The time has come! The Wild Card games have been played and we can finally get started with the Division Series portion of the MLB Postseason. That means we have four series to break down and predict for postseason profits.
What a start to the week we have already had. Starting with an epic comeback from the Washington Nationals to shock the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League Wild Card game. With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg limiting the damage while Juan Soto knocked in the winning runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Following that was the Rays upset victory last night over the Oakland Athletics. The Rays scored four runs in the first three innings, which proved more than enough to beat the A’s, who scored just one measly run.
This leaves us with a pair of series in the National League, beginning Thursday night:
St. Louis Cardinals (+125) vs Atlanta Braves (-140) and Washington Nationals (+185) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (-225)
And a pair of series for the American League, which begin on Friday:
Minnesota Twins (+190) vs New York Yankees (-235) and Tampa Bay Rays (+245) vs Houston Astros (-305)
So without further ado, let’s break down each of these series and pick a winner to cash in on.
St. Louis Cardinals +125 vs Atlanta Braves -140
Series starts Thursday at SunTrust Park
The Cardinals and Braves are set to meet for their fifth postseason series, going live Thursday night in Atlanta. The Cardinals have won three of the previous four playoff series between these two teams: The 1982 NLCS, the 2000 NLDS, and the 2012 National League Wild Card game. The Braves have come away with just a single win, a seven-game victory in the 1996 NLCS.
A big plus for the Braves this time around is home-field advantage after winning the National League East in a tight race with the Nationals. They finished with a 97-65 record, just missing the 100-win mark but still besting the Cardinals by six games, finishing 91-71. In fact, those 91 wins mark the fewest by any postseason team this season. On paper Atlanta is a better team, coming into this series as the 2nd favorite to win the pennant behind the Dodgers, and favorites in this five-game tilt.
The Braves have lost eight postseason series in a row, which is significant, but this team has a different feel than those over the last decade. They are just better and have a much better rotation than those earlier teams. Atlanta has won both of the regular-season series against the Cardinals, beating them in four of six possible games. It is worth noting that all six of those games took place way back in May before the Braves bolstered their pitching staff with Dallas Keuchel and a number of bullpen acquisitions.
The player seeing the most success against the Cardinals is Freddy Freeman (.381 with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs). They also flaunt a roster consisting of breakout star Ronald Acuna Jr., who hit just one long ball shy of becoming a member of the prestigious 40-40 club and at 20 years old no less.
Paul Goldschmidt has led the Cardinals’ charge against the Braves with a .368 average along with Matt Carpenter who managed a .348 average and smacked in five RBIs. Despite that strong showing, the Cardinals as a team have only hit .214 against the Braves this year.
This being the postseason, the pitching matchups aren’t 100% locked in at this point for either team. What we do know is that the Braves will be rolling with Mike Foltynewicz (8-6, 4.54 ERA), Dallas Keuchel (8-8, 3.75 ERA) and Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA) as likely starters. Foltynewicz had a fantastic end to the season going 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in September but did struggle against the Cardinals with a 1-1 record with a 6.75 ERA in two starts. Keuchel didn’t join the Braves until June and therefore, has yet to face the Cardinals in 2019. He was 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA in his five starts in September and looked strong and healthy down the stretch. Soroka has been a stud since getting the call earlier in the season to join the Braves from AAA. He might end up being the best pitcher on this team, but with his age and lack of postseason experience, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to such a high-pressure situation like closing out a three-game sweep on the road in St. Louis.
The Cardinals will be forced to start game one without their young ace Jack Flaherty (11-8, 2.75) as he was used in relief during Sunday’s win at Wrigley to clinch the National League Central. He might be the best pitcher in this series right now, going 7-2 with an absurd 0.91 ERA in his 15 starts post All-Star break and won pitcher of the month honors in both August and September. He will likely get the nod in Game-2, which makes this opening game even more critical for the Braves to win. Mike Mikolas is likely to start game one, which is not exactly the kind of name STL wants in game one of such an important series.
A lot of people are very high on the Cardinals in this series, but I just don’t see it. Sure, they had the best ERA in the Majors over the last 8 weeks, but their 4.54 bullpen ERA leaves a lot to be desired. Bullpen issues can become huge during playoff baseball due to the high quality of all the lineups involved. And sure, this pitching led them to the best record in the division, but it was a pretty weak division. They were also helped in a big way by the Cubs absolutely imploding over the last 2 months of the season. I think that the Braves pitching staff is superior along with their lineup. The Cardinals might have had a hot steak heading into the postseason, but I believe the Braves will weather that storm and punch their ticket to the NLCS game.
Best Bet: Atlanta Braves win series -140
Washington Nationals +185 vs Los Angeles Dodgers -225
Series starts Thursday at Dodger Stadium
This series might be the biggest mismatch on the board despite the odds not suggesting as much. Sure, the Nationals bucked their bad luck in Wild Card games after an 0-3 franchise record in such winner-take-all matchups. They almost made it 4-0 after Max Scherzer gave up two surprising early homers, in fact, it was Scherzer’s 2nd time to allow a home run in each of his first two innings. Over his entire career. Couldn’t have picked a worse time to let that happen. But lucky for them, a ninth-inning rally capped off an epic comeback and sent the Nationals to this NLDS series.
Their ‘reward’ for winning will be running into a brick wall that is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not only are the Dodgers favored in this series, but they are also -115 to win the pennant and punch a ticket to the World Series. The Dodgers, along with the Twins, Yankees and Astros, ended the season as a member of the 100-win club and led the league with the best record in baseball.
This marks just the second time the Dodgers and Nationals will meet in the postseason with the last being the 2016 NLDS series where the Dodgers won in five games on the back of a Clayton Kershaw save. As far as their 2019 meetings, the Dodgers have won four of seven, but haven’t played since July 28th.
Fact of the matter is that the Dodgers are a far superior team from top to bottom and should have little trouble with the Nationals. After using Scherzer for five innings and Strasburg for three on Tuesday, neither will be available for game one, perhaps also game two. Game one will see southpaw Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA) take the mound and he has a lot of experience with LA. His last time out, he shutout the Dodgers over seven innings, giving up just three hits back on May 9th. His last game out, however, was a six-run stinker against Cleveland. The real issue with the Nationals is their awful bullpen, historically awful in fact. The were worst in the league in ERA and they had the worst win probability since 1978, not great. The Nats were able to avoid the pen on Tuesday by using two Cy Young caliber arms to combat the Brewers, but they can’t do that over a five-game series.
Dave Roberts hasn’t officially set his rotation yet but we know that Rich Hill will start game four, if necessary. Other than that, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler will be the starters in the first three games, but we don’t know the order just yet. Not that it matters much, all three of those guys are SP1 quality on most teams and Hill is no slouch either.
Coming off a franchise year which saw them set a record for wins, carrying momentum into the playoffs and having four starting pitchers who could blank any lineup in the league, I see no way the Dodgers muck this up. I’m willing to cede a single game on Washington and say the Dodgers take this in four.
Best Bet: Los Angeles Dodgers -225