MLB Divisional Playoffs Betting Preview
With the wild-card round in the books, MLB playoff action begins in earnest Thursday. Let’s take a look at each upcoming series.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves
This battle of division champions is easily the most even matchup of the divisional round. The Braves (97-65) have home field advantage against NL Central champs St. Louis (91-71). The Braves are -140 favorites to advance to the NLCS, with the Cardinals a +125 dog. While Atlanta’s record is six games better, the teams have markedly similar run differentials (Atlanta +112, St. Louis +102). The Cardinals come into the postseason off one of the best second half runs in baseball. 45-45 after their first 90 games, St. Louis went an impressive 45-22 over their next 77. The Braves were pretty consistent all season, but a 4-8 record to end the season is a touch concerning.
While the series lacks big-name pitching, there are plenty of good arms to go around. Jack Flaherty should have a real chance to steal game 2 for the Cardinals. Since August 1, Flaherty has been the best pitcher in all of baseball, going 7-2 with a sub 1.00 ERA. He gets a winnable matchup against Mike Foltynewicz, though he too is hot (4-1, 1.50 in September). However, the other duels tilt toward the Braves. Highly experienced playoff performer Dallas Kuechel goes in game 1 for Atlanta, and rookie phenom Mike Soroka takes the hill in game 3. One thing to keep in mind is home atmosphere. While the Braves do start at home, Thursday’s game is an early 5 pm start and the crowd could be flat. We know that in St. Louis there will be no such problem, as Busch Stadium will certainly be rocking.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The first of three chalk heavy series kicks off late Thursday night when NL powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) takes on the Washington Nationals (93-69). L.A. comes in as a -230 favorite with Washington sitting as a +185 dog. The Nationals feel good story carried over from the second half all the way to the eighth inning of the wild-card game on Tuesday, when they rallied to overcome a 3-1 deficit. However, they were forced to burn star pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg just to get through. While they can be confident in good work from Game 1 starter Patrick Corbin, this is hardly an ideal scenario when facing a deep Dodgers lineup. The Nats haven’t made up their mind about who will start Game 2. If their worryingly weak bullpen is needed, this series will be over quickly.
The Dodgers are clearly the most complete team in the National League. Not having played a meaningful game in a month is never a good thing, but it’s hard to see motivation being an issue here. The Dodgers have been knocking on the door for years, and are desperate to get back to the World Series. While L.A. should advance, if the Nats starters hold up, this series could take a little longer than expected. Washington ranks second in the NL in run differential, behind only L.A., and played the Dodgers well during the season. L.A. won four of seven, with the total runs scored finishing up at 30-27. The Nats have all the makings for a magical playoff story, but the Dodgers just feel overwhelming in this spot.
Tampa Bay Rays vs. Houston Astros
Friday’s slate opens up with this lopsided affair between AL wild card winner Tampa Bay (96-66) and AL West juggernaut Houston (107-55). The Astros are a whopping -250 favorite, with the Rays fetching +210. Usually, when looking for value in a scenario like this, bettors like to lean on recent form. Find a wild card team who’s playing out of their minds in high stakes games to end the season, who are sharper than the runaway division winner. Short series, momentum, upset. But that narrative doesn’t really fit here. The Rays closed out on a 7-5 run, with six of those wins coming against teams who were already setting up for postseason play (Dodgers and Yankees) and another who had pretty much quit on the year (Boston). The Astros meanwhile, were winning with the gas off the pedal, and that’s how good they can be. They cruised into the playoffs on a 12-2 run.
The deadline acquisition of Zach Grienke almost makes this playoff rotation unfair. Grienke is 8-1 since joining the Astros, and combined with living legend Justin Verlander and MLB strikeout leader Gerrit Cole are just too much to look beyond. However, the Rays pitching is nothing to be scoffed at. Unsurprisingly, the names aren’t there, but the staff as a collective is one of the best. League leader in ERA, Tampa trails only Houston and the Dodgers in Batting Average Against. Richard Justice at MLB.com put out this info: “3.25 bullpen ERA since the trade deadline, best in MLB. Tied for first in WHIP, and first in OPS during this time.” This might be a series to focus more on the totals if you think Tampa will be competitive, and if the pitching comes good, there should be plenty of live in-game betting opportunities as well.
Minnesota Twins vs New York Yankees
The last divisional series features a pair of 100-win teams in AL Central champs Minnesota (101-61) and AL East winners New York (103-59). The Yankees are -217 favorites and the Twins are coming in as a +198 underdog. It’s fitting that in the Year of the Home Run, we’d see these two teams face off. The Twins led the league with a preposterous 307 homers, followed by the Yankees at 306. It’s a tiny sample size, but the wild card games showed that the emphasis on the home run will likely follow through into the playoffs. In the two games 9 of 13 runs were scored as a result of a homer. There’s every chance that whoever finds more long-balls in this series will emerge the victor. Although their home park plays into this somewhat, this actually is an area where the Yankees have fared worse than their opponent. They gave up the 7th most home runs in the league this season, while the Twins gave up the 7th fewest. If that trend holds, the Twins have a real chance at the upset.