Baseball is down to its version of the Final Four with the American and National League Championship Series having gotten underway over the weekend.
Starting the week both home teams hold 1-0 leads after Texas defeated Detroit 3-2 on Saturday and Milwaukee slugged its way past St. Louis 9-6 on Sunday. Texas’s win on Saturday came despite a pair of mid-game rain delays, and bad weather caused the postponement of Sunday’s game until Monday.
Monday also saw the Brewers host the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLCS.
Both series are best of seven and played in a 2-3-2 format, meaning Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5, will be played in Detroit and St. Louis.
The ALCS features a pair of evenly matched teams whose regular season records were separated by just one game. Texas won the home field edge by winning 96 games while the Tigers won 95.
Detroit won 6 of 9 regular season meetings, taking 2 of 3 in each of their three series. Yet with ace Justin Verlander on the mound in Game 1, the Rangers won 3-2. Verlander was not sharp in a game twice stopped by rain.
In their regular season meetings the UNDER was 4-3 with two pushes.
The Tigers are also dealing with injuries and will be without veteran Magglio Ordonez for the remainder of the playoffs. Prior to Game 2 the Tigers had to reactivate key midseason acquisition Delmon Young who suffered an oblique injury in Detroit’s ALDS win over the Yankees.
Young, who was slated to start and bat third in Monday’s Game 2, figures to be at less than 100 percent throughout this series.
Aside from Verlander there is no outstanding starting pitcher involved in this season. Both teams have average to slightly above average starters slated to start but none approaching the skill level of Detroit’s ace.
In the NLCS, St. Louis and Milwaukee split their 18 regular season meetings that saw the UNDER go 10-6 with two pushes. The teams combined to average exactly 7.5 total runs per game.
The Cards have the best starting pitcher in Chris Carpenter but he will be unavailable until Game 3 after his brilliant effort in shutting out the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS, a 1-0 clinching win.
After Carpenter, Milwaukee may have the next best pair of starters in Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke. But Gallardo also pitched in the fifth and deciding game of the Brewers defeat of Arizona in the NLDS. Greinke was ineffective but did get the win in Game 1 for the Brewers on Sunday over an equally ineffective Jaime Garcia.
If both Detroit and St. Louis lost on Monday and return home down 0-2 each would be playable in Game 3 to avoid falling down an almost insurmountable 3-0 in their respective series.
Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a 0-3 deficit and did so against the New York Yankees in the ALCS en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.
Detroit will host Texas in Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday with no day off due to Sunday’s postponement. St. Louis will host Milwaukee on Wednesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.
Should either team fall down 0-3 the play in Game 4 would be on the road team to complete the sweep but only if made an underdog.
Should either Detroit or St. Louis win Game 2 on Monday to even their series the plays in Game 3 would be on the underdog if getting +120 or more or on the home team (Detroit or St. Louis) if laying -120 or less.
Specific selections for the remainder of the series are difficult since they rely on a combination of the status of the series, the pitching matchups involved and the prices of the games.
As a guideline look to play the trailing team in the series if favored by no more than -120 on the road or by no more than -140 at home. When the series is tied look to play the home team if laying -125 or less or take the road team if getting +125 or more.
Totals may present the better option with the scarcity of outstanding starting pitching.
In the ALCS Totals of 9 or lower may be played OVER with the exception of when Verlander or Doug Fister start for Detroit. In such starts the play would be UNDER 8 or higher unless Verlander/Fister is opposed by the Rangers’ Matt Harrison, in which case UNDER 7½ is playable.
In the NLCS playing OVER 8 or lower is worth considering in any matchup except if St. Louis starts Carpenter against Milwaukee’s Gallardo, which should occur in Game 3 and a potential Game 7. In such a matchup UNDER 7 is the preferable play.
The call is for both Milwaukee and Texas to advance to the World Series with each winning back at home in 6.
Enjoy the two League Championship Series and by next week’s column we may have a full World Series matchup to preview.