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Yankees' power, bullpen make difference vs. Twins

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Hard knocks from the Bronx, and "Dink" from the rink, as an electric sports week is already in full swing. Baseball, hockey, plus football on the menu Wednesday in VSiN City.

AL Wildcard: Yankees survive first inning deficit to topple Twins 8-4
There was plenty of drama early in the first playoff game of the 2017 postseason. Big underdog Minnesota struck for three runs in the top of the first inning, knocking New York starter Luis Severino out of the game. The Yanks tied it at 3-all in the bottom of the first inning off Ervin Santana, before grabbing the lead for good in the bottom of the third.

NY Yankees (-250) 8, Minnesota 4

  • Totals Bases Plus Walks Drawn: Minnesota 20, NY Yankees 24
  • Santana: 2.0 IP, 4 ER, 0 K, 2 BB, 2 HR’s
  • Severino: 0.1 IP, 3 ER, 0 K, 1 BB, 2 HR’s

It can be helpful to look at “offensive bases” as a backup to the final score, which we’ll do throughout our playoff coverage. The cheapest, dirtiest “runs created” math is simply to take total bases plus walks drawn and divide by four (it takes four bases to score a run). You do that here and you get a tighter 6-5 estimated final score. A key scoreboard difference…the Yanks scored six runs on their three home runs, while the Twins only scored three on their pair.

There was all sorts of talk in the Wildcard buildup about teams devoting extensive innings to bullpen arms in a one-game showdown. That came into play by default when both starters were hit hard right out of the gate. Theoretically, that would favor the Yankees because they had the superior bullpen. Did it ever…

  • Twins Bullpen: 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 5 K, 3 BB, 1 HR
  • Yanks Bullpen: 8.2 IP, 1 ER, 13 K, 3 BB, 0 HR

New York’s bullpen was a de facto ace starter. Though, “aces in the hole” rather than an ace in the hole! In front of a full house no less. Minnesota’s bullpen was an innings muncher. Not good enough at this level. If you’ve only been following baseball casually through the summer, you can see why so many experts on VSiN programming were talking about the potential impact of New York’s bullpen in the postseason. 

The Yankees advance to face the Cleveland Indians in a best-of-five series that begins Thursday in Ohio. Manager Terry Francona has already announced he’s planning to throw Trevor Bauer in Game One, Corey Kluber in Game Two, Carlos Carrasco in Game Three, Josh Tomlin in Game Four (if needed), and then Kluber again (on normal rest given scheduled off-days) in Game Five if the series goes the distance. Severino’s short stint Tuesday would allow the Yankees ace to come back with less pressure on his shoulders as soon as Game Two. 

The AL Divisional series featuring the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros also begins Thursday. Scheduled starting pitchers are Chris Sale and Justin Verlander. We’ll preview both of those series in the Thursday edition of VSiN City. 

NL Wildcard: Whoever survives Wednesday’s Colorado/Arizona “play-in” will have a shot against the Dodgers 
The Arizona Diamondbacks are already a popular dark horse pick in the National League Playoffs, but they’ve got work to do Wednesday night against divisional rival Colorado. Whoever remains standing will have a real chance to upset the top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional round because LAD is dealing with some injuries and late season inconsistency. 

First things first…

Colorado at Arizona (8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT on TBS)

  • Money line: Arizona -170, Colorado plus 155
  • Run line: Arizona -1.5 runs (plus 120), Colorado plus 1.5 runs (-140)
  • Over/Under: 8.5 runs (Over -120)

As was the case in yesterday’s AL preview, we start by trying to get a true read on team offense. That’s VERY important to do here because Colorado plays its home games in the best hitters’ park in baseball (increasing scoring by 33% this past season), while Arizona plays its home games in the third best hitters’ park in baseball (increasing offense by 20% this season). If you only look at 162-game stats, you’ll get the impression that these are very good offensive teams. We showed you a few times during the regular season that neither sparkles in “road only” numbers. Here are league rankings and RPG averages.

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
12…Colorado 4.1 runs per game

Arizona has an “average” offense in neutral conditions…while Colorado’s is sub-par. Head-to-head, Arizona has the better bats. Whoever survives will have the least impressive “real” offense of the remaining NL teams. If you see, hear, or read any media member telling you Colorado has a strong or “great” offense, they’re exposing their lack of understanding about park effects. Handicappers and bettors must deal in reality to find meaningful market edges. 

