On Sunday night the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS did what the Toronto Blue Jays failed to do in the ALCS – gain a split of the first two games on the road in the best of seven series to determine the teams that will meet in the 2016 World Series.
The Dodgers thus return home to host the heavily favored Cubs in what is now a best of five series with the Dodgers playing the next three games at home.
Although he was not sharp in his two starts against Washington in the NLDS ace Clayton Kershaw was strong in relief, earning the save in Game 5 and then was brilliant in his Game 2 start in Chicago that enabled the Dodgers to even the NLCS heading to Los Angeles for Tuesday’s Game 3.
Before Game 1 the Cubs were roughly 2-to-1 favorites to win the NLCS and even after splitting the first two games at home they are still about minus 170 to advance to the World Series, even with 3 games on the road.
The balance of the series handicaps as being low scoring. It is unlikely that either team will sweep the three games in Los Angeles and thus there is a very strong likelihood the NLCS will conclude in Chicago.
The Cubs have the better balanced roster and, as we saw against the Giants and the Dodgers in Game 1, can rally late in dramatic fashion. Both teams have solid bullpens but the Cubs is more versatile with several relievers better equipped to pitch several innings with a number of former starters turned relievers.
The Cubs remain the choice to advance, most likely in 6, although it would behoove them to return to Chicago with a 3-2 lead and not facing elimination by needing to win both Games 6 and 7.
At Totals of 7 or higher look UNDER before OVER and to back the Cubs as favorites of -125 or less (or as underdogs) with the Dodgers being playable as underdogs of +140 or more. Make it -135 or less when Kershaw starts.
The first two games of the ALCS have featured brilliant pitching performances from both teams as Cleveland won those home games by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. Cleveland’s starters and relievers tamed the potent Blue Jays bats, with Toronto strikeouts accounting for 25 of their 54 outs.
Despite opening on the road Toronto was made a -140 favorite to win the series, odds that changed to Cleveland being a -135 series favorite after the Tribe won Game 1. After Cleveland’s Game 2 win the Indians were adjusted to favorites of -280 or so with the takeback on the Blue Jays in the vicinity of +220 to +240.
Yet all that Cleveland has done is hold serve by winning both home games to start the ALCS. Still, to win the series Toronto would have to win 4 of the next 5 games including at least one of the final two in Cleveland. The Indians need to take 2 of the next 5 games and would only need to win both games back home if the Blue Jays sweep their three home contests in Toronto.
The surprise of the first two games in Cleveland was the low scoring with a total of just 5 runs. That is likely to change in Toronto, at least for Games 3 and 4, when the quality of Cleveland’s starting pitching is weaker than in Games 1 and 2.
Even with a 2-0 series lead Cleveland’s task is tough and if they can win either Game 3 or Game 4 they should advance to the World Series. But if Toronto wins both of those games to even the series, they become the favorites to advance even with potentially two more games in Cleveland.
The Indians, perhaps in anticipation of the possibility of a pair of Blue Jay wins, have decided to start Mike Clevinger in Tuesday’s Game 4 and have ace Corey Kluber – who was brilliant in the opener – start in Wednesday’s Game 5 on regular rest.
Expertly managed for former Boston skipper Terry Francona the Indians are expecting to either wrap up the series in Toronto or at least head back home to Cleveland up 3-2.
It is hard to envision Toronto’s offense being held in check back home in their friendly confines and thus the Blue Jays might be worth a play at minus a run and a half in both Games 3 and 4. Of course by the time many of you are reading this on Tuesday, Game 3 will be history.
The OVER in Toronto in Game 4 is also worth considering but if there is a Game 5 and Kluber starts for Cleveland UNDER 7.5 or higher is supportable.
If the series returns to Cleveland the chances for Toronto to complete the comeback are enhanced with a starting pitching edge likely in both Games 6 and 7.
In next week’s column the World Series matchup will be known, barring any postponements in either LCS.
The most attractive matchup – and the one that is currently favored to occur – would be Cubs vs Indians as a drought of either 108 years or 68 years would come to an end. But Toronto and the LA Dodgers would are intent on spoiling those plans.