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Pats grind it out; an upset in CFB; MLB heats up

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

October 5, 2017 11:36 PM

Minus Gronk, Pats win ugly in Tampa…NC State shocks Louisville…plus the Astros and Indians take early leads in AL Playoff action. So much to talk about Friday in VSiN City!

NFL: New England bounces back with grinder over inconsistent Tampa Bay
Back to ugly Thursday night football in the NFL. This was supposed to be a high scoring shootout ending in the mid-50s. It took 10 very late points just to get into the 30s!

New England (-4) 19, Tampa Bay 14

  • Yards-per-Play: New England 6.1, Tampa Bay 6.0
  • Total Yards: New England 402, Tampa Bay 409
  • Third Down Pct: New England 33%, Tampa Bay 31%
  • Rushing Yards: New England 113, Tampa Bay 90
  • Passing Stats: New England 30-40-1-289, Tampa Bay 26-46-0-319
  • Turnovers: New England 2, Tampa Bay 0
  • Touchdown Drive Lengths: New England 75, Tampa Bay 68-74

Well, we finish with very even stats…in a game that saw Tampa Bay throwing from near the NE 20-yard line hoping for a game-winning TD on the final play. So…that all adds up. Through the night, though…it felt more like inconsistent Tampa Bay chasing a Patriots team that was trying to grind out a win shorthanded. 

New England led 13-7 at the half, after settling for a 22-yard field goal late in the second quarter. They extended the lead to 16-7 five minutes into the third quarter. Scoreboard didn’t change until just before the two-minute warning. Seemed like a long chase, but both teams were walking.

Without Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady guided 28 of his 30 completions to just four receivers. Two Patriot turnovers prevented the favorite from building a bigger lead when they were getting the best of it. New England is now 3-2 (with dramatic finishes vs. both Houston and Tampa Bay). The Bucs are 2-2, but the victories came over Chicago and the winless NY Giants. 

Next up…

  • Tampa Bay: at the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday October 15
  • New England: at the New York Jets on Sunday October 15

No upset here. But we did have one in college football…

College Football: NC State covers wire-to-wire in win over disappointing Louisville
The luster sure is off Louisville! They were consistently outplayed all night in a two-touchdown loss to the upstart Wolfpack. 

NC State (plus 3.5) 39, Louisville 25

  • Total Yards: Louisville 470, NC State 520
  • Yards-per-Play: Louisville 6.1, NC State 7.3 
  • Third Down Pct: Louisville 56%, NC State 42%
  • Turnovers: Louisville 1, NC State 1
  • TD Drive Lengths: Louisville 75-62-80, NC State 59-77-78-45

Favored Louisville never led. The Cards trailed by double digits at 17-7, 24-13, and 32-19. Lamar Jackson was able to get them within 32-25 with four minutes to go. A late interception return for a TD gave the Wolfpack its final victory margin. 

Much of the game involved NC State (and its backers) regretting failed red zone opportunities. That late defensive TD got the scoreboard back to what the game “felt like” most of the evening. Much-hyped Louisville is now 1-5 against the spread this season. They never played like the favorite here. NC State is just 2-4 ATS…but now trending in the right direction after upsets over Florida State and Louisville. 

NC State entered the game at #24 in the AP poll. This win will set up a “marquee” meeting at #21 Notre Dame on October 28, and then at home against #2 Clemson on November 4. Tough to see them as a true threat for legitimate prominence given just an 8-point win over Syracuse and that season opening loss to South Carolina. Maybe they’ll keep getting better. 

Louisville has felt like “old news” ever since the 36-10 late season loss to Houston last year. Which was followed by a 41-38 upset loss to Kentucky, and a 29-9 bowl embarrassment against LSU…and now double-digit league losses in 2017 to Clemson and NC State. Market still chasing them down to what they’ve become.

AL Divisional Round: Series favorites Houston and Cleveland jump to 1-0 leads with easy wins over Boston and the NY Yankees
Not much drama in the first two games of the divisional round. The home favorites coasted to easy victories…as the road underdogs couldn’t get much on the board. Jose Altuve of the Astros scored more runs on his own homers than the Red Sox and Yankees did combined! Let’s take ‘em in the order they were played.

Houston (-125) 8, Boston 2

  • Totals Bases Plus Walks Drawn: Boston 14, Houston 29
  • Sale: 5.0 IP, 7 ER, 6 K, 1 BB, 3 HR
  • Verlander: 6 IP, 2 ER, 3 K, 2 BB, 0 HRs

Most of the scoring was in the first half of the game. Chris Sale lived down to concerns that he was fading in the latter stages of the season. He didn’t scary anybody Thursday, allowing two solo home runs in the bottom of the first inning…and seven runs in his five innings. Justin Verlander wasn’t his recent dominant self by any means. Only three K’s in six innings was about half of expectations. But, he kept the ball in the park, and his opponent in check. 

