It’s a busy Saturday around the sports world. There’s an entire menu of college football for handicappers to play around with and both League Championship Series are in action today. Things start with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays around 4 p.m. ET and then finish up with the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the Chicago Cubs around 8 p.m. ET. There’s a lot to try and follow and a lot to handicap, so let’s see if we can help you along the way.
The under hit easily last night on a crisp night in Cleveland. The lean on the Indians was also a winner, so hopefully you took advantage of those two possibilities.
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Toronto (-130) at Cleveland; Total: 8
Remember “The Rent is Too Damn High” Party and the meme that circulated the internet before memes were an “in” thing? Well, this line is too damn high. In my eyes, it’s at least 15 cents too high and probably closer to 20. I’m not sure if this is an overreaction to the Trevor Bauer drone cut or what, but this is a bad line as far as I’m concerned.
The weather conditions are expected to be a little bit different. With a 4 p.m. start, the sun will be shining and it will be considerably warmer. Also, the wind is expected to be blowing out. All of those things are clearly bad for Josh Tomlin. They’re not all that great for JA Happ either. Happ is more of a pitch-to-contact guy in today’s MLB climate, as his strikeout rate was actually a little bit below average. He gave up 22 dingers in his 195 innings. The Blue Jays defense was really good for him, as he posted a career-best .268 BABIP and stranded 79.7 percent of his runners en route to a 20-win season.
Happ’s arsenal is solely predicated on four-seam fastball command. The Indians were not a good fastball team this season. In fact, they’re one of the worst to ever qualify for the playoffs. On the four-seamer alone, Happ’s was 23 runs above average per PITCHf/x data and he can add a little bit of two-seam run to it. He likes to elevate it in the zone, somewhat similar to what a guy like Cliff Lee used to do. The Achilles heel for the Indians is the high fastball. Happ’s secondary offerings were not good, though, and the Indians have punished breaking balls this season.
We’ll have to see how this plays out. There are a lot of things in Happ’s statistical profile that make some of his performance numbers look like a mirage. But, he keeps getting outs. He actually improved his K% throughout the season, although he struggled in September and his velocity tailed off a bit in his last couple of starts. That’s something to watch because the margin for error is pretty thin between 91-92 at the letters and 89-90.
Josh Tomlin’s makeup is very conducive to playoff baseball. His stuff, however, is not. The right-hander displayed some big grapefruits on the mound against Boston in the ALDS in a key Game 3 start at Fenway Park. It’s probably better for the Indians to get Tomlin at Progressive Field rather than Rogers Centre thanks to Trevor Bauer’s drone-related injury.
The stat picture isn’t pretty for Tomlin against Toronto. The Blue Jays have a ton of power. Tomlin allowed 22 HR in 423 PA against RHB this season and they hit .295/.323/.522. His cutter works a lot better against lefties, so it becomes a tough weapon to use in this start. Truthfully, I’d be surprised if the Indians get more than four innings out of Tomlin here. He can bob and weave his way through the lineup a time or two without killing Cleveland’s chances, but that would be about it.
The nice thing about this series, relative to the last, is that the Indians are very right-handed-heavy in the bullpen aside from Andrew Miller. They carried a length lefty in Ryan Merritt for this series, but guys like Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship can actually be used against Toronto. Neither Dan Otero nor Bryan Shaw pitched in Game 2. With an off day coming up on Sunday, Terry Francona can be extremely aggressive with his bullpen. At the first sign of trouble for Tomlin, Francona will start playing the Bullpen Shuffle and he’ll match up where and when he can.
From a value standpoint, it’s the Indians today. Josh Tomlin shouldn’t factor into the game too much unless he gets shelled in the first two innings. Francona will have such a quick trigger finger that he can keep the game manageable. If the Indians can get after Happ with a lot of right-handed sticks in the lineup, it will be quite a game. This is a spot where the Indians should be able to use their aggressiveness on the basepaths to their advantage. They didn’t get enough runners against Marco Estrada to do it on Friday. They should have chances on Saturday against Happ. I’d take the Tribe and hope for the best from the middle relievers.
Los Angeles at Chicago (-200); Total: 7.5
It’s hard to justify making anybody a two-dollar favorite in the MLB playoffs. Suffice it to say, it’s justified here for me. Kenta Maeda has not been sharp in the latter portion of the season as he goes through the MLB grind for the first time. He wasn’t particularly effective in Game 3 and he faces a tough lineup in a hostile environment tonight. He also has no margin for error because the Dodgers were unquestionably the worst offensive team against left-handed pitching and they get Jon Lester here in this one.
If I was you, I’d come up with a creative way to play the Cubs in this game. Whether you play the -1 or the -1.5, I think there’s value in both of them. This is a really tough spot for the Dodgers. They were dead last by a large margin in wOBA against LHP and also last in the park-adjusted wRC+ metric against southpaws. Lester is not going on short rest or anything and the Cubs have an elite-level bullpen with tons of depth.
Maeda posted a 4.25 ERA in the second half of the season because his command failed him. After allowing 10 home runs and 82 hits in 103.2 innings in the first half, opposing batters hit 10 home runs and had 68 hits in 72 innings in the second half. His slash line against would suggest a lower ERA, so maybe there was some sequencing and sample size bias, but he wore down as the season went along and teams started to adjust to him. The Cubs have had ample time to do some advance scouting and they have an excellent lineup for making pitchers work.
I wish I had more to give you on this game, but I really don’t see any way that the Dodgers win it. The spot is brutal coming off of the emotional Game 5 win and the matchup just doesn’t work out for them.