I got back into the win column with my most recent pick of the San Diego Padres to close out their best two-of-three series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
Despite going up against the talented Jack Flaherty, the Padres were -121 moneyline favorites in that one, but the bullpen game was just has they could have hoped.
A whopping nine different Padres relievers combined for a shutout while the Padres produced four runs themselves, although Flaherty was excellent in his six innings of one-run ball.
Nonetheless, the Friars cruised to a 4-0 Game 3 win and booked their NLDS ticket to take on the rival Dodgers beginning Tuesday night from Los Angeles.
For now, however, let’s take a look at the American League side and zero in on what could be the best of the for divisional series’ as intense AL East rivals in New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays do battle in Game 1 this evening from Tropicana Field in Tampa.
Yankees vs. Rays Betting Odds
- Yankees (-144)
- Rays (+133)
- Yankees -1.5 (+113)
- Rays +1.5 (-133)
- Over 7 (-107)
- Under 7 (-113)
Yankees vs. Rays ALDS Game 1 Pick Breakdown
The Yankees will give the ball to their red-hot ace Gerrit Cole to kick off this ALDS matchup tonight after Cole dominated the Cleveland Indians in the Wild Card round last week.
In that outing, Cole hurled seven innings of two-run ball to go along with a whopping 13 strikeouts, lowing his career postseason ERA to 2.60 in the process. Tonight marks Cole’s 12 career playoff start as he’s 7-4 with a 3.12 FIP and 3.15 xFIP in his 72.2 career postseason frames so far.
Cole wasn’t quite living up to the lofty standards he set for himself with a pair of Cy Young-caliber seasons with the Houston Astros prior to inking his record-breaking nine-year contract with the Yankees in the winter, that is until his final few starts.
Cole was brilliant over his final four starts of the season, allowing just three earned runs total while working to a 1.00 ERA and 11.33 K/9 while pitching his team into the postseason.
Cole did have his struggles with the Rays this season, however. In three starts spanning 16.1 innings, Cole posted a 5.03 ERA, although he also posted a 15.09 K/9 in that time.
In seven career regular-season starts against the Rays, he owns a 4.07 ERA and was dominant in turning in a stout 0.57 ERA in 15.2 innings against the Rays in last year’s ALDS while with the Astros.
Like they did to open the Wild Card round against the Blue Jays, the Rays will send left-hander Blake Snell to the bump to open this ALDS matchup.
Snell was excellent in that start, hurling 5.2 innings of shutout ball, but he also failed to pitching six innings once again as he’s yet to exceed 5.2 innings pitched in 12 starts now this season.
Snell’s regular-season work included 50 innings of 3.24 ERA ball across 11 starts, and while his 4.35 FIP is a little elevated, his 3.06 xFIP and 3.57 SIERA were quite strong.
Snell’s FIP would be elevated based on a unsustainable left-on-base rate of 89.1%, but he was also due for major positive regression in the home run department after allowing homers on 29.4% of his fly balls surrendered this season despite allowing just 28.3% fly balls and 34.4% hard contact.
Snell has posted a 0.82 ERA/2.02 FIP in 11 postseason innings for his career and a 4.31 ERA across 18 regular-season starts against the division rival Yankees.
Despite a lengthy layoff leading up to this ALDS Game 1, the Yankees offense is entering this one red-hot after punishing an excellent Cleveland Indians pitching staff in a two-game Wild Card round sweep.
The Yankees mashed their way to plating 22 runs in the two games, teeing off on AL Cy Young lock Shane Bieber in Game 1 before getting to veteran righty Carlos Carrasco in Game 2 after an excellent regular season from him as well.
The Indians’ dynamite bullpen also failed to slow down the Bronx Bombers as the Yankees slugged seven home runs in the brief series as well.
With a healthy lineup, the Yanks are as dangerous as ever. Despite more injury trouble throughout the lineup again this season, the Yankees managed to rank fourth with a .349 wOBA on the season against right-handed pitching and fifth with a .208 ISO off them as well despite missing sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton for lengthy periods of time.
One split particularly stood out in the regular season, however, and that’s the home/road comparison.
