The first day of games is in the books and four teams will be looking to advance to the Division Series. The Guardians, Phillies, Padres and Mariners would certainly love to move on without being forced into a winner-take-all affair on Sunday.
I wrote a lot about my MLB postseason strategies yesterday, so I will ask you to refer to that and will look ahead to the Saturday games. There are a couple of changes to the schedule today, as the Phillies and Cardinals play the late game and the Padres and Mets were moved up a half hour. Games are once again listed in chronological order with odds from DraftKings, but shop around for the best prices, as some could be out there in the market.
Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Guardians (-115, 6)
After an avalanche of money came in on Under 6.5 and Under 6, we saw our first 5.5 total in a regulation MLB game since 2016 and the first playoff 5.5 since 2015 (2020 and 2021 had the seven-inning doubleheaders). The weather conditions, home plate umpire (Doug Eddings) and the teams created a perfect storm to get the low total. I’m not sure Game 2 warranted a 5.5 right away, but I don’t really want to bet the over either. Some of the market is up to 6 now.
One of the biggest keys to the season for Cleveland has been the emergence of Triston McKenzie. With Aaron Civale out for two extended periods of time and Zach Plesac not taking a step forward, the Guardians desperately needed what they got from McKenzie and also Game 3 (if necessary) starter Cal Quantrill.
McKenzie worked 191.1 innings, which was a huge leap from the 120 of last season, and posted a 2.96 ERA with a 3.59 FIP. The big innings jump didn’t seem to have an impact, as he actually posted better second-half numbers, including a bump in K% and an improved BB%. Walks were the biggest issue for McKenzie in his previous seasons, but he went from an 11.7% BB% in 2021 to a 5.9% BB% in 2022. He improved his control without sacrificing strikeouts and also lowered his home run rate.
I do wonder about the magnitude of this game for the 24-year-old, who worked 1.2 innings in relief during the 2020 postseason. This is easily the biggest start of his life. If the control holds and he’s able to throw strikes, he’ll have success. If he’s getting behind, he can leave some balls over the middle of the plate and get hit hard. That said, the ball doesn’t carry well at all in Cleveland when it’s chilly and that conditions should help McKenzie as an extreme fly ball guy.
I will say that I don’t think McKenzie will get the leeway of a guy like Shane Bieber, so we’ll see how far manager Terry Francona is willing to let him go. This could be a game with a major emphasis on relievers because Tyler Glasnow has thrown all of 6.2 MLB innings this season. He made his 2022 debut against Cleveland with three solid innings and then shut down the Red Sox with seven strikeouts out of 15 batters in 3.2 innings on October 3. Glasnow is unlikely to pitch past the fourth inning here, so we’ll have to see how manager Kevin Cash handles it.
Will we see left-hander Jeffrey Springs against a Cleveland lineup that ranked in the bottom five against LHP? Will we see a cavalcade of relievers? Could we potentially see Drew Rasmussen or Corey Kluber? It’s a huge game for the Rays, but they just signed Glasnow for a couple more seasons and they’re not going to put a prized arm at risk to push him too far. I’d personally roll out Springs and really confound Cleveland for a few innings, but we’ll see what Cash does. Glasnow’s 6-foot-8 frame and huge extension is a major difference from the 6-foot-3, changeup specialist from the left side in Springs.
The major uncertainty with both starters and how the teams react to the bullpen carousel makes this game impossible to bet pre-flop. I think Springs coming in the game might be a good chance to live bet Tampa Bay, but I don’t know that he’ll be the first man out or even an option. He may be in line to start Game 3 because of Cleveland’s offensive woes against southpaws.
It’s a wait-and-see game to me, especially with all hands on deck for each bullpen.
No bet; possible Tampa Bay live bet if Springs comes in to pitch after Glasnow
Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays (-165, 7.5)
Sports often provide really fascinating scripts that no Hollywood screenwriter would imagine in his or her wildest dreams. How about this one with Robbie Ray back at Rogers Centre to face his former team? Ray has not pitched well down the stretch, allowing 17 runs on 33 hits over his last 27.1 innings. Most importantly, he allowed eight home runs in those five starts and he didn’t face a murderer’s row of opponents with the Braves, Angels, Athletics twice and Rangers.
There are a lot of things going against Ray in this start. Not only has he not pitched well lately, but he hasn’t pitched well on the road at all. In 78.2 innings away from the safety of T-Mobile Park, he allowed a .262/.342/.480 slash with a .357 wOBA. He allowed the same number of home runs (16) on the road that he did at home, but he pitched 110.1 innings at home. He had a 3.02 ERA in Seattle, but a 4.69 ERA everywhere else, not to mention the difference in FIP (3.64 to 4.91).
To make matters worse, Ray draws a very right-handed-heavy lineup here. Lefties only batted .212/.260/.387, but righties batted .236/.308/.431. Furthermore, righties in road starts batted .266/.351/.482 and hit 13 of the 32 homers he allowed. It’s safe to say that I like nothing about this matchup for Ray.
The Blue Jays will send Kevin Gausman to the hill, who was second in FIP at 2.38. Gausman fell victim to a .363 BABIP against, as a lot of balls happened to find holes against him, but he had a spectacular K/BB ratio and kept the ball in the park, so he was largely able to pitch around it. He was a better pitcher in the first half (2.87 ERA, 1.85 FIP) than the second half (3.90 ERA, 3.00 FIP), but he’s still solid and clearly a better option than Ray.
Gausman was better on the road than at home, as his wOBA against was 80 points lower on the road. His BABIP against was also 60 points lower on the road, which explains part of the difference. Because of his splitter, he actually had “reverse platoon splits”, in that righties hit better against him than lefties. The top of the Mariners lineup is right-handed-heavy, but the bottom is not. We’ll see what that might mean offensively if the top sets the table and the bottom pulls the tablecloth off and spills all the fine china on the floor.
