’m also shocked by the amount of carry the ball had last night with the cool conditions, although all three homers were on batting practice pitches.
Where the questions really lie for the Yankees are in the bullpen. Closer Clay Holmes said he was ready and available, but manager Aaron Boone seemed to think otherwise. If Holmes was unavailable, why did Lou Trivino only throw seven pitches and face two hitters? Why did Wandy Peralta pitch into a third inning and face two righties to start the ninth? There were a lot of iffy decisions from Boone in that game and there are a lot of Yankees supporters that want his head on a platter.
The Guardians may not have the starting pitcher advantage tonight, but they won Game 3 without using Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak or Trevor Stephan. It’s now a matter of how aggressive Terry Francona wants to be with a bullpen game looming in Game 5 on Monday if the series doesn’t end tonight. Sam Hentges is even available in a pinch against a lefty after throwing 31 pitches yesterday.
Cal Quantrill threw five innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits in five innings in Game 1. He actually pitched pretty well for five innings, but a walk and a homer in the sixth completely blew up his pitching line. That was the major managerial faux pas of the series from Francona, as he turned the lineup over for a third time against Quantrill and paid the price. Similar to this scenario, he had a pretty rested bullpen. The difference is that he had a day off to play with after Game 1 and also the high probability of a rainout, which did come to fruition and push Game 2 back.
I’d assume Quantrill is on a much shorter leash here. If I’m Cleveland, I’d rather take my chances in the middle innings with Aaron Civale or Cody Morris if I need multiple outs. Those are two guys that the Yankees haven’t really been exposed to and would make a lot of sense. At books that offer pitching outs props, I’d bet Quantrill under. I’d be surprised if he turns the lineup over a full second time. I’m thinking he might go 3-4 innings here. His prop is 15.5 at DraftKings with under at -160, which is a steep price to pay, but I see no way he pitches past the fifth here.
Like most days in the MLB Playoffs, the underdog is live, for the reasons mentioned above. I won’t have a pregame bet here. Most prop markets aren’t really offered in Vegas, but if you’ve got access to the Quantrill outs prop, that’s what I’d look at for Game 4. Otherwise, I’m sure a live betting opportunity will pop up, especially with what seems to be a sizable bullpen advantage for Cleveland tonight.
Pick: Cal Quantrill Under 15.5 Outs (-160, DraftKings) – shop around where available!