MLB Divisional Series Odds and Analysis
by Trevor Whenham - 10/02/2007
If that crazy win by Colorado over San Diego on Monday night didn't get you fired up to bet on the MLB playoffs then you clearly weren't watching the same game that I was. That was drama of the highest order, and it's why playoff baseball is still the best thing that there is. With my newfound enthusiasm for baseball after that game, it only made sense to take a look at the series prices that are being offered in the division series to see what they look like, and if any value exists.
Boston Red Sox (-167) vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (+157) - Given the prices, you'd obviously like to find a way to back the Angels. Let's see if we can do it. The season series was relatively even, with Boston having a slight edge with six wins in 10 games. Looking closer shows a wider divide, though. The Angels won two of three at home, but won just two of seven at Fenway. With the series starting in Boston, and returning there for the fifth game as needed, Anaheim's Fenway problems could be, well, a problem. This issue is even more extreme because of Angels ace John Lackey. Lackey is scheduled to start the first game on Wednesday in Boston, but he is only 1-4 with a 7.46 ERA in seven career starts in Boston. That's a big enough sample size to conclude that Fenway doesn't really suit him.
The schedule for this series is ridiculously spread out - Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday. That's a hockey schedule, not a baseball one. What it allows is for teams to use just three starters, and to use them on full rest. Even more than normal, then, this series will be decided by pitching. Lackey opens against Josh Beckett, who owned the Angels in two starts this year. Daisuke Matsuzaka faces Kelvim Escobar in game two (and five if needed). Escobar is 5-1 in his last seven starts, but he has allowed five or more runs in four of those seven games, so he could be in trouble if he doesn't get run support. Dice-K struggled down the stretch, but was very solid in two of his last three starts, and he's working off of seven days rest. He pitched his best all year with six or more days between starts. The last two starters are Curt Schilling and Jered Weaver. Schilling faced the Angels three times this year and was 2-1, with one brilliant outing, one terrible one, and one that was just okay. The two wins were at Fenway, though, and Schilling has been fantastic in the postseason. Weaver faced Boston twice - successfully in Anaheim, and unsuccessfully in Boston. With their game in Anaheim, Weaver may have the edge here.
New York Yankees (-184) vs. Cleveland (+169) - I don't know how this is possible, but the Yankees haven't seen C.C. Sabathia since 2004. He had a rough time with the Bombers back then, but he's a different pitcher now. More on pitching in a second.
At first glance this series is a coin flip. Both teams have about the same record (Cleveland is just a little better), they both won six of their last 10, and both have dangerous lineups. But then you have a look at their head-to-head record - The Yankees won all six games the teams played. That gives the Yankees an edge. The question you have to ask is whether the edge is as big as the price, or if the public has jumped all over the Yankees like they always do.
Unlike the Boston series, both teams will use four starters in this series. Cleveland has the edge at the top of the rotation, because Sabathia and Carmona are a heck of a lot scarier than Wang and Pettitte. The key for the Yankees will be whether the starters can be strong enough to get the ball to Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera. If those two get the ball with a lead then it should be all over. It's also very hard to know how Roger Clemens will perform. He's a playoff warrior, but he has barely pitched in the last month. All in all, I think Cleveland probably deserves a closer look at this price.
Chicago Cubs (-121) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (+111) - The Cubs will face Brandon Webb twice, and they have to find a way to beat him if they want to win this series easily. Webb is 4-1 against the Cubs in his career, and he doesn't give up many home runs, so the bombing Cubs will have to get creative (or lucky). They also need to hope that the good Carlos Zambrano shows up against Webb, and not the terrible one. The Cubs also need to hope that Alfonso Soriano is on his game. He was spectacular in September, but his playoff career is less than stellar, so he needs to prove himself. If he's at his best, and if the Cubs bats are alive, then the team should be fine against the non-Webb trio of Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and Micah Owings. None of those guys have done particularly done well against power hitters. If the Cubs are able to score some runs, then Arizona may struggle to keep up with them on the scoreboard. It's no surprise that this is the closest series according to the price.
Colorado Rockies (+114) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (-124) - When will the bubble burst? Colorado's stretch run is one of the all-time great stories, and their win on Monday was amazing, but even the staunchest of fans has to admit that the team is playing over their heads. If they can't stay up emotionally then this could be ugly. On the other hand, the Phillies also posted one of the all-time great comebacks to make it into the playoffs, so the exact same thing can be said about them.
This series should be incredibly exciting. Two hot teams. Two MVP candidates. Lineups that can hit. Pitching that should allow for lots of hits. I think that I probably lean towards Philly a bit, if only because their bullpen is a bit fresher, and they are a bit better on the road than Colorado, but I'm pretty sure that I will just sit back and watch what could be a classic series. And thank the fates that I work at home so I can watch the first two weekday mid-afternoon games.