The Division Series begins with four staggered start times on Tuesday, as Phillies vs. Braves gets us started at 1:07 p.m. ET, Padres vs. Dodgers finishes the evening at 9:37 p.m. ET and the two AL series take place in between. Mariners vs. Astros starts at 3:37 p.m. ET and then Guardians vs. Yankees goes off at 7:37 p.m. ET.
Whether or not it will be a great and dramatic day of baseball remains to be seen, as every game features a favorite of -200 or more. I refer to the MLB Playoffs as a “Tournament of Variance”, so I’m sure at least one of the dogs will find a way to win, if not more. After all, the underdogs won three of the four Wild Card Series.
Check out my ALDS previews and NLDS previews along with my thoughts on today’s four-pack of matchups.
Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves (-200, 7.5)
The playoffs are typically a low-scoring environment, but we’ve seen this total balloon all the way to 7.5 after opening as low as 6.5. All of the 7s are off the board, but the books are dealing heavy under juice on the 7.5s, so we may get back there before the early first pitch.
There are a couple of games today that show what teams are forced to do in order to win the Wild Card Round and advance. Instead of having Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola, the Phillies have to send out Ranger Suarez against a right-handed-heavy Braves lineup. Every starter in the postseason is going to be above average in some way and Suarez fits that description with a 3.65 ERA and a 3.87 FIP. His problem is that he pitches to a lot of contact against a lineup prone to swing and miss, but the positive is that he’s an extreme ground ball guy with a 56% worm-burner rate for his career. It’s cliché to say “keep the ball down”, but against this Braves lineup, that’s what you have to do and Suarez does it well.
He also limited hard contact with a 34.7% Hard Hit% in his 473 batted ball events. The Braves were second in baseball in Hard Hit% this season, with over 43% of their balls in play having an exit velocity of at least 95 mph.
Suarez was not good the third time through the order, as opposing batters had a .357 wOBA and he pitched to a 5.29 ERA in those 142 plate appearances. That means a steady dose of the Phillies bullpen is likely for this game. Keep that in mind if you look to live bet. The Phillies have some good high-leverage arms, but if Suarez has a lot of deep counts and trouble that forces him out in the third or fourth inning, the Phillies aren’t the deepest of bullpens and that’s where Atlanta could pounce.
Max Fried gets the Game 1 call for Atlanta, as he comes into this start with a 4.06 ERA and a 3.72 FIP over 57.2 career postseason innings. He had his best regular season as a pro with career-bests in innings pitched, walk rate ERA, xERA, FIP and xFIP. He sacrificed some strikeouts this season, but also improved upon his contact management numbers from last season. Like Suarez, Fried has boasted strong ground ball numbers in his career, an important attribute against a Phillies lineup that ranked in the top five against lefties in my preferred offensive categories like wOBA and wRC +.
It is hard to see a preflop bet in this game. The Braves are the superior team and the Phillies aren’t able to send out righties with swing-and-miss upside like Wheeler and Nola that have a much higher probability of shutting this powerful lineup down. This is also the first postseason start for Suarez, who can have control issues, so that worries me a bit.
My hope is that the Braves fall behind 1-0 or 2-0 and I can take a piece of them live. Suarez will have to exit early, putting pressure on a Phillies bullpen that greatly improved as the season went along, but would be forced to go to some lesser relievers or maybe even a starter turned reliever like Noah Syndergaard. The Phillies are also missing David Robertson, who strained his calf celebrating during the Wild Card Round. That hurts this bullpen a good bit.
Look to live bet the Braves if they get down early
Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros (-215, 6.5)
Logan Gilbert and Justin Verlander are the Game 1 hurlers in this AL West rivalry series. Much will be made about Houston’s dominance over Seattle, but a lot of that has to do with Houston going 18-1 over Seattle in 2019. Otherwise, the season series have been mostly competitive and this year’s was no exception. So, don’t let some loudmouth in the betting space talk about Houston’s great straight-up record against the M’s. It all happened in one awful season for the Mariners.
