The baseball playoffs got underway last week and the game that kicked it off may well turn out to have been the most exciting and entertaining of the entire postseason.
By the time many of you are reading this column on Tuesday one of the teams might be San Francisco as the Giants hosted Washington on Monday afternoon with the chance to complete yet another three-game sweep.
The Giants, winners of 10 straight post season games, took a 2-0 lead into Monday’s game against the Nationals with their ace, Madison Bumgarner, on the mound. He was facing a quality starter in Doug Fister as the Nationals tried to pull within a game of the Giants. Clearly San Francisco is expected to get by Washington in the best of five series although Washington’s pitching gives them a slight chance of rallying.
Both of the first two games of the series were low scoring, one run games with the Giants winning 3-2 in Game 1 and 2-1 on Brandon Belt’s homer in that memorable Game 2 that went 18 innings after the Giants rallied to tie the game, and almost take the lead, in the top of the ninth.
Nationals manager Matt Williams has been second guessed about removing starter Jordan Zimmermann after he issues a walk to the potential (and ultimately) tying run after two were out in the top of the inning and despite Zimmermann having thrown just 100 pitches. But given the importance of the game and with a reliable closer warmed up most managers would have made the same decision.
Unfortunately for the former UNLV star, Williams’ decision did not work out as Pablo Sandoval delivered a game tying double in which Buster Posey almost scored the go-ahead run but was called out on a close play at the play that was reviewed but lacked conclusive evidence to overturn whatever the ruling on the field would have been.
The Cardinals and Dodgers head into Monday’s third game tied 1-1 as their series shifts to St. Louis and is assured of going at least 4. The Dodgers, with lefty HJ Ryu on the mound, were slight 110 favorites to take a 2-1 lead over St. Louis, which was starting mid-season trade acquisition John Lackey.
Barring a Washington rally the Giants should be more rested and better able to set their rotation to face the winner between the Cardinals and Dodgers.
Should Washington somehow win three in a row and reach the NLCS the Nats would be very dangerous against either St. Louis or Los Angeles because of their starting rotation – one that kept them in both of the first two games even though they lost each.
Though tied at a game apiece heading into Monday’s Game 3, the Dodgers are just over a 3/2 favorite to get by the Cardinals (-155). In playing out the rest of this series look, again, to any underdog of +125 or more. But the best play might come if we get a rematch between St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, each of whom was ineffective in the sweltering Los Angeles heat when they hooked up in Game 1.
If we do get a rematch expect each to pitch more like they did all season and the UNDER would be a solid play, especially if the game is at night. It would be preferred to see a total of 6 rather than the 5.5 that we saw in Game 1.
In potential NLCS matchups the forecast is for Washington to get by either St. Louis or the Dodgers but in a more likely scenario involving the Giants, the call would be for San Francisco to beat St. Louis but for the Dodgers to defeat their longtime rivals, the Giants, due largely to an edge in both starting pitching and in their lineup.
Trailing 7-3 at home in the bottom of the eighth inning and facing Oakland’s Jon Lester, the Kansas City Royals scored 3 runs to pull within 7-6 and then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings.
The rally seemed in vain when the Athletics tallied a run in the top of the 12th inning but the Royals again rallied to score twice in the bottom of the inning to win the American League Wild Card game 9-8 and advance to the ALDS to face the Los Angeles Angels, the team that had the best record in all of baseball during the regular season.
But that was just the start of the Royals’ post season antics as they, to virtually everyone’s surprise, swept the Angels out of the Playoffs, winning a pair of extra inning games in Anaheim before blowing out the Halos 8-3 in Sunday night’s game 3.
A team picked by many to win the pennant actually opened as the underdog in its ALDS. But the Baltimore Orioles swept past the favored Detroit Tigers to set up a League Championship series with Kansas City in which the Orioles have the home field advantage.
The key game in the series was Game 2 in which the Tigers failed to protect a 6-3 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth inning. Rookie manager Brad Ausmus decided to lift Anibal Sanchez, who had been brilliant in throwing just 30 pitches in retiring 6 straight Orioles over two innings. Sanchez, normally a starter, was perfect for the role of long relief even though he had missed much of the final couple of months of the season due to injury.
Saying he was on a pitch count of 35, Ausmus decided to turn the game over to the bullpen – the Tigers’ major weakness all season and one that had performed poorly just a day earlier in the opening game 12-3 loss in which Baltimore broke the game open with an 8 run eighth inning when holding just a 4-3 lead.
Sometimes managers over think the situation and make poor decisions based on “The Book” even when “The Book” flies in the face of what is happening right in front of them on the field.
Thus Detroit goes home along with the Angels. The Orioles and Tigers will meet to decide who will represent the AL in the World Series.
Kansas City has a slight edge in the starting rotation with James Shields, Yolando Ventura and Jason Vargas rating a slight edge over Baltimore’s top trio of Chris Tillman, WY Chen and Bud Norris. Should either team use a four man rotation the Royals have a bit more depth with Danny Duffy and ex-Oriole Jeremy Guthrie although Baltimore’s fourth starter, Miguel Gonzalez, is on a par with Duffy and arguably has an edge over Guthrie.
The Royals also have an edge in the bullpen with a strong seventh, eighth and ninth inning combination. But that edge is not great as Baltimore also has had a solid bullpen, especially over the second half of the season.
Baltimore does have the edge on offense, especially in the power department. But more often than not post season baseball is determined by pitching and as such this series forecasts as a very competitive one, likely going at least 6 and possibly the full 7.
Both teams played exceptionally well over the second half of the season. At the few sports books that have already posted series prices Baltimore opened as 140 favorites, which is absolutely a fair price.
The teams met just 7 times this season with Kansas City winning 2 of 3 in Baltimore in late April and the teams splitting a four game series in Kansas City three weeks later. Five of the seven games stayed UNDER the total with two going OVER as the teams averaged just 6.3 combined runs per game.
Despite the presence of power bats in the lineup and average starting pitching Baltimore was one of the strongest UNDER teams all season and has played 18 more UNDERs than OVERs. The Royals also were an UNDER team but to a much lesser extent with just 5 more UNDERS than OVERS.
Throughout this series look to play on any underdog getting +125 or more and also look to playing UNDER totals of 7.5 or higher.
The National League Divisional Series was still underway as we went to press so we do not yet know who the winner between Baltimore and Kansas City might face from the two teams in the NLCS.
Both the ALCS and NLCS will be revisited next week once both series are underway.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]