  • Red Sox Bullpen: 3 IP, 1 ER, 2 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
  • Astros Bullpen: 3IP, 0 ER, 3 K, 0 BB, 0 HRs

Good stuff from the bullpens…continuing the theme that handicapping the postseason will weigh heavily on the starting pitchers because everyone left has good relievers. It’s still obviously very early…but focusing on the HR characteristics of the starting pitchers may be the linchpin stat that ultimately means the most for handicappers. 

Cleveland (-140) 4, NY Yankees 0

  • Totals Bases Plus Walks Drawn: NY Yankees 7, Cleveland 15
  • Gray: 3.1 IP, 3 ER, 2 K, 4 BB, 1 HR
  • Bauer: 6.2 IP, 0 ER, 8 K, 1 BB, 0 HRs

Great outing from Trevor Bauer, more than justifying the “gamble” from manager Terry Francona. Bauer might as well have been Corey Kluber with those numbers! He had a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Sonny Gray went on the already long list of quality starters who have struggled badly in the short preseason.  

  • Yankees Bullpen: 4.2 IP, 1 ER, 7 K, 2 BB, 0 HRs
  • Indians Bullpen: 2.1 IP, 0 ER, 6 K, 2 BB, 0 HRs

The Yankees followed up that great relief effort in the Wildcard game with 4.2 more strong innings here. Two elite bullpens. Cleveland’s relievers got six of their seven outs via the K.

This was the first Under of the 2017 postseason, after three Overs. Half the runs scored on the game’s only homer. 

Both of these series will have a Game 2 on Friday afternoon. Let’s jump right into those previews. 

Boston at Houston (2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT on FS1)

  • Game 2 money line: Houston -160, Boston plus 140
  • Run line: Houston -1.5 runs (plus 130), Boston plus 1.5 runs (-150)
  • Over/Under: 8.5 runs

Boston really needed Sale to get Game 1 for them, because they’ll have to face Keuchel in Game 2, and Verlander again later in the series. 

  • Pomeranz (Red Sox): 3.32 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
  • Keuchel (Astros): 2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Clear edge to the host, particularly in the area of WHIP. That’s a big deal in the postseason because every baserunner matters. Well, against the Astros, any baserunner can become the lead run in a two-run or three-run homer at the drop of a hat. 

  • Pomeranz (Red Sox): 4.15 xFIP, 23.5 K%, 9.3 BB%, 0.98 HRs per 9 IP
  • Keuchel (Astros): 3.32 xFIP, 21.4 K%, 8.1 BB%, 0.93 HRs per 9 IP

Nothing to change any minds there, as Dallas Keuchel’s edge in xFIP is even larger than in ERA. Though, it’s interesting that his K-Rate isn’t nearly as scary as other aces we’ve been looking at. He’s pitched efficiently while keeping the ball in the park. 

NY Yankees at Cleveland (5 p.m. ET, 2 p.m. PT on MLB Network)
Game 2 line: No overnight line posted as of midnight ET. You know that Kluber over Sabathia is going to be much pricier than Bauer over Gray was. By the time you read this, numbers will be up on the board offshore and in Nevada. 

Kluber is now positioned to put the hammer down and launch the defending AL champs to a 2-0 series lead. Note that the weird starting time is likely to throw shadows onto the field in ways that help the pitchers. That could make Kluber even more unhittable than normal. Can Sabathia use that to his advantage to force a low scoring tie through the first two-thirds of the game? 

  • Sabathia (Yankees): 3.69 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
  • Kluber (Cleveland): 2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP

Big edge for Kluber. Though, it has to be said that nobody expected Sabathia to post those kinds of numbers this season…particularly in home run heaven.

  • Sabathia (Yankees): 4.11 xFIP, 19.3 K%, 8.0 BB%, 1.27 HRs per 9 IP
  • Kluber (Cleveland): 2.52 xFIP, 34.1 K%, 4.6 BB%, 0.93 HRs per 9 IP

You’ve seen enough of these analytics stat lines by now to recognize that Kluber’s K/BB data is ungodly. He deserves to be a prohibitive favorite. 

NL Divisional Round Previews: Evening doubleheader features Cubs/Nats followed by D-backs/Dodgers 
Let’s set the tone for the senior circuit with a look at ballpark influences, then a review of the “road offense” and “bullpen xFIP” numbers we ran the other day. 

