After MLB’s first-ever wildcard series, action moves to the divisional series and this year, they are historic. Given the format of this season, 16 teams made the playoffs and that has created the unique situation that every divisional round series is between teams from the same division.
In the American League, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays will face off representing the AL East and the Oakland Athletics will take on the Houston Astros in an AL West matchup. Meaning, in a season where we only saw very few matchups, the playoffs will be more of the same.
In this preview, USAbetting will focus on the American League matchups. Both best of five game series begin today with the Astros/Athletics starting at 4:07 PM ET (Monday).
Houston Astros vs Oakland Athletics ALDS Preview & Predictions
After an up and down regular season, the Houston Astros went into their first round series with the Minnesota Twins as underdogs. An injury to Justin Verlander seemed to compound things but the Astros found their swing regardless. Their pitching held up too, limiting the top Twins offense to just two runs total. Houston scored seven runs as they recorded a 2-0 series win.
The Oakland Athletics’ road to the ALDS required a little more competitiveness in their first round series. After an almost perfect outing from Lucas Giolito, the Chicago White Sox actually took a 1-0 lead in the wildcard series. In a three game series, that meant that the Athletics had to come back from the brink of elimination in just the second game of the series. Oakland didn’t give up as they hoped to keep their AL pennant hopes alive for just the first time in 30 years. Backed by clutch offense, the Athletics battled in two games, winning both en route to advancing to the divisional round, 2-1.
With the Athletics winning the AL West title, it was Oakland that had the better of their divisional rivals all season long, entering this series having won the head-to-head, 7-3. However, for all the regular season meetings, this be the first time these two teams are meeting in the postseason.
Walking to the LCS
One of the major things to keep an eye on in this series is something that often determines baseball games: walk total. When pitchers walk batters, it represents free base runners and that can often make the difference for several reasons. One of the lesser focused on is how it changes the way the pitcher needs to pitch: out of the stretch versus the wind up. For the Astros, their pitchers have struggled with walks this year, something that fortunately their pitchers did a much better job with in the Minnesota series. Against the Athletics, the team for which getting free bases has been a strength, Houston will have to be mindful. The Athletics don’t just earn walks from the plate, but they also sit near the top of the league in fewest walks allowed from the mound. It is not surprising then that the Athletics hold a near half-run lead in terms of team ERA. Oakland finished the year with a mark of 3.77 compared to Houston’s 4.31.
Astros vs Athletics Predictions & Picks Verdict
Offensively, the Astros and Athletics played to similar numbers this year. Both from the power standpoint and just pure contact and BABIP. It is in pitching where the main differences come in. During the regular year, the Athletics held an edge. In the postseason, the Astros managed much better. Pitching will play a pretty big factor in this series. If Oakland can keep the formula that they had when they won seven of ten from the Astros earlier this year, the Athletics likely will win. If the Astros’ bats really are heating up and the pitching stays solid, Houston could disappoint a lot of baseball fans nationwide.
- Our pick is to take the Athletics in four games and to win game one outright. You can bet on this game with Bovada or if you are in one of their restricted states, then join BetOnline
New York Yankees vs Tampa Bay Rays Predictions, Preview & Betting Picks
Another series which will be a repeat performance of the regular season series is the Yankees and Rays, which starts today (8:07 PM ET Monday). Much like Oakland vs Houston, this one also ended in a lopsided record, 8-2. Perhaps much to the surprise of the top recommended offshore USA oddsmakers in the preseason who picked the Yankees as co-World Series favorites, it was the Rays who dominated their season series.
Both the Rays and Yankees made quick work of their wildcard opponents. For Tampa, they took down their AL East rival, the Toronto Blue Jays, with exceptional pitching and some clutch hitting.
The Yankees, who struggled with the health of their lineup in the regular season, found their bats when they took on the Cleveland Indians. New York scored a wild card weekend high, 22 runs in just two games and Gerrit Cole still looked great. A Cole vs Snell postseason matchup could be on the horizon. Either way, this series could come down to just how hot the Yankees bats can stay.
The Bronx Bats
When the 2020 regular season began, the New York offense was one of the most potent as far as expectations and why wouldn’t it have been? Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, the list goes on. New York’s offense had so much depth that even when some of its top bats went down injured, there was more than enough production to make up for it. There was a stretch where the Yankees bats all went cold and what resulted was New York almost missing the playoffs entirely. The Yankees rebounded at the end of the year and carried that into the playoffs and if that offense shows up, as AL Cy Young favorite and triple crown pitcher, Shane Bieber, realized, there may be no stopping them.
Yankees vs Rays Picks & Predictions Verdict
It’s been a statement year for the Rays and it seems unlikely their run will come to an end just yet.
- Our pick is the Rays in five. That said, take Cole in the game one pitching matchup. The Yankees offense should provide him the minimal run support he needs to get the job done. Place your wagers with Bovada or BetOnline sportsbooks.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.