The National League playoffs begin Wednesday night when a delicious pitching match takes place in New York, between the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard. The winner of the Wild Card game will advance to face the top-seeded Cubs in the Division Series.
Elsewhere, the Nationals and Dodgers start a best-of-five set in DC.
While Chicago has been the best team throughout the year, are they the best value? Let’s look at each squad while taking into account their odds to win the World Series.
World Series Odds for National League Teams:
Chicago Cubs: 12/5
The Cubs’ 103 regular season wins were eight more than any other team in baseball. They won the Central by 17.5 games and outscored opponents by 252 runs during the regular season. Their run differential – 1.55 runs per contest – makes them the 51st team since 1901 to have a figure above 1.5. Thirty four of the first 50 reached the World Series with 21 winning it.
Chicago wasn’t a one-facet team. They dominated on the mound and at the plate. The starting rotation managed a cumulative ERA of 2.96. The next best in baseball was Washington at 3.60. Their pitching staff also led the majors in WHIP, quality starts, and batting average against. On offense, they scored the third-most runs and had the second highest on-base-percentage.
The only area where they moderately struggled was in the field. Chicago was in the bottom third of the MLB in fielding percentage. That said, there is no doubt the Cubs are the favorite. But are they the value play?
Their current odds suggest they have a 30-percent chance of winning it all. In my view, they should be closer to 20 or 25-percent.
Washington Nationals: 6/1
The Nats are the second choice in the NL. They won 95 games and posted a +151 run differential (second in the league), yet enter the postseason banged up. Catcher Wilson Ramos and starter Stephen Strasburg are both injured, and some feel that Bryce Harper hasn’t been right all year.
Like most teams that win 95 game, Washington did a lot of things well this year, despite dealing with hurdles. They tied the Giants for the best fielding-percentage in the majors and finished a close second to LA in bullpen ERA. Their starters were behind only the Cubs’ in effectiveness. The lineup scored the eighth most runs.
Who you like between the Nats and Dodgers really has to come down to your preference between starters Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. They will square off in game one, and likely again if the series reaches a fifth and decisive contest.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 15/2
The Dodgers have been winning with pitching for what feels like forever. From Koufax to Drysdale to Fernando to Hershiser, and now Kershaw. Kershaw is the best starter of this generation, but is 2-6 in 13 postseason appearances with an ERA of 4.59, two full points higher than his career ERA of 2.58. After an injury riddled season, will this be the year he and the Dodgers make the postseason leap?
It will have to be pitching that takes them to new heights. Los Angeles had the sixth-best ERA among starters this year – even with Kershaw on the sidelines – and the number one mark in the bullpen. They’re a very middling squad at the plate.
New York Mets: 21/1
The Mets enter the postseason a hybrid of the Nats and Dodgers. They win thanks to elite pitching, but are banged up. Their starters had a team ERA of 3.61 (third in the MLB), while the relievers posted a 3.53 mark (sixth). However, four starters – Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler – are all out with injuries. After Syndergaard, veteran Bartolo Colon is the next man up. After him, there are lots of question marks.
That’s very bad news for a squad that was below average in every major offensive category during the regular season. When healthy, the Mets can bring such good pitching that they can win games with so-so hitting. However, it is hard to back them to go to the World Series as currently assembled.
San Francisco Giants: 25/1
It’s an even numbered year, and that seems to be a good thing for the Giants: they won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. After a great start to the year, San Francisco’s playoff chances were in jeopardy thanks to some awful ball following the All-Star break. However, they won four straight to close out the regular season and nothing is more frightening for an opponent than seeing Bumgarner on the mound in the playoffs. Two years ago, “MadBum” won the World Series MVP, going 2-0 with one save and allowing just one run in 21 innings. In his only Wild Card start, he threw a four-hit complete game shutout against Pittsburgh.
Looking beyond Bumgarner, the Giants had the fifth-best ERA among starters, though the bullpen was average at best and particularly weak down the stretch. On offense, they get on base but only scored 715 runs, 19th-best in the MLB.
The Cubs have the best team but their odds are a bit short. The Nats and Mets are risky bets because of injuries. The Dodgers and Giants are both viable options, in spite of Kershaw never being his best in the playoffs. But who says we should believe that trend will continue?The Dodgers are a fair price and worthy of a bet.
San Francisco has a serious task trying to beat Syndergaard on the road, but they have two huge factors in their favor: experience and Madison Bumgarner. If the Giants win, Bumgarner will likely start Game 3 against the Cubs, and probably would be available out of the bullpen in a possible Game 5. The second and third starters, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, can hold their own against the Cubs’ bats, too. The odds are just too large on San Francisco to pass up a small wager as well.
Photo credit: SD Dirk (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].
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