Through the first two games of each league’s Championship Series pitching has dominated hitting. This makes for dramatic if not entertaining baseball in an era in which offense draws viewers and holds their attention.
That pitching is the theme in postseason baseball should not be all that surprising as in most sports the best teams are usually those that excel at preventing their opposition from scoring, be it points in football and basketball or runs in baseball.
Both home teams held serve in taking 2-0 series leads before taking to the road.
In the ALCS Houston won a pair of 2-1 games versus the New York Yankees, benefitting from outstanding pitching performances from starters Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. The latter’s performance was especially impressive, pitching a complete game, striking out 13 Yankees while allowing just 5 hits and 1 walk.
His performance was punctuated by Carlos Correa’s walk off base hit that scored Jose Altuve, perhaps soon to be announced as the AL’s MVP. That duo has 8 of the 11 hits Houston has a team through the first two games. The Yankees have been just as anemic at the plate, collecting 10 hits as a team.
In the NLCS the Los Angeles Dodgers hold a similar 2-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs after winning both home games to open the series. Those games produced only slightly more offense than in the ALCS as the teams combined for 12 runs in their two games, 3 of which scored on Justin Turner’s walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 2.
Combined the Cubs and Dodgers had 20 hits although none of the four starting pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw, lasted more than 5 innings.
Of the four ALCS starters only the Yankees’ Luis Severino lasted less than 6 innings. Severino was lifted after just 4 innings following being hit by a comebacker to the mound. To that point he had allowing just 1 run with 2 hits and 2 walks but no strikeouts. He was removed as a precaution and the game was turned over to the talented and deep Yankees bullpen.
It’s often been said that a best of seven series does not truly take shape until the road team wins a game. Thus far the home teams are 4-0 as the venues shift for Games 3, 4 and, if needed, a Game 5.
At the Westgate Monday morning Houston was a minus 550 favorite over the Yankees to win the ALCS with the takeback on the Bronx Bombers plus 400.
In the NLCS the Dodgers were minus 600 over the Cubs with the takeback plus 425.
The tasks for both the Yankees and the Cubs are daunting as they must win 4 of 5 games to advance to the World series including at least one of the next two. In the ALDS the Yankees were down 0-2 to Cleveland in that best of 5 series and won the next three games to advance. The Cubs got by Washington in their NLDS series, also in 5 games, and, of course, both the Yankees and Cubs won their deciding fifth games on the road.
Houston and the Dodgers were the teams to beat in their respective leagues virtually all season. The Dodgers were always in control of the top seed in the NL even while enduring an 11 game losing streak in the first part of September. Houston was the best team in the season for the first five months of the season until Cleveland’s 22 game winning streak that spanned late August into mid-September enabled the Indians to catch and then surpass the Astros for the top AL seed. Cleveland wound up with 102 regular season wins while Houston ended with 101.
The Astros should defeat the Yankees in no more than 6 games with 5 games a real possibility. By the time you are reading this Game 3 will have been played Monday night. If the Yankees won game 3 to make it a 2-1 series lead the Astros would be the play in Games 4 and 5 in New York.
A Houston win in Game 3 would call for a play on the Yankees in Game 4 to avoid a sweep and, if there is a Game 5, it would likely feature a rematch of Game 1 between Masahiro Tanaka against Keuchel and the preferred play would be on the UNDER if the Total is no lower than 7. Games 3 and 4 figure to be higher scoring than the first two games in Houston as the starting pitchers will of lesser quality than in Games 1 and 2.
A similar tact can be taken in the NLCS. The Dodgers should advance past the Cubs although this series is more likely to go the full 7 games than is the ALCS. The plays will be on the Cubs to win 2 of their 3 home games but look to lay no more than minus 130.
The games in Wrigley Field are also likely to be higher scoring than the ones at Dodger Stadium but the Totals will depend on the wind conditions. If relatively neutral look to play OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower.
Barring rainouts we should know the World Series matchup by the end of the weekend.