Thanks to yet another masterful performance by Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants are back in the NLDS, which begins this Friday, playing alongside the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. In short, the race for the NL pennant is about to heat up!
The Giants, who have won the World Series in three of the last six years (every even numbered year since 2010), find themselves in a match-up against what very well could be the best Cubs team in years (9.15pm ET, Friday on FS1).
Winners of an MLB-best 103 games this season, Chicago continues to deal with the immense pressure of not having won a championship since 1908. In the past, this has led to early exits, a result the sentimental favorite will not want to repeat in 2016.
The second NLDS matchup is between the Nationals and the Dodgers (5.38pm ET, Friday on FS1). Washington finished the season with 95 wins, four more than LA, but over the past two years the Dodgers have had the Nationals’ number, leading the season series 9-3 since 2015. Of the playoff teams, Los Angeles is one of the worst on the road, something that might come into play as three of the possible five games will be at Nationals Park.
According to Bovada, who is providing individual game odds and NL pennant futures, the Cubs are favored not just to win the National League’s top prize, but all of MLB’s as well. The Cubs are favorite in the betting odds (+250 to win the World Series, +120 to win the NL pennant), with the Giants in second (+300), followed by the Dodgers (+350) and the Nationals bringing up the rear (+375).
Let’s take a look at the NLDS match-ups, give our preview’s predictions and conclude with betting picks.
Washington Nationals vs Los Angeles Dodgers Picks & Predictions
- Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7 in Washington DC, 5:38 p.m. ET, FS1
- Game 2: Saturday, Oct 8 in Washington DC, 4:08 p.m. ET, FS1
- Game 3: Monday, Oct 10 in Los Angeles, TBD, FS1
- Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday, Oct 11 in Los Angeles, TBD, FS1
- Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, Oct 13 in Washington DC, TBD, FS1
Let’s start at the top with this one: Clayton Kershaw vs Max Scherzer.
If this were the regular season, this would be an incredible pitching match-up for the first game, one that could even rival what the Giants and Mets served up last night. But it’s the playoffs and this wouldn’t be a Dodgers postseason preview if we didn’t talk about the well-documented woes of LA’s ace in the playoffs.
Clayton Kershaw (pictured) is one of the best pitchers in baseball and that is not up for debate but he has been more of a hindrance to the Dodgers’ playoff success than a benefit. Kershaw has a career 2.37 ERA and this season he had his career best single season ERA of just 1.69. That is simply incredible as this marks the third time in his career that Kershaw has pitched under 2.00. But in the postseason, he has been at best mediocre and at worst pretty bad. In 13 games, his ERA is 4.59 and not coincidentally, the Dodgers have lost each of the past two years in the first round.
The Dodgers need Kershaw at his best but even if he is, the question remains if game one is even winnable for LA. For starters, the Dodgers are 38-43 on the road compared to the Nationals, who are 95-67 at home. Also, there’s the element of who Kershaw gets to face.
Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in the league and is coming off a season in which he led the majors in strikeouts and WHIP and led the NL in innings. He has an ERA of 3.73 in the postseason, which isn’t great, but if Kershaw can’t figure it out, that should be good enough.
I hate to base the whole series on one game but the first game always sets the tone. With the Nationals having home field advantage and the favorable matchup in their first road game as Gio Gonzalez faces a team which hit just .213 against left handed pitching this year, there’s yet another reason to pick against the Dodgers.
- Betting Pick: Take the Nationals in four. Looking at the lines from the best of the USA Sportsbooks, Washington are +145 betting odds to win the series outright, irrespective of the margin, with both BetOnline and 5Dimes Sportsbooks. It is +140 with Bovada.
Chicago Cubs vs San Francisco Giants Picks & Predictions
- Game 1: Friday, Oct. 7 in Chicago, 9:00 p.m. ET, FS1
- Game 2: Saturday, Oct 8 in Chicago, 8:00 p.m. ET, FS1
- Game 3: Monday, Oct 10 in San Francisco, TBD, FS1
- Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday, Oct 11 in San Francisco, TBD, FS1
- Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, Oct 13 in Chicago, TBD, FS1
One team won 100 games, the other just squeaked into the postseason with 87. One team hasn’t won a World Series in over 100 years, the other is looking for their fourth in the past seven seasons. One has the best postseason pitcher perhaps in history, the other has two who could finish #1 and #2 in Cy Young voting.
Those are the storylines following the Cubs/Giants NLDS series, as well as just how highly competitive the season series was between the two, with Chicago taking four of seven, five of which were decided by just one run. No team in baseball challenged the Cubs more than the Giants.
When you win 100 games like the Cubs did, there is a lot you did right. So instead of focusing on the fact that Chicago had an offense ranked at or near the top of the league in most categories and a pitching staff from their starts to their relievers which were as good as anybody or that they went 57-24 at home with a +142 run differential, we’ll talk more about the matchups.
Chicago has an advantage when it comes to lefties because as a team, hitting left-handed pitching was one of San Francisco’s biggest woes. The Cubs will combat this with Jon Lester, one of the best southpaws in baseball, who takes the mound in game one and a trio of bullpen arms Joe Maddon will have on the ready.
There’s also the argument of Chicago’s bench. Now normally we talk about bench depth in basketball because you need guys to be fresh and put together efficient stretches while you rest your starters. But in baseball, depth helps too especially against Bruce Bochy and the way he, like Maddon, really knows how to play matchups. Chicago’s second line of defense is in some cases just as good as its first and that should scare the Giants big-time.