Royals head back to defend their AL crown

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The regular season has ended and the Playoffs are set to begin and this season’s field has a greatly different look from last season.

After making the Playoffs in 2014, Baltimore, Detroit, the LA Angels and Oakland failed to repeat in the American League while defending World Series champion San Francisco and Washington are out in the NL.

Joining Kansas City, the team that won the AL pennant before losing to the Giants in 7 games in the World Series, are Houston, the New York Yankees, Texas and Toronto. In the NL, the LA Dodgers, Pittsburgh and St Louis return to the postseason, joined by newcomers the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

The 2015 Playoffs are set with the New York Yankees hosting Houston in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday and Pittsburgh hosting the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card game on Wednesday. The six Division winners will begin Divisional series play later in the week.

Perhaps baseball should revise the current structure of the Playoffs and consider seeding the teams 1 through 5 with seeds 4 and 5 meeting in the Wild Card game. In effect this would eliminate Division races and require a modification of the schedule so that teams play pretty much the same number of games against their other AL or NL rivals.

If this is considered impractical or too radical a change then at the least MLB should consider expanding the Wild Card round to a best of three series.

More than half of baseball’s 30 teams either exceeded or fell short of their season win totals by at least 10 games.

The team that went over their Total by the greatest margin was the Chicago Cubs. Projected at 83 wins, the Cubs won 97 games, exceeding that projection by 14 games – nearly a tenth of their schedule!

Right behind was Kansas City. Considered to regress after making the World Series last season, the Royals finished with 13 more wins than their projected Total of 82.

At the “oops” end of the spectrum was not the team many would have thought would be the team that fell short by the most number of wins.

Projected to win 94 games – the highest number of projected wins for any team – the Washington Nationals fell short by 11 games, finishing 83-69. That shortfall was only fifth on the list of teams that fell short.

Oakland, another playoff team from last season, was projected to win 82 games in 2015. But the Athletics finished with the worst record in the American League, 68-94, falling short by 14 games.

AL teams had a healthy 167 to 133 edge in wins facing the NL. What is impressive about the AL’s performance this season is that the AL had a winning record both at home (88-62) and on the road (79-71).

Blindly betting on American League teams in interleague play would have resulted in a profit of nearly 26 net units, split almost evening between home and road performance.

Tuesday’s AL Wild Card

It opened pretty much as a pick ‘em and the early money has gone towards visiting Houston with the Astros as high as -115 as GT went to press. Houston is starting potential AL Cy Young Award winner lefty Dallas Keuchel who will be pitching on just three days’ rest. Keuchel had a rather easy end to his regular season with 6 solid innings in last Friday’s 21-5 win at Arizona. The Total opened and remains 7 with the vig attached more to the OVER.

Recent history suggests that pitchers starting post season games on three days’ rest do not fare well. And Keuchel was a far better pitcher at home than on the road this season.

New York will counter with Masahiro Tanaka who had a solid though not overwhelming season. His numbers were not that dissimilar at home versus on the road. His ERA was slightly higher at home (3.71) than on the road (3.24) but he had an identical 1.00 WHIP both at home and on the road. In his lone start against the Astros, on June 27 in Houston, he lasted just 5 innings and allowed 6 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5 in a 9-6 win.

The early move on the Astros is understandable although they have the disadvantages of playing on the road. The Yankees are making their first Playoffs appearance since 2012 but have been a regular post season participant for most of the past two decades and there are a number of veterans who remain from the more recent Playoff teams.

Wednesday’s NL Wild Card

The Cubs will start potential Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta in Wednesday’s NL Wild Card game in Pittsburgh. The Pirates will counter with Gerrit Cole who had a fine season himself but is clearly the second best starter in this matchup.

The Cubs opened as -120 and had been bet up as high as -135 at a book or two. The Total opened and remains at 5.5 with a slight vig to the OVER.

Cole put up some outstanding statistics this season. His 2.64 ERA and 1.10 WHIP would have him in contention for the Cy Young Award in most seasons. But not in 2015. Arrieta’s 1.77 ERA and 0.86 WHIP have the Cubs’ ace neck and neck with the Dodgers’ Zach Greinke for the Award.

Arrieta enters the Wild Card game having not allowing an earned run in his last 3 starts and he has not allowed more than 2 earned runs in any of his last 12 road starts dating back to mid June.

The move towards the Cubs is understandable despite their lack of Playoff experience although manager Joe Maddon has plenty of post season experience in his time at Tampa Bay. The Pirates are in the Playoffs for a third straight season. With home teams winning between 53 and 55 percent of all games historically (54.2 percent this season) there is a greater chance of going 2-0 than 0-2 and thus a more likely chance of showing at least some profit by playing both underdogs.

Divisional Series

The most intriguing matchup will be the NL matchup of top seeded St. Louis facing either Pittsburgh or the Cubs. The Cardinals were the only team this season to win 100 games and should be favored over either opponent.

The Cardinals have had injury issues all season and will be without their fine young starting pitcher, Carlos Martinez, who was hurt in September and lost for the duration. Catcher Yadier Molina is also banged up and missed some time over the final few weeks of the season. Prediction: Both Chicago and Pittsburgh match up nicely against the Cards. The Wild Card winner will oust St. Louis. The Pirates more likely to win 4, the Cubs in 5.

The plays in the other NL series between the Dodgers and Mets will be more towards the Total than to either side. The preference would be to play this series UNDER if no lower than 6. At the same time a First 5 Innings play of UNDER 3 or higher is worth considering provided the vig is no higher than -130.

The best play in the series might be in Game 3 in New York if the Mets are facing elimination down 0-2. They are likely to have Matt Harvey make that start against one of the Dodgers’ lefties, Alex Wood or Brett Anderson. In such a scenario Harvey would be playable if laying no more than -150.

This series should go 5, which gives the edge to the Dodgers.

In the AL, Kansas City will host the winner of the Wild Card game between Houston and the Yankees. The defending AL Champions are not as strong in their starting rotation or in the bullpen as last season but have been better at the plate.

This handicapping as a potentially high scoring series and can be played OVER 8.5 or lower if facing Houston and OVER 9 or lower if facing the Yankees, with one exception. If the Astros are the Wild Card winners when Dallas Keuchel starts the UNDER can be played if the Total is 8 or higher. If the Yankees win the Wild Card the OVER 9 or less can be played throughout the series as there is no true “ace” on either staff.

Prediction: KC to get past the Astros in 5 games. If facing the Yankees the prediction is for New York to win in 4. The home team also took 5 of 6 meetings this season with the lone road win belonging to the Yankees.

The other AL series handicaps as the highest of the four Divisional matchups with Toronto hosting Texas for the first two games and a potential Game 5. OVER Totals of 9 or lower can be played in almost every scenario except one and that would be a matchup of Toronto’s David Price against Texas’ Cole Hamels. If those two lefties hook up the UNDER can be given a look if priced at 7.5 or higher. If Hamels faces other than Price, or vice versa, the OVER can still be played but only if the Total is lower than 8.

Prediction: Toronto to advance to the ALCS by eliminating Texas in 4.

Note: From mid-August to the end of the regular season – Texas had almost as good a record as Toronto, 25-15 vs the Blue Jays’ 26-14.

The four Divisional series will be revisited next week.

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]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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