NLDS best bets: Phillies-Braves and Padres-Dodgers

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

October 10, 2022 06:49 PM
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Division rivals meet up in the National League Division Series, as we’ll see the Phillies and Braves to start this round at 1:07 p.m. ET on Tuesday and then Padres vs. Dodgers to finish up the first day at 9:37 p.m. ET.

The higher seeds coming off of the bye are big favorites in each series, but we saw three underdogs advance from the Wild Card Round and anything is possible in a small sample size. These two series are loaded with storylines as the Braves start off their title defense and the Padres and Dodgers, who were supposed to duke it out in the regular season, have a lot of big-name talent going head-to-head.

No. 6 Philadelphia Phillies (+ 155) vs. No. 1 Atlanta Braves (-185)

The shortest favorite of the NLDS is the Braves, which strikes me as an interesting thought. The Phillies were the last team to clinch a playoff berth and had to fend off a deeply-flawed Brewers team to do so. It took an epic ninth-inning comeback in Game 1 and then a grind of a 2-0 game to dispose of the Cardinals.

The Braves have arguably been the hottest team in baseball since the start of June. Things started very slow for Atlanta at 23-27, but they hit a soft patch in the schedule and promptly went on a 14-game winning streak to go from 10.5 back in the division to just four games back in the span of 15 days. Atlanta only spent five days in sole possession of first place, but won the season series over the Mets and held the tiebreaker that sent them to the Wild Card Round.

The Phillies finished 14 games behind the Braves and Mets. Atlanta was 11-8 in the head-to-head meetings during the regular season, but the run differential over those 19 games was just three runs. The teams played 19 times from June 28 to September 25, so that was when the Braves were good and not the early-season version.

The Braves are really well-equipped for the postseason. They’ve got a lineup that hits for power and have a really strong bullpen. Atlanta’s 243 homers were the most in the NL by 24 over the Brewers and 38 more than the Phillies hit. The Braves were able to work around a high strikeout rate by hitting for immense power. According to the great Sarah Langs of MLB.com, 41.9% of runs during the Wild Card Round were scored via the home run. Compare that with 39.8% in the regular season.

What’s also important to note is that the lineups that hit for the most power (Yankees, Braves, Dodgers, Astros) have not even played yet. The postseason is a low-scoring run environment because virtually every pitcher that comes into a game is above average and there are a lot of strikeouts. Teams that don’t have to manufacture runs are at an advantage. Teams like the Braves, for example.

Atlanta’s slugging percentage was 21 points higher than Philadelphia’s, which should be a factor in this series. The Braves are also a better defensive team, so any balls in Atlanta does have could be tougher outs, along with their propensity for hard contact. The Braves were second in Hard Hit% (percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph) at 43.4%. The Phillies were sixth at 41%.

The reason why avoiding the Wild Card Round is so important is on display right away in Game 1. Instead of being able to put their best foot forward with Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola, the Phillies have to go with Ranger Suarez. He’s not a bad pitcher by any means and is an extreme ground ball guy that can pitch against Atlanta’s offensive philosophy, but he’s not a strikeout pitcher. Wheeler and Nola have similar home run prevention numbers to Suarez, but with over a strikeout per inning. Plus, those two are right-handed and the Braves had the second-best lineup in baseball against lefties. It’s a big spot for the 27-year-old’s first postseason start.

And it’s why taking the Phillies preflop for the series is a bad idea. Can they win the series? Sure. But, instead of getting possibly three starts from Wheeler and/or Nola, you now get one from Nola in Game 3 and it seems unlikely that the Phillies would risk Wheeler on short rest in Game 5 when he only made three starts over the final six weeks of the regular season.

The lone concern for the Braves is the injury to Spencer Strider. If Strider can’t go in Game 3 or maybe be used in Game 4, the quality of their rotation drops significantly beyond Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Even Charlie Morton, who was good in the postseason last year, had his highest ERA since 2015.

That’s where the bullpen and the offense can compensate. I do feel like this series has the chance to be one of the higher-scoring ones of the four, which is evident by the 7 and over juice for Game 1. The Braves are the deeper team with the more trustworthy bullpen and I think they advance, but it may take four or five games with Wheeler and Nola in the equation. Braves 3-1 at + 330 is probably the best preflop series bet.

Pick: Braves win series 3-1 (+ 330)

No. 5 San Diego Padres (+ 175) vs. No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (-210)

I’m not a bettor that likes to lay heavy chalk, but there looks to be a mispricing in this series. I fully understand that the Padres just knocked off the Mets and have guys like Juan Soto and Manny Machado, but the Dodgers have clearly been the best team in baseball all season long. How they could be priced like the Yankees vs. Guardians or Braves vs. Phillies is confounding to me.

By virtue of having to play a third game in the Wild Card Round, the Padres used their three best starters, which means that Mike Clevinger has been tabbed for Game 1. The Dodgers owned the best offense in baseball against righties by a large margin during the regular season. They had a 122 wRC +, so 22% better than league average, and were the only team with a double-digit walk rate. They led the league in basically every offensive category in that split.

The Padres were just a middle-of-the-road offense against righties, but they will get a steady diet of lefties here with Julio Urias, Clayton Kershaw and maybe Andrew Heaney, depending on how the Dodgers stack their rotation. Unfortunately, the Padres were just 3% better than league average against lefties as well. The nice thing about a stat like wRC + is that it is park-adjusted, so it does account for the fact that Petco Park is an abysmal hitter’s park. It grades the Padres on a fairer level relative to the rest of the league, so it is a reliable metric for gauging their performance.

Every time I look for a bright spot or an advantage for the Padres, I can’t find one. The Dodgers were first in ERA and third in FIP as a staff. They had one of the best bullpens in baseball with an ERA nearly a full run better than San Diego’s. The Dodgers were an elite defensive team, while the Padres were just a little better than average.

It is the playoffs. Anything can happen. The Dodgers also outscored opponents by 334 runs this season. The next closest was the Yankees, who outscored opponents by 240 runs. It is the 13th-best run differential of all-time and the best since the 1939 Yankees. Only two of the 12 seasons ahead of the Dodgers happened after 1900. We’re talking about a historically good team here.

So, yes, the Padres beat the Mets and earned their spot, but the Dodgers’ dominance is not being appreciated enough. The Padres are a different team from the start of the season with some of their acquisitions, but their weaknesses are exploitable enough for the Dodgers to win this series and advance.

Pick: Dodgers -210 Series Price

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