More pertinent is the fact that the Mariner draw the presumptive AL Cy Young winner in Verlander, who, at 39 years old a couple years removed from Tommy John surgery, posted the lowest ERA and best FIP of his career. His 1.75 ERA and 2.49 FIP were actually far and away his best. After years of giving up home runs with his fly ball stylings, Verlander limited the opposition to just 12 homers. He gave up 34 earned runs in 28 starts, which is astoundingly ridiculous.
I actually like that the Mariners have to send out Gilbert here. I realize Luis Castillo gives them a better chance to win, but being able to use Castillo against Framber Valdez is a leveler playing field. I’m not saying that this is a throwaway game. That’s impossible in a best-of-five. I’m just saying that any team faces long odds of beating Verlander with what he’s done this season.
I don’t believe in team vs. pitcher splits, but for the sake of argument, Verlander faced the Mariners six times this season and allowed 11 runs on 33 hits with six walks and 43 strikeouts. The Mariners hit four homers in his May 27 start against him in a game where they also scored six of the 11 runs he allowed. It was his worst start of the season by Game Score, so it can happen, but it is unlikely.
Seattle posted a 106 wRC + against righties this season, but not all righties are created like JV. If Gilbert can go toe-to-toe with Verlander, the Mariners bullpen has a puncher’s chance, but the Astros bullpen was tops in the league in ERA and FIP, which just seems unfair after facing Verlander.
Gilbert is an extreme fly ball guy, which can work at Minute Maid Park when the roof is closed. The roof will be closed today. The ball carries a lot better when the roof is open, so we’ll see how much Gilbert benefits. He finished the season with a 3.20 ERA and a 3.46 FIP, but I never got his xERA of 4.11 out of my head. He allowed a ton of hard contact with a 45.6% Hard Hit%, but managed to work around enough of it to have good run-prevention numbers. He’s also coming off of his second-best month of the season, holding opposing batters to a .246 wOBA in his last 36 innings of work.
This looks like another game similar to the Phillies one where the manager will be proactive and go to the pen. Gilbert gets progressively worse as starts go along, holding batters to a .265 wOBA the first time through, .314 the second and .333 the third, along with increases to his ERA.
What I’m most interested to see is the usage of George Kirby. As of now, the expectation is that Robbie Ray starts Game 3. I don’t trust him in this matchup at all. Kirby could be used as the piggyback to Gilbert in Game 1 after throwing 26 pitches on Saturday, which would be like a “side day” for a starter, though these are higher-stress pitches, obviously. If Gilbert has to exit early, do the M’s go to Kirby or are they saving him as a Game 3 bailout?
If it’s not Kirby, who will it be? The high-leverage guys for the Mariners are really good, but they may have to build a bridge to get there. If Kirby gets burned in relief here, the Astros will be in great shape to win the series because they should beat Ray and at least be up 2-1 after Game 3 or maybe even have a chance to finish it. So, I’m looking at his usage here for future purposes, as well as Game 1 purposes.
Another game where I can’t get to a pregame bet, but could envision a scenario where the Mariners are live if this is close and Verlander exits the game.
Possible live bet on Seattle in late, close game
Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees (-215, 6.5)
I still have nightmares about what Gerrit Cole did to the Indians in the 2018 ALDS and the 2020 AL Wild Card Round. Cole’s two starts against the franchise have been nothing short of dominant with 25 strikeouts in 14 innings and just three runs allowed on nine hits. I’ve never seen his stuff look as crisp as it did in that 2018 start.
This is a different team now with a different name and a different approach at the plate. Cleveland’s plan of attack is to put everything in play, which worked during the regular season, but not against the Rays in the WC series. The Guardians struck out 26 times in 81 plate appearances, including six strikeouts in eight plate appearances for Andres Gimenez, the team’s second-best player behind Jose Ramirez. Not only did Gimenez struggle going 1-for-8, but Steven Kwan was 0-for-9 in the two-game series. I don’t think Kwan had an 0-for-9 stretch at any point during the regular season.
As I wrote about in my ALDS previews, the supporting cast matters a ton for both of these teams. We know Jose Ramirez is a huge part of Cleveland’s offense and Aaron Judge is a massive part of New York’s. The supporting casts will have to do their part to either set the table or do damage after the starts get the ol’ Barry Bonds treatment.
