In order to separate the AL and NL so that there weren’t any nights without playoff baseball, MLB did an odd thing and gave the four teams in the Junior Circuit a night off between Game 1 and Game 2. That means that the Mariners have had a long time to think about their devastating loss to the Astros and that the Guardians have had a lot of time to think about how to score runs against the Yankees.
The pitching matchups are much more favorable for the road teams and series underdogs for Game 2, but will that be enough? Before taking a detailed look at the two Game 2s, a few thoughts on what happened in the NLDS last night.
We’re up to 47.6% of the runs in the playoffs being scored via the home run, as both series are now 1-1. The team that scores first is 10-5. @SlangsOnSports is keeping a daily count on Twitter and I highly recommend following her.
Two big things stood out to me yesterday. The first was how much different the Phillies lineup looked against a righty as opposed to a lefty. It makes me wonder how Max Fried fares in Game 4, especially if the Phillies can win behind Aaron Nola in Game 3. Zack Wheeler only had nine swinging strikes, so the command wasn’t fully there against the Braves, even though it took until the sixth for him to give up runs.
As far as Padres/Dodgers, both teams squandered some chances, as they combined to go 2-for-19 with RISP. The Padres had both hits and ultimately won the game. San Diego was very fortunate here. The Dodgers had a 63% Hard Hit% in the game, but failed to capitalize. They had eight more batted balls of 95 + mph than the Padres, with 17 of 27 balls in play qualifying as “high-velocity contact”. Something to think about moving forward.
This may be anecdotal, but based on what I’ve seen, teams have been more aggressive swinging early in the count. This makes a ton of sense to me. Getting buried with two strikes against the arms that teams roll out in the playoffs is going to be a death sentence for that plate appearance more often than not. Running up pitch counts is irrelevant because the specialists just come into the game at that point.
The Braves are the only remaining team in the postseason that ranked in the top 10 in Swing%, so they’re used to being aggressive. The Phillies were 11th. The Astros were 15th, followed by the Guardians (19th), Dodgers (23rd), Mariners (24th), Padres (26th) and Yankees (29th). The playoffs are about making adjustments, and quick ones at that, so this will be a trend I’m following. I wish one of the sites kept better playoff stats for these things, but I digress.
Here are some thoughts on today’s ALDS matchups:
Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros (-165, 7)
I mentioned in my ALDS preview that I fully anticipated the Mariners losing Game 1 and that I felt like maybe they’d be a decent series bet as a 4/1 or 5/1 underdog going into Game 2, so long as George Kirby was getting the ball in Game 3. What I didn’t account for was the tremendously heartbreaking and soul-crushing way in which the Mariners would lose Game 1. The series price isn’t quite high enough either.
Managerial decisions are truly magnified in the postseason with so many key moments in what tends to be a tighter and lower-scoring environment. Paul Sewald had clearly lost it, but there is no way I’d have gone to Robbie Ray in that situation. Not only was he awful against the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Round, but he has four relief appearances to his name over a nine-year career.
Game 2 is now a must-win for the Mariners, but at least they have the right guy for the job in Luis Castillo. I professed my love for Castillo when taking the Mariners as an underdog in the Wild Card Round and will do the same here. The end of the infield shift may hurt him next season, but he’s an extreme ground ball guy that has an elite strikeout rate and pairing those things together makes for a very special pitcher. His 3.59 ERA and 3.64 FIP for his career aren’t really indicative of what I think his ceiling truly is.
The Astros are more balanced than the Blue Jays, who Castillo mowed through with his excellent numbers against righties, but he has the potential to shut down most of the Houston lineup. Righties own a career .273 wOBA and were held to .262 this season. He’s actually been better than .273 in five of his seven seasons. He struggled with the long ball last season, but he’s no longer pitching in Cincinnati, which becomes Coors Field East in the summertime.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, Framber Valdez is a tough customer himself. Valdez had a 2.82 ERA with a 3.06 FIP during the regular season over 201.1 innings of work. He is the most extreme of ground ball guys with a 66.5% GB% this season. He only allowed 11 homers in 31 starts. We’ve already seen that nearly 43% of the runs scored this postseason have come via the long ball. Stringing hits together to score runs is much harder in the postseason environment. You typically have the best defensive teams and every pitcher you face has an above average K%. The long ball is the only thing that can overcome both of those.
What could help the Mariners here is that they had the best BB% in baseball against lefties. The one knock on Valdez is that he can get a little wild. He cut his BB% from 10.1% to 8.1% from 2021 to 2022, but he hasn’t pitched in eight days, so he may be a tad erratic. The Mariners have to be patient early. Valdez’s 9.7% BB% the first time through the order was the highest of any split. They may have the chance to play from in front of they can get a key hit or two.
There’s also the question of the Seattle bullpen. I really like this group as a whole, but that was a rough way to lose on Tuesday. Matt Brash and Diego Castillo were solid, but Andres Munoz and Paul Sewald were not. Will they be able to bounce back from those rough outings? Meanwhile, the Astros pen came in after a rare bad outing from Justin Verlander and threw five innings of one-run ball with three hits allowed.
Unfortunately, the books are hip to how good Castillo is, as the 1st 5 line is 15-20 lower than the full-game line on Seattle as an underdog, with most books around + 120 to 125 for the 1st 5 and + 135 to 140 for the full game.
What I did like here a little bit was the 1st 5 Under 3.5. We don’t have two fly ball guys like Gilbert and Verlander. Instead, we have two ground ball guys that are harder to elevate and that makes scoring runs a lot more difficult come playoff time. However, the vig was -120 across the board yesterday, but some places are as high as -130 now. Instead, I’ll take the full-game Under 7 now that we’ve moved there at most shops.
Game 1 was a major outlier in my opinion and I think these two bullpens are capable of performing much better than they did. We should also get a lower-scoring game from the starters and I believe things tighten up a bit now.
Pick: Under 7 (-120)
Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees (-140, 6)
Maybe the biggest question of the day is whether or not the Guardians and Yankees will play or if rain will push Game 2 to Friday, which would mean playing four straight days if the series were to go the full five games.
Speaking of starting slow, 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.
I’ll be watching this one closely throughout the day. It’s entirely possible that this game starts, but doesn’t finish with nine consecutive innings without a delay. That would knock the starters out and completely change the handicap. Rainy forecasts greatly concern me with pregame betting for that reason. I’ll also be looking to see if New York comes down a little bit because I think they ultimately win this game. So, a lot of waiting, watching and a ton of anxiety as a Guardians fan.
Lean Yankees; watching forecast and price