It doesn’t mean much to Astros (or Cubs or Diamondbacks) fans, but it is great to see this idiotic Clayton Kershaw narrative being put to bed. The best pitcher on the planet had bad numbers in a small sample size in the playoffs. Well, he shoved last night and the Dodgers are three wins away from a big celebration.
The series is hardly over, so Kershaw may just be a guy that pitched well for the team that lost the World Series. Game 2 is coming up on Wednesday night and is a big swing game for both sides. If the Astros can take home field away, they may not have to return to Los Angeles. If the Dodgers win, they’ll be up 2-0 with probably two more Kershaw starts coming down the pike if necessary.
In Game 1, we saw a significant move on both the side and total. Kershaw’s Dodgers were the preferred side over Dallas Keuchel’s Dodgers. Two mistakes from the Astros pitching staff were the difference, as Chris Taylor led off the game with a resounding dinger and Justin Turner hit the two-out, two-run shot in the sixth inning. Alex Bregman jumped on one Kershaw mistake. That was it. That was good news for under bettors, who were against the grain. The total didn’t move off of 7, but the juice swung from -125 on the under to -125 on the over. It was a stone cold under, as the teams combined for just nine hits and four runs.
Game 2 features a pitching matchup of Justin Verlander against Rich Hill. Verlander has been unhittable for the Astros since he was acquired from the sinking SS Detroit Tiger. In eight starts and one playoff relief appearance, Verlander has allowed eight runs on 34 hits with a 67/11 K/BB ratio. The majority of his runs allowed have come via the home run, with four solo shots allowed in the regular season and one dinger here in the playoffs. Over those 58.2 innings, Verlander has been in complete control and has eaten up advanced metrics like one of those characters on Number Munchers (y’all remember that game?!). He went from an organization in the Stone Age to an organization in the Dot Com Age and he has fully embraced that change in ideology. You can’t tell me that it hasn’t helped him. His pitch usage didn’t change a ton, but he seems to be attacking hitters in different quadrants of the zone and became even more of a fly ball guy.
That is a big deal in this start as far as I’m concerned. This is a great park to be a fly ball pitcher, even with the unseasonably warm temperatures. Another key element to this game for Verlander is that we saw the shadows play a bit of a factor with the rare 5 p.m. PT start time. Verlander’s high spin rate fastball is hard enough to center as it is and his slider and curve are two plus secondaries.
Both teams were extremely efficient in Game 1. The Astros only threw 104 pitches as a unit, 63 for strikes. With Keuchel held to 84 pitches, my guess is that he comes back on short rest to work Game 4. Brad Peacock walked a guy and threw 11 pitches to two batters, but Chris Devenski looked very sharp with a couple strikeouts in a nine-pitch inning. It was good for the Astros to get Devenski out there and get some decent relief work, since that is the area in which they are lacking.
Rich Hill gets the ball for the Dodgers tonight. One of the angles that I do like to play up a bit is the unfamiliar lefty angle. Lefties tend to have quirky arm slots and unnatural movement on their pitches, so hitters that don’t get to face them often tend to have some ugly swings and bad at bats. If you ever wonder why there are so many journeymen lefties that seem to find work, that is the reason why. They bring an element of deception and intrigue, not to mention a different look, since teams generally take anywhere from 70 to 72 percent of their plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. The Astros did face Hill twice when he was with the Athletics in 2016. They didn’t have much success, though the sample size is too small to be predictive.
Hill has not been real sharp in the playoffs. After turning in a 3.32 ERA with a 3.72 FIP and a 3.88 xFIP in the regular season over 135.2 innings of work, he has only worked nine innings across two starts in the postseason with three runs allowed on six hits. Hill has 12 strikeouts, but has also issued four walks and two of the six hits he has allowed have left the ballpark. Hill allowed 18 HR during the regular season, which was obviously a career high with most of his seasons spent as a reliever, but he only allowed four last season in 110.1 innings as a starter.
Something that concerns me from a betting standpoint in this game is that it is a very high-variance matchup for Houston. The Astros led the league in contact authority this season. They hit a lot of balls very hard and led the league in batting average. Hill is the type of guy where patience is the best virtue, since he does have some walk problems. He’s not the most efficient when it comes to his pitch count. But, in the playoffs, when managers go to the bullpen in the middle innings with more regularity, running up Hill’s pitch count is largely irrelevant. Hill excels when it comes to balls in play because he allows a ton of weak contact. In terms of average exit velocity against, Hill ranked 11th in lowest average exit velocity at 84.3 mph.
There were some mistakes, though. Hill ranked 107th out of 228 pitchers in barrels per plate appearance. That speaks to the high home run rate. Most of the balls in play for the Astros will be weak. The ones that aren’t, however, could be barreled up and hit hard. If the Astros have a few of those, it will put Verlander in a great position to succeed.
Free MLB Pick: Houston Astros
I’d start with a position on the Astros tonight and see where things go from there. Justin Verlander is more or less the same pitcher he has been, just with more data and a much healthier environment with a good team. He’s been terrific and I would expect that to continue. The Hill angles that I talked about make this a hard game to bet, but I would expect him to be out of the game in the fifth or sixth regardless of how he’s pitching. If you get a chance to live bet the edge that the Dodgers have over the Astros when it comes to relief pitching, go ahead and do that if the price is right. Grab Houston at plus money as a starting position and then see how the game goes.
I would also play the under. The total is 7.5 with the under juiced, but I would anticipate the shadows to come into play again. Also, the pressure and the leverage of the World Series are just conducive to unders. As we saw yesterday, nobody came close to stringing an inning together. Three home runs were hit to account for all of the runs. In between, there were a lot of strikeouts and weak contact. I’d expect a lot of the same tonight.