Last Updated: 2017-11-01
There’s nothing like a Game 7. Well, it gives this particular Indians fan crippling nightmares, but it is easy to see why these winner-take-all affairs are so enticing. The drama. The storylines. The chaos. This has been a really fun World Series in a lot of ways and also one that may have shed some light on some of the problems that Major League Baseball has. Those problems will be discussions for another day. Right now, the focus is on the decisive game that will crown the 2017 champion.
The Astros and Dodgers each played 162 regular season games. The Astros have played 17 postseason games and the Dodgers have played 15. Everything comes down to one game. There is something so cruel about that, and yet it is the same framework that we have had for a long time and very few people bat an eye. The idea that six full months of baseball can come down to nine or more innings is inherently unfair, but what is the alternative? What is the solution? There isn’t one, which means that one team’s legacy will be entrenched in baseball lore forever because of one game.
The Houston Astros will send Lance McCullers to the hill. The Los Angeles Dodgers will send Yu Darvish to the hill. The bettors have sent their money in on the Dodgers, choosing that hill to die on. Sharp money from overnight bettors has driven this number all the way up into the -165 range after Bookmaker posted an opener of -145 and Pinnacle came out at -138. In theory, this is why home field advantage matters so much. All-time, however, the home team is 54-54 in Game 7 of a playoff series, including last year’s (author cries) Game 7 of the World Series.
A couple times in these playoffs, Lance McCullers has been a savior. He’ll have to be one again on Wednesday night. McCullers has worked 18.1 innings in these playoffs with two starts, four appearances, a win, and a save. McCullers has allowed six runs on 10 hits with a 16/9 K/BB ratio. During the regular season, McCullers battled several different injuries and only worked 118.2 innings with a 4.25 ERA. He struck out 132 and walked 40, so the BB spike here in the playoffs is a bit concerning, especially heading into a game with the thinnest margins for error. McCullers has a .209 BABIP against out of 69 batters faced, so he has induced a lot of weak contact with heavy curveball usage. As it is, McCullers throws his curveball about 47 percent of the time and is predominantly a two-pitch pitcher with a four-seam fastball and the Uncle Charlie. He’s mixed in a changeup a bit more this season with subpar results.
For both teams, there are obvious questions about how far into the game these starters will go. I would expect McCullers to throw 60-65 percent curveballs with complete disregard for his arm in a spot like this. How long is that sustainable? Three, maybe four innings? We’ve seen these two teams extremely hesitant to send their starters out a third time through the lineup and both bullpens are totally gassed. The idea that McCullers can go out there and shove for 3-4 innings max has to be factored into your handicapping. Will he have his fastball command? Will the curveball continue to be effective? There are so many questions.
Those same questions exist on the Yu Darvish side. We’ve heard and seen a lot of talk about the baseballs being used for the postseason. Slider grip has been impossible to achieve and that affects one pitcher more than all the others in this series. That pitcher is Yu Darvish. Darvish has a really deep arsenal, but the slider is his primary secondary pitch with usage around 25 percent. Unlike guys like Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel that have plus-plus command, Darvish is a guy that gets by with a deep arsenal and the ability to mix in a lot of pitches. Per PITCHf/x linear pitch type weights, Darvish’s slider has been 90.9 runs above average in his five Major League seasons. The only other pitch on the plus side is his cutter, which had peak effectiveness in 2012 and 2013 and has been a below average pitch since.
Darvish seemed to get by okay in his first two postseason starts with the slippery baseballs. He has worked 13 innings with six runs allowed on 14 hits with a 14/2 K/BB ratio. He has allowed three home runs. Darvish allowed four runs on six hits in 1.2 innings of work in Game 3 and only had two swings and misses out of 12 batters faced. This is a Yu Darvish that had 30 swings and misses in a start against the Rays earlier this season. Obviously the Astros lineup is better than Tampa Bay’s many times over, but still. That speaks to the problems that Darvish had with the slide piece. Not only is this a physical thing, but it is also a mental thing for Darvish. Can he go to his best pitch in a 3-2 count? Will it be an out pitch with two strikes? Can he even attempt to throw one early in the count in hopes of stealing a strike? This will be a live betting angle that astute viewers should be able to pick up on. Is he throwing the slider no matter what? Is he trying to force it or get a feel for it? Is it even an option? If it’s not an option, the Astros team total over or the Astros on the money line becomes an obvious play.
We finally got a low-scoring game in Game 6, as the Dodgers won 3-1. Justin Verlander fought his way through six innings and AJ Hinch played for Game 7 when his team was down. Chris Devenski and Ken Giles did not pitch. Neither did Brad Peacock. Dallas Keuchel should be available out of the pen tonight. With a 3-1 deficit after Joe Musgrove gave up a solo dinger to Joc Pederson, Luke Gregerson, who has been very durable, and Francisco Liriano pitched. The Astros bullpen is much fresher than the Dodgers bullpen.
To the horror of most watching, Brandon Morrow pitched for the sixth consecutive game in this World Series. He only threw 14 pitches and looked fairly sharp, but Morrow has a very, very extensive injury history. He looked to be on empty in Game 5 and we’ll have to see if his stuff has any life in Game 7. Morrow only had one swing and miss and the Astros fouled off six pitches. Kenta Maeda was thrust into action again and who know what his status is going into tonight. Kenley Jansen looked dominant with 18 strikes on 19 pitches, including five swinging strikes, as he got six outs. How much life is left in his arm?
This has been a grueling World Series on both teams from the lineups to the bullpens and everything in between. There are probably some betting angles to discuss for the start of next season. For now, the focus is solely on Game 7.
Per usual, my suggestion to you is to live bet the game. Like I mentioned about Darvish, if he can’t find that slider grip and it looks to be affecting him as much mentally and emotionally as it is physically, the Astros are your look. Truth be told, I’d start with an Astros position in the +140 range for that very reason. McCullers may go out there and get tagged, but them’s the breaks, as they say. Expect Dallas Keuchel to be the middle-inning bridge to the back-end of the bullpen. On the Dodgers side, Alex Wood will be ready and waiting to relieve Darvish and he looked pretty good in his Game 4 start. He’s also a weapon that the Astros haven’t seen much, so it might be a decent idea to live bet the Dodgers when he enters the game. At this point, these teams know each other inside and out. Wood is about the only wrinkle, since Brad Peacock has appeared a couple times and Collin McHugh just isn’t very good.
Whatever happens tonight, I’d like to thank my readers for being with me throughout the baseball season and for keeping an open mind on some of the advanced metrics. In just 3.5 short months, Spring Training will start and my MLB series win total previews series will take up most of my days and nights. I look forward to that and I look forward to another baseball season with all of you. Thank you.