Now to the bullpen, with a look at reliever xFIP, a fielding independent measure designed to run along the same scale as ERA. Here, again, are league rankings and marks (according to fangraphs). 

NL Relievers xFIP
1…LA Dodgers 3.64
2…Arizona 4.04
4…Chicago Cubs 4.11
5…Colorado 4.14
9…Washington 4.39

Important to note here that xFIP isn’t park adjusted. So both Arizona and Colorado actually have GREAT bullpens once you adjust for context. Both teams are in the playoffs because of pitching, not because of offense…a truth hidden from too many because of home park statistical pollution. We’ll talk more about Washington later in the week. Its bullpen is likely to show better than that ranking in the postseason because they fixed what had been the worst unit in the NL at the trade deadline with smart acquisitions.

Great starting pitching matchup on tap. First the traditional numbers.

  • Gray (Rockies): 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
  • Greinke (D-backs): 3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Great stuff considering the ballparks. Greinke has a bit of an edge there. Does it hold up in the more advanced analytical categories we’ve been trusting during the regular season?

  • Gray (Rockies): 3.45 xFIP, 24.3 K%, 6.5 BB%, 0.82 HR’s per 9 IP
  • Greinke (D-backs): 3.34 xFIP, 26.8 K%, 5.6 BB%, 1.11 HR’s per 9 IP

It’s actually a bit closer…with both guys having a great relationship between strikeouts and walks. Greinke is slightly more home run prone…but that’s been counter-acted by other advantages. 

Even though this is a hitter’s park, the fact that we have ace starters, quality bullpens, and offenses that aren’t as good as casual observers believe might be suggesting Under 8.5 is worth thinking about. Scary thought after watching so many early HRs last night. It will be up to Gray and Greinke to miss bats!

NHL: Pro bettor Alan Denkenson offers his thoughts on Season Over/Unders
No room for a tutorial today with so much midweek activity. In lieu of that, something BETTER! With the 2017-18 regular season beginning TONIGHT, pro bettor (and hockey specialist) Alan Denkenson has written analysis exclusive to VSiN regarding Season Over/Under bets for both the Eastern and Western Conferences. 

Click here for the Eastern Conference
Click here for the Western Conference

Alan is a Vegas veteran well-known in the sports betting industry. He was portrayed by Bruce Willis in the 2012 movie “Lay the Favorite.” And he was featured in the 2016 sports betting documentary “The Best of It.” 

Early lines for Wednesday’s quartet of season openers:

  • Toronto at Winnipeg (-115, total of 6)
  • St. Louis at Pittsburgh (-185, total of 5.5 Under -115)
  • Calgary at Edmonton (-150, total of 5.5 Under -115)
  • Philadelphia at San Jose (-160, total of 5.5 Under -130)

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights will open their season on the road Friday night in Dallas. They play on the road again Saturday at Arizona. Their home opener will be Tuesday Oct. 10 against Arizona. 

College Football: Updating our estimated “market” Power Ratings for Power 5 conferences
We’ll continue to use Wednesdays to update our estimate of “market” Power Ratings for the major conferences. As noted last week, this effort is much “softer” than in the NFL because there’s a wider skew of talent…and a tendency for bettors to really pile on elite favorites in blowout situations. This week Alabama is such a big favorite at Texas A&M that it blows the scale. Hopefully these will feel more pinned down by mid-October. 

Let’s quickly touch on Notre Dame, who isn’t in a conference. We have the Irish at 81. They’re 13-point favorites at North Carolina, who sits at 65 (as you’ll see in a moment). 

SEC West: Alabama ???, Auburn 83, LSU 74, Mississippi State 74, Texas A&M 74, Arkansas 72, Ole Miss 65.
SEC East: Georgia 84??, Florida 76, Tennessee 71, Kentucky 70, Vanderbilt 68, South Carolina 68, Missouri 63.

How can we put a number on Alabama? Texas A&M feels right at 74 given its recent point spreads vs. Arkansas and South Carolina. This week, the Crimson Tide are laying 26.5 points in College Station! That would mean 29.5 points better on a neutral field, or about 103 or 104 on this scale. Yes, they just obliterated Ole Miss and Vandy. Mentally, just go with “at least 93” given earlier numbers this season…and we’ll let the market sort this out over the rest of the SEC slate. 

