The field of 10 Playoff teams is down to eight as the Yankees and Pirates were eliminated by the Astros and Cubs in the Wild Card games last week.
The Yankees went with nary a whimper in a 3-0 home loss last Tuesday and the Pirates offered similarly little resistance when they lost, also at home, the next night 4-0.
Interestingly, both shutouts were largely authored by the likely Cy Young Award winners in each league – Dallas Keuchel of Houston and Jake Arrieta of the Cubs.
By pitching in those one game eliminations both Keuchel and Arrieta were not able to pitch in the first two games of their respective Divisional series.
Both the Cubs and Astros split their first two games with the Cubs losing the first and winning the second game in St. Louis and Houston winning their opener in Kansas City before losing the second.
The two American League series had three games played through Sunday while the National League series resumed on Monday after a travel day on Sunday.
Through Sunday the first dozen games of this post season, including the two Wild Card games, have seen the road team win 8 times and the home team just 4.
There have been 4 OVERs, 7 UNDERs and 1 push with an average of just 6.4 total runs per game being scored, a clear indication of the importance of pitching thus far. In the dozen games just two teams have managed to score more than 5 runs and one of those teams needed extra innings to do so.
Texas defeated Toronto last Friday in Game 2 of their ALDS, 6-4, after the game was tied at 4 after nine innings. The Cubs also scored 6 runs in their Game 2 win in St. Louis on Saturday, which evened that series.
Entering Monday the Astros and Rangers held 2-1 series leads over the Royals and Blue Jays respectively and could have advanced to the ALCS by the time you are reading this column. Should either or both the Royals or Blue Jays have won on Monday to force a deciding fifth game on Wednesday, the preference would be to back the home team to complete the comeback and advance to the ALCS.
Recall that both the Royals and Blue Jays had the home field advantage due to a better record and were favored to win these best of five series.
The two NL series are tied entering Monday as the action moves to Chicago and New York where the Cubs and Mets were both solid favorites behind starters Arrieta and Matt Harvey.
The NL series could be decided on Tuesday as one of the teams will be up 2 games to 1. With both series evenly matched the team facing elimination in Game 4 would make for a nice play if made the underdog.
As noted last week, the projections were for the Wild Card winner in the NL to oust St. Louis from the Playoffs and for the Mets to get past the Dodgers.
As such both would be playable as road underdogs to advance if there is a Game 5 in either or both series on Thursday.
As to the League Championship Series, the matchups are obviously not known as we go to press.
If both Toronto and Kansas City rally from their 2-1 deficits the Royals would have the home field advantage. If Houston gets past Kansas City the Astros then either Texas or Toronto would have the home field edge vs Houston.
In the regular season Texas won 4 of 7 meetings against Kansas City and won 13 of 19 against Division rival Houston.
The Astros won 3 of the 5 starts made by ace Dallas Keuchel with 2 of those wins coming in Keuchel’s 3 home starts. The Astros were 1-1 in the lefty’s 2 starts in Texas.
Toronto won 4 of 7 games against Kansas City with the home team winning 5 of 7 (the Royals were 2-1 at home; the Blue Jays 3-1 at home). The teams last met on August 2.
In a potential Houston vs Toronto ALCS it is worth noting that the home team was a perfect 7-0 this season with Houston sweeping a 4 game home series in mid-May and Toronto sweeping a 3 game home series three weeks late in early June. Note that Keuchel did not start in any of the three games in Toronto but did start in one of the home games vs the Blue Jays.
The call here is for Toronto to win the ALCS in 6 games whether they face Kansas City or Houston, meaning they’d wrap up the series at home if the play the Astros or on the road if the foe is Kansas City.
If Houston gets by Kansas City it would be tempting to pick them to get past Texas but the Astros’ record cited above, 6-13 vs the Rangers during the regular season, makes that a tough call to make, especially with Texas having the home field advantage. The pick in this ALCS matchup would be for Texas to win in 7.
The Rangers would also be the call to get by Kansas City but in 7 games, meaning they would win the ALCS on the road. Recall that the Rangers lost back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011, lost in the Wild Card round in 2012 and missed the Playoffs despite 91 wins in 2013 before dropping to 67-95 last season. So there is plenty of experience on the Rangers. And in their midseason pickup of Cole Hamels, they have the 2008 World Series MVP when Hamels was with the Phillies.
In the NL the call would be for the Mets to get past either the Cubs or the Cardinals based largely upon their outstanding starting pitching which gives them advantages over perhaps every opposing starter they’d face aside from the Cubs’ Arrieta. The Mets had a much more potent offense since their deals at the trade deadline.
Against St. Louis the Mets would be the call to win in 6, but the call would be for the series to go either 6 or 7 games if the Mets face the Cubs. The difference would be in when Arrieta would pitch for the Cubs. It would be tough to not back Arrieta if here was to pitch in an elimination game for his second start of that series.
The Dodgers would also be the call to get past either St. Louis or the Cubs although backing either Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke would not be a slam dunk if the price is too high.
Next week’s column will take a closer look at both the ALCS and NLCS with those series already underway. It will be possible to examine the potential path of both series once the game by game matchups are a bit clearer.
One approach to the start of each series would be to bet against a sweep by the home team in the first two games. Thus, the recommended plays would be on the road team in Game 1 of both series and, if the home team wins, come back with a play on the road team in Game 2.
One other recommendation would be to make a Futures play on both the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs once the 2016 World Series and Pennant odds are released later this month. You won’t get any bargains on either team but the odds will be the highest you will see for the foreseeable future or until either team is well out of contention next season.
Both the Astros and the Cubs were expected to be contenders in 2016 or 2017 but each has ascended to that position a season or two earlier than expected.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]