All of these splits and stats are accounted for in the line. I do think that the Mariners have the better bullpen and that may end up being a live betting angle, but I can’t do much with it pregame because Ray may get rocked. A Blue Jays 1st 5 run line is a decent look here to cut into the vig. A Blue Jays 1st 5 Team Total is another option and maybe a better one in case Gausman’s bad batted ball luck continues. Sportsbooks are usually late to post team totals, especially 1st 5 ones, so keep a close eye on this. DraftKings has Over 2.5 at %plussign% 130 and I think that’s a solid bet.
Pick: Blue Jays 1st 5 Team Total Over 2.5 (%plussign% 130)
San Diego Padres at New York Mets (-190, 5.5)
All the Mets had to do was win the division and none of this would have mattered. Instead, we got Max Scherzer in Game 1 and we’ll get Jacob deGrom in Game 2 with the season on the line. Scherzer was not sharp at all, allowing four home runs over his 4.2 innings of work. The Mets also mustered very little offense against Yu Darvish with just one run on six hits over seven innings.
When you think about it now, it seems downright audacious that the Mets would talk about skipping deGrom to save him for the next round as if it was a given. It may have been about more than that, though. He battled a blister late in the season and we’ll have to wait and see if that impacts him today.
This might be deGrom’s last start as a Met. He can opt-out after the season and there will be a few interested parties that can afford his services. He only made 11 starts this season, but posted a 3.08 ERA with a 2.13 FIP. He had his usual huge strikeout rate and stellar walk rate, but allowed nine homers over his 64.1 innings of work. After the Padres played long ball with Scherzer yesterday, they’ll hope to do the same against deGrom here.
The Padres made their Game 2 decision early between Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, opting to send the southpaw with more postseason experience to the bump. This will be Snell’s eighth postseason start and it would have been the first for Musgrove. I’m not sure if that factored in or not, but Snell did have a very good second half with a 2.19 ERA and a .259 wOBA against in 78 innings. His season got off to a rocky start due to injury and poor performance, but he saved his best stuff for last and gets the nod here.
Except for a September 10 start against the Dodgers, Snell has allowed one or zero runs in his last six outings. He’s only allowed two home runs in that span with 55 strikeouts against 13 walks in 41 innings of work. He has a tough assignment here against a Mets bunch that posted a 124 wRC %plussign% in the second half to lead all of baseball. He may catch a break, though, because the Mets were much better against righties than lefties. While they posted a 109 wRC %plussign% against lefties, they had a 119 against righties.
With a low-leverage game yesterday, neither bullpen was asked to go above and beyond, so all hands are on deck. With the total at 5.5 across the board, I don’t see any value in the under. I could be talked into an over, particularly with the uncertainty of deGrom’s blister, but I won’t have anything pregame on this one. Much like yesterday, if the Mets are trailing by a run or it’s tied late, a live bet isn’t a bad idea.
Look for a live-betting opportunity on the Mets
Philadelphia Phillies (-120, 6.5) at St. Louis Cardinals
Ryan Helsley had been nails most of the season for the Cardinals, but the St. Louis closer was the goat (note, all lower-case) in Game 1 as he fell apart in the ninth and manager Oliver Marmol inexplicably watched it all happen. He showed a clear lack of experience in not identifying quickly enough that Helsley simply did not have it and Philadelphia came away with a 6-3 win.
The Phillies opted to roll with Aaron Nola in Game 2 after using Zack Wheeler in Game 1. The Cardinals will send out Miles Mikolas, who greatly benefited from a very good defense. Mikolas wound up with a 3.29 ERA, but had a 3.88 xERA and a 3.87 FIP. His .249 BABIP against and an elite 4.8% BB% are two primary reasons why he was able to post such a low ERA. He simply didn’t allow a lot of baserunners and that was something that propelled him to a solid season.
I’m always skeptical of pitch-to-contact guys because a lot of things can go wrong. Mikolas had that good defense, but also had the safety net of Busch Stadium, which suppresses power in a big way. He had a 2.38 ERA in 94.2 innings at home and a 4.10 ERA in 107.2 innings on the road. His wOBA against was 59 points lower at home and he’ll be in the friendly confines here. Pitcher’s parks breed confidence and Mikolas should have a lot at home.
Of course, that type of environment should also help a guy with higher upside in Nola, who had a career year in terms of FIP and fWAR. His 2.58 FIP marked the first sub-3 FIP of his career and his 6.3 fWAR topped the 5.5 that he amassed in 2018. Nola also had his best season ever from a control standpoint with just 29 walks in 205 innings of work. He also had his lowest Hard Hit% since that 2018 season and the lowest HR/FB% of his career, so he improved in a variety of ways.
He’s also riding into the postseason on a high, as the final month of the season was his best with a .229 wOBA against and 45 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. The Phillies really need Nola’s strikeout upside because they are not a very good defensive team, which is a huge advantage for the Cardinals in this short series. Similarly, the fact that Mikolas pitches to contact is a plus for Philly given that they were 15th in K% and 17th in BB%, while the Cardinals were fourth in K% and ninth in BB%.
I’ve been skeptical of Mikolas at various points throughout the season, but his low WHIP has been a saving grace. I assume this will be another low-scoring game because he fits the park so well and because Nola is such a strong pitcher. It’ll likely come down to the bullpens and that could be a real toss-up scenario, but I think Nola at -115 is a worthwhile starting point here. Perhaps a chance comes to get St. Louis at plus money, but I think the Phillies could get this done and advance today.
Pick: Phillies -120