NL Ballparks (MLB ranking in order of “hitters’ parks”)
3…Arizona increased offense by 20% (home runs by 22%)
5…Wrigley Field increased offense by 13% 
10…Washington increased offense by 6%
17…Dodger Stadium decreased offense by 3% 

You saw in the NL Wildcard game that Arizona can be a launching pad. Wrigley Field is tricky because it plays almost like Colorado when the wind is blowing out, but like an extreme pitcher’s park when the wind is blowing in (particularly in cooler temperatures). Interesting that Dodger Stadium was fairly neutral this season. Traditionally, it helps pitchers more than that. 

NL Road Offense
3…Washington 4.9 runs per game
6…Chicago Cubs 4.8 runs per game
7…LA Dodgers 4.6 runs per game
8…Arizona 4.4 runs per game

Remember that we focus on ROAD offense to help take ballpark influences out of the run scoring evaluation process. Washington has the scariest offense in the league based on these numbers (though the Dodgers were awesome when everyone was healthy). Arizona’s offense turns mortal in normal parks…which will be worth remembering when their series with the Dodgers heads to Chavez Ravine. 

Finally, the bullpen data (all pitcher analytics stats come from fangraphs). 

NL Relievers xFIP
1…LA Dodgers 3.64
2…Arizona 4.04
4…Chicago Cubs 4.11
9…Washington 4.39

As we mentioned the other day…Washington was horrible in the first half of the season, but largely fixed this issue at the trade deadline. You should probably think of all four teams as having quality bullpens. We’ll have to see on the fly if there are any differences in “middle relief” that may come up if starters flounder. 

Series prices posted offshore for the NL divisional matchups were Washington -140 over the Cubs (plus 125 on the dog), and the LA Dodgers -250 over Arizona (plus 210 on the dog)

Chicago Cubs at Washington (7:30 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. PT on TBS)

  • Game 1 money line: Washington -165, Chicago plus 150
  • Run line: Washington -1.5 runs (plus 130), Chicago plus 1.5 runs (-150)
  • Over/Under: 7 runs

Max Scherzer injured his hamstring recently, and has not been cleared to go just yet. Washington is hoping he can pitcher later this series. He’s tentatively set for Game 3 after Steven Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez start things off for the Nats. Kyle Hendricks will get the Game 1 call for the Cubs.

  • Hendricks (Cubs): 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
  • Strasburg (Nats): 2.52 ERA, 1.02 WHIP

Good stuff there…edge to the hosts.

  • Hendricks (Cubs): 3.76 xFIP, 21.6 K%, 7.0 BB%, 1.10 HRs per 9 IP
  • Strasburg (Nats): 3.27 xFIP, 29.1 K%, 6.7 BB%, 0.67 HRs per 9 IP

Strasburg clearly has much more capability of controlling his own destiny. His strikeout rate is noticeably superior…as is his ability to keep the ball in the park. Given that the offense and bullpen look like they’ll probably cancel out in this series…the Game 1 market price is based on Strasburg’s superior skill set plus home field advantage. 

Arizona at LA Dodgers (10:30 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. PT on TBS)

  • Game 1 money line: LA Dodgers -270, Arizona plus 240
  • Run line: LA Dodgers -1.5 runs (-125), Arizona plus 1.5 runs (plus 105)
  • Over/Under: 7.5 runs

The market is pricing Clayton Kershaw like he’s going to be 100% of his normal self during the postseason. Dog lovers are hoping he still isn’t quite ready to shine because he hasn’t really been himself since mid-July. The Dodgers had such a huge lead that Kershaw could rest his back and try to work himself back into form. Other than a dominant win over the horrible San Francisco Giants, it’s been awhile since Kershaw was Superman. 

  • Walker (Arizona): 3.49 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
  • Kershaw (LAD): 2.31 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

Taijuan Walker isn’t scary…but he’s effective enough to compete if Kershaw isn’t back to form yet. The D-backs had to go with Walker because ace Zach Greinke started the Wildcard game vs. Colorado, and #2 starter Robbie Ray threw 34 pitches and 2.1 innings in relief. 

  • Walker (Arizona): 4.34 xFIP, 21.4 K%, 8.9 BB%, 0.97 HRs per 9 IP
  • Kershaw (LAD): 2.84 xFIP, 29.8 K%, 4.4 BB%, 1.18 HRs per 9 IP

Kershaw has become more home run prone later in his career because he’s not afraid to challenge hitters. Anyone who makes contact with his heat has a chance to go deep with the new baseballs. Easier said than done with that high K-rate!

We’ll pick up with playoff coverage again next week. It will be great to have a big weekend of postseason thrills to go along with all the college and pro football.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to our Point Spread Weekly digital betting resource (full season price just $99), you can take care of business after clicking here. Be sure to check out Dave Tuley’s weekend preview as he joins the VSiN team full time.

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