Welcome to the beginning of the league divisional series here in the 2023 MLB playoffs. We only got two days of action in the Wild Card Series, but that was more than enough to be profitable. We went 6-3. Big thank yous go out to Trea Turner, Sonny Gray and Bo Bichette, among others, for their fine work this past week. A tsk tsk goes in the direction of Freddy Peralta for getting right up against his strikeout prop without going over (he struck out five through 3 1/3 innings; we only needed one more to hit the over and he failed to add to his tally).
I'm sure he was very concerned.
Anyway, let's make it a good first day for this round and keeping adding to the "thank you" list.
The hot-and-cold Rangers lost 16 of 20 from mid-August through Sept. 8. But then they got hot, right up until they could clinch the division and choked it away. Then they flew from Seattle to St. Pete and bounced the Rays in two games. Good luck pinning down how they'll play in this series.
The play: Gunnar Henderson over 1.5 Hits+Runs+RBI (-140)
The inevitable Rookie of the Year (it's not official yet, but he'll win it) struggled a bit early in the season, but got things together by the middle of May. He really dialed it up in June, hitting .276/.323/.533 with 22 doubles, seven triples, 22 homers, 67 RBI and 71 runs in his last 97 games. He hits for better power at home and is left-handed, the latter being a big deal now in "Walltimore."
I'm expecting some decent scoring in this game and Henderson is hitting fifth. There's a good shot for a hit and the runs and RBI are prime for the taking from a middle-order spot.
The Astros were just 39-42 at home this season and in September they lost two of three to the A's at home. They were also swept by the Royals in what looked like a must-win series. I feel like I've belabored the point over these last several days in discussing the playoffs, but it really does seem to be significant. If the Astros are bad at home, that's a major point of vulnerability for the reigning champs.
The play: Alex Bregman over 1.5 H+R+RBI (-115)
Bregman was worse at home than on the road, but it wasn't quite as egregious as some teammates. He did hit 11 of his 25 homers in Minute Maid. He was also very strong after a slow start. From May 15 through the end of the season, 121 games, he hit .281/.377/.479 with 82 RBI and 82 runs. He looks like he'll be planted in the two-hole, which is such a great spot for this prop.
Also, Ober is a lot more susceptible to right-handed power than lefties. He allowed 16 homers to right-handed hitters compared to just six from lefties despite facing more left-handers this season. He allowed a .457 slugging to left-haded hitters as opposed to .349 against righties.
Starting pitchers: LHP Ranger Suárez (4-6, 4.18 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Strider (20-5, 3.86 ERA)
The 2021 champions stormed back to win the division with 101 wins last season, but they were bounced in the NLDS by the upstart Phillies. The Braves won 104 games this season and are the best team in baseball. The Phillies are Vibe Central, though, and the defending NL champs who fear no one. I'm torn between my giddiness on it happening again and my annoyance that it's happening before the NLCS.
The play: Trea Turner over 1.5 H+R+RBI (+100)
This is a really tough matchup for Trea, but we're in "ride the hot hand" range with him. We hit on this exact prop in Games 1 and 2 of the Wild Card Series, as Turner went 4 for 7 with two doubles and an RBI.
Speaking of the matchup, this might scare a lot of people away: Turner is 0 for 14 in his career against Strider and 0 for 11 this season. So why the play on my end? Well, he's started to pile up more and more plate appearances against Strider in a short period of time. More familiarity benefits a hitter, especially one of Turner's caliber. Plus, he hasn't struck out. That tells me he is seeing the ball well. Five of those 11 outs this season were either liners or flies considered to be "deep," too. He's not far off. I'm ready for the breakthrough.
Diamondbacks (+168) at Dodgers (-201), 9:20 p.m. ET
The Dodgers are heavy favorites in the series and that's because they are the better team. The D-Backs, however, can get Kelly and Zac Gallen twice apiece on regular rest on a five-game series, so there's certainly an opening for the underdogs to pull off the major upset. We know that's happened to the Dodgers plenty of times before, too.
The plays: Dodgers first five innings -0.5 (-125) and Clayton Kershaw over 15.5 outs recorded (-135)
I'm expecting Kershaw to throw very well. I know there's a narrative about him being bad in the playoffs and he's had a fair share of bad outings. He's also had his fair share of good or even amazing postseason outings.
I think he's going to throw well in this one. He's well rested and wasn't pushed hard down the stretch, never working more than 5 1/3 innings in his last eight starts. I don't think the Dodgers are hoping to unleash him with something like 7-8 innings a start or anything, but I do think they'll be a bit less conservative. I'm thinking exactly six innings of work in around 85-90 pitches. He only gave up two runs to the D-Backs in 11 innings in Dodger Stadium this year. They are worse against lefties in general, anyway.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, torched Kelly for 12 hits and seven runs in five innings on Aug. 29.
I'm not putting faith in predicting either bullpen here, but I do think Kershaw outpitches Kelly through five and then gets at least one out in the sixth.