The long marathon that is the 162 game major league baseball regular season is complete and over this past weekend the field of 10 Playoff team bracket was finalized.
On Tuesday the New York Yankees will host the American League Wild card game and a night later the National League Wild Card game will have Arizona hosting Colorado. Kudos to the NL West which has three teams in the Playoffs including the top overall NL seed, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will face the Division rival that wins the Wild Card game in the NLDS that starts later in the week.
The other NLDS will match the second seeded Washington Nationals against the third seeded and defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
We might also be treated to an ALDS featuring Division rivals if the Twins can upset the Yankees and advance to meet AL Central Division champion Cleveland. The Indians, defeated by the Cubs in a ten innings game seven in last season’s World Series, used a strong second half of the season that included an AL record 22 straight games, earned the top AL seed and will face the winner of the Wild Card game.
The second seeded Boston Red Sox will face the Houston Astros in the other ALDS.
Here’s a preview of the two Wild Card games and the quartet of Divisional Series followed by a prediction for the World Series now that the Playoffs are set to begin.
Let’s enjoy the action and the accompanying drama.
AL Wild Card
Twins at Yankees: The home team won 5 of 6 meetings this season with Minnesota taking 2 of 3 at home when the teams met in mid-July coming out of the All Star break and the Yankees sweeping the Twins just two weeks ago. Their first 5 meetings all stayed UNDER the Total prior to the Yankees winning their most recent meeting 11-3. In their 6 games the Yanks and Twins averaged a combined 7.7 total runs per game but just 6.4 rpg in the 5 games that stayed UNDER.
The Yankees will start Luis Severino who has arguably been the third best pitcher in the American League this season. The Twins will counter with Ervin Santana who’s had a season almost comparable to Severino’s. The Yankees opened as huge -240 favorites and that favoritism is justified given the Yanks’ pedigree of post season success including Playoff success against the Twins. But this is a one game situation and the price is very juicy to take a shot with the Twins. But the Yankees have a huge edge in the bullpen which suggests an early to mid-game lead by the Yankees may be tough to overcome.
The Total of 7.5 may offer the best way to bet this game as, in a one game elimination, managers are more likely to turn to the bullpen at the first sign of trouble to prevent a bit inning by the opponent. And in such games almost every starting pitcher will be available for use with no future games a guarantee. Thus the preference for this game will be to play the UNDER 7.5.
If you believe that at least one underdog will advance to their LDS then you might consider plays on bothMinnesota and Colorado. Otherwise, if you want to play the Yankees you might consider laying the run and a half at a reasonable -115.
NL Wild Card
Rockies at D’backs: These NL West Division rivals played 19 times this season and Arizona won 11 of the games. Despite their high powered offenses they combined to average a relatively low 8.9 combined runs per game with 12 games staying UNDER, 5 going OVER and 2 ending in PUSHes. Arizona opened as a minus 170 favorite with the Total at 8.5 in a matchup of Colorado’s Jon Gray opposing Diamondbacks’ ace Zach Greinke.
Greinke pitched well in all 5 starts he made against the Rockies, going at least 7 innings in 4 of the 5 and lasting 6 innings in the fifth. Gray also pitcher effectively in two road starts at Arizona, pitching a total of 13 innings and striking 10 in each game while walking just 1 in total and allowing 2 runs in each start.
These results suggest UNDER 8.5 as the solid play for this matchup. Gray has pitched well on the road all season, especially in the 8 road starts made since the All Star break. This makes a case for a play on the underdog Rockies who have a potent lineup that matches up well against that of Arizona.
Red Sox at Astros: The road team won 5 of 7 meetings this season with Boston taking 2 of 3 when the teams met in Houston in mid-June and Houston winning 3 of 4 in Boston this past weekend. Three games went OVER the Total and four stayed UNDER as the teams averaged a combined 8.1 runs per game.
Houston has had the better overall season and rates the favorite. The addition of Justin Verlander to the rotation greatly strengthens what had been a weakness for much of the season and the late season performance of Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton in addition to a healthy Dallas Keuchel make the Astros the choice here to advance to the ALCS in four games over Boston whose rotation is led by Chris Sale, who struggled in several late season starts, and an offense that lacks home run punch. In Craig Kimbrell the Sox have the edge at closer but they have to be in a position to use him for that edge to be meaningful.
Indians vs. Yankees or Twins: Cleveland won 12 of 19 games against their AL Central rival Minnesota with 14 of the games staying UNDER and just 5 going OVER. The Twins and Indians averaged a combined 7.8 total runs per game. The Tribe took 5 of 7 games against the Yankees and in an oddity the road team won the final 5 meetings after Cleveland won their first two meetings. The 7 games were all played in August.
Aside from Severino the Yankees have gotten solid seasons from C C Sabathia and rookie Jordan Montgomery while the ace heading into the season, Masahiro Tanaka, has been at times brilliant and at times horrible. But Cleveland’s top starters of likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar rate the edge.
Combined with their excellent bullpen the Indians are the choice to get by the Yankees in 5 games and to get by Minnesota in 4, although a 4 game sweep would not be a surprise.
Nationals vs. Cubs: Washington won 4 of 7 games against the Cubs this season with their first series played about two and a half weeks before the All Star break and their second series about two and a half weeks after. Their 7 games produced 2 OVERs, 4 UNDERs and one push as the teams averaged 9.6 total runs per game.
After lackluster baseball for much of the season the Cubs caught fire in September and pushed aside challenges from both St Louis and Milwaukee to win the NL Central by 6 games after Milwaukee had trimmed the lead to a single game following a 3 game sweep of the Cubs in Chicago just after Labor Day. Washington was a shoe-in for the NL East title virtually since April and finished the season as the only team in the Division with a winning record.
The Nats won 97 games, 20 more than second place Miami. The Cubs did not get the excellent starting pitching they got last season and that may be why they will not advance here. Washington’s top trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had outstanding seasons, each finishing with ERAs under 3.00 and WHIPs under 1.20.
Scherzer was pulled from his final start as a precaution after some hamstring pain but he is expected to start in this series although it might not be in Game 1. The call is for the Nationals to eliminate the Cubs in 4 games. Kyle Hendricks has been Chicago’s most effective starter and can be backed as an underdog in the game the Cubs may be most likely to win.
Dodgers vs. D’backs or Rockies: The Dodgers were on pace to challenge the record for most wins in a season until they hit a slump with an 11 game losing streak in early September. Arizona would present the greater challenge to the Dodgers after having a swept a pair of 3 games series over the final 5 weeks at the season – one at home and one in Los Angeles.
Arizona won 11 of 19 games vs. the Dodgers and those 19 games. Arizona’s starting pitching gives the Diamondbacks a legitimate chance to upset the Dodgers and should we get a matchup of Arizona and the Dodgers the series is suited to go the full 5 games. In such a scenario the fifth game, to be played in Los Angeles, would call for a play on Arizona if anyone other than Clayton Kershaw starts for the Dodgers and Arizona is plus 150 or more.
The Dodgers would be favorites to win the series against Arizona regardless of how their rotation is set up and it would take a series price of plus 200 or more to back Arizona. A matchup of the Dodgers against Colorado would strongly favor the Dodgers in 4 games.
Entering the Playoffs the call is for the Cleveland Indians to meet the Washington Nationals and for Cleveland to end its drought that dates back to 1948 with a World Series win in 6.