MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Friday October 20th

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MLB schedule today has 2 games

The ALCS will now be decided by a best-of-three sprint and the NLCS appears to be a series, as we head into Friday night’s action. The Astros and Rangers will run back the Game 1 pitching matchup of Justin Verlander and Jordan Montgomery, while the Phillies and Diamondbacks tap deeper into their pitching staffs with Cristopher Sanchez against opener Joe Mantiply.

 

Both dogs barked last night and it has been a good postseason for underdogs thus far with a 17-11 mark and one game that went off in the moneyline pick ‘em range. Will that be the case again tonight or will the two favorites move within one game of advancing to the World Series?

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Here are some thoughts on the October 20 card (odds from DraftKings):

(odds as of 5:30 a.m. PT)

Houston Astros at Texas Rangers (-115, 8.5)

It will be up to the aces to set the tone tonight between Verlander and Montgomery, as the Houston bats have gotten going at Globe Life Field. The visitors are 4-0 in this series and Houston’s two wins have come via 18 runs of offense over the last two nights. Back-to-back blowout victories have evened up the series and given us a best-of-three, where Houston has taken back home-field advantage.

Remember that this series follows the 2-3-2 format, so the Astros will have Game 6 and a potential Game 7 at Minute Maid Park. Given the way that the series has transpired, maybe that’s a good thing for the Rangers but time will tell and tonight’s extremely important swing game has all the focus.

Verlander was good in Game 1, but not good enough, as his offense was unable to supply any run support off of Montgomery. JV went 6.2 innings with just two runs allowed on six hits. He struck out five and walked a couple, as he didn’t have his best stuff early and couldn’t generate a whole lot of swings and misses. We’ll see what adjustments he makes for this outing and if they are going to give him a little bit more margin for error.

Verlander has allowed just those two runs on 10 hits over 12.2 innings here in the postseason. He only has 11 strikeouts in that span, but he’s still been able to limit the damage and was still a savvy pitcher during the regular season despite the big K% drop. He had a 3.22 ERA with a 3.85 FIP over 162.1 innings of work. He finished with just 144 strikeouts in those 162.1 innings for his lowest K% since 2014. He has a 21.6% K% here in the postseason.

Montgomery has had two good starts and a dud, as he was magnificent in Game 1 with 6.1 shutout innings, scattering five hits and a walk against six strikeouts. He was also very good in his Game 1 start against the Rays in the Wild Card round with seven shutout frames. In between, he struggled against the Orioles in Game 2 with five runs allowed on nine hits in just four innings.

I’m not sure what to expect here, as the same knock on Montgomery holds true and it’s one that he cannot help – he throws left-handed. Houston had tremendous success against southpaws, especially over the final two months of the season, posting a 142 wRC+ that easily led the league. But, Montgomery finished the year with a 3.20 ERA, 4.04 xERA, and a 3.56 FIP over his 188.2 innings of work.

One big concern here today is that four of the five relievers to enter the game for the Rangers allowed runs yesterday and the Rangers pen has been a point of emphasis. This group had some downright awful stretches in the second half of the season and has been shaky in this series. The Game 2 win got a little dicey late, including the homer Aroldis Chapman surrendered to Yordan Alvarez. Over the last two games, the Astros have scored 10 runs against the Texas pen.

They may not see Dane Dunning again, who allowed three runs in relief of Andrew Heaney, as the left-hander only got two outs and allowed three runs on four straight hits to open the game. I questioned that decision from the Rangers and it seems to have backfired badly, though it’s not like Dunning was sharp either.

The Rangers really need something special from Montgomery today. The Houston bats are rolling and the top of the order is doing the damage. Over the last two games, the Astros have 26 at bats with a runner in scoring position and the Rangers have six. That’s not the way to win baseball games at all. I’m not sure if the Astros have just made adjustments on the fly or if it can just be chalked up to simple variance, but six of Texas’s eight runs have scored via the home run in these last two games, as they’re not manufacturing chances like they had in previous series.

Even in Game 1, they were held to two runs. They had a lot of chances against Framber Valdez and went 3-for-14 with RISP, but the Astros, on the whole, have really limited them.