The Yankees were by far the best home offense in baseball this season by way of their monstrous .384 wOBA, .269 ISO and .907 OPS as a team at Yankee Stadium, but the production absolutely plummeted on the road where they ranked 23rd with a .297 wOBA, but also 25th with a .668 OPS and 29th with a .130 ISO.
Clearly, those splits began to even out as they slugged their way into the ALDS on the road in Cleveland, but it’s something to monitor against another excellent pitching staff in Tampa Bay.
The Rays edged the Blue Jays in Game 1 of their Wild Card round sweep, however the bats came to life in Game 2 as they plated eight runs on the back of a pair of home runs including a grand slam from Hunter Renfroe off of Jays ace Hyun-Jin Ryu.
That said, the Rays’ generally fared better against lefties this season where they approached the top five in the league while they were far more ordinary against right-handers.
The Rays finished the regular season tied for 15th with a .319 wOBA on the season against right-handed pitching and 14th with a .176 ISO.
They drew walks at a quality 10.4% rate versus righties on the season, but also endured major strikeout issues as their 26.3% K-rate against right-handers was the third-highest mark in the league ahead of only the Tigers and Brewers.
As a result, it’s not surprising to see Cole rack up 27 strikeouts in just 16.1 innings against the Rays in the regular season.
The Rays also received positive injury news entering this series as Austin Meadows is on the ALDS roster after missing the Wild Card contests, but interestingly Meadows isn’t in the starting lineup despite his fine work against righties this season with Kevin Cash instead opting to alternate right and left-handed bats throughout the lineup this evening.
The one aspect that held the Yankees back this season was a regression from their bullpen after sporting one of the best groups in baseball in recent years.
The finished the regular season ranked 16th with a 4.51 bullpen ERA, 20th with a 4.69 FIP and tied for 15th with a 4.52 xFIP. All told, their 0.7 fWAR this season ranked 21st.
Walks and home runs were issues and the team struggled to replace the production of Dellin Betances who bolted for the crosstown Mets in free agency this winter. Adam Ottavino, one of the best signings of last winter, struggled after a fine start to his Yankees tenure in 2019 and Aroldis Chapman was more hittable this year than we’ve seen before.
Thankfully, fellow left-hander Zack Britton returned to peak form with a 1.89 ERA and right saves in 19 innings while right-handers Chad Green and Luis Cessa put forward strong seasons with both turning in ERAs of 3.51 or better.
Nonetheless, it’s not the same lights-out bullpen we’ve seen from this Yankees group in the past.
Considering Snell hasn’t been getting deep into games this season, we should expect the Rays bullpen to once again be a big factor in this game as they have been all season long.
The Rays’ bullpen saw plenty of action once again as their 269.2 innings pitched this season was the third-most in baseball, but they were up to the task as ranked third with a 3.37 ERA, fourth with a 3.65 FIP and sixth with a 4.16 xFIP. Add it all up and they finished in a first-place tie with the Twins with a 3.6 fWAR from their bullpen in 2020.
It’s just such a deep group. Nick Anderson, John Curtiss, Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo and Aaron Loup all worked to ERA of 3.00 or better while it’s also a group that is deployed on a matchup basis. That is clear by the fact that a whopping 12 different Rays relievers notched at least one save this season.
Clearly, Kevin Cash trusts every member of this group as the hard-throwing Rays bullpen is going to be a strong test for this powerful Yankees lineup.
Yankees vs. Rays ALDS Game 1 Pick
There is no love lost in this matchup as the Yanked and Rays displayed plenty of fireworks in the regular season while this rivalry has gained hatred over the last few seasons.
The starting pitching advantage is with the Yankees in this one, but you wonder by how much. Cole is absolutely dominating at the moment, but as noted, the Rays gave him plenty of issues this season. There’s also a sizeable bullpen advantage with Tampa Bay and Snell has been quite good himself.
It’s hard to understand their road struggles this season, and while they put that notion to bed in the Cleveland Wild Card series, to me that is still a factor. Clearly, this team is just far more comfortable hitting at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees averaged 3.5 runs per game in four games at Tampa Bay this season and just 3.4 runs per game in 10 regular-season contests with the Rays.
To me, we’re getting a real nice price on the Rays as underdogs, and while I would consider the moneyline, I’m going to buy a run and a half and roll with the home side on the run line in this one tonight.