The question here is what Cleveland’s lineup can do against Cole. For a guy that put up a 3.50 ERA, a 3.31 xERA and a 3.47 FIP with an elite strikeout rate, he was Public Enemy No. 1 at times for Yankees fans. The long ball was the reason why, as he gave up 33 of them in 200.2 innings. The problem for the Guardians is that they don’t hit home runs at a high rate. All three of their runs in the Wild Card came on the long ball, but that was over 23 innings at the dish.
Cal Quantrill gets the call for the Guardians here and I think a lot of people are expecting him to get rocked. He’s a throwback type of guy that relies on command and contact management, a lot like a Kyle Hendricks. In fact, his career 3.54 ERA with a 4.12 FIP and a 4.43 xFIP looks downright Hendricksian. I tweeted this out yesterday, but Quantrill had the eighth-lowest average exit velocity against among pitchers with at least 2,000 pitches thrown to right-handed batters. He had the 30th lowest if we cut the sample size to 1,000 pitches, which includes some pretty elite relievers. And yet righties had better splits than lefties, so he may have gotten a little bit unlucky in that regard.
What may ultimately help Cleveland here is the off day tomorrow with Game 2 on Thursday. Terry Francona can manage his bullpen much more aggressively if Quantrill is in trouble. He can try to get multiple innings out of certain guys. He reinvented the mold of postseason reliever usage with how he deployed Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in 2016. Is it possible he can do the same thing here?
Of the four favorite lines, sad to say, this looks like the cheapest for the favorite. That being said, the Yankees won’t have Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen against a lineup that can’t hit lefties and also won’t have Scott Effross, who has to have Tommy John surgery. Cleveland may ultimately have the bullpen advantage here, so if Quantrill can keep it close, this gets really interesting.
I think you hope for a couple of runs early to take a live under. That’s the only position I could envision here.
Hope for early scoring, take a live under
San Diego Padres at Los Angeles Dodgers (-225, 7.5)
The Padres were the only team forced to play a winner-take-all matchup in the Wild Card Round and we’ll see how big of an impact it plays in Game 1. San Diego is forced to send out its fourth-best starter in Mike Clevinger after using Joe Musgrove to advance to the NLDS. The Dodgers, meanwhile, get to send out their ace Julio Urias in hopes of taking a 1-0 series lead.
Clevinger was left off of the Wild Card Round roster with an undisclosed illness. He seems fine talking to reporters on Monday, but who knows how he’ll look and feel when he gets out there and the adrenaline starts going. He finished a rough 2022 season with a 4.33 ERA and a 4.98 FIP over 114.1 innings of work. He gave up at least four runs in all three of his starts against the Dodgers and failed to get past the fifth inning. He hasn’t pitched in 10 days and he is a guy that can have command and control issues.
I’ll be curious to see how quickly the Padres go to Sean Manaea here. The Dodgers have been excellent against righties for several years now, but lefties have been the tougher split for them. I have to think that Clevinger will be on a short least with the ability to get multiples from Manaea. Middle relief is where I think the Padres are the weakest and this is the type of game that can really challenge the makeup of their roster.
Julio Urias had a 2.16 ERA with a 2.81 xERA and a 3.71 FIP, so there are some areas of possible regression for him. He had an 86.6% LOB%, which was among the best in the league and kept his ERA down. But, he’s also elite from a contact management standpoint with a career 29% Hard Hit%. He locates so well and mixes his pitches so effectively that he’s able to have tremendous amounts of success. I’d expect more of the same here against the Padres, especially given the stakes.
Urias also posted a 1.26 ERA in his final 78.1 innings of the regular season, including a .179/.232/.300 slash against. The early-season home run problem he had is a thing of the past and he should be a good bet here and in the postseason.
The only pregame play I like today is laying the big Dodgers price. They have a big 1st 5 advantage in this game going up against Clevinger, so I only expect their moneyline to rise as the game goes along. The Dodgers had the best run differential since the ‘30s, so this is a dominant team that has the best overall pitching staff in baseball to pair with what I believe is the best lineup. We should see it all on display today.
Pick: Dodgers -225