Our picks and analysis article returns for the Major League Baseball playoffs, as we look to play the right sides in the postseason. First and foremost, the thing that you must know about the playoffs is that there is a ton of variance. Home field advantage will likely be overblown in the betting market. Teams with HFA are just 41-43 in the Division Series round since 1995, when the wild card era began, and they are just 21-21 in the Championship Series since that year. Teams with HFA in the World Series are 15-5, so obviously it makes perfect sense that the exhibition All-Star Game sets the home team.

Over 162 games, the good teams are the good teams. Over five or seven games, the good teams may not be as good. There’s no margin for error and that’s what makes the MLB playoffs filled with so much drama. Every single pitch, every single plate appearance matters. That’s especially true of the two Wild Card games coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday. Let’s take a look at these two matchups. We’ll also have series previews coming up for Boston vs. Cleveland, AL Wild Card vs. Texas, Los Angeles vs. Washington, and NL Wild Card vs. Chicago.

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AL Wild Card Game: Baltimore at Toronto (-150); Total: 8.5

There are a few things that you want to remember right away about the playoffs. Starting pitchers matter a lot less. A large amount of my MLB handicapping is to break down the starters because they have the biggest, and most predictable, impact on a game. That’s not the case in the postseason. Managers have a very quick trigger finger and that’s especially true of a one-and-done game like this. Bullpens work extensively and they work a ton when lesser starters are on the mound. Aces get a longer leash than #3 and #4 starters.

Another thing is that the run environment is lower. Part of that is because the weather is cooling off across the country, so the conditions are less optimal for ball flight. Another part of it is that these are high-pressure, high-leverage situations. Everybody tightens up and that usually leads to less offense. Yet another part of it is that managers are more content to play for one run, so you’ll see more of a willingness to advance runners with bunts and play small ball. One final part is that starters aren’t seeing lineups for a third and fourth time, so there are less adjustments that hitters can make.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at this battle between Chris Tillman and Marcus Stroman. Tillman had a good year with a return to normalcy for his LOB%. This is pretty much the standard time of season we’ve seen from Tillman dating back to 2012. Last season was the exception, when he only stranded 68.2 percent of runners and hung a 4.99 ERA. He stranded 77 percent this year and posted a 3.77 ERA, even though his xFIP was about the same.

Tillman was sailing along for the season but then he went on the disabled list with an injury and missed a few starts in late August. Since his return, he’s given up nine runs over 19 innings of work. His velocities have been down, however, leading some to believe that he’s still hurt. He walked more than he struck out in his final two outings of the season. There’s definitely some risk to backing Tillman here, but Buck Showalter is not going to ride or die with him. Showalter is one of the game’s best managers at leveraging his relievers and that’s a significant advantage in a one-game format like this.

He certainly has an advantage over John Gibbons, who does not leverage his relievers well and whose lineup construction has been suspect over the last several weeks. Marcus Stroman posted a 4.37 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 3.41 xFIP on the season. He’s a high ground ball starter, which can be iffy in the postseason where batted ball luck and sequencing luck basically dictate the outcomes of games. Ground balls find holes or they don’t. There’s not really a whole lot of control over that.

I’ll be honest that I didn’t get enough of a look at Stroman to know if his increased slash line with men on base is a problem with consistency in his mechanics from the stretch, a byproduct of bad luck, or a byproduct of simply having more holes with runners on base. Fielders have less range when there are men on base, whether they’re keeping runners close to the bases or playing at double play depth or whatever else. Stroman held the opposition to a .253/.301/.394 with the bases empty, but they had a .276/.331/.425 slash with men on base and a .270/.347/.417 with men in scoring position, where Stroman posted his highest BB% at 9.8 percent.

It is worth pointing out that Stroman was clearly a better pitcher in the second half. He posted a 22.7 percent K% compared to a 16.9 percent in the first half. He missed the majority of the 2015 season with a knee injury, so it’s understandable that it took him a little bit of time to get back on track. He doesn’t show any huge platoon splits versus lefties or righties. He may have shown some signs of fatigue in September with a 26/14 K/BB ratio. He’s worked 204 innings this season after working just 166.1 between Triple-A and the bigs in 2014 and only 34.2 innings last season.

