Ladies and gentlemen, the playoffs. After a very long 182 games, we've made it to the first ever expanded playoffs with a 3-game Wildcard series (all played in the higher seed's venue) to kick us off. Aaron Judge hit #62, as I'm sure you couldn't miss with ESPN's endless cut-ins to him getting walked or striking out more often than not. The Dodgers, Astros, and Braves led the way for the league with 100+ wins, and get their much deserved break during these Wildcard series along with the Yankees who sputtered down the stretch but held onto the division with 99 wins.
Friday afternoon starts four fantastic series I'm itching to get into, but what I'm going to do is give you a couple of series bets and futures followed by my game one breakdowns. Ready for full stadiums and epic storylines over the course of October? Lets get it!
Philadelphia Phillies to advance over the St Louis Cardinals +110 (1.5u)
The Phillies have been a nemesis of mine this year. I don't have the data on what I ended at when betting for or against the Phillies, but you'd think they were a bottom tier team with how poor I was able to read them. With that said, the Phillies ended the season as the much hotter team of these two. Since the beginning of September the Phillies rank 7th in OPS and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching), while the Cardinals sit at 17th and 19th respectively. The Cardinals haven't been the same offense they were through the first few months of the season, but that's not what concerns me.
The Cardinal's pitching has been very average. They're 17th in xFIP over the course of the season, so being 19th over the past 5 weeks isn't really an anamoly. Their starting pitching has largely been the issue too. The game 3 starters haven't been announced yet, but the Cardinals will trot out Jose Quintana and Mike Mikolas in the first two games while the Phillies start Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. That is a very, very clear edge to the Phillies and I think they'll be able to take the lead going into the bullpens.
St Louis has been fantastic at home this season (53-28) and they're riding into the sunset with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina finishing up what might be both of their final seasons, but it comes to a hault early. The Phillies have been a team reborn since their rough start to the season, and I'll take them at plus money to spoil the parade for the Cardinals.
David J. Phillip - AP
Cleveland Guardians to advance over the Tampa Bay Rays -130 (1u)
I'm here to tell you I was on the Guardians win total under coming into this season. I didn't believe in their starting pitchers and have the youngest team in baseball. I didn't think they'd have an offense to bail out poor pitching, and they never needed it. Cleveland boasts the 2nd best bullpen in the league and have had fantastic starting pitching this year led by Shane Bieber and followed by more than capable Triston McKenzie (2.96 ERA) and Cal Quantrill (3.38 ERA). After that, their starters begin to be very average, but they're only in a 3-game playoff series here. If any of these guys get blown up they can turn to one of the best bullpens in the majors, but I doubt that happens.
Why do I doubt that? Tampa's offense can't get out of their own way. They're 25th this season and yes, they had a lot of injuries to key cogs, but even after some of those bats returned they've struggled. Tampa is 27th in OPS since the beginning of September, a number that won't get it done traveling to Cleveland this weekend.
On the opposite side, the Guardian's offense has been brilliant and is led by the 124 RBI season in Jose Ramirez. Steven Kwan has broken out and been a fantastic leadoff hitter getting on base 37.2% of the time, and Andres Gimenez broke out to bat a clean .300. Other bats like Amed Rosario, Owen Miller, and more have been excellent throughout the season, and expect that to continue against a Rays pitching staff that has underwhelmed compared to previous seasons. They're 9th in xFIP, but their relievers rank 15th and since the beginning of September are 16th. Shane McClanahan takes game one, but he's allowed now 11 runs over his past 14 innings. He's followed by Tyler Glasnow who hasn't entered the 4th inning in his very short return from injury.
There are too many red flags about this Tampa team compared to previous years - bad offense, average bullpen, and injuries to key players. Take the healthy team at home with all the momentum and good form to knock out the Rays.
Given the quality of this pitching staff, opportunistic hitting, and great baserunning, I'll take a flier on the Guardians to win the American League +1000 for 0.5u.
G1 Seattle Mariners @ Toronto Blue Jays (4:07 ET)
Favorite: Blue Jays -135
Pitchers: Luis Castillo (2.99 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) vs. Alek Manoah (2.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
It's no secret if you've been following my plays all season that these are two of my favorite pitchers to watch, bet on, and honestly, cheer on. Because of that, you might think I'm on the under for this game. Shamefully, I am not. Toronto's offense has been too hot for me to consider that, especially with Castillo allowing 4+ runs in two of his last three starts. Castilllo should be on his A-game against the Blue Jays, but with Toronto leading the league in OPS since September I can't trust him to outperform Alek Manoah nor his offense to put up a ton of support.
Manoah has allowed just 6 runs over his last 8 starts (54 innings), or a 1.00 ERA. He's been brutal to opposing offenses but will need to limit his walks, as he has the tendency to let a few free batters on and Seattle does a good job taking advantage of that. I'm not confident in either starting pitching staff to bet a side in the series, but I will go with the Blue Jays in game one behind Manoah and their steaming hot offense.
Pick: Blue Jays ML -135 (1u)
Jayme Kamin-Oncea - Getty Images