Georgia is also a bit of a challenge coming off routs of Tennessee and Mississippi State that the market missed by a mile. The Bulldogs are laying 17.5 points at Vandy…which is 20.5 on a neutral field. Vandy beat Kansas State! So, we can’t knock the Commodores down to 64 or something silly (not yet anyway). Georgia’s rising up to where you can think of them as national dark horse. A tentative “84??” serves that purpose until we get more samples.  

Big 10 East: Ohio State 89, Penn State 87, Michigan 82, Michigan State 74, Indiana 72, Maryland 63, Rutgers 60.
Big 10 West: Wisconsin 84, Iowa 73, Northwestern 70, Purdue 70, Nebraska 69, Minnesota 69, Illinois 58.

A little more stability here. But we still undershoot the distance between Ohio State and Maryland. The Buckeyes are -31 at home. We’re not ready to put the team that lost at home to Oklahoma up at 91, or drop the Terrapins that just won at Minnesota down to 61. Every year there seems to be a few teams that plays as bullies vs. outmanned opponents, but then underachieve vs. quality. Maybe we’ll go to notations that say something like “Ohio State: 92 vs. teams below 75, but 87 vs. teams at 76 or more.” Trying to pin down “market” Power Ratings can be frustrating in college football…but at least the effort gives you some insights into how the composite of influential sources makes its team evaluations. 

Big 12: Oklahoma 85, Oklahoma State 83, TCU 80, Texas 75, Kansas State 74, West Virginia 70, Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 64, Baylor 60, Kansas 51.

Very interesting divergence between TCU and West Virginia in a short time period. The summer newsstand publication Athlon rated West Virginia as the superior team entering the season (#26 vs. #32). This week TCU is a 13-point home favorite over the Mountaineers! The market has been strongly influenced by TCU’s big win at Oklahoma State, and West Virginia’s disappointing defensive effort at Kansas (in a misleading 56-34 win). We won’t know for awhile whether putting them at 80 and 70 does the trick. We need to have them 10 points apart. 

ACC Atlantic: Clemson 87, Louisville 79, Florida State 76, NC State 72, Wake Forest 68, Syracuse 65, Boston College 61.
ACC Coastal: Miami 82, Virginia Tech 76, Georgia Tech 74, Duke 70, Virginia 69, North Carolina 65, Pittsburgh 64.

Sharps hit Miami hard in this week’s write-in game at Florida State. An opener of FSU -1 has been bet all the way to Miami -3. That means we need to put the Hurricanes six points higher on the scale. We went with 82 and 76 because FSU’s been sliding since the QB injury. But it’s possible 84 and 78 are better, because the market sees Miami as a budding juggernaut. We’ll need another week to believe that. 

Pac 12 North: Washington 86, Stanford 81, Washington State 78, Oregon 77, California 65, Oregon State 56.
Pac 12 South: USC 84, UCLA 75, Utah 73, Colorado 71, Arizona State 68, Arizona 67.

We couldn’t quite justify the spreads in games involving Washington and USC as big favorites over California and Oregon State respectively. Probably some “blowout” inflation in the mix. Oregon State’s 0-5 ATS this season, so it’s hard to know for sure how bad they really are. 

A quick NFL note: the Oakland Raiders have settled in at -2.5 with E.J. Manuel at quarterback Sunday at home against the Baltimore Ravens. Because we had Baltimore at 77…that will put the Raiders at 76. So, Oakland is 81 with Carr, and 76 with Manuel…roughly in the range most oddsmakers and handicappers expected for a price adjustment after Carr’s back injury. Still waiting for numbers to go up and settle in games involving Marcos Mariota (hamstring) of Tennessee, and Sam Bradford (knee) of Minnesota.

Back Thursday to preview:
New England at Tampa Bay in the NFL
#17 Louisville at #24 NC State in college football
Boston at Houston in the AL Playoffs (day game)
NY Yankees at Cleveland in the AL Playoffs 

That’s worth parking on the couch for! Friday we’ll run stat summaries for those games, plus NL previews for Cubs/Nationals and the winner of the Wildcard game at the LA Dodgers. 

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