If you weren't a fan of the new Wildcard playoff format, you can go ahead and leave this article. What a blessing it was to get 9 games of Wildcard baseball and the drama that insued. The undisputed peak moment was the Mariners comeback against the Blue Jays in game 2 from 8-1 down to sweep the Jays in Canada. Elsewhere, the Rays scored just 1 run over 24 innings, a problem they had all season and I figured would continue against the brilliant pitching in Cleveland. The most shocking series was the lack of pitching in New York. The Mets came in touting the best starting pitching staff led by Max Scherzer, Jacob de Grom, and others, but they were absolutely lit up for 16 runs over the three games. None of the three were close, but the trumpet memes after game 3 have been fantastic.
I ended the Wildcard round officially at 3-1-1 +2.3u, and I'll look to carry that success into the divisional round as well. Below I'll break down my favorite series' and game 1 bets, including a few series bets and futures. Lets get rolling!
Cleveland Guardians (+150) vs. New York Yankees (-200)
To be clear, those odds in the title above are series prices. The Yankees are getting their typical inflated price despite finishing the season 35-35 after the All-Star break. The Yankees have been better lately winning 21 of their last 32, but face a buzzsaw in Cleveland that just dispatched the Rays defensively. Cleveland will have to put more than 3 runs over 24 innings on the board against the Yankees if they want to have a chance.
Breaking down the Yankees first, they finally appear to be healthy. The record stated above indicates that, but if we dive deeper they finally have Nestor Cortes back to go with a healthy offense that has been clicking on all cylinders lately. Since the beginning of September, the Yankees are 4th in OPS behind their slugging and walk rate (10.2%), but still strike out at a very high rate (24%). In addition to a healthy starting lineup, the Yankees begin the series with starting pitching advantages in that they'll lead with their ace Gerrit Cole against Cleveland's #3 pitcher in Cal Quantrill. If the Yankees notch the first game and get hot, they could easily sneak out a game against Triston McKenzie or Shane Bieber if the Guardians' offense gets cold.
As for the Guardians, they're recent decrepid offensive performance is not indicative of how they've been swinging the bat lately. They're 11th in OPS since the beginning of September and as I mentioned in my Wildcard article, they do all of the intangibles phenomenally. They don't wlak much, but they also lead the league in strikeout rate (17.6%). Tack on that they finished 3rd in stolen bases and play fantastic defense and you have a winning formula. To add more fuel to the fire, they boast the 2nd best bullpen in all of baseball, so if any of their starters get into trouble they will have backup. Because of all of these reasons, I still feel very good about my Guardians to win the ALCS bet at +1000, and I'll follow that trend today with my series bet. One New York team has already lost, now it's time for the other.
Pick: Guardians to win the series +150 (1u) & u4.5 games -200 (.5u)
Philadelphia Phillies (+150) vs. Atlanta Braves (-200)
The Philadelphia Phillies are one of the best stories this season and they aren't receiving their flowers from national outlets for it. The Phillies came into this season with aspirations to win the division over the Mets and Braves but got off to a horrible 22-29 start under Joe Girardi. Then they fired him and replaced him with Rob Thomson and went 65-46 en route to a well deserved playoff birth.
The Phillies, like most teams, have found their success to begin with excellent starting pitching. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have been excellent this season, but their later starters have largely been solid too. Ranger Suarez (3.65 ERA) has been brilliant and a trade for Noah Syndergaard (3.94 ERA) has solidified the back end of their lineup. Kyle Gibson (5.05 ERA) has disappointed, but Bailey Falter (3.90 ERA) and Zach Eflin (4.04 ERA) are solid spot starters that can come into any of these playoff games and give a number of quality innings for the Phillies. They'll likely need to rely on these pitchers because their bullpen has been their undoubted weakness. Sitting 19th in xFIP for the season, it's typically come late in games that the Phillies fall apart. If their offense that has ranked top 10 in every category throughout the year can continue to produce, they'll find themselves in every one of these games.
Atlanta is coming off their first World Series Championship since 1995 and is desperate to repeat with arguably the most complete roster of any team remaining. They too were behidn the 8-ball as the Mets got off to a brilliant start, but a 78-34 run since the first of June has put them in the same category as the Astros and Dodgers in terms of success this season. With the 3rd best starting pitching and 6th best bullpen in terms of xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching), they boast some of the best veterans and rookies in the entire league. Led by Max Fried (2.48 ERA) and Kyle Wright (21-5 record), they have potential NL Rookie of the Year Spencer Strider (2.67 ERA) to compliment veteran Charlie Morton (4.34 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (4.40 ERA). Bryce Elder has also been a solid starter lately, but will likely fill in as an extended reliever. Transitioning to their offense, only the Dodgers have been better this season. The Braves rank 2nd in OPS this season and 3rd since the beginning of September.
The Braves lead this series 11-8 this season, winning 5 of the last 7 games. Though starters haven't been announced for the series aside from Ranger Suarez on Tuesday, I expect the Braves to hold the pitching advantage for the first 2 games and take both, then capitalize in either game 3 of 4 behind a solid performance by Charlie Morton or Spencer Strider to take the series home. The Phillies have been a wonderful story, but the run ends here I'm afraid.
Pick: Braves -1.5 +120 (1.5u) & G1 Braves TT o3.5 -135 (1u)