With that in mind, I’ll take a shot on the Astros in a slight dog role today. It just feels like they’ve figured something out in the series and they seem to figure something out in basically every postseason series as one of the league’s sharpest and most talented organizations. I love Montgomery, but I’m worried about a second outing in a row against the Astros and Verlander, despite the lack of whiffs in Game 1, is such a crafty guy.

Pick: Astros -105

Philadelphia Phillies (-135, 9.5) at Arizona Diamondbacks

As mentioned above, Cristopher Sanchez gets the call here for the Phillies, who had the choice between him and Taijuan Walker heading into Game 4 against the D-Backs. Sanchez is left-handed, so maybe that is part of the decision here, as Arizona had a 92 wRC+ against lefties during the regular season and a 99 wRC+ against righties.

The Snakes did nothing against lefty Ranger Suarez yesterday, but Brandon Pfaadt pitched the game of his life and Arizona eventually prevailed with a 2-1 walk-off win. Pfaadt struck out nine over 5.2 innings of work and the bullpen mostly did the rest, holding the powerful Phillies to just a run on a walk, single, double play, and a wild pitch. The Diamondbacks promptly answered with a single and a double and then walked it off in the ninth on a one-out single from Ketel Marte.

So, that’s how the Diamondbacks got back in the series, but I really don’t think they can count on holding the Phillies to one run on three hits often. Arizona has only scored five total runs in this series and they’re going to have to find some offense and some margin for error here at some point.

It would be nice if they could find it tonight because it will be a Johnny Wholestaff approach behind reliever Joe Mantiply. Mantiply gave up three runs in Game 2 and has one job in this game – get through Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper. The left-handed Mantiply finished the regular season with a 4.62 ERA, but a 3.82 xERA and a 3.84 FIP in 39 innings of work. Lefties batted .185/.209/.231 with a .195 wOBA in 67 plate appearances against him, so that’s the plan here from Arizona.

My best guess is that Slade Cecconi will be the one to follow Mantiply. He threw 14 pitches on Tuesday in his playoff debut. Ryne Nelson could be an option as well, but I think Cecconi has more upside. Cecconi had a 4.33 ERA with a 4.67 xERA and a 4.37 FIP in his 27 innings at the MLB level during the regular season. He had a 6.11 ERA with a 5.69 FIP in 116.1 innings at Triple-A, where he allowed 24 home runs.

Nelson is a more proven arm, but he had a 5.31 ERA with a 5.30 xERA and a 5.07 FIP in 144 innings during the regular season. He allowed a couple of runs in his only appearance in the series. It will be a full-on bullpen game here and the D-Backs pen is in really good shape after having Wednesday off and with a couple light days for the relievers on Tuesday and Monday.

All in all, it’s hard to try and handicap the Diamondbacks because we don’t know when relievers will be deployed. It is a tough ask for everybody to be effective and all do their jobs accordingly. Mantiply’s numbers against lefties suggest that he should be able to get through the first inning and fulfill his role, but who knows after that. It is anybody’s guess from that point on.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has not pitched in the playoffs, meaning he hasn’t thrown in a game since September 30 and that was just a one-inning relief appearance. He hasn’t meaningfully pitched in a game since September 24. I’m not sure what the expectations for him could actually be, both from a pitch count and a performance standpoint. He was solid during the regular season with a 3.44 ERA, 3.77 xERA, and a 3.99 FIP and apparently the Phillies felt like he was a better option than either Taijuan Walker or Trade Deadline acquisition Michael Lorenzen.

Both guys are on the active roster here, so it’s possible we see a piggyback of sorts or see Rob Thomson attempt to sneak at least one inning through from one or both of those guys. With the Wednesday off day and the Tuesday blowout, the Phillies pen is in pretty good shape, so we’ll see how Thomson leverages his guys.

I think there are a ton of unknowns in this game. Torey Lovullo has managed the playoffs well and Thomson has been impressive in his postseason appearances with leveraging relievers and pushing the right buttons, so I’ll be curious to see which pitching staff emerges victorious.

In some respects, that makes this more of a toss-up type of game, but the problem is that Arizona has not been scoring. The Phillies had 15 runs at home and mustered just three hits yesterday and, as I’ve mentioned throughout, Arizona was a better pitching staff at home.

So, that makes this a no-play for me, but we’ll see if we get a 2-2 series or if the Phillies can move a win closer to repeating as NL champs.