This looks like a slightly inflated line to me with Toronto at home. A better price would probably be in the +120/-130 range. In that respect, there’s line value on Baltimore. I also think Baltimore has the better manager and the guy better equipped to handle a game with high leverage like this. I also think Toronto is the better team. In a one-game playoff, it doesn’t really matter who the better team is, though, since variance will dictate the outcome. My lean in this spot, due to the reasons above, is Baltimore.

NL Wild Card Game: San Francisco at New York Mets (-109); Total: 6

Will the even-numbered year magic be on San Francisco’s side yet again? The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They’ll have to get through this one-game playoff in order to have the opportunity to do that. Their ace will be on the hill at Citi Field as Madison Bumgarner pitches the biggest game of the year for the Giants. The Mets will counter with an ace of their own in Noah Syndergaard, who was spitting fire in last season’s playoffs. It’s not predictive at all, but don’t think I didn’t notice the 26 K in 19 innings for Syndergaard, who was spectacular as a rookie.

It’s no secret how good Madison Bumgarner is. For the fifth straight season, his strikeout rate improved and he actually posted the best ERA of his career, even though his FIP and xFIP were both the highest they’ve been since 2012. Bumgarner did give up a few more home runs this season, but he also allowed more fly balls, so it wasn’t a huge issue. He struck out 251 in 226.2 innings of work over his 34 starts. All three of those stats were career highs, so Bumgarner has worked a ton of innings this season. This is his sixth straight season with over 200 innings, though, so the workload has never slowed him down before.

Sequencing is so important for pitchers. Bumgarner had a 1.94 ERA in the first half and then posted a 3.80 ERA in the second half. What changed? He went from an 85.6 percent LOB% to a 71.1 percent mark. He worked out of fewer jams and more balls found holes and it caused his ERA to jump. Is there anything predictive about that? Probably not, considering this is a one-game sample that we’re focused on. It’s hard to even consider the Mets’ splits against lefties because this is one game, in a vacuum, against one of the game’s elite southpaws. For what it’s worth, the Mets were 13th in wOBA, but in the top 10 in wRC+, a metric that is based off of what league average performance is and how much better a team is than league average.

The Hammer of Thor will be on display at Citi Field with Noah Syndergaard on the mound. I don’t think people fully realized or appreciated how excellent his season truly was. Syndergaard hung a 2.60 ERA with a 2.29 FIP and a 2.67 xFIP. He struck out 218 in 183.2 innings of work. He only gave up 11 home runs, so he really made significant strides this season. He learned how to pitch. He sequenced better and he induced more ground balls. In terms of raw arsenals, there aren’t many, if any, better than Syndergaard’s. His stats read like hardcore erotica. He gets better with men on base. He’s special and hopefully will be for a long time.

Syndergaard did issue a few more walks in the second half, but he also had an anemic walk rate in the first half, so I’m not too concerned about it. It’s hard to maintain paces like that, especially as you see teams for a second and third and fourth time. Unlike the AL Wild Card game, there’s not a ton of familiarity for the lineups against these two pitchers.

The one distinct advantage that the Mets have in this game is the bullpen. You can make a case for home field with the time change, but I don’t think it matters with the later start and the two days off before the game. The Giants bullpen has been abhorrent this season. It will force Bruce Bochy to push Bumgarner as deep as he can and may even force Johnny Cueto into action in order to try and advance. On the flip side, Bochy is a better manager than Terry Collins, so we’ll see if that mitigates the late-game chess match.

Even though MadBum is spectacular and his playoff performances have been legendary, I’d have a small lean to the Mets here because of the bullpen scenario.

This is a good place to remind readers that it’s probably best to simply live bet the MLB playoffs. Look to guarantee profit both ways if you can and just scalp and middle the games. Bullpens are critically important in the postseason and there are some that are undoubtedly better than others. Taking a pregame position is fine and sticking with it is fine if you don’t want to live bet or aren’t comfortable with it, but that’s probably the safest way to go about MLB postseason baseball betting.

Be on the lookout today for the series previews for the Indians vs. Red Sox and Dodgers vs. Nationals!