Will staffs survive LCS grind?

The League Championship Series got underway on Sunday and as we go to Tuesday Tampa Bay won the first two games against Houston in the ALCS while the Los Angeles Dodgers were upset by Atlanta in the NLCS opener.

Both the ALCS and NLCS are being played at neutral sites and over consecutive days such that if the NLCS, goes the full seven games it would end on Sunday with the World Series scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

The unusual format and scheduling this season doesn't allow for the normal forecast and World Series prediction prior to the Series’ start as was true for the League Championship Series. But as we are down to just four teams, it’s possible to look at the potential World Series matchups in advance of next Tuesday’s opening game.

There are two possible World Series scenarios. In one, neither team will have faced the other during the regular season (Astros vs. Braves or Rays vs. Dodgers. In the second potential scenario, the Dodgers played four games against the Astros during the shortened regular season as did the Braves against the Rays.

The second scenario is the favorite to unfold as the Rays and Dodgers were favored to win their League Championship Series.

Pitching rotations for the World Series will be highly dependent on the length of the two LCS. Because of the ‘no off day’ formats, the longer those series go, the less likely a team’s top two starters will see more than one start in the World Series. 

Most projections call for the Game 1 starters in the LCS to not make a second start until most likely a sixth game which would mean four days of rest in between starts. A LCS that goes beyond five games would likely mean a start in the second or third World Series game for a pitcher who started Games 1 or 2 of the LCS.

To that extent, the American League team, either Houston or Tampa Bay, would have an edge since the ALDS began this past Sunday, a day earlier than the NLDS. Sunday’s two starters — Houston’s Framber Valdez and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell — might start a sixth game on Friday with their next start the following Wednesday in World Series Game 2.  

Push things forward another day for the NLDS starters, Max Fried of Atlanta and Walker Buehler of the Dodgers. Teams are even more motivated to end the LCS in as few games as possible to have their best starters start as early as possible in the World Series.

Houston is the weakest of the four remaining teams and would be the largest World Series underdog. Without Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, their stars from previous successes anchoring their rotation, starting pitching is a weakness. Just 29-31 in the regular season, Houston made the playoffs by finishing second in the weak AL West. 

Their offense was down considerably from 2019 with many pointing to the revelation of their sign stealing scandal as the cause. Or it could simply be the unusual nature of the short season. 

Already down 0-2 in the ALDS going into Tuesday's Game 3 in San Diego, a comeback by the Astros seems unlikely. Even if they were to win the ALDS, the Astros would not be my pick to win the World Series.

Tampa is the most unusual of the remaining four teams, largely due to the way in which manager Kevin Cash has utilized the pitching staff. Relying more on ‘openers’ than traditional starters by asking for just a couple of innings from each, Cash may be defining a methodology that more teams will use in the future. 

With no truly elite offensive player, the Rays went 40-20 in the regular season, best in the AL. Their top two starters — Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow — each averaged just 5.2 innings per start. 

Certainly an underdog to the Dodgers and quite possibly to Atlanta too, Tampa would be a very difficult out in the World Series.

Atlanta has shown the best starting pitching in the post season with Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright. But the Braves' bullpen has also been pitching lights out. Through Monday the Braves were unbeaten in six playoff games, winning four by shutouts and a fifth — Monday’s NLCS opener against the Dodgers — 5-1.

Atlanta and the Dodgers led MLB in scoring runs in the regular season, each averaging 5.8 runs per game, almost a half run more than third-best San Diego. Atlanta’s bullpen was a weakness for the early part of the season but, coincident with the emergence of Anderson and Wright, has fared better over the past month.

The Dodgers started as World Series favorites and remain such, listed at 5-2 last week at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. In addition to leading MLB in runs scored, the Dodgers were second only to Cleveland in allowing just 3.6 runs per game. The bullpen has had issues recently and there is a drop off in starting pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler but there’s no denying the strength of the lineup. 

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I would not be shocked if Atlanta, up 1-0, goes on to win the NLDS. But over a potential seven-game series I’ll expect the Dodgers' bats to ultimately prevail.

Which brings us to the World Series. I expect Tampa Bay to finish the job against Houston. And for the Dodgers to comeback and overtake Atlanta in the NLCS with that series going further than the ALCS.

My forecast is for the Dodgers to face Tampa Bay. I have great respect for what the Rays have accomplished. But this should finally be year the Dodgers capture the World Series title that has eluded them since 1988.

In some ways, winning a title in a shortened 60-game regular season and a playoff structure that allowed for no off-days other than between series is harder than winning one in a traditional season. Many will insist upon an asterisk being placed next to the 2020 World Series winner in the record books. I shall not. Or at the least I will not diminish the accomplishment.

Thursday

Braves vs. Dodgers: Barring Atlanta having won the first three games and thus seeking the sweep, I shall be playing the team down 2-1 to even the series with a Game 4 win. 

Because of no off days, the back end of each rotation will be called upon to start this game. Hopefully the side to be played will be an underdog, but if favored I’ll play the side straight at -150 or less, on the run line if the price comes higher.

Last week: 1-0

Season: 17-10