Maybe the Curse of the Billy Goat is a thing of the past and the Chicago Cubs are finally going to win the World Series. How else to describe what happened in the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday in San Francisco? The Giants were up 5-2 and appeared a sure thing to win their 11th straight postseason elimination game, which is just stupid. But the bullpen has been a problem pretty much all season for Manager Bruce Bochy, and that imploded as five relievers allowed four runs. The Cubs won 6-5 to avoid a winner-take-all Game 5 back in Chicago where the pressure would have all been on the home team. Only one other team in history -- the 1986 Mets -- had ever rallied from three runs behind in the ninth inning to clinch a postseason series. So now the Cubs open the NLCS at home Saturday against the winner of Thursday's Dodgers-Nationals Game 5. The Cubs have never won an LCS. They lost in 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2015 but are +145 favorites at BetOnline to win the World Series.
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NLDS: Dodgers at Nationals (-145, 7)
The winner-take-all game is Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. It originally was scheduled for 5 p.m. but shifted to prime time when the Cubs-Giants series ended. Los Angeles decided to bring back ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest for Tuesday's Game 4, and I guess you'd have to say it worked as the Dodgers stayed alive with a 6-5 lead, although the bullpen blew Kershaw's 5-2 advantage. Ageless Chase Utley had the winning RBI single in the bottom of the eighth.
For this game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he will use left-hander Rich Hill and rookie lefty Julio Urias, but he did not announce which one will start. Hill, however, says he has been told he's starting. Hill (12-5, 2.12) was not sharp in Game 2 of this series, allowing four runs and six hits over 4.1 innings with seven strikeouts and two walks in a 5-2 loss. Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton hit a three-run homer off him. Hill will be working on short rest as a starter for just the second time in his big-league career. But he does have relief experience, so that should help him. Certainly Urias will be called upon at the first potential sign of trouble. Washington's Ryan Zimmerman is 6-for-9 in his regular-season career off Hill with two homers and three RBIs. Lobaton should be behind the plate as in addition to that homer in Game 2 he's 3-for-3 in the regular season with two doubles off Hill. Jayson Werth is 1-for-3 with two RBIs.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker thought about bringing his ace, Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96) back on short rest as well on Tuesday, but since Baker knew he was assured of no worse than a Game 5, he smartly held off. So now Scherzer is on an extra day of rest for what he calls the biggest start of his career. In Game 1 of the NLDS, Scherzer allowed four runs on five hits -- including homers to Corey Seager and Justin Turner -- in six innings and took the loss. Homers have been his one problem this year. During the regular season he allowed 1.22 home runs per nine innings, his highest rate since 2011. Scherzer was 8-3 with a 2.56 ERA at home in the regular season.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 0-4 in Hill's past four. They are 2-8 in their past 10 playoff road games. The Nationals are 6-0 in their past six after a loss. They are 4-1 in their past five vs. a lefty. Washington is 5-1 in Scherzer's past six at home. The "over/under" has gone under in five of Hill's past seven. The under is 10-3 in Scherzer's past 13 on five days of rest.
Early lean: Nationals and under.
ALCS: Blue Jays at Indians (-144, 8)
Game 1 of the ALCS is Friday at 8 p.m. ET and it's the first postseason meeting between these franchises. Did you know that of the five playoff teams still standing, the Jays are the ones with the most recent World Series title? That was way back in 1993. If you predicted these two to meet in the ALCS, major kudos. I actually thought Toronto would beat Texas, the team with the most wins in the American League. I certainly didn't expect the first Blue Jays playoff sweep ever. And I gave the Indians little chance to beat the Red Sox, the best offensive team in baseball, much less sweep them.
I do like the Jays to win this series even though they lost four of seven regular-season meetings with the Tribe. Toronto goes with All-Star right-hander Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48) in the opener. Manager John Gibbons basically had everyone at his disposal since his team finished off the Rangers on Sunday. Estrada was fantastic in Game 1 of the ALDS in Texas, allowing one run and four hits over 8.1 innings with six strikeouts and no walks in the 10-1 victory. He's 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in eight career postseason games, including four starts. Estrada took a no-decision at home vs. Cleveland on July 2, allowing three runs over five innings. Carlos Santana is 3-for-5 off him career with a homer.
The Indians haven't officially announced their starter yet, but it's obviously going to be Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14). Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young winner, had his final start of the regular season skipped due to a mild quad strain and thus was pushed back to Game 2 of the ALDS vs. Boston. Kluber showed no signs of any trouble in shutting out the Red Sox on three hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts. Kluber was 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA in two starts this year against the Blue Jays. Russell Martin has two homers off him in 10 at-bats. Jose Bautista is 3-for-9 with four RBIs. Bautista didn't play vs. the Indians all this year due to injury.
Key trends: The Blue Jays are 6-0 in their past six vs. teams with a winning record. They are 9-3 in Estrada's past 12 on the road. The Indians are 12-2 in their past 14 home games vs. a right-handed starter. The under is 9-3 in Estrada's past 12 road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 7-3 in the past 10 meetings.
Early lean: Blue Jays and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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