Wild Card upsets likely

After a rocky start related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the shortened 60-game regular season had a smooth September.

The 16 playoff teams begin the path to the World Series playing best-of-three series, all at the ballpark of the higher seeded team and on consecutive days. The American League started Tuesday, the National League Wednesday.

Two rules used during the regular season won’t be used in the playoffs. Extra innings will be played the traditional way and not with a runner placed on second base. Should there be a need for doubleheaders both games will each be nine innings rather than seven as used this summer.

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This was an odd regular season in many ways and one specific aspect presents a concern for the playoffs. Despite the shortened season of just 898 games, 294 pitchers made at least one start. That’s an average of 9.8 different starters per team. Of 150 who started at least five games, only 22 averaged 6.0 or more innings per start, putting much pressure on bullpens. And for the most part bullpens were shaky.

In approaching playoff games I’ll seek to play strong starting pitcher matchups Under the total for the First Five Innings. For Overs I’ll focus on full-game plays in weak pitching matchups in which bullpens figure to be used early in games.

Here are my thoughts on each series and two game selections with series prices for the visitor in parentheses.

American League

Yankees (-120) at Indians: Cleveland has the better three-man starting rotation with Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac rating the edge over Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. But that edge is offset by the Yankees averaging 1.1 more runs per game at the plate. I expect this series to go the distance and will go with Cleveland to win if they start Plesac instead of Aaron Civale in Game 3.

Astros (+150) at Twins: Despite finishing second in the AL West, Houston is the only AL team in the playoffs with a losing record. With Cole gone and Justin Verlander injured the Astros are at a starting pitcher disadvantage. Both offenses are average but Minnesota allowed a full 1.0 runs per game less than Houston. Minnesota in three games.

Blue Jays (+180) at Rays: Toronto is one of only three playoff teams to be outscored during the regular season and that was largely due to allowing an average of 5.2 runs per game, 1.4 more than Tampa Bay and the highest of all playoff teams. Although Toronto outscored the Rays in their 10 meetings the Rays won six of them. Tampa led the AL with 40 wins, four more than the Twins and Athletics. Tampa Bay in three.

White Sox (+105) at Athletics: Both teams struggled late with losing records over their final 15 games in what is the most competitively priced of the eight series. Chicago has two of the three top starters in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel vs. Chris Bassitt. But if the series goes the distance, Oakland would be the play with a significant edge over Chicago’s No. 3 starter.

National League

Marlins (+180) at Cubs: Both offenses averaged 4.4 runs per game but the Cubs have a huge edge on the mound, allowing 1.1 fewer runs per game. This series shapes up as a sweep with Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish likely to start the first two games. The Cubs should be highly priced which suggests laying the run and a half.

Cardinals (+170) at Padres: I’d love to back the Padres in this series but they have starting pitching concerns with Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet nursing injuries.  Because of this, the Cardinals have a realistic chance to pull the series upset, especially with Kwang-Hyun Kim, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty scheduled to start and a bullpen I rate highly. Cardinals in three.

Reds (+115) at Braves: Cincinnati rates my edge in both starting and relief pitching but the Braves have a significant edge on offense. However, the Reds played their best baseball down the stretch, going 16-9 after a 15-20 start. The Reds should have the starting pitching edges in Games 2 and 3 and are my pick to pull the upset.

Brewers (+250) at Dodgers: The Dodgers have the best record in baseball, both as the home team (21-9) and the road team (22-8) and deserve to be the solid 7-2 favorites to win the World Series. They led MLB in averaging 5.8 runs per game and were a close second to Cleveland in allowing just 3.6 runs per game. Milwaukee was outscored on the season and is the only NL Playoff team with a losing record. Dodgers to sweep.

Wednesday

Yankees at Indians: With both teams possessing above-average bullpens this series should go the full three games. The scheduled matchup is Tanaka vs. Carrasco which I rate even. PLAY LOSER OF GAME 1

Thursday

Reds at Braves: With Trevor Bauer scheduled to start Wednesday, either Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray should start Game 2. If so, the game could be priced close to pick ‘em. I give Cincy the bullpen edge and expect Castillo/Gray to pitch into the sixth inning. REDS

Last week: 1-1

Season: 16-8