MLB Playoffs Divisional Round 10/06/16
With the Wildcard Round of the playoffs over, it’s time for the Divisional Round. Instead of a one game playoff, these series will now follow the “best out of five” structure. With four games scheduled for Friday, there are an unusual amount of options to choose from for a playoff slate. Do not fear because I am here to outline the best options amongst both the pitchers and hitters on what should be an exciting night for baseball fans. Let’s get to work:
San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs
Since Madison Bumgarner was forced to pitch in the one game playoff, Johnny Cueto will draw the start against a loaded Cubs offense. Wrigley Field has the deepest foul poles (353 feet) of any ballpark but the park has always played more favorably to RHHs. Even so, the park shouldn’t affect too much considering it consistently plays as a league-average hitters’/pitchers’ park. In a battle between two starters who posted sub-3.00 ERAs, I would assume the game opens with a 6.5 or 7.0 run over/under. Vegas lists the Cubs as -260 favorites for the series so it is a safe bet to assume they’ll be favored in the opener. The Cubs posted a .328 wOBA (seventh best) against RHP this season while the Giants struggled against lefties to the tune of a .307 wOBA. Additionally, Cueto has been fighting through groin soreness for the past few weeks but he struck out 11 Rockies in his first start after the ailment began hampering him. Cueto limited hard contact to both sides of the plate this year but left-handed hitters posted a wOBA nearly 30 percentage points higher. Cubs lefties are the higher probability play while Kris Bryant clearly can hit anyone. On the other side, speedsters are the preferred plays against Lester because they are excellent bets to steal a base if they are able to reach (opponents stole 28 bases against him this season). Only two Giants bats stand out (Buster Posey and Brandon Belt) against LHP but Belt especially is better served for tournaments. The high-percentage plays here are Jon Lester and a few Cubs bats with any other borderline options best reserved four tournaments.
Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers
Most people will probably focus on bats in this game once again especially on the Rangers side. While J.A. Happ very nearly pitched his way to the AL Cy Young, he allowed 19 HRs to opposing RHHs this year. Texas right-handed bats are all in a position to put their power on display with the best options being Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus. Happ could be in for some struggles against a lineup full of right-handers. On the Rangers side, active career leading in K/9 Yu Darvish will take the mound against a Blue Jays team that struck out 22.4-percent of the time against RHP. While most focus on the National League pitchers, Darvish quietly possesses double-digit strikeouts. The problem is Darvish’s ERA remained inflated despite impressive peripherals after his return from Tommy John surgery and he allowed his highest HR/9 rate since 2013. He struggled to strand runners and clearly struggled with the long ball. Globe Life Park in Arlington was not kind to him this season either as he allowed a wOBA 52 points higher at home this year. Therefore, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are the most enticing one-offs due to their power potential.
Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians
Although no line has been released for this game yet, Progressive Field is a top five hitters’ park and this is a battle between two formidable offenses. For this reason, I expect an 8.0 run total or higher despite a matchup between two true aces: Corey Kluber and David Price. The Boston Red Sox scored 0.2 more runs per game than any other offense this season and Kluber surrendered a wOBA 22 percentage points higher at home this year. In fact, he allowed 14 HRs at home compared to just eight on the road. Consequently, the Red Sox bats are in arguably the best position of any offense in this slate to produce as evident by their league-leading .348 wOBA against RHP this year. Lefties succeeded at a superior rate against him so lock in David Ortiz first before resorting to the rest of the usuals: Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, etc. Kluber’s K/9 was on the verge of 10.00 all season long so he can be started in tournaments as a differentiator. As for the Indians, David Price is coming off a month of September in which he struggled. Over Price’s last 46.1 IP, opponents managed a 4.08 ERA, 4.16 FIP, .243/.284/.442 slash line and .308 wOBA. While those numbers do not jump off the page, they are about as favorable as it gets on this slate. Bats such as Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer and Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are staples against LHPs and can be deployed in this matchup. I really do not see a reason to roster Price in cash games with all the other options on the slate.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals
The pitchers clearly stand out in this matchup, and while Vegas hasn’t released lines yet, a 6.0 over/under is certainly possible. Clayton Kershaw versus Max Scherzer is as good as it gets in terms of a pitching duel and both pitchers are rightfully going to be heavily owned in all formats. Kershaw has a reputation for mediocre performances in the postseason and the Nationals finished fourth in the MLB in wOBA against LHP (.332). Still, Kershaw is the preferred play of the two simply because he is above-and-beyond the best pitcher in the game and the matchup isn’t exactly a “gimme” for Scherzer either; the Dodgers produced the sixth highest wOBA against RHP this year and finished with the second best team wRC+ (109). One statistic that stands out is Scherzer’s 1.22 HR/9 this year overall. Diving deeper, Scherzer actually allowed a 1.42 HR/9 rate to lefties and only struck them out at a 25.5-percent rate (compared to 1.04 HR/9 and 37.8-percent K rate against RHHs). Here are the best hitting plays from this game (in order): Corey Seager, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner, Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal.
There’s no doubt the public will be attempting to fit in at least one starter from the Dodgers/Nationals game and bats from the American League contests. Kershaw and Lester seem to be the top pitching options while Rangers, Indians and Red Sox bats stand out as the teams to pick from for the most part. Cubs bats will go under-owned and are a way to differentiate in tournaments and create the most possible upside. All-in-all, this is a challenging slate and will take a leap of faith in one way or another no matter who you roster because all the pitchers are studs.